This new report by Christoph Vogel and Josaphat Usamba for the Rift Valley Institute offers a useful overview of past and current demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR) programs initiated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The authors first consider why and how previous processes failed to reintegrate ex-combatants into civilian life. The paper then examines incentives for members of armed groups to join this program within the specific context of the DRC and analyzes the potential impact of the initiative – known as Plan global national de DDR III (DDR III) – on combatants. Finally, the authors argue that the Congolese government should undertake a holistic approach to DDR, so that security sector reform can be comprehensive and include efforts at social transformation.
Past DDR Programs
The Congolese government launched its first DDR program in 2003 following the Second Congo War and the signing of the Sun City Agreement. Known as the National Disarmament and Reinsertion Commission, or CONADER, it was mandated to facilitate ex-combatants’ reintegration into civilian life. The process appeared initially successful, but met with challenges throughout the implementation phase. Armed groups claimed to have around 330,000 combatants on their rosters, a number that the government and international organizations disputed. Lack of donor oversight and a central database caused significant problems, with assets being misused in rural areas. Without a way to track the entry of combatants into the program, some re-entered multiple times, and non-combatants posed as former fighters to gain the benefits provided. In the end, insecurity, particularly in the eastern DRC, intensified, and communities were left uninformed of what to expect from the reintegration of former combatants.
Following the defeat of the M23 rebels in 2013, the Congolese government had the opportunity to launch a more comprehensive attempt at demobilizing and reintegrating combatants. Adopted in 2014 and implemented in 2015, DDR III has also faced particular roadblocks due to the current political situation in the DRC. While most demobilization programs take place in post-conflict environments, DDR III is being implemented within the context of ongoing activity by armed groups and a tense election year. The Congolese army, referred to as the FARDC, is leading both the demobilization effort and military offensives against armed groups in the eastern region of the country. This dual role does little to incentivize combatants to set aside their arms and rejoin civilian life. The program once again leaves the primary political and economic roots of armed mobilization unaddressed.
While the design of DDR III remains imperfect, the Congolese government did take critical steps to improve upon its past failures. First, it launched an awareness raising campaign prior to beginning the demobilization of combatants. Second, the government insisted that combatants would be transferred from their locations to other parts of the country where centers were established to carry out the program. However, the relocation aspect has posed significant challenges for the process. Not only are conditions in the transit centers less than ideal, but many combatants are also afraid of being moved away from their homes.
So too has the focus on demobilization, rather than integration into the DRC’s security sector, complicated the program. With the army leading DDR III and military offensives at the same time, combatants have come to distrust the program, in addition to their existing distrust of the Congolese army. Past failures only intensify the distrust that many fighters feel, and the military’s continued operations do little to convince combatants to set aside their weapons.
Challenges to successful demobilization
The briefing paper outlines four factors that tend to impede the implementation of DDR and affect patterns of mobilization. The first, local security dilemmas between and within communities, are prominent in the DRC. Community-level competition over land, identity, power, and access to livelihood opportunities is at the root of conflict in the eastern region of the country. As long as dozens of armed groups remain active in the area, it will be difficult to convince combatants to demobilize. The persistent nature of these conflicts provides combatants with cover to claim their presence is protecting their communities rather than harming civilians.
The second factor, resistance by political elites, has served as a main roadblock during past DDR programs. Without political will, there is little support for the program to be implemented and for combatants to demobilize and re-enter society. In the DRC, many elites rely on armed groups to bolster their hold on political posts, and often work through intermediaries, like customary authorities, who also work with militias. This dependence makes it difficult for elites to support a DDR program that would reduce their own gains.
The third and fourth factors both relate to the incentives provided to combatants as they join DDR programs. While carrots are helpful to convince fighters to demobilize, they should be tailored to the specific needs of commanders and rank-and-file combatants. For commanders, integration into the FARDC was the primary draw in previous DDR programs. The Congolese government has largely abandoned this approach due to the detrimental effects the army experienced after commanders, with little training and education, were placed in charge of battalions. However, without this particular incentive, it is unclear what the government can offer armed groups’ leaders in return for their demobilization. As for rank-and-file combatants, redefining social identity and status remains the critical challenge. DDR III, like the programs that preceded it, focuses on providing livelihood opportunities to ex-combatants, but tends to ignore social reintegration. Many combatants have become accustomed to living the rebel lifestyle, and are uncertain how to reintegrate into a civilian environment. Policy implications As the paper highlights, the success or failure of DDR III cannot be judged simply on its technical merits, but must also take into account the political implications of the program. The lack of consideration of the dynamics of the ongoing conflict and what drives combatants to join armed groups remains a key roadblock to full success. As a result, the program appears to focus more on trading in weapons for material reward, rather than building ex-combatants’ trust in the Congolese government and army and offering assistance with reintegrating into their communities. Moving forward, the paper argues that ex-combatants and commanders should be involved in the program as advisors and examples to encourage others to follow in their footsteps. Congolese experts should also be consulted so that the program is grounded in the political and military context of the country.
Victoria Bosselman is a former research and communications intern at the Centre for Security Governance (CSG). She has a Master of Arts in International Relations and Economics from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She is interested in post-conflict reconstruction and transitional justice, and has conducted research on victims’ rights and reparations in the Colombian peace process. Prior to joining the CSG, she completed internships at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, International Crisis Group, and the Enough Project.