In both academic literature and policy discourse, ex-combatants are at times depicted as a threat to peace rather than agents of positive change. However, many of my ex-combatant interlocutors in Burundi were working actively on conflict resolution and peace-building projects. In addition, their experience and knowledge of combat was frequently stated as a deterrent for going back to such a situation. Though it may seem contradictory, the reasons my informants gave for having joined the war sounded remarkably similar to motivations for social activism. They usually expressed it as a desire to contribute to a better, more just, community. I argue that ideology played an important part in motivation to join armed groups during the war and carries over in participation in social activism today. These decisions need not be seen as polar opposites, but rather as similar motivations towards contributing to positive change taken in different circumstances.