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Poverty vs. war

When asked about his fallen friends, he spoke frankly as he described why they died. When asked about his enemies, he answered swiftly. In three years in the militia, he killed about 50 people, he said.

“I was very happy, because I killed enemies that came to attack us,” he said.

Kikandi, 16, killed only one man in his year with another local militia. During battles, he usually hid in the bush and was later beaten by the other soldiers who considered him a coward. Kikandi said he preferred the beatings to the battles because he was afraid to fight. As a new recruit, he was not given magic to protect him.

Unlike Wetemwami, Kikandi did not join the militia by choice. About a year and a half ago, militiamen came to his village and demanded the local children. Parents who objected were beaten, and about 10 boys were taken far into the bush.

“They gave us guns and military uniforms, and we began fighting,” he said.

Kikandi is now studying carpentry and living at the Tumaini Center with Wetemwami, who studies masonry. Both boys said they want to go home and get jobs.

Kikandi said the threat of being captured by the militiamen and forced back into bush is terrifying.

But for Wetemwami, living in extreme poverty is often worse than fighting. He said his white sleeveless T-shirt, blue track pants and orange plastic sandals are the only clothes he has. As bad as life was as a soldier, life as an ex-soldier could be worse, he said.

“I am dreaming about going back to the militia,” he said. “At least there I had clothes.”