Like so many former ‘child soldiers’ previously rescued from the clutches of militia groups led mostly by wanted Genocide fugitives or loyalists to the regime that carried out the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, Uwimpuhwe and her colleagues have chilling stories about life in the Congolese jungles.
“No child should go through what we did…So many bad things happened. It is not a good life being born and finding yourself always on the run, hunted and with no hope for education or normal life, or seeing friends and family killed all the time. These were sad things,” she told this publication in an exclusive interview last week.
Uwimpuhwe and 88 other young girls (48) and boys (40), all aged between 12 and 19, are currently attending a government-run civic education and rehabilitation camp in Mutobo, Musanze which has over the years facilitated thousands of former militia fighters to make the critical transition to normal life.
The children were part of thousands of combatants and their dependants repatriated home to Rwanda last year after Congolese forces overran militia bases in the country’s east.
The bases were primarily set up by key figures in the genocidal machinery and their allies that crossed into the Congo (when Rwanda Patriotic Army took Kigali in July 1994), with the aim of returning to Rwanda and take back power – and effectively resume their genocide agenda.
Indeed, these genocidal forces did carry out deadly incursions into Rwanda, from as early as 1990s and 2000s (during the notorious ‘Abacengezi’ insurgency) and as recent as 2018 and 2019 when Rusesabagina’s FLN militia and Uganda-linked RUD-Urunana attacked and killed dozens of civilians in southern and northern Rwanda.
Tragically, these extremist groups continue to conscript children into their terrorist campaigns, with the older ideologues like Angelina Mukandutiye (who forced Uwimpuhwe and so many of her peers into militia activities) keen to ensuring radicalisation of younger generations.
This has not only sustained fundamentalism and genocide ideology but it has seen these armed groups continue to abuse and use young children in egregious crimes in the Congo and across the border in Rwanda, while it has also destroyed the lives of these children and shattered hope for their future.
The trend is a ticking time bomb and it poses a threat to the wider region.
Indeed there is an urgent need to end this absurd cycle, through sustaining pressure and operations against these negative groups. But, to achieve this, regional governments need to work together by not only desisting from supporting these extremist non-state armed groups and their evil agenda, but also actively supporting their disarmament and disbandment.