AIII #17: Why should the Government of the DRC prioritize SSR over DDR Programs?

Why should the Government of the DRC prioritize Security Sector Reform (SSR) over Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reinsertion (DDR) Programs?

Mahaut de Talhouët

Many articles have been written on the linkages between SSR and DDR, and how success in one of these fields is a prerequisite for success in the other. Research has also highlighted the Government of DRC’s (GoDRC) reluctance to undertake SSR for reasons international doors have little leverage on [1].

This paper argues that the GoDRC should stop trying to implement DDR programs as long as SSR remains off the agenda. A succession of DDR programs has created a failing army, a lack of trust in the Government and the continued presence of armed groups. Indeed, by integrating whole rebel groups in the national army keeping their insurgency structure and chain of command, it has created a patchwork army, with a lack of training (from rank and file to officers), a lack of cohesion and an absence of devotion to the Nation. By failing at keeping its numerous reintegration promises, the government has created distrust and many demobilized rebels returned to rebellion, while others keep enrolling luring at rebellion as a mean to integrate the army. Unfortunately the new PNDDR III is not an attractive option for Congolese rebels either; although it theoretically addresses mistakes from previous DDR programs, it fails at offering new opportunities, and its almost year-long stalemate did not restore the trust it needed to even function.

In this situation, only SSR can bring about the changes necessary for a successful DDR. The current situation in Eastern Congo provides more reasons and opportunities for mobilization than for de-mobilization. Aside from ethnic tensions, the high rates of unemployment and critically low income, makes holding a weapon a lucrative opportunity as it permits illegal taxation (on movements, on mining, on trade benefits etc.). To be successful, a DDR program must give a combatant a more attractive option than continuing fighting; and only SSR can do this, as it will, first, make it more dangerous for armed groups to continue inciting violence; and, second, take away some of the armed groups’ stated reasons for violence as well. In fact, SSR is about capacity building, and improving the command-and-control structure. Strengthening these two axes could balance the benefits of mobilization as follows:

Restore the FARDC’s deterrent effect Most Foreign Armed Groups (FAGs) in Eastern Congo have long been threatened with military operations, by the GoDRC and jointly with MONUSCO, but as these operations never seem to take place, few armed groups see them as a deterrent any more. Armed groups (AGs) could be given the option to peacefully enter a DDR program, or if that fails, be targeted by military operations. It is much less appealing to join an AG for profit or supposedly to ‘protect your community’ if this means you may get killed or wounded as a result. By expending the presence and action of FARDC, illegal activities present more risks, AGs are then more likely to disarm, and less capable of returning after a DDR process and cause problems. However, this can only work if the army is capable of launching effective operations; if an operation fails, the army will lose any further capacity for deterrence and there will be little AG interest in joining a DDR program.

For the army to act as a deterrent and force people into a DDR-process, the FARDC needs to be able to do its job. They would however have a hard time defeating FAGs to begin with: not only are many FAGs better armed than some of the National Armed Groups (NAGs), but as the FARDC is composed of many ex-armed group members, mixed loyalties remain and mess with its command-and-control system.

De-legitimize NAGs and restore trust in the Government to address local grievances Armed groups mobilize around more than just ‘filling security vacuums’ or for economic motivations. Most national armed groups (NAGs) came into being to protect themselves and their communities from foreign armed groups (FAGs) and will loudly declare that if all foreign combatants leave the country, they would peacefully disarm. Although this may be unlikely, they do have a formal agenda, based on the grievances of the communities they claim to represent. If the government does not address this, and FAGs remain, it gives them a good excuse to remain active.

If FAGs are successfully defeated on Congolese soil, several NAGs would likely disarm and join the DDR program; because the core reason of their mobilization was suppressed or because they fear military operations by an army that successfully defeated armed and organized [foreign] armed groups. In other words: effective SSR would enable the FARDC to successfully lead military operations against FAGs in Eastern DRC, and control territory once these operations are successful. By doing so, SSR directly supports DDR in strengthening the likeliness of voluntary disarmament and reducing the attractiveness of creating new armed groups or of groups returning after a failed process.

The unfortunate conclusion, however, is that as long as the GoDRC remains reluctant to work on SSR, DDR programs are doomed to fail. The alternative would be to lower ambitions for DDR and opt for locally-embedded programs. Since a major factor for mobilization is the lack of economic alternatives to violence, creating space and opportunities for legal activities would offer an alternative. Providing the most vulnerable of a community (including, but not only combatants) with training and assistance for economic-development with relevance to the needs of their community would foster their civilian reintegration; provide them with a status they can be proud of, and be beneficial to their community. Combining these activities with violence reduction programs and dialogue among ex-combatants, communities, and FARDC, may help (re)build trust and reduce grievances. A locally grounded approach and in-depth discussions of particular trauma will also help tailor assistance to needs and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach which will likely prove inefficient when dealing with sensitive-psychological cases (violence, trauma, rejection etc.).

This local/individual approach is widely implemented and successful with child-soldiers. Although dealing with adults presents additional requirements, such as justice, much can be learned from it. In the absence of SSR, doing DDR exclusively through locally-embedded programs could offer a successful first step towards peace and reintegration; at least until the government develops further capacities to control its own security sector.

Mahaut de Talhouët is working in DDRRR in South Kivu. Initially trained as a psychologist, she is particularly interested in Reintegration, Trauma Healing and Resilience questions related to illegal armed groups.


[1] See Kets, and De Vries: Limits to supporting security sector interventions in the DRC. Institute for Security Studies, July 2014: ISS Paper 257.

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