Is DDR an epitome of international failure in the Congo?

Last week, another inglorious incident in the Kotakoli reintegration camp stressed earlier question marks on the current state of Congo’s most recent demobilisation programme dubbed DDR3 (the third general national DDR programme since the official end of the war in 2004). Kotakoli, a military base not far from Gbadolite, home town to former president Mobutu, in Equateur province has been made intermittent home to over 800 ex-combatants (mainly from APCLS, Nyatura, M23, Yakutumba etc.) almost two years ago. These combatants and their dependants were transferred in 2013 from Bweremana transitional camp and Kotakoli was identified as one of three (with Kamina and Kitona bases) major sites for the core demobilisation part of Congo’s new DDR3 plan. Echoing concerns and observations by several local organisations and specialists, an October 2014 Human Rights Watch report meticulously described how disease and starvation continued after the transfer to Kotakoli.

Perhaps the most ambitious demobilisation project envisaged in the DRC so far (mind the difference between DDRRR programmes, eyeing at the repatriation and resettlement of foreign combatants e.g. in the case of FDLR), DDR3 includes – on paper – significant sensitisation and follow-up measures that were missing in previous World Bank funded programmes such as the CONADER and PNDDR activities between 2007 and 2010. However, from earnest DDR3 was subject to both external and internal destabilisation and, like its predecessors, increasing politicisation.

Although the nexus of mobilisation, demobilisation, and remobilisation has, over the past 25 years or so, become somewhat of a traditional tool to govern (in-)security in eastern Congo, not all responsibility lies with the DRC and its political leadership. Massive embezzlement and mismanagement in past DDR programmes were only possible due to fraudulent practises within and by international interveners and, ultimately the World Bank’s tacit neglect of what happened on the ground.

While the Congolese government and military went on gambling with the trust militias disarming after the disappearance of M23 (the case of Raia Mutomboki in South Kivu is illuminating in this regard), the international community never took the DDR3 plan seriously. This may turn out to be a grave mistake in the series of problematic Western interference in the Congo. Obviously a lot of question marks in terms of financing and implementation remain unsolved on the side of Kinshasa. However, a decidedly agnostic politics on the sides of major donors has made it significantly more difficult for the DRC to make DDR3 actually run. The recent upheavals in Kotakoli as much as the earlier HRW reports give evidence.

Out of a planned budget of 85 million USD (a huge sum, but if that is what it takes to break cyclical violence and armed mobilisation it appears quite little compared to what donors have spent in the past years), the government has only pledged tiny parts while it was MONUSCO who contributed 8 million USD, initially to bridge gaps when the combatants where still in Bweremana and elsewhere (as a footnote, MONUSCO has also done a remarkable job in DDRRR, though currently under strain as the government’s Kisangani strategy took off in late 2014).

After the latest protests of the ex-combattants, DRC’s new minister of defence Ngoy Mukena has announced swift improvements and suggests the eventual kick-off of certain activities inscribed into the DDR3 model. Nonetheless, much of the financing question remains unclear. In the meantime, the military integration debate – a chapter closed in 2013 after numerous bad experiences – seems to be on the table again. Back in 2005, ‘an accelerated integration’ into Congo’s army was preferred over actual demobilisation for a number of technical and political reasons.

Now again, we are a year and a half ahead of elections and no long-term solution is materialising. Even if the DDR3 is no panacea, and even less a substitute for wider security sector reform (in the meantime, the EU just finally buried EUSEC (not literally, but its task are to be taken over by the much lighter and smaller ‘Progress’ project as of July 2015), one of the few notable projects in this regard), it is a vital part of the puzzle to address violent conflict in the Congo. The international community should get its act together and play a more constructive role instead of resting on repeating their (pre-)electoral mantra.

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