The truth lies, as usual, somewhere in between.
“I became a child soldier to avenge my father’s death.”
When I was ten years old I went looking for the Mai Mai guerilla. They were fighting the Tutsis and I wanted to join them. I wanted revenge. I was hoping to find my father’s killers. For the first year I was only allowed to train, because the weapon was too heavy for me, but then I took part in the attacks. We were taught that everyone who wasn’t with us was against us. Everyone who collaborated with the enemy was my enemy – even if they were members of my own family.
I’ve never had to face my closest family, but once I shot a woman from a distance. When I went up to the body I saw she was my uncle’s youngest wife. I had killed her. But she was on the side of the enemy, so she deserved to die.
Sometime later we launched a big attack on a Tutsi stronghold. Many Tutsis were killed. Another child soldier and I were ordered to crawl under the dead bodies, with our guns. We knew the Tutsis would come back for the injured. When they came I shot my Tutsi lots of times, very close up.
Another child soldier and I were ordered to crawl under the dead bodies, with our guns.
We children always did what we were told to do. That meant we were considered good soldiers. We also believed that we were protected by a spell and that we were immortal. Even if we were shot, the shot wouldn’t hurt us.
After two years I changed group and joined the RCD rebels. Some of the leaders there were Tutsis. That was a disappointment. I was made bodyguard for a commander. I really didn’t like him. He made me sleep outdoors, in the rain and among insects. I became ill. Once he threatened to kill me if I didn’t have sex with him. I told him he could do what he liked: “My father’s dead so I might as well be dead too.” After that, he left me alone. I’ve been threatened several times, but I’ve never been raped. But I have been beaten, many, many times.
I told him he could do what he liked.
There was only one other girl in my group, but I know they said we were the most reliable. If they sent boys, or men, into a village they sometimes took bribes and didn’t do the job they’d been ordered to do. We always did.
I’ve seen many rapes during our attacks. Once I saw the soldiers just throw a woman onto the ground. She had a little baby on her back. The child flew through the air. I don’t know what happened to the baby. I’ve seen wives being raped in front of their husbands and children being raped in front of their parents. Sometimes I felt sorry for someone, but I’ve never cared about men from the side of the enemy. And even if I had, there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
Lots of soldiers took drugs, including me. Marijuana was our daily bread. The older ones drank a lot of alcohol. And there were herbs and leaves that we found in the jungle, and mixed into our food or rubbed into our body. Some drugs had magical properties and we took them before an attack, for example because they made the warrior invisible.
Some drugs had magical properties and we took them before an attack, for example because they made the warrior invisible.
When I was fifteen I shot my commander and ran away. I ran through the jungle for several days and crossed a lot of roadblocks. In the end I was captured by a group of Mai Mai. I was held prisoner for two months and I saw some terrible things. Many of the other prisoners were tortured and murdered.
When they let me go I made my way back to my home town, Goma. My family refused to take me in. They said they were scared of me. I walked the 200 kilometres from Goma to Bukavu to try and get help from friends of my dead father. They refused to see me too. I had nowhere to live and no money. In the end I was arrested because I didn’t have a demobilisation certificate. I had to live in a transit centre for six months to get that certificate. Then I came here, to LAV.
My dream is to be able to carry on working and save some money so I can buy a house, and a piece of land where I can build a big garage.
I went to a normal school here and took a course to become a car mechanic. After that I worked for two years in other workplaces, both garages and other places, but when I saw that LAV was looking for a new mechanic, I applied to come here. Now I’m employed as a car mechanic and assistant teacher for the new students on the course. The boys in the garage here weren’t sure about me at first, they thought I was too serious and couldn’t take a joke, but they’ve learned. So have I. I feel like a man among men.
I’d like to study more, and graduate, but I can’t afford it. And I’d like to find a man who wants to marry me, but that’s not easy. If I tell the boys I used to be a soldier, it frightens them. I used to have a boyfriend I really liked. I didn’t dare tell him about my life, but he found out somehow and disappeared. Now I don’t dare tell my new boyfriend. My dream is to be able to carry on working and save some money so I can buy a house, and a piece of land where I can build a big garage.
Maternal deaths: Just over 900 deaths per l00,000 births ****
Number of children/woman: 5.2 (2011)
Abortion legislation: Abortion is forbidden, even when the mother’s life is at risk.
Law against rape within marriage: No
Violence against women in close relationships: 1.8 million women will be raped during their lifetime. Congo is the second most dangerous country in the world for a woman to live in.