Meeting the General
We were obliged to meet the leader of a prominent rebel militia group this week to clear up confusion about our Peacemaker Program where we reintegrate of former child soldiers back into their local communities. Many death threats had been made by this rebel group against the caretakers (or counselors) in our program. We thought the issue was resolved months ago, but the message failed reach top leadership in the group.
At one point during the meeting, the leader brought a kid from another village far from the areas we are working. The General said, "Look, see! This kid went through CTO (the transit center where after children are demobilize they receive some rehabilitation) but look, he doesn't know a thing about fighting or army or anything. Yet he said he was from our group!"
We replied, "Sorry for that but this is confusion because we are not in that domain. We are at the third step, the first is demobilization, the second is rehabilitation, the third is reintegration."
"I see, well then, let's just kill this boy because he lied. By making him look like a sieve, it will teach others not to do it..."
We thought maybe the kid would be taken out back and shot, or worse they would do it right in front of us. The government administrator, who escorted us to this meeting, suggested to cut off his ear instead of killing the boy.
Nobody knows the fate of the boy, but we believe it was just an empty threat.
Here's a post from Sam Best (http://flybeyondthefence.com/) a short-term team member here with his wife, Ellee. He gives his perspective of how the meeting went. *Note: Specific names/opinions left out for security purposes.
â€œHey Sam, would you like to meet one of the main rebel leaders in eastern Congo?â€
â€œWhy yes, I would.â€
Ellee and Amethyst stayed back because this rebel group does not like women around. They believe women diminish their protective powers.
So our journey began. In the past few weeks there had been a lot of confusion in Masisi about our program working with former child soldiers involving our caretakers and the prominent rebel group in Masisi. To resolve the issue, we set up a meeting involving the local administrator in Masisi and the leader of this rebel group (which shall not be named.) He has a supposed net worth of $2 billion dollars from mines in the Congo and has also been accused of using child soldiers in his militia. Needless to say, heâ€™s a big deal.
So there I found myself along with Andrew and other members from our team being escorted up a hill in the bush past some huts by young men wielding AK-47s. It seemed surreal. They took us up some stairs of a shabby wood building and had us sit and wait on the balcony area. Commands were spoken back and forth through walkie talkies, and as I looked behind us I saw another man in camo sit down on the hill with a rifle to watch us.
After some time, we were escorted down to a hut where a young man took our cell phones and patted us down. He must have had some lessons from TSA because we received a thorough frisking. And there we were, face to face with one of the most powerful rebel leaders in eastern Congo.
The plan was to let them lead off the conversation, and then after that we would explain our situation. Speaking no Hunde and only a little Swahili, I simply observed. I stared at the General, allegedly responsible for the underserved deaths of many.
As I gazed around the circle at his â€œadvisorsâ€ my eyes fell upon another mzungu (white person.) â€œWho is this guy and what is he doing here?â€ I thought to myself. He spoke perfect French and Congolese Swahili. Was he a spy? Did he work for the UN? Was he a Belgian national that partnered with yet another rebel group in the Congo to rape the country of its resources? Who knew, either way, this guy was clearly a respected advisor of the General. Regardless, he was seemingly out of place and as such he became the joke of most of our conversations after the encounter. A mzungu in the unlikeliest of places provides many laughs.
In regards to the details of our program, the conversation went back and forth for some time, and we eventually all concluded that the rebels were simply confused about many details of our program as well as the actual rehabilitation process of former child soldiers.
The conversation went on and we discussed, discussed, discussed but none of their complaints were actually things we were responsible for. They quickly saw that. While they had guns, we had the upper hand in the conversation because we actually knew what we were talking about. So that was it, they admitted their misunderstanding.
Where do we go from here? Well, you do what any other Congolese would do. You eat. And you drink a Coke. Here I am again, a spectator to the strange situation of sharing a meal and a Coke with the top General of a large rebel army in eastern Congo. Do you think Coke ever envisioned their product becoming the center piece of dealings with rebel armies?
And that was it. We shook hands, got our cell phones back, and were escorted back down the hill to our car. It took 10 hours of round trip driving to have a one hour meeting but in the end it was a necessary and worthy endeavor.