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12 The Long Road to Demilitarization: 1997–2003

Jean Clément
Published Date:
February 2005
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Information about Sub-Saharan Africa África subsahariana
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This chapter reviews efforts regarding the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) between 1997 and 2003. Reflecting the evolving politico-military situation and the shifting priorities in terms of DDR, the chapter contains the following sections. Section I analyzes the period 1997–99, from the takeover of power and the challenge of demobilizing soldiers of the army of the ousted regime to the reorientation of the DDR strategy in response to the signing of the Lusaka cease-fire agreement. Section II covers the period 1999–2001, focusing on small-scale endeavors that kept DDR on the agenda of government and the international community pending the political resolution of the Congolese conflict. Section III examines the period 2001–03 during which the international community, with an unprecedented regional approach to DDR, intensified its efforts to respond to the ever more complex situation until the government finally assumed principal responsibility for DDR in the country. The chapter closes with Section IV, which reflects on lessons learned from this multiyear process for the national DDR program in the DRC, and for similar programs elsewhere.

Section I. 1997–99: Good Efforts Coming to Naught


When the Alliance of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo or AFDL (Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo) came to power in May 1997, it inherited a dysfunctional, undisciplined army. The orderly integration of the soldiers into civilian life quickly became a top priority for the new government, and a DDR program became a key element in the transition from neglect and war to peace and stability. However, the government was also acutely aware of its financial and technical limitations to successfully design and implement such a program. Consequently, only two months after acceding to power, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila requested the World Bank to assist in the demobilization and reintegration of about 75,000 soldiers of the former Armed Forces of Zaïre or FAZ (Forces Armées Zaïroises).

This decision was taken at a time when most neighboring countries were either at war (Angola, the Republic of Congo) or otherwise suffering or emerging from violent conflict (Burundi, Central African Republic, Rwanda). From the very beginning, therefore, maintaining a regional security perspective was essential for the Congolese government and its partners in the international community.

The Situation in the Aftermath of the Mobutu Regime

FAZ personnel records had by and large been destroyed before the fall of Kinshasa. It was, thus, impossible to establish the exact size of the force. The paper size of the FAZ (including police [gendarmerie] and the civil guard [garde civile], who accounted for approximately two-thirds and were under the command of the ministry of interior) was estimated at about 125,000, but estimates of the actual strength ranged from 50,000 to 90,000. Meanwhile, the AFDL never had any records. By May 1997, their strength was estimated at some 20,000, plus another 20,000 child soldiers (kodogos). The forces that joined the AFDL from Katanga and that had taken refuge in Angola some 30 years earlier may have reached a strength of 2,500.

The socioeconomic profile of the ex-FAZ was hardly encouraging. Many soldiers should have been retired from military service for legal, administrative, or health reasons up to 15 years earlier but were kept in the FAZ because of the risk they posed to internal security. The new government estimated that most soldiers had more than 15 years of service, had large families (with seven or more children), were undernourished, had low education and skill levels, were between 35 and 45 years of age, were poor, and had no contact with their extended families back home for a long time. Many were said to be alcoholics or mutineers, have a looting mentality, not respect civilians and the civilian administration, not want to work, and resort to violence as a form of solving conflicts.

The new government, therefore, decided to put about 55,000 ex-FAZ (army, garde civile, and gendarmerie) into two “reeducation camps” in Kitona (Bas-Congo Province; 35,000) and Kamina (Shaba Province; 20,000). These reeducation camps had a negative effect on public opinion, and many (ex-FAZ and the population at large) believed that the soldiers of the former army would not come out alive. However, there seems to have been little desire for revenge among the victorious army, and many of the ex-FAZ had been sympathetic to the AFDL in the first place. Meanwhile, possibly 5,000 to 10,000 ex-FAZ had fled to neighboring countries, whereas an unknown number had deserted to unknown locations inside the DRC.

After the takeover, each soldier (including the ex-FAZ) was supposed to receive US$100 per month as ration to cover the needs of his/her family. This US$100 would suffice to buy rice, fish, oil, salt, and some other essentials for an average family. Some soldiers seem to have received small payments, whereas others received nothing. Regular salaries, however, were not being paid.

Summer and Fall of 1997

The new authorities had planned to deploy all ex-FAZ soldiers (most of them after having passed through the reeducation camps) in units of a unified Congolese Armed Forces or FAC (Forces Armées Congolaises) before starting the demobilization process. From a DDR perspective, this decision had severe cost implications because the soldiers to be demobilized had to be transported from the two camps to the units before being discharged and then transported to their communities of settlement. However, the government strongly believed that the unification of forces and the demobilization from a unified army would go a long way toward assuring the population that the government was ready to reconcile with the former army, with an expected positive impact on security. The government thus envisaged a three-year DDR program as part of an overall effort to restructure the security apparatus of the country (i.e., military reform).

In August 1997, the government set up a working group on demobilization and rehabilitation. The key actors in this group were the ministries of defense, reconstruction and emergency planning, and interior. The working group reported directly to the Chef du Cabinet of President Kabila. Its first task was to draft a DDR program note for the upcoming Friends of Congo meeting and develop a work program for the DDR planning phase. The ministries of finance and planning as well as sector ministries were consulted during this process.

The working group undertook highly commendable work in sketching out the approach and elements of the Congolese program. Within a month, the program note was drafted, and the work plan for program preparation was elaborated. This work plan included a preliminary socioeconomic profile based on focal group interviews, an assessment of the opportunity structure in areas of settlement, and the design of the institutional structure and implementation plan. The core activity, however, was the identification and registration of soldiers from all forces (especially those in the reeducation camps) to establish a complete database, which was to subsequently help identify the soldiers to be demobilized.

Initially envisaged program elements included a pilot operation to test implementation arrangements; a transitional safety net for a total of 12 months to ensure coverage of a family’s basic needs for at least one crop cycle; economic reintegration support measures in the area of agriculture and livestock, training and employment, and micro-projects; a focus on social reintegration including assistance to communities of settlement; and targeted support to child soldiers, disabled soldiers, and children of soldiers. Child soldiers and overage soldiers were expected to constitute the priority target for the initial phase of the DDR program.

Moreover, the working group completed a detailed organizational structure for a national DDR commission with an executive secretariat and district-level advisory councils with district cells. This structure was summarized in a draft decree submitted to the cabinet for review before being submitted for President Kabila’s signature.

Building on its early technical support to the working group, and in recognition of the government’s commitment vis-à-vis this program, the World Bank approved the first ever grant under its Post-Conflict Fund in the amount of US$2 million to help the government prepare the DDR program. Meanwhile, on a parallel track, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) embarked on an advocacy campaign with the aim of demobilizing child soldiers, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) initiated a technical assistance project to assess the needs of vulnerable groups, including child soldiers and handicapped soldiers. These activities were undertaken without much coordination with the government’s working group, which was supposed to have coordination responsibility over all DDR-related efforts in the country.

The Standstill of 1998

After a remarkable start, preparation for the DDR program was slowing down noticeably in early 1998, and the government’s commitment was waning. Several design revisions were undertaken early in the year. In particular, the idea of a full census profile and identification was given up in favor of an initial registration (to be carried out by the FAC) and a sample socioeconomic survey. UNICEF started two pilot projects for kadogos in Bukavu and Goma in collaboration with provincial authorities. Given the specific roles of the authorities, the UNICEF suboffices used widely different approaches: Goma was more oriented toward psychosocial assistance, Bukavu emphasized vocational training.

However, notwithstanding the availability of funds from the World Bank, the working group essentially put on hold further program preparation pending the signature of the presidential decree establishing the National Commission for Demobilization and Rehabilitation. This policy inaction also impeded the implementation of the World Bank’s grant because the commission was to manage the funds. To avoid unnecessary politicization of the technical work, the Congolese government and the World Bank tentatively agreed that a third party would execute the grant.

At the time, both UNDP and ILO indicated that they would only engage in the reintegration phase. UNICEF, meanwhile, had just signed an accord with the government on the reintegration of kadogos from Kapalata and was willing to facilitate the preparation of a comprehensive program (i.e., one addressing all target groups). By having UNICEF manage the grant funds on the government’s behalf, the national commission would not have to be formally established at this point in time. In its place the working group proposed an informal monitoring group with representatives from all concerned ministries.

Although administrative arrangements were put in place to formally launch program preparation, and UNICEF continued its advocacy role for child soldier demobilization, the renewed outbreak of war in August 1998 put an end to any prospects of a DDR program in the foreseeable future. Notwithstanding these developments, the urgency to address the needs of overage, underage, and disabled ex-FAZ soldiers persisted, and the World Bank maintained low-level contact with the working group to facilitate reengagement as and when the situation would permit.

The Revival of Early 1999

With the de facto demarcation of the front line by early 1999, aspects of a renewed demobilization strategy for ex-FAZ soldiers emerged. The government intended to demobilize ex-FAZ soldiers as a matter of priority as reports of pillaging and other signs of indiscipline continued and as ex-FAZ soldiers, as well as other “unfit” elements, posed a growing threat to the security of the population.

Efforts aimed at the demobilization of ex-FAZ soldiers and other undisciplined elements contrasted sharply with the ongoing mobilization into the FAC. In fact, donors and agencies believed there were few ex-FAZ left to demobilize: most were thought of as having been killed during the offensive on Kinshasa in August 1998, fighting with the rebels, or having fled to neighboring countries. There was also the concern that the government’s renewed interest in the DDR program was based on the dirigiste idea of a national service (service national) and the development brigades (brigades de développement), both created to absorb ex-combatants. Concerns were raised about the possibility of creating a private army or army in reserve as well as forced labor.

Meanwhile, UNICEF had initiated another working group with civilian ministries and civil society representatives to advance the issue of child soldier demobilization. Furthermore, ILO and, in principle, UNICEF were willing to collaborate with the World Bank in relaunching the preparatory phase of a comprehensive program. Given the fluid political situation and the sensitive nature of the program, a concerted effort of core international partners was seen as beneficial to all parties.

Building on the Spirit of the Lusaka Cease-Fire Agreement

With the signing of the cease-fire agreement by heads of state in Lusaka on July 11, 1999, President Kabila finally approved the start of program preparation. To respond to the new reality, the reinvigorated working group led the redesign of the overall DDR approach. The objective of the planning phase was to prepare a DDR program in two phases: one for especially vulnerable groups and the other for general demobilization. Planning activities were similar for both phases, thus maximizing limited available resources. The World Bank remained the only donor specifically having set aside funds for this activity. Other donors were ready to engage once progress was visible.

Phase I demobilization would target child soldiers, overage soldiers, chronically ill soldiers, and disabled soldiers. This phase was to commence in government-controlled areas immediately after the conclusion of the planning phase. From a security perspective, the demobilization of these groups was unlikely to affect military decision making. Hence, implementation of this phase could go ahead from a humanitarian perspective even if the second phase, general demobilization, were to be postponed.

Phase II was closely linked to the unification and restructuring of forces as envisaged in the Lusaka agreement. The launching of this phase would take place as and when the overall situation was considered opportune. This two-phased approach allowed the government to address its immediate needs while providing time for the further preparation of general demobilization.

Two other major changes were made to the original proposal of August 1997. First, identification and registration in a few central locations were no longer considered practical or cost-effective, given the by now dispersed location of troops. Second, UNICEF had initiated a partnership with the ministry of human rights to advance the issue of child soldier demobilization. Instead of duplicating this structure, phase I preparation and execution would be undertaken under joint guidance by the ministries of defense and human rights rather than by a national commission. The technical secretariat and working group already established by UNICEF would be expanded in membership and responsibility accordingly. This arrangement was to be revised for phase II.

Although this approach aimed at addressing the complex situation most comprehensively, other initiatives continued. In particular, the ministry of reconstruction started a national service, initially for youths but likely to also include ex-combatants later. In response to an urgent request by the Governor of Katanga, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and UNDP provided food assistance to about 1,000 ex-combatants apparently released from prison in early July. Moreover, the commission for the reintegration of refugees was intent on including ex-combatants in its mandate.

This proliferation of activities and institutional bodies raised concerns over government ownership, including ownership of the process and program by the armed forces. Such ownership would have required significant action on the government’s part, especially the signing of the presidential decree establishing the national commission that the working group had drafted two years earlier. Not surprisingly, military reform efforts, which are critical to a successful DDR program, were not visible either.

Section II. 1999–2001: Advancing on a Small Scale

A New Impetus

During the latter half of 1999, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) initiated planning for the deployment of the United Nations Organization Mission to the Congo (MONUC) in support of the Lusaka cease-fire agreement. Through Resolution 1279 of November 30, 1999, the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of a peacekeeping mission to the DRC. Although MONUC’s mandate was to be limited to the voluntary disarmament, demobilization, and repatriation of foreign armed groups in the DRC (especially those of Rwandan origin) until mid-2003, the dynamics of DDR program planning in the DRC changed significantly.2

What had been an effort led by the Congolese government (with all its delays and missed opportunities) with support by the international community became more and more an activity driven by the outside with a predominantly regional rather than Congolese perspective. From the outset, the World Bank, ILO, and UNICEF were working with DPKO and MONUC to bring experiences gained to date into the new planning process. For instance, all agencies participated in DPKO-organized coordination meetings in New York. Furthermore, UNDP and the World Bank provided relevant sections for the reports of the secretary-general to the UN Security Council.

The World Bank used the new impetus to sustain the dialogue with the government and thus maintain DDR on the government’s agenda even though it was understood that it would not be opportune for the government to launch a national DDR program at this time. By late 1999, after long deliberations, UNICEF finally decided not to implement the World Bank’s grant because of the agency’s reaffirmed sole focus on child soldiers. After ensuing discussions with UN agencies during the multidonor/multiagency mission to Kinshasa in November 1999 and in agreement with the government, ILO was selected as the implementing agency to manage the grant and supervise the preparation of phase I through its Kinshasa office. Consequently, the work plan and budget were revised, the strengthening of government institutions was included therein, and a new technical secretariat under the guidance of the ministries of defense and human rights was established.

Phase I was fine-tuned to consist of two parts: a six-month preparation period and a six-month pilot implementation period. This approach allowed for the implementation of a stand-alone project executed by Congolese nationals with implementation support by ILO pending the creation of a national DDR structure. It was endorsed by the government and key UN partners on the ground. Thus, the Demobilization and Reintegration Project for Vulnerable Groups (DRP-VG) was finally launched in early 2000 using the grant from the World Bank’s Post-Conflict Fund.

Toward Increased Government Engagement

UNICEF continued its advocacy for the release of child combatants from the armed forces. These efforts culminated in the Kinshasa forum on child soldiers organized by the ministry of human rights in January 2000. This event benefited from technical and financial support from UNICEF and Belgium and was an important moment in the fight for the rights of children in the DRC. It raised the issue of the enrollment of children in warring factions to the international level with the participation of several advocacy groups, and called for greater involvement from partners and donors to end this phenomenon. ILO was also heavily involved in line with its Convention 182 against abusive child labor. From then on, and while fighting was still going on in the eastern DRC, there was continuing pressure on the government and, to a lesser extent, on major rebel groups to release child soldiers.3

The new environment created by the DRP-VG and the advocacy for child soldier demobilization by UNICEF and the ministry of human rights led to the signing of Presidential decree-law 066 of June 9, 2000, authorizing the demobilization and reintegration of vulnerable groups defined as follows: war-injured and disabled, chronically ill, widows, orphans, elderly (to be retired), and child soldiers. The ministries of defense and human rights were designated to jointly execute the decree. The National Office for the Demobilization and Reintegration or BUNADER (Bureau National de Démobilisation et de Réinsertion) was subsequently created to serve as the government’s interface with the World Bank and ILO regarding the DRP-VG and with UNICEF on child soldier-related issues.

Demobilization and Reintegration of Vulnerable Groups

The DRP-VG, which started in earnest in June 2000 with a tripartite agreement among the government, the World Bank, and the ILO, had three objectives: (1) undertaking preparatory studies on demobilization and reintegration and designing a technical structure for the government that could assist with the challenges of the DRP-VG; (2) strengthening Congolese capacities on DDR issues; and (3) piloting reintegration activities in three parts of the country (Kinshasa, Kananga, and Lubumbashi) with a view to drawing lessons for the future national DDR program. At the time, the security situation and political environment did not allow for engagement with rebel groups although the eventual expansion of assistance to eastern Congo was an integral part of the project.

To implement the project, ILO established a small office consisting of a project coordinator and a team of three nationals, assisted by a chief technical advisor. The office was co-located with the ministry of human rights and BUNADER. Congolese consultants carried out several studies. The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF assisted with the studies on the health status of vulnerable combatants and on child soldiers, respectively. The other studies focused on social protection, the socio-economic profile of vulnerable groups within the armed forces, and economic reintegration options.

To create synergies and maximize resources among donors and agencies, arrangements were made with UNICEF to fund and closely supervise the study on child soldiers, including the organization of workshops in-country and later funding of pilot reintegration activities. Apart from efforts aimed at child soldier demobilization, however, the World Bank’s grant was still the sole available resource to address demobilization and reintegration issues in the country at the time of the creation of BUNADER. The DRP-VG, therefore, also included support to the government’s institution, which lacked adequate funding. DRP-VG staff operating in the three pilot provinces benefited from various training sessions during the implementation phase, while the staff of BUNADER continued to enjoy technical support from the project team in Kinshasa. Furthermore, upon its completion, the project infrastructure and capacity were to be transferred to the government in anticipation of a national DDR program.

During the latter half of 2001, the DRP-VG was moving toward its second phase of piloting reintegration projects for targeted vulnerable groups. By the time the DRP-VG was completed in September 2003, these activities benefited 800 people in all categories, except for child soldiers, who were assisted separately by UNICEF in support of BUNADER efforts.

Pilot Activities in Retrospect

The DRP-VG achieved several noteworthy results. From 1999 to 2001, the project contributed to maintaining DDR on the government’s agenda and during that period served as the cement for inter-agency collaboration and cooperation related to DDR. At the institutional level, the project built a strong team of Congolese professionals with more than two years of experience in demobilization and reintegration, ready for use by the national program. The capacity-building component of the project had a positive impact on practitioners and partners through study tours and training-of-trainers sessions.

The project was able to reach a considerable number of beneficiaries from truly vulnerable groups. An evaluation of micro projects showed signs that activities were on track and might be sustainable.4 This was mainly due to the flexible and multidimensional approach used by the project vis-à-vis the beneficiaries, a good knowledge of local realities, the variety of micro-credit livelihood activities offered, and the decentralization of project infrastructure and management through field offices. The participatory approach used for pilot activities also allowed for deepened beneficiary involvement in preparation as well as implementation, thus ensuring better targeting.

Fulfilling its initial objectives, BUNADER drafted an interim national program for demobilization and reintegration concentrated on then-government-controlled areas. This document contained several concrete case studies useful to the planning of the future national DDR program. Furthermore, the DRP-VG regularly involved various ministries (defense, human rights, social affairs, reconstruction), key UN agencies (UNICEF, UNDP, WHO), and MONUC/DPKO through extended working groups. These forums were essential to share information and achieve a better understanding of the challenges ahead.

Project implementation took longer than originally planned. In particular, the DRP-VG experienced a period of uncertainty with the assassination of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila in January 2001. The continuing security constraints, especially regarding extending pilot activities to the east, further complicated implementation. Moreover, owing to the complex and ever-changing political environment resulting in the slow pace of the preparation of a national DDR program, the project lacked a clear exit strategy.

Administrative procedures within the World Bank and ILO have equally had a negative impact on the speed of implementation. Reaching an agreement on ILO cost recovery was time consuming. Delays in the flow of financial resources created delays and ruptures in training and initial reintegration activities. In addition, the project suffered from uncoordinated sensitization of beneficiaries by all actors who were in contact with them, including the government and the project team.

In the end, the time was not right to inspire lasting DDR collaboration within the international community, and the DRP-VG failed in this respect. While the World Bank’s grant started the preparation work for DDR activities in the country, many actors—both local and international—later joined the process, but not in a coordinated manner. At one point, more than a dozen institutions were dealing one way or another with DDR. This created confusion over the role of the project vis-à-vis BUNADER, UNICEF’s child soldier demobilization efforts, such projects as the War Wounded (Blessés de guerre), and the national DDR program.

Building Local Capacity

Concomitant with DRP-VG implementation, the World Bank initiated a series of activities aimed at building Congolese DDR capacity. In collaboration with DPKO, the World Bank organized a DDR workshop in Washington in June 2001. Congolese participants (from BUNADER and the ministries of national defense, reintegration, and human rights) learned lessons from the DDR program team in Sierra Leone, where DDR was about to be completed.

This initiative, which was extended to rebel groups, was followed in December 2001 by a World Bank-UNICEF sponsored field trip to Sierra Leone to provide the Congolese government and NGOs an opportunity to get a first-hand appreciation of the Sierra Leonean DDR experience. The Congolese delegation visited disarmament and demobilization camps and interim care centers for children and was able to learn more about reintegration planning as well as community rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Although Sierra Leone and the DRC may seem to be quite different at first sight, there are strong similarities between the two that made this south-south exchange particularly rewarding. First, neighbors interfered in the war by supporting the rebel groups fighting forces loyal to the central government. Second, access to natural resources was fueling the war. Third, both countries had a UN presence, the UN Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone and MONUC, respectively. In addition, the World Bank and UNICEF were involved in DDR technical and financial assistance in both Sierra Leone and the DRC.

Both experiences were rewarding for the Congolese participants. The trip to Sierra Leone was a unique opportunity to witness one of the most complete DDR programs, which in turn had benefited from previous DDR programs around the world, before the launch of the DRP-VG pilot activities; these commenced in January 2002. As a result, a lessons-learned workshop was organized upon the delegation’s return to Kinshasa to share the experiences with a wider group of stakeholders (NGOs, UN agencies, and other actors).

Expanding Partnerships, Inside and Across Borders

The seventh report of the Secretary General on the DRC to the UN Security Council (April 2001) stated that MONUC may be called upon to assist foreign armed elements in the DRC who may present themselves for voluntary disarmament, demobilization, and repatriation. At that time, MONUC did not have either the means (military and financial) or the formal mandate to conduct such operations should they occur. The complexity of the situation was further highlighted by a multidonor/agency mission to the DRC in May 2001, which identified five clusters of Congolese target groups with different legal frameworks: child soldiers, other vulnerable groups, Congolese armed groups, combatants of the rebel movements, and the FAC. The presence of non-Congolese armed groups (Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda) and of statutory forces of six countries (Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda) underlined the regional dimension of the DRC conflict.

The international community was, thus, confronted with an unparalleled multitude of target groups both inside and outside the country and a multitude of Congolese and international actors in charge of various target groups, with increasing risk of overlap and competition. Only firm government action could have introduced a methodical approach. However, other than continued political uncertainty regarding the full implementation of the Lusaka agreement, the continued lack of government leadership was considered the most critical factor endangering the long-term success of DDR efforts in the country. Hence, the call for tighter coordination among donors and UN agencies, and for nurturing government ownership.

To meet the challenge, in 2001 MONUC established a unit with more than 40 staff specifically dedicated to the disarmament, demobilization, and repatriation of foreign armed groups in the DRC. Heeding MONUC’s call, and with Belgian assistance, the World Bank seconded one staff as a senior liaison officer to MONUC to contribute to the consolidation of the relationships between the two institutions.

Deepened cooperation between MONUC and the World Bank became ever more important as of July 2001, when the World Bank led the international effort to prepare, in close partnership with the Rwandan authorities, the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Program (RDRP). Rwandan armed groups returning to Rwanda from the DRC are a central target group of the RDRP. Over time, coordination between the Rwandan government and MONUC helped establish procedures, in the DRC and in Rwanda, to facilitate the return of this group and their eventual reintegration into Rwandan society.

Section III. 2001–03: Toward a Concerted Effort

An Improving Political Environment

With the launch of the inter-Congolese dialogue in Addis Ababa in October 2001, as agreed upon in the Lusaka cease-fire agreement, prospects for DDR in the DRC improved. Preparation of MONUC phase 3, (i.e., the withdrawal of foreign statutory forces in the DRC and the disarmament, demobilization, and repatriation of foreign armed groups) commenced in earnest. The UN secretary-general visited the DRC and Rwanda in September 2001 to show the UN’s commitment to consolidate peace in the DRC and in the Great Lakes region.

In this context, in August/September 2001, UNDP and several donors launched a mission to the region to define UNDP’s role in DDR in the DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, as well as in small arms reduction and the demobilization of child soldiers. At about the same time, the World Bank initiated preparation of a regional, sectorwide approach to DDR covering nine countries.

A Regional Framework for Coordination and Resource Mobilization

With peace in the DRC a more realistic prospect, and in close collaboration with more than 30 multilateral and bilateral partners and the governments of participating countries,5 the World Bank prepared a greater Great Lakes Regional Strategy for Demobilization and Reintegration, which provides the strategic framework for the Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP). The strategy and program were approved by partners and endorsed by the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors in April 2002.

The strategy’s main premise is that the DDR of ex-combatants is necessary to establish peace and restore security, which are in turn a precondition for sustainable growth and poverty reduction. The strategic objective is thus to enhance the prospects for stabilization and recovery in the region. The strategy seeks to complement and reinforce efforts by the international community in the political, security, and recovery spheres.

The program objectives are to (1) provide a comprehensive regional framework for DDR efforts for both government and irregular forces; (2) establish a single mechanism for donor coordination and resource mobilization; and (3) serve as a platform for national consultative processes that lead to the formulation of national demobilization and reintegration programs. Since early 2002, the MDRP has set the framework for DDR preparation and coordination in the DRC as well.

At the request of donors, and in consultation with participating governments, the World Bank established a US$350 million multidonor trust fund to mobilize grant resources from the donor community for the purpose of implementing the MDRP. Such a consolidated funding mechanism helps to ensure comprehensive and well-coordinated donor support to the program, facilitate the involvement of donors that might otherwise not be able to participate, minimize duplication of efforts, reduce the administrative burden on governments through the application of one set of implementation procedures, and strengthen program ownership on the part of governments. The trust fund complements an estimated US$150 million from the World Bank in support of national DDR programs in the region. The DRC, as a country participating in the MDRP, benefits from both trust fund and World Bank funding.

Furthermore, through its Technical Coordination Group of senior technical and management staff of participating countries, the MDRP helps build transparency in DDR matters across countries though information sharing on progress on DDR activities, exchanging lessons learned, exploring opportunities for technical cooperation, and building DDR capacities. The DRC has benefited extensively from these efforts.

Starting Over

Upon request by the DRC government, UNDP launched a reinvig-orated effort aimed at preparing a national DDR program in August 2002. While government ownership of this process increased, the appropriate institutional set-up remained missing. Responsibility continued to be scattered among various agencies, making the interactions with the international community prone to misunderstandings.

Among the international community, commitment was high to support the government in the preparation and financing of its DDR program. However, given the multitude of target groups and local stakeholders, it was hardly surprising that the international community restarted its DDR efforts in the DRC in a rather uncoordinated manner. Because of staff changes at various UN agencies and donors there was a lack of institutional memory regarding DDR efforts between 1997 and 2001. There was also a lack of a clear and common understanding of essential DDR preparation activities, and of the MDRP framework more broadly. Coordination and communications problems reflected as much differences in the way individual donors and agencies work as differences in approaches regarding the role of government and its partners in the DDR process. Overcoming these constraints has proved to be as challenging as adapting the DDR effort to this most complex of environments.

Over time, the discipline in terms of partner cooperation that was introduced by the MDRP in the DRC and all other countries helped resolve many of the issues. MDRP partner missions visited the DRC in September 2002 and February and October 2003 to provide guidance to the international community’s efforts in support of DDR and carry out the annual joint supervision of MDRP activities. The February mission also endorsed the decision that UNDP be lead agency for DDR in the DRC. To rally partners around a common vision, UNDP established a number of working groups and an interagency technical committee. In support of DDR efforts in the DRC and other countries, the MDRP Secretariat placed a senior demobilization and reintegration specialist in Kinshasa in early 2003. Furthermore, reflecting on the importance of the DDR effort in the DRC, MDRP partners held their biannual meeting in Kinshasa in November 2003.

As a result, since the MDRP framework was introduced to the DRC in mid-2002, achievements in terms of coordination have been remarkable. Activities undertaken within the framework of the MDRP by late 2003 included (1) the interim strategy and the work of UNDP and partners toward the development and implementation of technical guidelines, operational plans, technical support to government for the creation of the national DDR institutions, dialogue with government on the preparation of the national plan, and dialogue on the interlinkages between security sector reform and DDR; (2) the continued efforts of MONUC in relation to the disarmament, demobilization, and repatriation of foreign armed groups and voluntary disarmament of irregular forces; (3) the development of a strategy for demobilizing child soldiers and coordination efforts by UNICEF and child protection agencies on all issues pertaining to the care, protection, and reintegration of child soldiers; (4) ongoing activities for child soldiers by Save the Children Fund UK under the MDRP’s special project window; (5) initial preparatory work by UNDP and the International Rescue Committee for the implementation of special projects; and (6) an identification mission by the World Bank for its financial contribution to the program.

Active coordination and cooperation within the international community and the active engagement of the government by the partners have undoubtedly enhanced the effectiveness of DDR efforts and provide the best chance for the future DDR program to succeed. However, coordination—deemed by all essential for a successful national DDR program—has remained one of the most difficult challenges.

Cross-Border Efforts

On July 30, 2002, the governments of the DRC and Rwanda signed an agreement in Pretoria regarding the withdrawal of Rwandan armed forces from the DRC and the disarmament, demobilization, and repatriation of Rwandan armed groups still in the DRC to Rwanda. The first element of the agreement, the withdrawal of Rwandan armed forces, was completed in 2002. To advance the second element, technical delegations from the DRC and Rwanda met in Nairobi in September 2002 to explore opportunities to advance the technical implementation of this agreement. This meeting was facilitated by the MDRP Secretariat, which is managed by the World Bank, and was also attended by UNDP and MONUC.

After a field visit of Congolese DDR specialists to Rwanda in October/November 2002, the MDRP Secretariat, with MONUC participation, organized another meeting for technical delegations from the DRC and Rwanda in Magaliesburg, South Africa, in December that year. The two delegations elaborated a work plan for the preparation and implementation of a joint sensitization strategy that took into account the preoccupations of Rwandan armed groups still in the DRC and that also provided timely, correct, and consistent information on the DDR processes in both the DRC and Rwanda.

Both governments formally endorsed the joint strategy for cross-border communications and sensitization. Although progress was made in its implementation, including the preparation of materials for dissemination (brochures, leaflets, comic strips, etc.) and a visit to Rwanda to make a video on repatriated ex-combatants, these efforts were put on hold pending the integration of the program on the part of the DRC, under the ministry of defense as per the decree on mandates of various ministries. The Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission has been the official counterpart on the Rwandan side.

In parallel to these bilateral efforts, MONUC continued to disarm, demobilize, and repatriate foreign armed groups from the eastern DRC. By early 2004, it had repatriated 9,200 ex-combatants and dependents to Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda; more than half of these were excombatants out of an estimated total of 15,000 to 20,000. Delays in this program have been attributed to various factors. Considerable suspicion and mistrust vis-à-vis the leadership of the Rwandan armed groups continued. North and South Kivu remained relatively unstable as indicated by persistent outbreaks of fighting involving multiple actors in shifting and unpredictable alliances. Furthermore, MONUC has been faced with logistical difficulties arising from the degradation of infrastructure, including roads, airstrips, and communications facilities. Moreover, a series of armed attacks carried out in early 2003 by Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD-GOMA) forces resulted in the scattering into the forest of armed members who had assembled to enter MONUC’s program, which seriously disrupted operations.

Target Groups and Targeted Assistance

By 2003, Congolese armed forces and movements to be disarmed and demobilized reached unprecedented numbers. These included the FAC, RCD-GOMA forces, Mouvement pour la libération du Congo (MLC) forces, RCD-K-ML forces, and the Mayi Mayi groups that are signatories to the Pretoria agreement. Members of these groups are mostly able-bodied young men familiar with weapons and warfare, thus representing a potential threat to the transition. Intertribal fighting between local armed groups severely destabilized the district of Ituri during 2002–03, making the disarmament and demobilization of these groups a special challenge. However, the military intervention by European Union troops, later replaced by MONUC units, helped stabilize the situation to a large extent. Lastly, there were still Congolese groups in other countries in need of repatriation, including approximately 4,000 ex-FAZ and FAC and their dependents in the Republic of Congo and the ex-police forces from Katanga (ex-gendarmes katangais) in Angola.

A key decision for DDR planning, which is ultimately political but which has enormous practical as well as financial consequences, is what criteria to apply to determine eligibility of ex-combatant access to program benefits. By the end of 2003, no clarity existed from the government or the armed groups, and it became increasingly difficult to manage the expectations of the large numbers of potential beneficiaries. Experience in Liberia at the end of 2003 has shown that this can lead to serious problems, unrest, and even loss of life.

With numbers ranging from 10,000 to 30,000, children associated with the fighting forces constituted the most important special target group, with recruitment still not fully halted in 2003. Early in 2003, UNICEF spearheaded the preparation of a national strategy for child soldier demobilization. In cooperation with various child protection agencies, UNICEF continued to advocate against the recruitment of children and to implement small-scale efforts as and when possible. At the same time, there remained a lack of a clear process by the government for the immediate demobilization of children; the existing system of issuing of demobilization papers could take up to six months.

There has been broad agreement within the international community that DDR activities, in particular reintegration, require a thorough, community-based approach. The MDRP contains the provision of such efforts through special projects pending the launch of a national program. This provision is of particular relevance to the DRC, because it also allowed the funding of targeted activities (through UN agencies and NGOs) in areas outside government control. By the end of 2003, seven such projects were approved, mainly addressing the needs of child soldiers but also providing quick support to emerging needs on the ground, the latter through a UNDP-managed rapid-response mechanism.

These special projects have suffered considerable delays in their processing. Reasons were multiple. The notion of special projects with direct contracting under a World Bank–administered trust fund represented a novelty for the World Bank and required the elaboration of new procedures. To decentralize decision-making authority, selected MDRP partners based in Kinshasa formed a local ad hoc committee in charge of reviewing and appraising proposals using simplified assessment tools. Many proposals required substantial, time-consuming improvements. Lastly, it became apparent that some recipients were interested not only in the project they proposed to implement but also in establishing precedents that would serve them in future relations with the World Bank in the DRC and elsewhere. As a result, some grant negotiations took inordinately long. Given the overall slow political progress, however, these delays in implementing special projects did not have any serious consequences on the situation on the ground.

A Bridge to Government Ownership

Insecurity in large parts of the country and the absence of a national counterpart made it difficult to start comprehensive DDR planning. Hence, the government and international partners agreed in early 2003 on the preparation of an interim DDR strategy under UNDP leadership with technical assistance by the Department for International Development. This strategy was based on four simultaneous approaches, namely: (1) a dialogue between the principal political actors in the DRC on the structure and management of a national DDR program that should have the active support of all components of the future Transitional Government; (2) the planning of a large and logistically complex national DDR program; (3) the development of a rapid-response mechanism to address these issues pending the full establishment of the national program; and (4) efforts led by UNICEF for the DDR of child soldiers, as well as UNDP support for disabled ex-combatants, which would later be incorporated into a national program.

The preparation of the national DDR program for the Congolese armed groups was informed by four developments: (1) detailed discussions held by expatriate experts in Kinshasa under the auspices of UNDP; (2) discussions among all parties on security sector reform and the formation of an integrated, inclusive national army, and clarification of the institutional arrangements for DDR; (3) building on relevant experience from the disarmament, demobilization, and repatriation of foreign armed groups; and (4) the withdrawal of foreign troops, which would open the possibility of the DDR of Congolese armed groups. Meanwhile, the government and international partners adopted an operational framework for spontaneous and voluntary disarmament in December 2003, which had become an urgent matter in the prevailing situation. During that year, many groups and individuals had been coming forward wishing to disarm in the hope of benefiting from humanitarian assistance or other forms of support.

The interim strategy served as an important mechanism for the coordination of all technical groups established for DDR preparation. The groups soon became functional with the exception of the sensitization working group, which has been constrained by a lack of participation from various agencies. UNDP has also been regularly briefing the local donor committee on DDR that was established in early 2003.

The interim phase ended in late 2003 when the government laid out the responsibilities of the different ministries vis-à-vis demobilization and reintegration and effectively assumed the lead for DDR activities. With decrees No. 03/041, 03/042, and 03/043 of December 18, 2003, President Joseph Kabila established an interministerial DDR committee, the National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission or CONADER (Commission Nationale de Désarmement, Démobilisation et Réinsertion), and a committee responsible for managing DDR funds, respectively. This was a major step forward. Now, after more than six years, the international community finally had a legitimate counterpart for the planning and implementation of DDR activities in the context of a national DDR program. The government thereby removed the uncertainty associated with having to deal with manifold institutions in the DRC with different and overlapping mandates.

Aiming at Security Sector Reform

The Transitional Government, formed in June 2003 and in office since September that year, envisaged the establishment of the new Congolese armed forces in three phases: (1) sensitization and identification; (2) encampment, screening, selection for the army, and training—those not selected during this phase would be demobilized; and (3) formation of the military units and deployment. There was progress in the installation of the integrated military high command (September 4, 2003), and decisions relating to the distribution of the regional command were elaborated. One of the key priorities was to carry out an identification exercise of the current forces and also to identify sites that could be used for the screening of combatants to be integrated into the army.

A number of difficulties needed to be addressed in implementing this plan, including the question of signatories and nonsignatories, the budget, continued security problems in certain parts of the country, and a lack of expertise in reconstructing military forces. It was generally recognized by MDRP partners that DDR and security sector reform are two sides of the same coin and, thus, needed to be closely coordinated for both to be effective. The start of DDR program implementation, therefore, also depended on a final agreement on and the establishment of the future national, unified, and restructured army.

The Challenge Ahead

At the end of 2003, almost eight years after the Congolese civil war first erupted, the DRC found itself at an intersection of war and peace. The national DDR program was an integral part of this critical transition period. Three objectives have been set for the program: (1) the demobilization and reintegration into civilian life of some 90,000 to 150,000 Congolese ex-combatants; (2) the provision of reintegration assistance to the demobilized ex-combatants; and (3) special assistance to vulnerable groups. The DDR program was also expected to have a significant impact on reducing poverty in the DRC by (1) helping excombatants reestablish civilian livelihoods; (2) freeing national resources for investment in social and economic sectors; (3) investing in the human capital of ex-combatants; and (4) enhancing the capacity for community-based development mechanisms.

The move by the government to assume the lead for the preparation and implementation of the national DDR program coincided with the adoption by the UN Security Council of a new, firmer mandate for MONUC and much greater resources to establish security throughout the country, including for the purposes of DDR within the MDRP framework (Resolution No. 1493 of July 25, 2003). This reinforced the position of MONUC as a key partner (with UNDP) in planning and implementing the DDR program, especially in the disarmament and demobilization stages. While all necessary political, financial, and institutional conditions were largely in place by the end of 2003, much work remained to be done by the Transitional Government and its partners before the first combatant could be demobilized under a national program. If DDR was to assist in creating favorable conditions for elections in 2005, for reconciliation, peace, and economic recovery, the program needed to finally start in earnest.

Section IV. Reflections

The DDR experience in the DRC confirms a lesson drawn in many other countries, namely that without firm government commitment no DDR program can be prepared or implemented, and that DDR cannot be undertaken by the international community on behalf of the warring factions. In other words, a DDR program cannot be a substitute for a political process. In the case of the DRC, apart from the initial months in 1997, when highly commendable work was carried out, this political willingness and leadership were not forthcoming until late 2003. Conversely, the early days point to another important lesson. If political willingness exists, a government will make available high-level, competent, and empowered technical counterparts who can rapidly advance the work.

Maintaining DDR on the government’s agenda over the years implied continued sensitization as to the importance of the topic and to the various issues that would eventually need to be addressed. Such sensitization is considered of value even if the pay-off is not immediate. In a similar vein, the cross-border efforts under the MDRP have helped reduce tensions and led to a better appreciation of mutual possibilities and constraints. The facilitating role of an intermediary, in this case the MDRP Secretariat, has been acknowledged by the DRC and Rwanda and testifies to the usefulness of a neutral space to discuss technical matters.

The international community exercised great patience for having accompanied the Congolese authorities in the DDR process over so many years. UNICEF has shown great perseverance advocating for and implementing child soldier demobilization at every stage of the political process. This effort has proved that child soldier demobilization is feasible even when the fighting still continues. Furthermore, the World Bank’s engagement since 1997 confirms that program preparation is politically less contentious and worth undertaking, especially if done in a low-key manner that takes into account the dynamics of the situation on the ground. Even more importantly, a first-hand understanding by the World Bank of demobilization challenges and options in the DRC provided a critical impetus for assuming the regional perspective that ultimately led to the preparation of the MDRP.

A rapid response by the international community, both technically and financially, is commonly required. In the case of the DRC, UNICEF and the World Bank were able to quickly provide critical technical assistance in 1997, yet the institutional arrangements set up in 1999 were suboptimal. No other donor or agency was forthcoming at the time, preferring to await initial results before committing to support the process. When the international community finally engaged forcefully in 2002, a focus on institutional mandates rather than on issues severely hampered its effectiveness. Institutional jockeying implied the neglect of earlier experience in the DRC and the willingness to engage in prolonged contractual negotiations for special projects.

Partnerships remain central to any DDR effort in any country because no one donor or agency can handle the multitude of tasks and responsibilities. Such partnerships require a sense of discipline and a willingness to compromise and be transparent. Throughout the period 1997–2003, this remained a real challenge, and many uncoordinated efforts complicated DDR efforts enormously. Early on, international partners sent diverging signals that likely undermined national coordination efforts. Uncoordinated, piecemeal efforts also created the risk of setting precedents in terms of types and levels of assistance that might not be financed, or appropriate, for a national effort. In this respect, the introduction of the MDRP framework in late 2002 had a positive impact on donor coordination and effectiveness.

The constantly evolving situation affirmed the importance of flexibility and adaptability on the part of both the government and its partners. The conceptual shift from the comprehensive approach of 1997 to the phased approach of 1999 is testimony that on a technical level, planning parameters were regularly reviewed and adaptations made as new circumstances required. The rather unconventional approach since late 2002 with a triple focus on national program preparation, assistance to vulnerable groups (especially child and disabled soldiers), and community-based reintegration in areas outside government control was another sign of the international community’s understanding of underlying parameters, and of its adaptability in terms of financial and technical assistance.

A critical factor in the country’s DDR history is local capacity. Continued investments in technical staff in various government departments have created a core expertise before the launch of a national program quite unparalleled to that in other countries. The south-south exchanges with Sierra Leone and participating MDRP countries have been particularly valuable. Furthermore, continuity of staff on both the government’s and the partners’ sides, which in the case of the DRC was partially achieved, is deemed important. It helps build up a technical working relationship that can weather political turbulences and enable all sides to be ready for DDR planning and implementation as and when the situation permits.

The regional dimension should always be taken into account when planning and implementing a DDR program. In the case of the DRC, this need was self-evident. First, foreign powers helped put the new regime in place before changing to a strategy intent on ousting it. Second, the initial work plan and DDR policy note were literally prepared with the thunder of fighting in Brazzaville in the background. The complexity of the situation after August 1998 ultimately led to the idea of the single most ambitious DDR effort so far: the MDRP in the greater Great Lakes region. This required a conceptual shift in the approach the international community has taken to postconflict situations to date, a challenge it has lived up to with remarkable success.

Quality matters. The MDRP framework has helped partners understand this imperative, which, for instance, led to initial rejections of various special project proposals that had not been properly prepared or included unacceptably high costs. The history of DDR in the DRC, thus, confirms that to maximize the chances of success, there can be no shortcut to essential procedures, whether or not time is of the essence. Even if the sequence of program elements were altered to accommodate emerging needs, implementation capacities and sufficient funds need to be in place lest unstructured demobilization heightens reintegration problems.

Lastly, military reform is the flipside of any DDR program. There was a clear need on the part of the Congolese military authorities to come to terms with the political decision to integrate the ex-FAZ into the FAC, and later to integrate the rebel movements as stipulated in the Lusaka accord. Assistance to military reform needs to be provided through military bilateral cooperation; development agencies have neither the requisite mandate nor skills to carry out this task. Contact between DDR partners and bilaterals interested in security sector reform is important in this respect, to share information and harmonize the advice given to the authorities. Even more than DDR, however, cooperation in the reform of the security sector depends on the government’s clear and continued commitment, which in the DRC had not materialized until after the establishment of the transitional government.


Markus Kostner was Manager of the Multi-Country Demobilization Program (MDRP) and task team leader of the World Bank’s demobilization and reintegration efforts in Burundi, the DRC, and Rwanda. Ely Dieng was senior liaison officer at MONUC, seconded by the World Bank. Adriaan Verheul is senior demobilization and reintegration specialist at the World Bank. This chapter is based on the authors’ firsthand experience and pertinent World Bank and MDRP documentation. For more information, see


This chapter does not review MONUC’s experience regarding the disarmament, demobilization, and repatriation of foreign armed groups. For more information, see


Noteworthy in this respect are also a number of separate initiatives by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the eastern part of the country by, among others, Save the Children UK, SOS Grands Lacs, and Don Bosco.


For more information, see Verhey, Beth, 2003, “Program of Demobilization and Social and Economic Reinsertion of Vulnerable Ex-Combatants,” World Bank-PCF Secretariat, Preliminary Evaluation Report (Washington: World Bank).


The nine participating countries are Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, DRC, Namibia, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. As of mid-2003, all but Namibia and Zimbabwe have been receiving support at various levels.

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