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Séraphin’s story: an ex-combatant

  • Published

    7 July 2022
  • Written by

    Natalie Roberts

The region of South Kivu in DRC has been the scene of clashes for many years. Instability has led to economic chaos, and many young people have become unemployed, and some have even joined armed groups. Last year, local organisation Cadre de Concertation Intercommunautaire (CCI) was selected as one of the grantees in our Youth Action for Peace project. They were given a grant of $1,134 which they used to work with ex-combatants in the village of Kalehe. 

A few years ago, Séraphin Cubaka was part of a militia. After a troubled childhood, he decided to join an armed group where he hoped to find fortune. He was recruited by two of his former classmates into the group and left his family. 

Leaving my brother in bed, I took a small suitcase, put some clothes in it: a jacket, two or three pairs of trousers and three pairs of shoes. On my way out of our room, I opened the door carefully and was greeted by the vast darkness of Tshibanja and the bitter cold.

For about five years, Séraphin took part in robberies, killings and lootings, and enlisted other young people in the militia. He didn’t manage to get rich as he had hoped, and desperately wanted to run away, but couldn’t figure out how to. If the militia leader found out, he would be dead. He lost weight, his hair and beard grew long, and he became a shadow of himself. For more than a year he looked for an opportunity to escape, until one day a group from CCI was sent to their camp. They managed to help him leave and accompanied him home.  

I had a long discussion on the way with Baudoin from CCI, we spoke for most of the journey: -My friend, he had told me. Life is offering you a second change today, and you must seize it. 

For Séraphin, this was a second chance to rebuild his life. He returned home and found his family.

“My father arrived, followed by my mother and brothers. My heart began to pound, and tears streamed from my eyes onto my messy beard. My father hadn’t changed in five years, he was still as elegant, and my mother was still as regal. But they didn’t recognise me. Dad, come and greet me,” I shouted. Then my mother collapsed and joined me, followed by my father. They all threw themselves on top of me. We cried for a few minutes like children”

Séraphin joined a training course organised by CCI to support young people who had been in armed groups. They helped him reintegrate into his community and taught him shoemaking. He has set up a small workshop to make shoes and sandals that he sells in his neighbourhood, or gives to local schools.

In a few months, Séraphin will marry a girl from Kalehe, thanks to support from his community, his family and the money he has managed to save from his job. Now, he has almost forgotten his life with the armed group and is now a key player in helping other young people stay away from armed groups and sharing his new skills. 

Every day I risked my life in the bush, so I would like to invite young people like me who are still in the bush to leave without delay. I urge those who are disappointed in life, not to go and take up arms.

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