Many hitches ahead for Congo’s new DDR. Time to get over them.

On Boxing Day, the Congolese government has officially unpacked its new Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration (DDR) approach. A cabinet meeting presided by Prime Minister Matata Ponyo has adopted the “Plan Global de Déarmement, Démobilisation et Réinsertion”, nicknamed DDR III because it is the third nation-wide approach in that regard. It is worth a while to have a closer look at what the guiding principles adopted by the DRC government stipulate in terms of sequence and implications.

First of all, the organisational setup will remain unchanged. As in previous initiatives, the UEPN-DDR (French acronym for implementation unit for the the national DDR plan) that had replaced the National DDR Commission CONADER over allegations of fraud and corruption will have the lead in overseeing national DDR efforts in the frame of DDR III which represents a revised and renewed version of the PN-DDR (national DDR plan, according to decree N°04/092 of 2004) that existed before. This is not a problem as such, as success will certainly depend on the more detailed structure of this organisation and the people responsible, than on the mere nomenclature.

Over the past few years, when DDR (not to be confused with DDRRR – this includes repatriation and resettlement, is aimed at foreign combatants and led by a special MONUSCO department ever since its inception) was officially disrupted in DRC, the UEPN-DDR was responsible to provide some assistance in terms of reintegration to special cases. For instance, they continue to maintain an operational office in South Kivu and closed the Goma office not long ago.

The four main objectives of DDR III are surprising in part. Beyond a narrow focus on DDR as such, the ‘neutralisation of armed groups’ (adapting the wording of the UN Security Council in its resolution 2098) and the ‘optimising of public resources’ feature prominently, while below the document explicitly includes international partners (the notion of humanitarian is a bit particular here, probably political and diplomatic is what is really meant…) as key actors to (co-)fund the renewed efforts.

This plan, as opposed to earlier DDR efforts in the DRC and elsewhere, foresees a first phase of ‘sensitisation’. It may be sort of an ‘SDDR’ programme, so to speak. Why this might be important, is laid down in the following phases: The roughly 11,000 combatants to be demobilised (this is the estimation guiding the current calculation, however there may well be a few more irregular arms bearers on Congolese territory) shall be cantoned in three sites (Kitona/Bas-Congo, Kamina/Katanga, and Katakoli/Equateur).  This choice reflects a mixture of practical considerations – at least Kitona and Kamina are already existing military bases with the capacity to regroup large amounts of people – and the government’s intent to separate combatants from their areas of activity. However, given the lack of trust among some communities and towards the government, sensitisation will be vital to convince surrendered militia groups to leave their fiefs in order to undergo DDR in the West and Southeast of the country.

Finally, the Congolese government is cognisant of the crucial nature reintegration will have. It aims at establishing “Centres de Préparation à la Réintégration” (CPR) to streamline assistance for former combatants. The CPR are supposed to accompany ex-combatants up to five years, according to the government’s plan adopted. The Presidency, the Prime Minister, as well as the Ministries for Defence, Interior, Justice, and Information appear to be the main implicated government entities in the whole process. This somewhat reflects current balances of power within the Congolese cabinet.

But, as earlier outlined, this is yet another new DDR programme for eastern Congo. Its predecessors have, in parts, failed badly for numerous reasons. While there has been some limited success for the Ituri-based demobilisation and community reinsertion (DCR) programmes in the mid-2000s, CONADER-led DDR in the Kivus never led to desired outcomes. In contrary, the Congolese government and international donors contributed to the emergence of new militias and the recycling of old ones by massively neglecting the key R-component of DDR. The latter, according to UN definition, says:

“The process by which ex-combatants acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income. Reintegration is essentially a social and economic process with an open time-frame, primarily taking place in communities at the local level. It is part of the general development of a country, a national responsibility and often necessitates long-term external assistance.” (United Nations 2005: Note of the Secretary-General to the General Assembly. A/C.5/59/31. United Nations, New York.)

Sustainable employment and income undoubtedly is at the centre. Hard to achieve in surroundings framed by informal occupation and little economic opportunity, former DDR initiatives in the DRC have contributed little to improvement, though. The UN definition continues with an emphasis on the open-endedness of such a process. While this is a wise observation, operational and financial constraints among implicated UN stakeholders (mainly MONUC and UNDP) have prevented significant patience on the side of  implementing bodies (including international and Congolese NGOs).

Moreover, much of the reintegration efforts did not trickle down to the local level. Instead of establishing a real presence in the concerned hotspots, most agencies dealt with reintegration at arms’ length. They had offices in places like Goma, Bukavu, or Uvira. Their presence in rural areas – at the local level – was minuscule or inexistent. Instead, demobilised combatants were in many instances obliged to travel from remote zones to provincial capitals. Given transportation costs, a 50 US dollars instalment would quickly shrink to less than five bucks net gains.

My own field research while with the Usalama Project revealed that for most territories in both North and South Kivu, the lack of follow-up, the provision of useless assets, and the distortion or misappropriation of means were systematic, not only isolated cases. In Kamituga for instance, CONADER subsidiaries distributed bicycles. Anyone who has ever been there will quickly notice how useless this is given the mining town has no single tarmac road and enjoys massive rain each day of the year. In Bunyakiri for instance, demobilised combatants were given cassava mills to create a cooperative business. However, two mills were largely insufficient for the amount of ex-combatants and once the first had a breakdown, the situation escalated among the demobilised. In Masisi for instance, former militiamen were promised training and material support for setting up a photography studio. For ‘security reasons’ that prevented access for the DDR programmers and other aspects, this has never been realised.

Instead, concomitant political developments have even further perverted a yet dysfunctional DDR approach. The pre-electoral period around 2005/06 provoked the hasty creation of integrated brigades where a bunch of lucky commanders were rewarded high-ranking positions while the bulk of ex-rebels wasted away in waiting for DDR. A few years later, the Goma peace conference of 2008 came up with promises for communities backing a militia. For a certain number of combatants demobilising, a constituency shall be given a school, a health centre, or other facilities. Some existing militias cheered and subsequently laid down arms, however not without hiding a certain number of rifles and fighters because the root causes (in particular what I have been calling local security dilemmas before) had not been addressed. Even worse, others newly set up their militia since this was the required asset to benefit from the promised rewards. Needless to say that quite a few militias created in this context went beyond control and became actual rebel groups, such as the case of Mayi Mayi Shikito virtuously demonstrates.

In these, new efforts for a lasting DDR as part of security sector reform and peacebuilding in the DRC, it is therefore essential to closely revisit these failures and adverse side-effects to avoid future shortcomings. It is also inevitable for all stakeholders – Congolese and international – to maintain a long breath and a local commitment in this regard. Only then, DDR will turn into a success story for eastern Congo.

This is excerpted from an official transcript produced by the Congolese cabinet on 26 December 2013:

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4 Responses to “Many hitches ahead for Congo’s new DDR. Time to get over them.”
  1. Sure :) Yeah, a couple months ago I met the guy in Bukavu and J and I tried to meet the guy in Uvira but he was on a field mission. So there were definitely two offices as of November/December last year.

  2. ethuin says:

    Thanks for that. I was told differently but you might know better (and your research is more recent on this issue).

  3. Thanks for this Christoph, very helpful! One thing though, I think UEPNDDR has two operational offices in South Kivu– one in Bukavu and one in Uvira. Cheers!

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