The rebel group Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FLDR) remains the biggest security concern for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the region. Calls for its voluntary disarmament have been voiced by the Congolese government, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), the Extraordinary Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Southern African Development Community, and the mini-summit of regional Heads of State.
Although FLDR is a major threat to the security in the DRC, it is important not to overlook Congolese armed groups more domestic in orientation and origin. FLDR is an externally sponsored group that is a product of regional politics; thus dealing with it would not substantially contribute to solving internal security issues. However, most of the security issues within the DRC are mainly due internal economic, political, and social issues rather than external factors. Consequently, by examining other Congolese armed groups and militias, we can be in a position to more meaningfully assess their ability and willingness to contribute to a stable security environment in the country.
One of the most important success factors for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) is an economically prosperous environment; otherwise, the participants are just reintegrated back into poverty. The economic growth has been steady in the DRC in the past five years, but it may not be enough. Indeed, with the UNDP Human Development Report 2014 ranking the DRC 186th out of 187 countries, the outlook for the reintegration phase of the National Programme for DDR III is not very good.
DDR III’s reintegration phase focuses on providing grants to the ex-combatants to start their own business in the community of their choice. While providing skills training and the initial help to create a business plan, it remains to be seen if ex-combatants possess the characteristics required to become successful businessmen in a struggling economy. In addition, it is overly optimistic to believe that ex-combatants – who usually lack the education level of an average Congolese person (due to the spent time in the bush) and may have psychological problems such as excessive aggression and anti-social behaviour (due to the exposure to combat) – will be able to successfully start and manage a business. Moreover, a question remains if the chosen communities can absorb all of returning demobilized ex-combatants.
Consequently, the economic re-integration phase needs ensure that those ex-combatants trying to open a business can become successful businessmen. If not, it should provide them with professional skills needed in the community they wish to return to – so that they can find regular jobs. Unfortunately, the current DDR III plan does not mention that assessments will be performed to decide which skills are needed in which communities. Therefore, it is uncertain if the training provided to the ex-combatants will actually help them acquire a job in their chosen community. Keeping all of these points in mind and considering that the reintegration phase is often the least successful part of DDR, other possibilities should be explored.
Previously, the DRC pursued an open-ended integration process into the army in an effort to bring the armed groups under the government’s control. At times, the armed groups were permitted to keep their command structures intact and remain in the same territory, effectively allowing them to control the area. On the other hand, militias have also formed to protect their community from FLDR and other rebel groups when the Armed Forces of the DRC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo or FARDC) fails to do so. One example is the Mai Mai Kifuafua group, which refuses to disarm unless FARDC ensures that the community is protected from rebels groups. This is not say that countless militias are not predatory. However, those that are not should be identified and used to contribute to stable security environment.
In the latter case, it would make sense to continue such a hybrid approach to security provision. The benefits are threefold: the militia can continue protecting the community, the soldiers are (hopefully) salaried, and the FARDC gains a de facto presence in the areas where it is desperately needed. Moreover, this approach would use the skills that the combatants already possess to provide what the community most requires: security and protection from the rebels. Importantly, the reach of state authority is often limited in developing countries, and the DRC is no exception. Using this approach, the Congolese government could theoretically extend the reach of its authority – if it succeeds in effectively controlling these militias. However, hybrid security provisioning should only be considered if the militias are indeed protecting the community and if there is doubt that the FARDC can provide such protection.
The approach is not perfect. For instance, it will be hard to differentiate between predatory armed groups and self-defence militias. Furthermore, non-predatory militias could easily turn predatory in their remote communities, as other militias have previously done in eastern Congo, due to the lack of effective oversight mechanisms. Another issue with this approach is the effect on the command structure and the general organization of the FARDC. Will the leadership of a formerly independent militia willingly take orders from the FARDC? Will the cohesiveness and the ability of the FARDC to work as a unit be hampered by having permanently stationed units outside of the army bases? Will such presence impede the work of local police units? Will there be a power struggle between the FARDC-affiliated militia and the police in these communities?
First, in order to become part of the FARDC and remain in the territory, the militia should be properly vetted and re-trained to ensure that they follow army standards. Moreover, it would be wise to involve local chiefs in the vetting process. They have strong leadership positions; thus their guidance and decisions are usually well respected in the communities where state presence is minimal or non-existent. Second, effective oversight mechanisms should be set in place in these situations, such as unannounced check-ups from the representatives of MONUSCO and the FARDC. Third, any issues regarding the militia and the local police are not likely to be an issue since often these communities do not have any permanent local police presence, which the reason behind the formation of local militias. If they do have a permanent police presence, however, the division of responsibilities between the two groups should be clearly defined: the militia should be responsible for protecting community from external threats, while the police force should deal with internal security issues.
Fourth, while the cohesiveness of the FARDC will likely be negatively affected, it can be viewed as a trade-off for the increased reach of the government’s authority. Fifth, despite being less likely to willingly take orders from the FADRC, reformed militias will be better informed about the local realities and needs of their community, the physical terrain of the surroundings, and benefit from local intelligence. By working with the militia leadership, the FARDC will gain access this knowledge, which will allow it to make more informed decisions pertaining to that area of operation. Lastly, incentives should be provided to the militia to ensure that it does not turn predatory. The main incentive should be a regular and decent salary since many militias illegally tax communities in order to generate revenue.
Although the proliferation of arms, militias, and rebel groups leads to insecurity in the DRC, efforts aimed at producing a more secure environment should work with the reality on the ground by making small incremental changes. DDR programs in the DRC are vital for educating ex-combatants and facilitating their economic and social re-integration. However, with the currently weak plans for economic and social re-integration, donors are likely to be wasting their money; ex-combatants who fail to re-integrate will simply go back to the bush. Thus two things should happen: re-integration phase needs to be re-considered to make sure that it corresponds to the reality of its participants and, in parallel, the Congolese government should consider putting eligible militias through vetting and re-training process in order to allow them to guard their communities.
Margarita Yakovenko received an MA from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa and is presently an intern at the Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada.