It’s a sunny Sunday morning in Rutshuru, a village 70 kilometres from Goma in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC. Josephine Malimukono, a 50-year-old woman, owns a company that processes cassava into bread flour in Rutshuru. Through this business, she helps young people demobilized from armed groups to integrate back into society and making a living.
Mrs. Malimukono has been operating an agribusiness called Ligue de Solidarité Congolaise, or Congolese Solidarity League, since 2017. It employs 85 people, most of whom are former combatants in armed groups. She says that most young people in her region join armed groups due to a lack of job opportunities.
Mrs. Malimukono says, “In 2021, I introduced a free training program for agricultural entrepreneurship for disadvantaged young people.” The training lasts six months and mainly engages young people demobilized from armed groups. It is a practical training in agribusinesses such as agricultural production or processing agricultural products.
The training consists of two main stages. During the first weeks of training, trainees learn to create and manage agricultural businesses, as well as production and processing techniques for products such as cassava. During the final phase of training, trainees are taught marketing. At each stage, the trainers offer practical involvement with the Congolese Solidarity League, where each trainee puts into practice what they’ve learned.
After the training, the Congolese Solidarity League helps young people who want to run an agribusiness start their project by providing them with the necessary seeds or by allowing them to use the company’s equipment free of charge. For those who want to be employed, the Congolese Solidarity League offers two possibilities. Mrs. Malimukono explains, “After each training, I select the best young people to work in the … team; the others, I place in local agribusiness companies.”
Mrs. Malimukono organized a network of small local producers of cassava flour and demobilized youth, so that companies can recruit trained young people directly. She says: “This network has helped improve the quality of life of demobilized young people and has a qualified workforce for agricultural companies in the region. Young employees can earn up to $200 US per month.”
The Congolese Solidarity League asks DRC military authorities to provide lists of demobilized young people who can be trained. These young people can participate in the training after registering with the administrators of demobilization and reintegration camps.
Masumbuko is a 25-year-old, demobilized veteran who uses this alias. He spent several years in armed groups, and today earns a living after training at the Congolese Solidarity League. He says, “I was part of an armed group that ambushed passengers on the roads of North Kivu. I lived in the bush. My family did not know that I was enrolled in an armed group.”
A few months ago, Masumbuko surrendered to the loyalist army’s authorities. The camp administrator invited him to be trained by the Congolese Solidarity League. He says, “The beginning was not easy. We have suffered a lot to learn.”
After the training, Masumbuko decided to start producing cassava flour. The Congolese Solidarity League supported him by supplying him with the machines in his factory. He buys the cassava, grinds it free of charge in the Congolese Solidarity League factory, then packs it for sale, producing at least 1,000 kilograms of cassava flour per month. Masumbuko sells $2,000 US of cassava flour each month. He says, “I earn a good income and manage to support my family.”
Since 2021, Mrs. Malimukono’s agribusiness program has trained more than 300 young people demobilized from armed groups. The former trainees are now financially independent. Some have bought motorcycle taxis. Others are employees of agribusinesses.
Ms. Malimukono concludes: “If we offer young people a source of income, it is an alternative to violence and crime. Above all, agribusiness can help reduce poverty and stimulate the economy in areas impacted by financial insecurity.”