Dancing on the razorblades of meaningful DDR in eastern DRC

More and more weeks pass, but Congo’s new DDR efforts do not seem to move ahead. Awhile ago, I have tried to outline the main past failures and current challenges regarding sustainable demobilisation and reintegration efforts and ever since, the situation on the ground has grown more precarious.

The Congolese government had finalised its new DDR plan, coined DDR 3, in late December. It provides for the demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants into civilian life through a four-pronged approach, including sensitisation, disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration. Army integration appears not be on the plate for now, certainly a lesson learned with past, hastened integration efforts (using mixage and brassage techniques) that largely failed to tame insecurity and impunity across the spectre of conflict actors in eastern Congo. To which extent this will be maintained over the coming months remains to be seen. Further on, the Congolese government plans to transfer the ex-combatants to camps to be set up outside the Kivu provinces – where the bunch of demobilised comes from. While it is understandable to aim at a temporary relocation of these elements, there are quite a few operational and political risks attached to it.

The dislocation of ex-combatants can easily spark dissent among the former and create a feeling of rejection among those still hiding out in their bases. Militiamen and their dependents are reminded of past programmes, when asymmetric disarmament has left some communities without protection while others maintained their armed wings. Security voids left by the national army’s absence, most prominently during the regimentation process in 2010, have severed these dynamics. It is therefore highly unclear, how combatants and there communities will react to such measures. Many Congolese observers – both within and outside state administration have confirmed these worries during the past weeks in Goma, Bukavu, and other places. Beyond that, it is even unclear whether the logistic capacities will allow for these relocation measures to happen anytime soon, even including MONUSCO as a carrier will result in a strained, if not overburdened UN mission.

As per now, the largest camp assembling ex-combatants is Bweremana, a small town in North Kivu’s southern ends famous for having become the 8th military region’s temporary headquarters during M23’s occupation of Goma. In Bweremana, as shown below, over 2,500 demobilised combatants plus 3,000 dependents from over 20 armed groups are currently cantoned. The camp came into existence a few months ago and steadily grew as a bunch of armed groups decided to (mostly partially) demobilise. FARDC and MONUSCO have to some extent been able to meet a few humanitarian needs, such as providing for food but the overall situation is fragile, several Congolese and international observers there told me. This adds to a situation whereby ex-combatants from opposed armed groups (i.e. APCLS and NDC Sheka) are grouped into one single camp. The following lists show the recent situation in Bweremana (I have also received a second, slightly diverging list shortly after):

Nyatura Habarugira: 685 combatants, 1487 dependents

APCLS Bord du Lac: 234 combatants, 182 dependents

FDIPC: 100 combatants, 163 dependents

FDC: 119 combatants, 150 dependents

MPA: 139 combatants, 139 dependents

FDLR (congolese): 18 combatants, 2 dependents

M23 (congolese): 5 combatants, 5 dependents

FDDH/Noheri: 146 combatants, 122 dependents

FNL (congolese): 1 combatant, 0 dependents

NDC Sheka: 128 combatants, 16 dependents

FSP/Mutshoma: 173 combatants, 167 dependents

FPD/Shetani: 74 combatants, 0 dependents

UCP: 106 combatants, 93 dependents

MAC: 14 combatants, 0 dependents

FDDH/Kasongo: 483 combatants, 452 dependents

FDDH/Kaniro: 62 combatants, 22 dependents

APCLS: 36 combatants, 1 dependent

PARECO: 5 combatants, 0 dependents

Nyatura Nyiragongo: 60 combatants, 55 dependents

UPCP/Lafontaine: 1 combatant, 0 dependents

FDDH/Kahira: 91 combatants, 33 dependents

TOTAL: 2,674 combatants, 3,084 dependents

NB: It is unclear, to which degree these numbers represent exact post-vetting statistics, given diverging classifications (combatant = weapon bearers only… probably not…).

Meanwhile, on the national and international level, preparations for the actual beginning of the DDR process are as much delayed as the joint operations against FDLR in Lubero. As earlier indicated, the Congolese government appears to be ready to some extent, but support from the international community is lacking. For Bweremana (and a few other small sites) this means the people are held in uncertainty. History is likely to repeat itself, as ex-combatants start losing trust in the process and other armed groups are disincentivised to lay down arms. Among those who left the bushes, scepticism is obvious given large numbers that came without carrying their arms. This can be explained by a mixed set of reasons, ranging from fear to fully commit to a process whose end is unknown up to political bargaining of rebel leaders and the fact that often customary authorities are the owners of weapons, simply borrowing them to an affiliated armed group.

A few days ago, ex-combatants have started defecting again from Bweremana. Waiting over weeks, yet months, without a clear roadmap disillusion evoked at least 100 (possibly up to 250) elements to flee back to the maquis. Official sources remain silent over these developments, but some off-the-record statements and other observers on the ground have confirmed, stressing that a main part of these escapees may be Nyatura (this point though, to be confirmed).

MONUSCO currently seems busy following up the process with the Congolese government, but general UN and donor commitment (although it is hard to say what happens behind closed doors in New York) seems to be insufficient at best. DRC’s government has now put Gen. Delphin Kahimbi and Col. Prosper Nzekani in charge of the process – given their experience and reputation this seems to be an intelligent choice but they will have to overcome a bunch of hurdles to make the planned process running while simultaneously encourage the yet demobilised to stay in the process and others to join it.

It has been said on this website quite a few times, but it may again be pertinent to end with a warning that kick-starting DDR is urgent and doing it by avoiding past mistakes is vital.

One Response to “Dancing on the razorblades of meaningful DDR in eastern DRC”
  1. crisismaven says:

    I have never seen such a long list of the warring parties in Congo. I wonder, do our Western media not read? Do they sit in some five-star hotel or are there really any journalists “on the ground” in Congo? as a rule, peace came to countries that were war-torn when a central power was established and, instead of alienating former combatants, integrated them ALL into the new army that went with the new nationhood. But I wonder if that would be possible with so many factions as listed above (which I suspect is only part of the “iceberg”).

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