In a village not far from Butembo a man named Eric is building a house for his wife and future family. He works late into the day, yet even in the dusk you can still make out the scars on his arms.
Two years ago Eric was a feared colonel in one of the largest and most vicious militia groups in the area. The commanders of this group gain their status through black magic rituals, and they will persue this power at all costs.
For many years communities across the district have been at the mercy of this group, mothers terrified for their children’s safety and fathers powerless as their women were raped and their houses burnt down. The colonel’s role in this terror was well known.
But when peacebuilder Henri Ladyi met the colonel he saw not a vicious militia leader, but a man who could be a powerful ally in the struggle for peace. Eric was open to ideas about stopping the fighting and he was able to grant Henri safe passage to meet with other militia commanders. Eric introduced Henri as ‘the man who is thinking about our future’, and through this introduction Henri negotiated the release of 30 child soldiers, to return them to their families.
Yet Eric’s own village could not forgive the damage he had done to them. He was living between lives – keen to help Henri to promote peace, yet unable to live himself in peace. Henri talked to him about starting a new family, finding a wife and settling down. But the Mai Mai believe that if you take a wife you lose your power and without a community to support him Eric could not give up what he had leant on for so long.
Henri made Eric see that whilst he continued to rely on black magic, the communities he longed to return to would never accept or trust him.
Eric got married last December and his marriage is a powerful symbol to all those around him of how far behind him he has left the life of violence. Through this he can begin to build trust and to use his influence to help Henri engage with more armed groups in the struggle for peace. We wish Eric and his new wife a happy Valentine’s day.