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  • Democratic Republic of Congo's outgoing President Joseph Kabila (right) and his successor Felix Tshisekedi stand during the latter's inauguration ceremony.

    Democratic Republic of Congo's outgoing President Joseph Kabila (right) and his successor Felix Tshisekedi stand during the latter's inauguration ceremony. | Photo: Reuters

Published 28 February 2019

Twelve-year-old child soldier Mado expresses relief and states that "for me, the war is now over."

The unanticipated victory of President Felix Tshisekedi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's December elections has eased the conflict between government forces and tribal militias and raised hopes that the severe war is approaching its end.

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Twelve-year-old child soldier Mado expresses relief and states that "for me, the war is now over." She was a "Yamama", a young girl convinced to join the militia by her father. She fought with the notorious Kamuina Nsapu militia in central Kasai.

The minor then turned herself in along with two other children and several dozen adults in the town of Kanaga, where they were met by regional governor Denis Kambayi. The group surrendered their weapons, consisting of old rifles and machetes, as well as protective amulets. Children are given the amulets upon recruitment and told that it makes them invincible.

The children will be transported to United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) centers, where they will be given clothing, provided with education and other resources to reintegrate into society.

Mado hopes to study to become a primary school teacher. 

Children are often targeted for recruitment by militia groups because their families are unable to support them. "It's a vicious circle: when a child doesn't go to school and a movement emerges, they join it without a second thought," said Jules Losango, a UNICEF employee working at the center.

Both Losango and the adult soldiers who surrendered voiced the need for government action in providing well-paying job opportunities for families. It was noted that children who are educated could reverse the trend of violence.

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The Kamuina Nsapu militia, heavily influenced by politics and mysticism, was formed after the murder of a tribal leader by military forces in 2016. The militia and inhabitants of afflicted villages believe sorcery explains their resilience against government troops. In the last three years, 3,000 people have been killed by the conflict.

Some 1.4 million people have also been displaced, with thousands fleeing to Angola. The provinces of Kasai, Kasai Central, Kasai Oriental, Lomami, Kwilu and Sankuru are the most affected by the catastrophe. 

President Tshisekedi is a descendant of the Luba tribe, as is the majority of Kamuina Nsapu fighters.

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