From January 1 to September 6, 2022, fifty-one (51) armed groups’ combatants voluntarily surrendered to MONUSCO base in Minembwe, South Kivu, with 31 AK-47 weapons. This is the result of the robust sensitization carried out by the Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) section of MONUSCO in the territories of Uvira and Fizi/Itombwe. The ex-combatants included nine children who were handed over to MONUSCO Child Protection Section.
Eleven ex-militiamen were still waiting as of September 9, 2022 for the continuation of the process at MONUSCO DDRRR transit center in Kavimvira, the city of Uvira, while the have been transferred somewhere else after being accommodated for 48 hours. In addition to accommodation, they received food, medicine and travel kits comprising clothes, shoes, as well as transport fees to help them join their families. On their release, the ex-combatants received provisional disarmament certificates jointly signed by FARDC and MONUSCO.
According to Major Jean Kongolongo, FARDC-MONUSCO liaison officer for the SOKOLA 2 operational sector in South Kivu, this provisional disarmament certificate will allow the ex-combatant to prove “they handed over their weapon after surrendering and they have no more tie with any armed group. They will present it to the judicial police officer to obtain a certificate of loss of documents which serves as an identification document for them.’’
The ex-combatants mainly come from the Twirwaneho and Gumino groups, in the highlands of the Fizi territory, in Minembwe. This surrender is a result of a campaign against forceful recruitment of the young people, including school students, by warlords including Sematama, the deputy chief of the Twirwaneho group, and his commander Colonel Michel Makanika, an army deserter, during the months of June, July and August. The recruitment had coincided with the end of the school year, the closing of schools and the start of the long holidays in the region. Young people, some of whom were underaged but also parents, had been kidnapped and taken into the bush, against their will.
Their family members contacted MONUSCO/DDRRR section to facilitate the voluntary surrender of their relatives. Following mobilization within the local community, awareness campaigns were conducted to encourage the newly recruited to leave the bush.
Fear of reprisals
Among these ex-combatants, several have chosen not to return to Minembwe, nor to their villages of origin, for fear of reprisals from the armed groups they abandoned. They prefer to settle in Uvira, Bukavu or Goma, in North Kivu, where they have families.
“In view of what I experienced in the bush, I decided to hand over my weapon to MONUSCO, if I go back to Minembwe, they may kill me. This is why we surrendered to MONUSCO to seek help to join our parents who had fled to Goma, in North Kivu, during the hostilities in Minembwe,” said Prince Ndahizeye, aged 25, who left the Gumino armed group. They used to operate in the highlands of Kawela district.
However, the ex-combatants from the Mai Mai Buhirwa and other groups have returned to their respective villages as civilians. Ndumwe Kahiri was known by the nickname “Black“. This former military police commander from the Maï Maï Buhirwa group, aged 35, preferred to return to his home in Ndolera, in the middle plateaus overlooking the Luvungi grouping, Bafuliiru chiefdom, in Uvira territory.
“I told my boss, General Buhirwa I wanted to leave the bush to join my parents, to stay with my wife and children. And he didn’t object. I have spent ten years in the bush, I have gained nothing. To survive, we had to kidnap people, hold up vehicles and steal cattle. We were doing all that against our will. I’m going home now,”he said.
Lack of local PDDRC-S premises
Unfortunately, no local premises for the Congolese government’s Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Recovery and Stabilization Program (PDDRC-S) is yet available in Uvira and Fizi. This national program was to take over after the exit of ex-combatants from MONUSCO transit site.
The absence of an official state administration in Minembwe to account for the actions carried out in support of the Congolese government also poses a problem for the implementation of this disarmament process.
In the meantime, MONUSCO has launched the implementation of three Community Violence Reduction (CVR) projects in the region, for the benefit of former combatants but also vulnerable and people at-risk, in particular women and young people: a drinking water supply project with a spring and connecting standpipes in Madegu, Minembwe-center, a rehabilitation of the agricultural service road between Minembwe-center and Mikenge (43 km) as well as the road connecting Minembwe-center and Lwiko bridge (7 km).
“These projects would help inject money into the local economy through using local workforce, including ex-combatants from armed groups, irrespective of their tribe as well as the young people at risk and vulnerable women in the region,” said Alphonse Mugoyi, MONUSCO DDRRR section officer.
After three years of isolation, the two road sections, now made passable, were reopened to traffic in early September 2022. These projects were funded by MONUSCO to the tune of $200,000.