Recruited to commit atrocities: Elie’s story

At only 16 years old, Elie was forced to join a self-defence militia in southern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mandela Longa (translated from French by Lorraine Valarino)
Un camp pour personnes déplacées au sud-est de la RDC
09 October 2019

“I killed to defend my village” explains the16 year old Elie who found refuge at a camp in Kikumbe, 16 kilometres from the city of Kalemie, situated in the south-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Like many children, he picked up a bow and arrow to fight the Pygmies.

Still less than a year ago, Elie was a happy boy who lived peacefully with his family in a village situated about thirty kilometres from Kalemie. Thanks to the soil’s fertility the family lived off their land, all year round, without interruption. Nothing could have foretold that the life of this young boy was about to be turned upside down.

“It was 6 in the morning when a group of Pygmies stormed into our village” recalls Elie. Terrified the young boy run into the bush where he was caught by members of a self-defence militia. Ripped from his parent’s hands, Elie was enlisted in the militia. Over a period of 6 months, Elie and the other children who had joined the self-defence militia committed appalling acts: they attacked villages, looted houses, set farms on fire, etc. Elie hardly ate and survived thanks to the food taken from fields abandoned by their fleeing inhabitants.

One day whilst Elie and other parts of the militia group were supposed to be launching an attack against a Pygmie village, the adolescent managed to escape. “We had only just started making our way when I managed to get away from the group and hide in the forest“ he recalled. Instinctively Elie took the route towards Kalemie where he crossed paths with a friend of his father who led him to his parents and his sister.

The reunion was a tainted with a mixture of warmth and sadness. Elie’s family had found refuge in a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of the city. In order to help his family survive, Elie cuts straw to resell to the inhabitants of the city of Kalemie.

Thanks to the support of UNICEF, the adolescent has completed his primary education and is a member of the camp’s peace committee. Along with the other children from the camp, Elie regains the joy of being a child through theatre, song, games and sport.