The peace-building process in Ituri is on the right track. Following the disarmament and demobilization of ex-combatants, the process is now entering its final phase – the reintegration of ex-combatants. Gustavo Gonzalez, coordinator of the operation for UNDP, assesses the activities and their outcomes.
What is your assessment of the DDR phase III?
As you know, the government has just completed disarmament and demobilization as part of phase III of the DDR in Ituri. The first phase, from September 2004 to July 2005, was carried out by UNDP and MONUC; the second phase –in 2006- was executed under the former CONADER; and this third phase has been carried out by the Ministry of Defence. The result of Phase III is that 1865 combatants have been disarmed at the 10 disarmament points managed by FARDC and MONUC and demobilized in the two UNDP transit sites of Bunia and Kwandroma. Of the total number, 1795 have been effectively demobilized. There have been no candidates for entry into the army, except for 16 officers who arrived in Kinshasa recently to begin military training.
It is not yet possible to give an overall evaluation of the process because the reintegration process has not been completed. We shall be in a position to do so in a few months' time, when the ex-combatants will have been reintegrated into their communities and the entire population of Ituri will be able to sleep soundly, trusting that they are not going to be pillaged or robbed any moment.
However, it is quite clear that this is the first credible disarmament and demobilization operation in DRC. The process has been transparent in the application of disarmament procedures and efficient in getting concrete results on the ground. There has been strict compliance with the “one man one weapon” ratio, and 1625 individual weapons have been recovered, as well as 240 collective weapons.
Jointly with the Ministry of Defence and MONUC, we have also introduced new disarmament modalities, in particular the use of holograms to detect forged disarmament certificates, and we have introduced a new actor, that of the "disarmament controller", filled by MONUC’s military observers who have been deployed to the 10 disarmament centres. Moreover, thanks to the UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR), for the first time in DRC an exhaustive database has been set up, making it possible to record weapons and view their provenance.
What does the reintegration process involve?
We are currently entering the most complex and tricky phase of reintegration from an operational point of view, which is why the government, with the support of UNPD, a network of 15 national NGOs and UNICEF is developing a new approach to reintegration based on the lessons learned from the national Programme. Firstly, this involves replacing the system for the payment of subsidies to demobilized combatants – which has caused serious security problems in the country – using the “Service for Community Reconstruction” (SRC).
The SRC are reconstruction brigades formed of demobilized combatants and members of the civil population which aim to rebuild those communities that have been seriously affected by the war. This work has proved to be a powerful tool for reintegration and reconciliation. The service lasts for three months, which means that for three months the demobilized combatants work together with other members of the community, and at the end of the process they receive support for sustainable reintegration, consisting in the provision of vocational training in the profession of their choice, the provision of work tools and a financial grant to enable them to start a community-based micro-project.
Another important aspect of this new approach is the revised per capita cost of reintegration. As you know, the per capita cost under the national DDR programme is one of the lowest, not just in Africa but in the world ($400). This makes successful reintegration difficult or impossible.
Therefore, the Government, UNDP and its partners have increased the per capita cost in the case of Ituri. It has thus been possible to optimize investment in reintegration to match the actual needs on the ground and to improve the quality of training, productive assets, mentoring and monitoring of the demobilized combatant.
Finally, the reintegration programme of the DDR Phase III includes the improvement of services and infrastructure in communities with a high concentration of demobilized combatants.
Are there still combatants who have not been demobilized, and what will be done about them?
It is very important to view the entire process with a degree of perspective. There were three phases in Ituri: the first ensured the demobilization of 15,941 combatants, the second 6,728 combatants, and this final phase, which has targeted the most resistant groups, has resulted in the demobilization of 1,795. In Ituri there are only 24,462 demobilized combatants, representing approximately 25 per cent of the total number of demobilized combatants in the country.
Thanks to the use of a biometric registration system, we can be sure that none of these individuals has been demobilized twice. This indicates the nature of conflict in this area, where the recruitment of children and unemployed young people and the circulation of light weapons are a scourge that is difficult to overcome. It appears that, with the disbanding of the FNI, FRPI and MRC, we are moving closer to an Ituri free of militia.
It is important to remember that the concept of the combatant in Ituri is a highly relative and ambiguous one. There are combatants who could be termed “part-time”, that is, people who are peasants by day and engage in quasi-criminal activities by night. We believe that, with the surrender to justice of the most recent warlords, the problem of combatants is now resolved in Ituri. However, it is important to remain realistic, because without specific measures to tackle poverty, offer means other than the use of arms and restore the authority of the State, there is a risk that the vicious circle of these conflicts will be repeated.
It is important to understand the causes of the conflict in Ituri. On the one hand, there is poverty, with more than 170,000 displaced people within the country and approximately 700,000 who have returned in search of a job; on the other, there are inter-community tensions, because Ituri has a long history of problems with land ownership which have been expressed as tension between ethnic groups, and thirdly there are cross-border issues.
Ituri is situated in an area of great geopolitical instability and it has borders with countries whose rebel groups use Ituri as a secondary base, and there are countries which do not have a border with Ituri but which exert considerable geopolitical influence on the sub-region. So let's not be naïve – the problems of the militia in Ituri, and the illegal circulation of light weapons or the illegal exploitation of natural resources cannot be resolved solely through the DDR. The DDR is just one part of a global process of conflict resolution, which includes poverty reduction. Justice and the reform of the security sector are of equal importance.
What was the role of UNDP and the Government in the DDR process?
UNDP’s contribution dates back to 2003 with the Conference for Peacebuilding in Ituri, which was the first mechanism for conflict resolution in the region. Since that time, UNDP has invested $12 million in activities to rebuild communities, with financial aid from 11 donors. All of this support was provided in direct partnership with the Government, first of all with the interim administration, then with the transition authorities and now with democratically elected authorities.
In Ituri today, the presence of FARDC, the Military Organization for Integration and established local authorities has strengthened the authority of the State, which was not the case in 2003. UNDP has supported this process and has taken a very active part in strengthening human security and peacebuilding. In this context, the DDR has certainly played a decisive role in our plan of action, but today we are expanding our cooperation in the fields of good governance and poverty reduction. Supporting local governance and promoting micro-finance are areas of priority for UNDP in the region. Moreover, the establishment of a UNDP sub-office in Ituri demonstrates our lasting commitment to the region’s population.