By Elvis Katsana
Emmanuel* wants justice. When he was only 13, Bosco Ntaganda abducted him in 2002 and forced him to provide loyal services to the Union of Congolese Patriots for over five months. The 26-year-old is expecting a lot from the Ntaganda trial at the International Criminal Court.
“I’m following the trial of the Terminator very closely, like many other people here in Bunia”, says Emmanuel. He’s one of the thousands who suffered from the atrocities committed by the rebels in 2002 and 2003 when Ntaganda was the military leader of the rebellion in the Ituri district in the north-eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An injury as a blessing
Emmanuel was fortunate in a sense: he didn’t have to fight as a child soldier in Ntaganda’s rebellion for the simple reason that he had suffered an injury to his right hand. “Whenever I tried to pick up a weapon, I would start shooting wildly, including my trainers”, he says. “So finally they decided I should only get the groceries, buy cigarettes and polish their boots.”
Among Ntaganda’s combatants, there were those who had more privileges than others. “Most of the time I was there, I lived in my master’s hut. I call him master because he’s the one who abducted me. He often switched wives. I don’t know where he took them afterwards. I only had to leave the hut when these women were taking care of him. And since I was still quite young, I did everything he asked me to do. If I didn’t, he would punish me by making me polish his boots full of mud, including his shoelaces, with my tongue.”
“I hardly ever saw Ntaganda, except for when he met with his officers. My master gave me a lot of work to do, but he also protected me. Even though my hand healed after three months, I didn’t have to take up arms like the other children. At the end of 2002, I managed to escape. My master had asked me to go pick a wild leaf in the Ituri forest because it helped him recover when he came back from the front exhausted. I seized the opportunity to get away.”
“I spent quite a bit of time with those barbarians. They forced me to work like a slave. They destroyed my first business, namely my 15 hens in my hometown of Lipri. I don’t know how much money I would have now if that hadn’t happened.”
“The ICC has to convict Ntaganda”, he adds, “but it should also make him pay for everything he did to us. If he doesn’t have the means, then the ICC should pay. But I don’t believe that justice is a solution to everything.”
Nowadays, Emmanuel sells watches and wallets in the streets of Bunia. He earns about 70 euros a month and still hopes for a better life.
*Emmanuel is a pseudonym.
Lead image: Emmanuel at local market (Photo: Elvis Katsana/Justice Hub)