My name is Matthieu. I’m 13 years old, and I was in 5th grade before the crisis. I have a five-year-old sister and a little brother who’s seven. I used to have two older brothers, but the oldest one was killed in the conflict.

What happened in the Kasais, DRC? Matthieu, 13, tells his story

My name is Matthieu. I’m 13 years old, and I was in 5th grade before the crisis. I have a five-year-old sister and a little brother who’s seven. I used to have two older brothers, but the oldest one was killed in the conflict.

A lot has happened in my country and in my family over the past ten months.

Tshikapa

We used to live near Tshikapa, in Kasai Province. But the armed groups came to our village to fight. When our dad tried to come home some of the men with guns shot him, and when we tried to flee one of the armed groups stopped us and told us we were the kinds of Congolese that they were trying to kill.

We had to just pick a direction and flee.

If we ran across people from one armed group they accused us of being militia and would kill us. If we saw men with guns on the road they would think we were the other group or militia and they would kill us too.

I was carrying my little sister on my back; I ran into the forest until I got to the river Kasai. My big brother was killed, and my Mum fled with my little brother. They met us at the river and we crossed together.

Maman told us to head for our grandmother’s house. We suffered a lot on the way – armed men kept stopping us. Some gave us something to eat, but others demanded money.

A new start

Along the way we met another family, and together we made it to a village on the outskirts of Kananga, in Kasai Central. But it all started again when we got there. My new friends tried to get me to join the militia, but I told them my mum wouldn’t let me.

One day my friend came over to our new home and told me to join the militia, that I could find joy there. I was really sad – my friend didn’t exist anymore, they’d already killed him.

One Wednesday, around noon, my mum and grandma were in the forest and I was home alone with my little siblings. The militia arrived in town to do a ceremony, and the soldiers had headed down to the river – they couldn’t see them. But when the soldiers travelled, the militia could hear them. So the militia found me and another boy, Séba, and sent us to go spy on the soldiers. And off we went.

Séba and I decided to lie to the militia so they would leave. We told them that the military weren’t there. But the militia wouldn’t believe us; they called us liars. And they went down to the river to call up the members who were there. All the while we were pleading with them to just go, but they wouldn’t. 

Finally, I left to go get my little brother from the market, but the militia were there too. Our chief arrived and tried pleading with them too, but they refused. They said “You’re a traitor of a chief; you don’t want us to improve our lives.” And when they left they ran into the soldiers, and once they’d seen them, the battle began.

The soldiers took pity on us and told us to leave the market and go home so they could confront the militia members. We fled towards the house, my little brother and me, but unfortunately, as we fled a stray bullet hit him in the thigh and he fell to the ground. Someone else’s mother came and helped us to the house.

My mum was in the forest while all this was going on; she’d hidden when all the fighting started. The militia members had come and tried to kill her. One of them wanted to make my mum his wife, and his rivals wanted to decapitate her. Mum begged on her knees for them to let her go.

We finally found each other again and headed to another village, where we stayed with the pastor. My little brother had to go to the hospital, but his leg is ok again now. This is all the suffering that I lived through during the conflict last year.

Peace, of a kind

Now, six months later, it’s mostly peaceful, but we’re all still living together and no one has really changed. I don’t talk to children who were in the militias after they tried to get me to join. Some come to the playing field to play, but they never stay for long because the men with guns are still searching for them to kill them.

The boy who used to be my friend is among them. He keeps getting skinnier and skinnier because he keeps eating fetiches. He’s manic now. I’d like to take him to see the chief and get him to vomit everything he’s taken.

The militia members don’t like seeing me since I refused to join them. I ran into one of them on the road and he told me he’d hit me because he wanted to kill my mum. Mum didn’t like them; she never trusted them. The armed groups have been really bad, to the other men with guns and the rest of us.

The militia member who wanted to kill my mum is the one who started all the trouble in the village. He’s an old man with lots of children. He used to walk around naked without any shame, with just a red bandana on his head and biceps. He’s caused a lot of suffering among the children in our village. He’s the one who recruited all the children.

And when I pass men with guns when I head to market to sell our vegetables, sometimes they just take everything without paying.

Between the different armed groups and men with guns, the rest of us have spent the past year in misery.

In order to avoid further conflict, we can’t be brutal or violent; we must have goodwill towards everyone. We need a good character, and we all need to put away immorality. Children need to study and play again.

Parents should work, and maybe work will also help them forget all the atrocities that we’ve experienced. Like my mum, for example – she sells flour now, and tries to earn enough to take care of us. 

There are things that can be done to avoid war – we need to avoid fetiches (traditional magic and sorcery), and act prudently. We need to be open to other points of view, and be vigilant about people who might try to cause trouble. I’m Christian – I didn’t know that fetiches or witchcraft existed before we had all these troubles with the armed groups.

For my own future, I’m always telling my mum that I want to study and become a lawyer. Right now, I’m not going to school. Sometimes my mum asks me to help her in the field and I go to help. Other days I just stay home. But one day I want to be able to fight for people’s rights in court and tribunals.