Spiegel Online ( Germany ) reports
Ms. Kalashnikov: The Women Rebels of Congo
Major Masika’s bedroom. In the frame is the younger sister Denadine. Masika, 26, has a business and accounting degree. She has fought in the rebel group Mai Mai La Fontaine and then in M23. In October 2012 she was severely beaten by Mai Mai rebels because of her decision to join M23 and now she can’t sleep at night in her house because of the danger of a repeat attack. Kiwanja, (territory controlled by rebel group M23), North Kivu, DRC
They murder, rob and kidnap, just like their male comrades. Some women fight for rebel groups in Congo against their will, while others are driven by desperation. Photographer Francesca Tosarelli documented their dangerous lives.
I am unsure of the purpose of this article interesting though it is. In a western context there is nothing new in this woman routinely serve in the security services both military and civilian, they also are represented in the criminal world though not in the same numbers as their male counterparts. I see no reason why Africa should be any different.
The Kivu region is extremely dangerous. The lush area on the eastern outskirts of the Democratic Republic of Congo is the hiding ground for some of Africa's most notorious rebel groups, like the fighters for the M23 Movement, which is engaged in a conflict with the country's government. Here, there is little by way of infrastructure or state control.
Territory controlled by Mai Mai Shetani/FDP. Beyond the hills there is Uganda. Nyamilima, North Kivu, DRC
This article was first published Monday 30 September 2013 at that point M23 was still a going concern ( just ) although even then the writing was clearly on the wall that their defeat was imminent.
Despite the dangers, an interest in the marauding rebel groups has repeatedly brought photographer Francesca Tosarelli to the region along the borders of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.
As long as she made it clear ( which she obviously did ) that she was producing if not pro M23 work but at least neutral material, I doubt she would have had too many problems. M23 have always put a disproportionate amount of effort into attempting to justify their existence particularly to the world at large.
Over the course of four months in early 2013, the young Italian sought contact with M23, Mai Mai Shetani and other rebel groups, creating "Ms. Kalashnikov," a stunning photo series about the largely unknown subgroups in the African rebel scene. The series focuses on the increasing number of women who are joining their ranks.
Kanieremervè Uivin at the border of the territory controller by Mai Mai Shetani/FDP. She is 16 and she is the older in her family. She was born in Nyamilina and left school at the 6th year of primary school. Her dad has been killed by the FDLR and her auntie has been raped, after this she decided to join Mai Mai Shetani/FDP. Her role is to be the commander’s escort. Her main dream is to go back to school and finish her studies. Buramba military base, Nyamilima, North Kivu, DRC
Mai Mai Shetani / FDP ( Front Populaire pour la Démocratie (FPD) ) are an anti M23 outfit who have formed to oppose an invasion by Rwanda, there is an irony here the crimes inflicted on this child were committed by the genocidal FDLR who are Rwandan rebels and allied to the FDP. I personally can't wait to see these pricks brought to justice, Kanieremervè Uivin
( Pictured above ) is a child soldier and clearly is supporting her father's murderers and the criminals who raped her aunt. There are many reasons why recruiting child soldiers is considered a crime against humanity.
"I'm fascinated by how the dividing lines between genders are blurred by these conflicts," Tosarelli says. "These women don't fit any roles established by society. They can be mothers and organized killers at the same time."
Before photographing them, she first needed to earn their trust. "It wasn't always easy for me; personal connections had to develop first," she says.
They fit a role that has been established by the indifference of society to their plight. Our greed in the West and our ruthless exploitation of the Congo and in fact all of Africa and its people have created the conditions in which inhumanity has thrived.
Major Masika Ngheleza Queen, 26 years old. After taking a business and accounting degree Masika joined the rebel group Mai Mai La Fontaine. In October 2012 other Mai Mai rebels severely beat her due to her decision to join M23. Now her face is covered in scars. She looks back over her photographs of when “she was beautiful”. She sleeps in an M23 military base because her room at night is still not safe. Kiwanja, (territory controlled by rebel group M23), North Kivu, DRC
General Kakule Sikula Lafontaine and his bunch of
Mai Mai merry mad men were actually allied to M23. The Kivus is infested with scum such as him. Major Masika Ngheleza Queen ( pictured above ) is also in many ways a victim and that is something that needs to be recognised.
Motivated by Revenge
That was the case with Major Mathilde Samba, who at the age of just 31, already has years of military experience. After serving in the Congolese army for 13 years, in November 2012 she switched sides. Since then, she has been fighting alongside her husband for M23. The couple sent their daughters far away to the capital Kinshasa to protect them from the fighting in the east. Samba says she believes the only way to influence Congo's history is through M23's war, and that she has lost trust in the corrupt state power.
It is hard to feel any sympathy for these two. Major Mathilde Samba seems happy to remove her family to the safety of Kinshasa, she and her husband clearly knew the consequences of defecting to a Rwandan run rebel outfit, her justification of changing Congolese history through war is bullshit, all she has achieved is a part in the killing and displacement of thousands of innocent victims.
Major Mathilde Samba and her husband Colonel Jean-Marie Labila. Mathilde and Jean-Marie defected from the army and national police and joined M23 in November 2012. They sent their four children to Kinshasa. Rutshuru, (territory controlled by rebel group M23), North Kivu, DRC
"One needn't have any illusions or sugarcoat anything," says Tosarelli. "In the field these women conduct themselves no differently than their male comrades." And that includes committing murders, robberies and kidnapping. For many of these women revenge is the primary motivation for this, particularly among the younger fighters. Many of them have lost relatives to the rebels, or were raped or wounded. Now, they seek vengeance in the rebel ranks.
Clearly there are many who are beyond rehabilitation and should be locked up for the crimes they have committed. The DR Congo's government has said that it favours dealing with the defeated rebels on a case by case basis I am guessing that is one of the sticking points in the Kampala debacle but it is a perfectly reasonable position I can see no place for either Major Mathilde Samba or her husband Colonel Jean-Marie Labila in the DR Congo and she having thrown her lot in with M23 should live with the consequences of that decision. Her future if it doesn't involve a date with the ICC is probably as a political refugee in Rwanda. Her children may pay a high price for her stupidity.
Young People at Risk
Take Rehema Rahijya, for example. The young woman, who either can't remember or won't reveal her age, doesn't look much older than 16. In 2012, she joined the Mai Mai Shetani rebels. The story that the foot soldier tells is similar to many that Tosarelli heard while conducting her research: Fighters raped her sister and stole the family's livestock. She says she'll never marry or find another job. After all, who would want a murderess? Lack of prospects and the wish for atonement have already driven her into a rival rebel group. She will not reveal whether she has ever been forced to fight.
Lieutenant Rehema Rahijya (age not declared) and Lieutenant Kanieremervè Uivin, 16 years old, having a rest in their hut. Buramba military base, Nyamilima, North Kivu, DRC
A 16 year old child ( feet and guns pictured above ) is in no way criminally responsible for her actions. If or more likely when the Intervention ( Africa ) Brigade catch up with the Mai Mai Shetani I hope these kids don't end up as casualties. We can be fairly sure they haven't got a clue just how much more dangerous their situation has become. These kids need a chance at life and MONUSCO I hope is thinking about that. Quite probably the only real solution is to rescue them and resettle them in the west where they can have a fresh start.
Young people are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of the Kivu region, where the spheres of influence are constantly changing amid frequent skirmishes. Although United Nations troops and the Congolese army ensure something resembling security in the cities, the jungles and scrubland are practically uncontrollable. Militias frequently kidnap young people to add to their ranks. Boys are forced to take up arms, and girls are enslaved as household and sex workers, and now frequently as soldiers too.
Colonel Fanette Umuraza, 32 years old. Fanette joined M23 having previously fought in the CNDP, M23’s predecessor. She says she chose these two rebel groups because she shares their ideology. Military base of M23, Rumangabo, (territory controlled by rebel group M23), North Kivu, DRC
Perhaps none of the women featured in the photographer's work embodies this contrast like Colonel Fanette Umuraza. A 32-year-old with a university degree in political science, she is a fighter through and through. She vehemently champions the ideology of M23's military chief Sultani Makenga, having worked her way up to serve as his right-hand woman. She says she wants to free the women of Congo from their role as victims, though the fact that rebel groups have been repeatedly accused of committing rapes makes this seem contradictory.
Umuraza has proven herself as a fighter, and men under her command stand at her attention. She has demanded and earned the respect of even the toughest rebels. Yet in stark contrast to her camouflage uniform, Tosarelli's photo series features her wearing lavender nail polish.
" So you resigned yourself to failure, my friendAnd I emerged the chilling stranger, my friendTo eradicate the problem, my friendUnsheathe the blade within the voice
I am the assassinI am the assassin
And what do you call assassins who accuse assassins anyway, my friend?"
Hat Tip: Ambrose Nzeyimana and BK Kumbi