“I think I am tired of this hopeless life. I have been fighting stupid wars since 1994. At the beginning, I fought for the former DR Congo’s (then Zaire) President Mobutu Sese Seko until he lost the war. I later fought for Kabila senior and then junior. I fought in the Central Africa and alongside the Cobra forces in Congo-Brazzaville. For sure, this is enough,” complains Corporal Hakizimana Jean Marie.
‘Umoja Wetu’ loosely translated means ‘our unity’, united front between the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo, (DRC) and Rwanda, that have soon dealt the Democratic Force for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) a heavy blow.
Since the beginning of the DRC-Rwanda joint operation against the FDLR rebels, code-named Umoja Wetu, many FDLR soldiers and former hostages have been trickling back to Rwanda.
It has succeeded in a demobilisation programme over less than a month, what the UN Peacekeeping Mission, MONUC, failed to do in almost a decade.
What is instructive here in talking to many of those who are returning home to Rwanda, is that operation Umoja Wetu was long overdue.
Many have found freedom, especially women and children, who had been held in captivity.
Umoja Wetu put so much pressure on the group, to the extent that they have had to abandon their positions and safe havens.
“The advance of Rwanda and DRC forces, forced us to retreat in a hurry and the weak could not match the speed,” says Staff Sergeant Evode Bakenga, explaining how some of them had to run from the advancing joint forces.
Bakenga’s assertion is further confirmed by the reality that many returnees today are predominantly women and children.
However, many other factors work together to increase the number of returnees today; FDLR soldiers have been serving the interest of self-styled politicians (both Rwandans and non-Rwandans) for many years as mercenaries.
These rebels have thus had enough of their leaders’ lies and many of them would like to call it quits.
“I think I am tired of this hopeless life. I have been fighting stupid wars since 1994. At the beginning, I fought for the former DR Congo’s (then Zaire) President Mobutu Sese Seko, until he lost the war.
I later fought for Kabila senior and then junior. I fought in the Central African Republic (CAR) and alongside the Cobra forces in Congo-Brazzaville. For sure, this is enough,” complains Corporal Hakizimana Jean Marie.
FDLR rebels also went further to fight as unpaid mercenaries in CAR and Congo- Brazzaville. The soldiers currently distancing themselves from FDLR mainstream reflect on the history they have endured as unpaid mercenaries with regret.
It’s obvious to them that they are making the best decision by returning to Rwanda instead of living in the uncertainty they have been in.
The beaconing reality of peace has seen them count the cost of continued fighting in a war that has no end.
Consequently, it should be noted that it is only Umoja Wetu’s pressure which is slowly but steadily putting sense in their minds.
Otherwise, they have survived in an environment, devoid of any freedom, meant to enslave them, both psychologically and physically.
Some peasants were offered land to cultivate, and harvest enough food to eat. Some of them also accessed the rich resources of DRC and were involved in lucrative business across the world.
Psychologically, the masses were reminded on a daily basis that Rwanda, under the current regime, is hell. They blindly accepted this lie.
This is an environment bad enough to enslave the weak malleable mind of the illiterate peasants held as hostages by FDLR.
All this was further endorsed by the support they directly or indirectly received from the DRC government.
“DRC gave us help and actually some years back used to pay us,” says Corporal Israel Saddick.
Though still reluctant, after the DRC divorced the FDLR, the group is virtually left with no alternative but to succumb to the operation.
The only question whose answer people have failed to get is; why don’t we witness massive return of men as we do women? Many factors come in play and some of them include:
Most boys/men as young as 12 are recruited as FDLR fighters. Owing to the nature of the institution (the army-especially of the kind), they are not allowed to make decisions based on their consciousness.
These child-soldiers depend exclusively on the orders of their superiors- they in fact sing and dance according to the tune of their masters.
Unfortunately, the so-called masters also serve other masters’ interests. It is a hopeless situation where one mercenary serves the other.
“Finding my way here was a big struggle. I had to lie to my superiors that I was going to save my family we had left behind, and instead headed to MONUC headquarters. All colleagues of mine used similar tricks to escape,” remarks Sergeant Tunda Olivier.
All these explanations make us conclude that operation Umoja Wetu should not just be limited to time schedules, but one where results should determine its end. This should be routing out all FDLR rebels and all other negative forces.
The operation has to increase the pressure militarily while at the same time sensitizing FDLR ‘hostages and mercenaries’, to de-brainwash their minds.