The phenomenon of child soldiers in the Great Lakes region of Africa emerged in the mid 1980s when the National Resistance Army (NRA), a rebel movement led by the current president of Uganda, Joweri Kaguta Museveni (Fig 2.), used children to spy and report on enemy’s military positions. They were also used as maids and carriers for combatant rebels.
Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by the current President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame (Fig 3.), is notorious for its use of Kadogo (small in Swahili) soldiers who were brainwashed to the point humanity was an alien concept to them. Kagame has used child soldiers with total and undeniable efficiency at the expense of millions of Rwandans and Congolese people from 1990 onwards.
It is worth mentioning that RPF trained with and contributed to the rebellion war of the NRA. Consequently, their military tactics are quite similar. The Lord Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony (Fig 4.), who militarily opposes the NRA government since its inception at the end of the 80s, has also abducted children and used them as soldiers. He is currently labeled as a war criminal and requested by the ICC to face justice. Many rebel movements and militias in DRC have been using child soldiers for the legitimate and illegitimate aims of their struggle.
Warlords of rebellion wars abduct or kidnap children, use and abuse them for their own selfish interests, without any care of the fact that such children shouldn’t be forced into military environments. Despite the sad circumstances that child soldiers have to endure, the root causes of these rebellions in the first place are sometimes overlooked.
Without approving these prevalent phenomena in the Great Lakes Region, it is important and rational to understand the reasons behind any rebel movement.
Inflexibility at the extreme ends of the political spectrum of these countries is generally the origin of these African conflicts. The international community through its diverse interventions in the affairs of the said countries should play an important but neutral part in bringing together opposing sides or allowing a peaceful change of the political scene. This is where democratic and transparent elections are a key factor. Additionally, other pressures have to be employed to reduce social tensions for the benefit of the general population.
There are a significant number of actions that could change durably the phenomenon of child soldiers:
- Stopping impunity by pursuing in justice current political leaders in the region who have used children soldiers among many other means to get where they stand today politically; otherwise they are looked at as role models
- Put pressure on these leaders to open up the political arena so that dissent voices don’t resort to taking up arms and subsequently using children soldiers to get into power
- Lobby and campaign for dialogue between these leaders and political opponents and civil society which are not involved in the use of children soldiers to change their respective societies
- Condemning and pursuing through an effective justice system current rebel leaders in the region who are using children soldiers in their fight
- Helping children soldiers who get demobilized to recover emotionally from their robbed childhood
Overall, the problem of children soldiers is very deplorable and condemnable for those who use them to achieve their political objectives. However, it would be irrational to address it by only looking at the humanity of these young souls. Most importantly, the inhumanity caused by the initial users of such practice who are today ruling in the Great Lakes Region of Africa should be redressed. They shouldn’t be seen to be above the law and looked upon by the West (mainly Britain and USA) as stabilizing factors in the Great Lakes region, this only because they protect their economic, financial, military and cultural interests.