Disarming rebel soldiers and stopping them from returning to war is one of the biggest challenges facing Congo today.
When Paluku was 20, war came to his village. Unable to sit and watch, Paluku joined the Mai Mai – an armed group set up to protect the lives of villagers. As the war escalated in Congo, and resources became scarcer, the Mai Mai became more embroiled in the fighting.
War has ravaged Congo since 1996. Many of the men do not know why they are fighting, but they simply do not know how else to survive.
In Paluka’s regiment, there were 1,000 men and over 500 children. Renowned for his battle skills for 14 years Paluku taught the men how to fight tooth and nail for territory – irrespective of the women and children caught in the crossfire.
There are many organisations working to disarm fighters in Congo – many offer a cash for weapons incentive. But the money offered to hand over weapons is often more than the market value of the weapon, and these programmes have been accused of increasing rather than reducing the number of weapons. The Congolese Government has recently stated that these programmes will no longer operate.
Local peacebuilder Henri Ladyi’s programmes do not work on this basis. Instead, former rebel soldiers living in peace are mobilised to reach out to their former colleagues. The soldiers who then join Henri’s programmes do so because they have a genuine desire to lay down their arms.
The move by the Congolese government is encouraging. It shows an awareness of the faults of quick-win solutions. In 2010, Henri assisted 1,020 rebel soldiers to lay down their arms. He did this at a cost of under $200 per combatant. This is a fraction of the $5.5 million budget that the UN in Congo allocated to their demobilisation programme.
Paluku and 180 other men came to seek Henri’s assistance. Paluku received clothes, water, an ID card and training, to help him adjust to life in peace. Today Paluku oversees a co-operative of 40 former militia set up by Henri. Together they pool their resources for farming and animal husbandry.
Word of Henri’s programmes is growing. He is currently in negotiations with the UN in Congo to discuss how they could work together.
We hope that this move by the government will result in more money being channelled through local organisations like Henri’s which focus on long-term sustainable disarmament and integration.
Henri budgets $57 to set each former militia soldier up in a working co-operative. Give $10 a month and help Henri to prevent violence and unite communities.