Taking stock in disarmament process in Matembo, North Kivu. Photo by UN, published under creative commons licence.

As elections begin in DR Congo, we look at one of the issues that continue to plague the country; how to make sure the thousands of militia fighters still active in the east of the country lay down their weapons and reintegrate into communities.

I recently researched Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) projects carried out by the international community in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo, or DRC), looking at activities of the World Bank’s Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP). This programme brought together the Congolese Government, various NGOs and UN agencies between 2002 and 2009. I found that although a large number of ex-combatants were successfully demobilized, reintegration was less successful. Furthermore, I found that the majority of DDR projects suffered from a number of shortcomings common to externally led approaches to peacebuilding.

The World Bank’s DDR programme in DRC

The World Bank set up the MDRP in response to the conflict in the Great Lakes region, which has involved seven countries during the 1990s and 2000s. It was arguably the largest DDR program in the world in terms of number of states involved, individuals demobilized and levels of funding (over  $450 million). Although the MDRP as a whole successfully demobilized around 300,000 ex-combatants, the results varied drastically from country to country and project to project. In the DRC, funds were allocated to the following activities:

  • The Program National de Desarmement, Demobilisation et Reisertion (PNDDR) – the main DDR programme in the DRC, implemented by the DRC government with technical support from external sources.
  • Four Special Projects specifically aimed at child soldiers, implemented by various UN agencies and NGOs.
  • Two Special Projects implemented by UNDP.
PNDDR demobilized over 100,000 ex-combatants. However, reintegration efforts were much less successful (only 58% received integration support) and the number of ex-combatants who were successfully reintegrated cannot be determined due to the lack of reliable data. The four Child Soldier Projects provided integration assistance to 12,511 children (61% of target), but only managed to successfully reintegrate 604 children by March 2006, a point in the projects when, according to initial plans, up to 20,000 children should have had been reintegrated. UNDP’s record with regard to DDR provides further cause for concern. Their project, with a budget of $11.8 million, only managed to place 83 ex-combatants out of a target of 10,000 in reintegration projects.

DDR meeting in DRC. Photo by UN, published under creative commons licence.

Explanations for missed targets

While every project had their individual reasons for not meeting their targets and some struggled more than others, there were some common themes which can partly explain the limited overall success of the programme:

  1. Although the World Bank designed their initiative with the principle of national ownership in mind, neither the programme nor the Special Projects were locally led. Rather, they were designed, and to a large degree executed, by international actors. This led to a lack of capacity to support DDR activities in remote rural areas.
  2. When local implementing partners were involved they often lacked capability and sometimes even commitment; for instance, in the case of PNDDR and the Congolese Government. As the programme’s independent reviewers highlighted, ‘quality of local partners is an under-estimated yet key factor in programme delivery.’ In the case of the DRC, many of these local partners were not sufficiently prepared to undertake the enormous challenge of DDR.
  3. A lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities led to huge problems between local and international staff. In PNDDR’s case, international staff were often sidelined and at one point pressured to leave. These tensions between program overseers and implementers meant projects suffered from an institutional preoccupation with internal processes.
The themes described above show that without local knowledge and presence on the ground, many of the challenges posed by building peace in a (post-) conflict society, cannot be overcome successfully. It seems to me that the key to successful peacebuilding lies in identifying reliable and capable local partners and incorporating them into all aspects of programme design and delivery. Putting local peacebuilders in the driving seat will also ensure that there are people who continue to work for peace, long after the convoy of international institutions and nongovernmental organisations has left.

Andre's research and background paper can be found here.