With elections on the horizon recent reports from the Congo suggest an upsurge in violence – villages are suffering attacks in the dead of night. It is unclear if the attacks are the work of government army soldiers or rebel militia.
After over a decade of violence, the human cost of war in Congo is horrifying, but local peacebuilder Henri Ladyi refuses to give up on the promise of peace. Henri has been working right through out the war, and has built up a network to both support those fleeing violence, and aid those militia who wish to stop fighting. Even in the face of increased violence, Henri’s work offers hope for the future.
You can watch Henri in action in the recent Channel 4 documentary, Unreported World. The cameras follow Henri deep into the bush as he negotiates the rescue of child soldiers from the hands of hardened militia, and follows the children as they struggle to adjust to life in the village. Watch the show.
Henri’s local connections grant him access to people and places that international agencies or multilaterals just could not go. Through his depth of knowledge and dedication he commands trust and authority even among the most feared rebel leaders. Henri is currently negotiating with a Ugandan rebel group deep in the mountains. They wish to release 150 combatants to Henri’s re-integration programme – trusting in him to support these men into work.
Initially Henri hoped to work with the UN in Congo to gain the funding to support these men. However the involvement of the UN bought negotiations to an immediate deadlock. The soldiers were deeply mistrustful of the outside agency – they believed the UN was working with other militia against them – helping them demobilise only to allow another warring group to claim the territory they left behind.
Henri and the rebel group are now negotiating without the involvement of the external party. If they return to Uganda laying down their arms will leave the rebel soldiers vulnerable to retaliation for the offences they have committed, or they may find they are ostricised by communities and unable to settle. Henri is helping to grant them safe passage and permission to stay in Congo.
In the last year Henri helped 1,020 rebel soldiers to lay down their arms and live in peace. Many now work in co-operatives set up by Henri’s organisation – by pooling their resources these co-operatives can support up to 35 families each.
Henri’s work is building an infrastructure of peace in response to the chaos of the last 15 years. He can do this because he understands the causes and the triggers of the violence, and because he is focused on the long term.
In the coming months Henri will be working with host communities – to prepare them for an expected influx of returning refugees who fled into Rwanda. Fearful of the instability and pressure on resources their return may bring, some villagers have tried to demolish the houses, schools and hospitals NGOs have built for their return. Henri will work with these groups to ensure working co-operatives are established and rumours and panic are reduced.
Henri has also negotiated a deal with the government to provide trucks and materials to rebuild impassable roads destroyed or long deserted in the conflict. Local communities have been consulted to identify those most needed to open up trade and improve access, and Henri’s organisation is recruiting former militia to build and clear the roads. The road building not only provides these men with an occupation, but as it benefits the surrounding communities, it improves relations between the villagers and the former rebels.
Henri’s work continues to grow to match the challenge of the conflict in Congo. His methods are based always on what is best for the communities at the heart of his work, and he is always a great example of the power of local peacebuilding to create real lasting change in countries ravaged by war.
You can support Henri and other peacebuilders like him. Make a donation today.