In Rwanda, female ex-combatants face reintegration challenge
“Some of them, they will tell you frankly, that the only way of living (in DR Congo) was going to take somebody’s food in the field” at gunpoint, said Kanamugire.
It falls on him and his staff of eight to reform them. The ex-combatants are given all they need, but no money. Some report their soap finished just a few days after receiving it, he said, far too soon for it to have been actually used up. Either they are stockpiling it, said Kanamugire, “or they have sold it around the corner to get some money.”
The phenomenon may stem from a sense of insecurity about their future, something the center is meant to remedy. Many of the younger ex-combatants lack basic literacy, having not attended school after leaving Rwanda in 1994, said Kanamugire. At Mutobo, they spend an hour each morning learning to read and write. Their spouses and children go through a similar three-week program. They are taught that there are no longer Hutus or Tutsis, just Rwandans. Even so, they are warned there may be some who do not welcome them back, and advised on ways to handle this.
Aside from organized trips into the community to meet with ex-combatants who have successfully integrated into society, residents are required to stay at the camp, unless they obtain a pass, something Kanamugire tries to limit. When they are outside, he explained, they can buy gin. And when they drink, they fight. At the camp he maintains strict order. Although the center’s mission is to turn soldiers into civilians, Kanamugire maintains the system of military rank from their combat days, otherwise, he said, “it will be chaos.” Men and women are usually housed separately, but there are exceptions. Jeanine is able to share a room with her husband and youngest child. Jeanine may have been a simple FDLR soldier, but her husband was not.
Habamungu Desire was a colonel in FDLR in charge of external intelligence. Like many of his comrades, he had a number of aliases including Baba Adam, Kaduruvayo and Adolphe Habamungu. He is 49, which means he is old enough to have participated in the Rwandan genocide. But if he played an active role in the genocide, said Jeanine, his community in Rwanda would not have accepted him back, and that has not been the case. The couple and their children were able to visit Desire’s old community over the winter holidays. Kanamugire and Musoni confirmed her statement. The real perpetrators of the genocide do not return to Rwanda, they said, because they know they will be turned in by the community.
There is no such accounting in DR Congo.
The first thing Jeanine was taught after she became a solder was how to shoot a Kalishnikov. She was also taught that once you become a soldier, you are a soldier forever. For Jeanine, being a soldier meant cooking and fetching water, and then, when there was war, fighting. Although she said she did not hurt civilians other than to steal their crops, she admitted civilians ran away in fear whenever they saw her. She did not kill anyone when she wasn’t fighting, she said. But “in the war, we were just fighting, so I could also fight and shoot other soldiers, so it’s possible.”
Kanamugire said it is not uncommon for FDLR soldiers to have been forced to kill comrades who tried to escape. A young man who passed through the camp just before the current group was so haunted by the image of the man he killed that he had to be sent to the hospital for psychological treatment. Kanamugire estimated that in each group there are one or two who have severe enough psychological trauma to require hospitalization, the rest are treated by the camp psychologist. Almost all are haunted to some degree. When talking with them about what they have been through, sometimes Kanamugire notices a far away look in their eyes, as if they are somewhere else.
“You have to say ‘hey come back, come back.'”
For the first few nights Jeanine was at Mutobo she had nightmares. They were always the same. She was caught while trying to leave FDLR. If you are caught, you are killed. Which is why more don’t return to Rwanda, said Kanamugire. That and the rhetoric they are fed by FDLR telling them they will be killed if they return. Jeanine believed it for a while. But in time she became tired of the constant fighting, the waking at 3 a.m. and having to run, the lack of education for her children. One day in November 2015 she and her children pretended to be headed to the fields to work. Her husband secretly followed. Only once they were out of FDLR territory did they ask to be taken to MONUSCO, which handles voluntary repatriation of foreign armed groups through a process called DDRRR: Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement.