Photos by Michael Graham
MUTOBO, RWANDA—Picture a battle-hardened group of ruthless killers living peacefully in a community with no fences and no security guards. The setting is a run-down collection of corrugated aluminum barracks, nestled beneath spectacular sloping green hills.
We were at a “demobilization” camp inside Rwanda. Kigigi, the young man with whom I was speaking, had for two years been a bit player in one of the world’s most brutal conflicts—the long wars in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, previously known as Zaire. This 20-year-old refugee from Rwanda had been a soldier in the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a violent guerrilla army accused of widespread rape, massacres, looting and pillage across swaths of ungoverned territory in the DRC and western Rwanda.
The conflict had begun with the 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda. The Hutu were eventually largely driven from Rwanda, into the Democratic Republic of Congo. But from there they continued to menace Rwandans across the border. In the mid-‘90s, Rwanda’s leader, Paul Kagame, sent troops into Congo in pursuit of these marauding Hutu soldiers. The situation then metastasized into a complex free-for-all, involving several neighboring countries and local armies, and fueled in part by a struggle for control of gold, copper, coltan (found in cell phone chips around the world) and other resources. The culture of lawlessness that prevails has helped turn eastern Congo into the rape capital of the world. And, according to the International Rescue Committee, since 1998, as many as 5.4 million civilians have died from malnutrition, disease, and violence, making this crisis far deadlier even than the better-known war to the north in Darfur, Sudan.