In 2016, Dieudonné was kidnapped by a group of armed men as he returned home from working the fields with his family. Along with twenty five other young people from his village, he was forced to march to the training camp of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA):
We were forced to carry military equipment and walked for two days before arriving at the encampment where we were warned not to try and escape. We were made to stay in the camp, preparing firewood and learning how to use weapons.
In northeast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the emergence of armed groups, such as the LRA, has caused an increase in violent crime, land-based conflict and displacement. Young people have been particularly affected by the instability, and are often targets for abduction by armed group. In the last year there have been over 280 civilian abductions in DRC. Dieudonné explains:
We were used in kidnap operations and the looting of our own communities. They made us think that we could only protect ourselves by being in this camp. I didn’t want to remain in the camp, I wanted to be with my community.
Dieudonné knew he must find a way to leave the LRA, and took his opportunity to flee during an attack on the camp by members of the armed forces. But when he returned to his home he was treated with suspicion and ostracised by his family and community:
Not only was I not welcomed by some members of my community who kept pointing at me and calling me LRA, but I also had difficulty finding work.
Whether kidnapped or coerced, people returning to their communities from armed groups often face exclusion and even violence. That is why community peace structures are vital for rebuilding trust between individuals, families and communities.
Dieudonné was helped by members of the Local Peace Committee (LPC) in Niangara in Haut-Uélé Province. LPCs are informal and voluntary community-led committees. In northeast DRC, they are usually mobilised during periods of instability and conflict.
As part of the project “Strengthening youth involvement in conflict prevention in areas affected by the Lord Resistance Army in northeastern DRC”, funded by the European Union, Conciliation Resources currently supports over thirty LPCs across northeast DRC. One of the key tasks of LPCs in recent years has been sensitising communities so that they trust, welcome and help resettle the young people that return from the LRA. Thirty percent of LPC members we support are returnees.
For Dieudonné, this then led him to become an active member of the LPC. His work focuses on educating young people to help them find non-violent means of conflict resolution, and supporting other returnees.
I had the privilege of joining the LPC and this gave me the hope and the courage I needed. Thanks to the youth project I was able to join in trainings on how to mediate conflicts and I learnt how to engage with authorities on the issues affecting returnees.
I am committed to volunteering with the LPC because I have been a victim and I have felt the suffering of being a young person affected by conflict. I don’t want other young people to become victims of conflict.
In Niangara the interaction between youth groups and local authorities during LPC training sessions has led to weekly meetings between the youth and traditional chiefs, territorial administrators and religious leaders who exchange information on security as part of the local early warning systems.