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Former Child Soldier Shares His Story With KSMU

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Thursday evening, a former child soldier, Michel Chikwanine, spoke on the Missouri State University campus about his experiences growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo during what’s known as the Great War of Africa. The 22-year-old travels the world as an inspiration speaker, trying to bring attention to international childrens’ issues. He joined KSMU’s Jennifer Moore in the studio Thursday afternoon.

“My story about being a child soldier was much earlier, before the war started itself. I was five years old, actually, when I was abducted to be a child soldier. Strangely enough, I couldn’t lift a gun. I was a little kid,” he said.

He said his abduction occurred right after the Rwandan genocide began, and that the genocide was spilling into Congo. The rebels from Rwanda came to Congo to recruit children like Chikwanine for their army needs, he said.

“As a part of their training, they would cut on your skin, [cut] a vein, and they would put in a substance called ‘brown brown,’ which is a mixture of cocaine and gunpowder. And they’d rub that into the wounds in order to make you feel crazy and lose control of your own body, in a way. And then they forced me to kill a friend of mine,” he recalls.

He was returned to his family, but shortly thereafter, war broke out in the Congo. During that conflict, he witnessed his mother and sister being raped, he says.

Chikwanine says many North Americans ask him why the Great War of Africa happened. He said they are surprised by his answer: that part of it was due to large, Western corporations paying big money to rebel soldiers, because they wanted control over a valuable mineral found in Congo known as “colton.” It’s used in laptops and cell phones, he said, and is in high demand.

Also, he said it’s important for Americans to realize that the clothes they wear are often made by the hands of children who are forced to work instead of going to school. He said it’s important to ask tough questions, because we’re all connected in so many ways.

He says now his mission is to share his story in the hopes that his life story of overcoming struggles will inspire others to do the same.

Michel Chikwanine, originally from The Congo, now travels North America as a motivational speaker with the group “Me to We.” He spoke Thursday night at Missouri State University’s Carrington Hall Theater.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.