Foreign combatants with armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) often find it hard to return home once they decide to lay down their weapons and stop fighting. The UN Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) helps the young fighters to disarm, demobilize, and adjust to a new life.
26-year-old Jean-Nepo Mukeshimana is preparing to reintegrate a civilian life in Rwanda, after some 10 years fighting in eastern Congo as part of Raiya Mutomboki, an armed group based in the DRC province of North Kivu.
Born to Rwandan parents who fled the 1994 genocide, Jean-Nepo was born in DRC. When he was 16, his parents returned to Rwanda because the war was over, but Mr. Mukeshimana stayed on, and was later recruited by Raiya Mutomboki.
“For 10 years I fought in the bush, life was hard, and we could not do anything to earn income. It was sprinting from one place to another every single day”, he says.
His wife, 20-year-old Mapenzi Uwineza, who says that Mr. Mukeshimana simply ordered her to follow him into the bush after their marriage, agrees that life was tough. “When we needed food, the combatants had to go looting, what kind of life is that? We did not have sanitary towels, so I had to improvise with old pieces of cloth. And while our husbands were away, we would be beaten by the rebels.”
Along with four other male ex-combatants, and their dependents – two women and five children – Mr. Mukeshimana spent two weeks in the camp, as part of MONUSCO’s Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programme in DRC, which has been running since 2013. The aim of the initiative is to help in the repatriation of all foreign combatants and their dependents in the country, collect and eliminate weapons and ammunition, and ensure that the ex-combatants understand the importance of peace.
The Rwandans in the camp are expected to tell others who are still fighting in the bush that it is safe to surrender and go back home.