I have heard a lot about Arcade Habiyambere before I meet him. A former member of the FNL, he is the leader of CEDAC’s latest member organisation, AJIEC, representing most of the former FNL fighters Eric Uwimana told me about – those who were neither incorporated into the regular army, or demobilised receiving demobilisation packages.
Arcade joined the rebellion in 1997, when he was just 13. His father had been killed by Tutsis, and he feared the same fate. But he ended up committing atrocities of his own – killing people and burning homes. He saw friends killed, including in a disastrous attack on the airport when they attacked with 4,000 men and left with only 2,700. He was also wounded several times – he shows me the scar on his leg. Gradually he realised that it was the population who were suffering, and that the movement’s objectives no longer existed. As a result, the movement began to see the need for peace, and moved to join the peace.
For Arcade, however, this participation is seen as a failure. As the government pleaded limited means, only 3,500 soldiers were integrated into the army, and 5,000 demobilised; the unlucky, such as Arcade, received only a pair of sandals, their clothes, and 100,000 Francs – which wasn’t always paid. As he says himself: how could they return to their families like that – if they even had a family to return to. The money should have been divided fairly, he says, or not at all. This situation is exacerbated for those, like him, who began fighting as children; they have had no opportunity to gain education or skills (see that piece of Blattman research again!).
Arcade was motivated to act when he realised the treat this situation posed to peace, when he and other former comrades were approached by politicians and asked to destabilise their communities for political purposes. He refused, and formed AJIEC to advocate for better options for his members – including training, help in returning to school, and help in starting small businesses. Without this, he says – probably accurately – that the ranks of disillusioned, optionless former FNL, is a time bomb.
His organisation has existed for only two months, but has already acquired more than 11,000 members and some media exposure – the day before he talks to me Arcade was on Burundian Television talking about his organisation. Talking to him, there are some issues for concern – the complete lack of funding makes it difficult for him to do anything; even organising a football match is a financial strain, and even more worryingly, he talks about being an ‘adherent of the FNL’ in the present tense, before correcting himself! But the grounds for optimism are stronger; even someone with not even a bus fare to their name refused to destabilise his country’s future for money – and has found an awful lot of people who feel the same way and are prepared to do something about it – and taking action to improve their position while they do so. His association with CEDAC is still in its infancy – they signed an agreement at the same meeting where he talked to me – but Eric is clearly thrilled at the new partnership, and their model and organisation should be highly valuable in helping the members of AJIEC to access the training and opportunities that they need. And Arcade is ambitious; as we finish talking, he says that he hopes that his movement can be an inspiration to young people in other countries. Given Eric’s general modesty, AJIEC could be a good complement to his work.
Posted By Laura Gordon
Posted Jul 7th, 2009