Now we know: Thomas Lubanga is sentenced to spend 14 years in jail for abducting and forcing children to fight in the Second Congo War. Yet the announcement on Tuesday by the International Criminal Court begets another question: what reparations are due to the warlord's victims?
Mélanie Gouby, Goma
“What I want is very simple: money to boost my business. I own a small grocery store in town,” says Guillain. “But that is just me; we all have different desires.”
While most of his peers at the time might have been worrying about getting good grades, he was handling a machine gun life. When enlisted in Lubanga's militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) forces, he was barely 14 years old. He literally had to fight for his life.
In the decade since the war ended, he and his many fellow former soldiers have matured – but so have their real-life needs.
“I am not a child anymore. Our childhood is long over,” says Guillain. “I have a family now and I have to earn a living.”
In 2003, as a peace plan and new government got underway in the DRC, priority was given to demobilizing and removing child soldiers from armed groups. And although many former soldiers have since been living their everyday lives, doing so has been difficult for many.
As Guillain puts it: “We are under constant pressure to prove to our community that we are not a burden and that we can make a contribution. But we also have our personal goals and dreams; we want to decide on our future."
Yet the 24 year old is sceptical of the types of programmes that were developed to rehabilitate Congolese youth, encouraging them to adapt to a normal social environment and reintegrate into communities. “I don’t have time to go to meetings where we sing stupid songs.”
Missing the mark
According to Emile Dhehana, coordinator of a local NGO working towards the reintegration of Congolese child soldiers, the problem with most programmes was their approach. They did not take into account the youth as individuals. Nor did they address specific needs of the various communities in which they live.
“Many organizations, for instance, would give a goat to a youth who would then sell it; or 20 of them would be trained in woodworking although there was no need for so many carpenters in the village,” explains Dhehana.
Some say there might be more wisdom in tailoring provisions to localized needs, for example, outfitting a woodworking centre here, while financing small businesses there. Supplying someone with a taxi or farming equipment might also be a more modern, relevant means to help a former solider embrace a new self-image and contribute to society through an activity he or she enjoys.
No song and dance
And then there is the issue of age-appropriate assistance. As Dhehana points out: “The social reintegration was good in the beginning, but for grownups who need to live their lives, having to attend singing, dancing or football sessions is a waste of time.”
Hopes are pinned on The Hague's decision on compensation for the victims. No doubt many are anxious to hear whether the UN court will give Guillain and his fellow former child soldiers the chance for a far better adulthood.