GUEST BLOGGER – In Tanganyika, in the midst of the intercommunity conflict between the Pygmies and the Bantu, dozens of children exchange their classrooms for the self-defence militia ranks. Our guest blogger met with Rose, a 14 years old girl fighting in a militia.
Tanganyika, a land ravaged by centennial conflicts
Since August 2016, the region of Tanganyika, covering about 500.000 km2, has been the scene of confrontations between two communities: the Twa (Pygmies) and the Luba (Bantu). Besides the political and economic devastating consequences, this intercommunity conflict has been harshly affecting children’s schooling. Furthermore, the children – boys and girls – have been actively participating in the fights. According to Nyunzu DCJP (Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace), over 175 children were forced to drop out of school, enrolled in these two self-defence militias as soldiers to defend their villages and their cultural identities.
Making the most of my mission in Kyoko, a trading centre 135km west of Kalemie for the refugee’s awareness for children’s rights, I hiked the 10km to the Nyeleba refugee camp to meet with Rose, a child on the front lines of the Luba self-defence militia.
The life of a child in a militia
Rose comes from the Luba (Bantu) ethnical group. In the Tanganyika region, the Luba who are attached to their practices and customs live peacefully near the Hemba, the Holoholo and the Kalanga, but coexist with difficulty with the Twa (Pygmies).
At 14 years old, she is also called an “element”, which is how self-defence militia soldiers are called, and says, like all the other children that fight in this conflict, that she does so with her heart. She joined this militia to avenge her uncle and her aunt on her mother’s side, who were killed by Pygmies.
“My uncle was killed in Miswaki I, and was buried somewhere in the bush. I am fighting to protect my community and to protect myself”
With an occasionally relaxed face, but mostly withdrawn, this little soldier remembers the battle of Miswaki II, a railway village about 90km away from Kalemie, towards Nyemba.
“It was my biggest battle; I was the only girl among a group of 20 boys. The Pygmies had taken over the Miswaki II village, when we got there, we found the village leader and several other villagers killed by arrows and bladed weapons. We pushed them back and saved the rest of the population that was hiding in the forest. By now, everything has calmed down”.
School: hope for the future
Even for the ones who were stripped from their childhood, school remains their most cherished dream. Rose stopped going to school in the 3rd year of primary school. Even though she feels the need and the duty to be part of this conflict, she still thinks about school. “In Nyemba, where I live in my older sister’s house, seeing other girls go to school makes me cry. I would love to study as well, because I would like to be able to read and write a letter by myself. I know what education represents, as it would help me support my parents when they get old. Once I’m an adult, I’ll marry a man who will help me go back to school”, she continued with a determined and hopeful face.
In a time where populations are accumulated in refugee camps in all the Tanganyika territories, Rose calls for the DRC government to stop the killings in the region since several other children, just like her, fight for their lives as part of militias, for the Pygmies or the Luba.
Early January 2017, Rose has had a strong urge to help children her age go back to school. She is now actively campaigning for the local stakeholders to release her children friends who are still fighting in militias and work toward their social reintegration.
The long way toward education
Despite the government’s efforts and their partners’, children are enrolled in Pygmy and Bantu militias every day. Hundreds of children drop out of school, which will have negative consequences on their social and professional integration.
During the International Day against the use of child soldiers celebrations on 12 February 2017 in Kyoko, the Children’s Friends and the Child Reporters have insisted on child protection being everyone’s duty.
Parents, teachers, traditional and religious leaders all have an important role to play to raise awareness in the entire community for the respect of the laws that protect the children. They must, among other things, report cases or attempts to use children to the authorities and actors for children protection such as UNICEF, the Child Protection department of MONUSCO, and local and international NGOs.
If the situation persists, the school will remain without children, thus sacrificing tomorrow’s community.
More information on the protection of children leaving armed forces and groups in DRC
Thanks to Sweden (SIDA), the USA (USAID), Canada (CIDA), Japan (JICA), the Netherlands, Belgium as well as UNICEF France, Amade, UNICEF Germany and previously CERF for their support to programmes assisting children released from armed groups and forces.
Mandela Longa Ntutula
Ancien Enfant Reporter de Kalemie formé par l’UNICEF, Mandela Longa Ntutula est aujourd'hui journaliste et continue son combat en encadrant la nouvelle génération d’Enfants Reporters.