The devastating civil war that left 5 million dead in D R Congo lingers in its eastern provinces. North Kivu still suffers from multiple armed militias, and here Centre Résolution Conflits (CRC) has developed a unique approach to a central problem – armed combatants.
CRC realises that many attempts at Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) of fighters have failed because not enough is done to give excombatants a viable future in civilian life, leaving them adrift and likely to return to war. CRC’s solution is ‘community-based reintegration’, a long-term approach that includes the entire community and recognises that ex-combatants are just one vulnerable group among many. This approach bridges an important gap between peacebuilding and development.
Initially, CRC sends teams into the forest to negotiate the surrender of militia members, including child soldiers. These ‘task forces’ comprise members from every group in the conflict, so that they model reconciliation and are trusted by all sides. Disarmed fighters are brought back to towns and villages for trauma counselling, job training and livelihood opportunities. Children are placed with
families and returned to school or given a livelihood. Special effort is made to prepare communities for the return of ex-fighters, so they are not rejected.
In 2014 an external evaluation of CRC’s work reported: ‘The project has clearly had a beneficial social and economic impact for ex-combatants, their wives and other women affected by conflict. From their perspective, it has made a clear contribution to the positive changes evident now at community level.’
It continued: ‘Ex-combatants said they were better able to take control of their lives and cited being able to educate their children and feed their families. Through better communication and cohabitation with villagers, they also felt more integrated; in particular they mentioned their ability to facilitate relationships between the community and soldiers, as the soldiers are more likely to listen to them [as ex-combatants].’
CRC’s approach to DDR has now been recognised by international actors in the region as a model for best practice, and forms part of our advocacy in DRC as the UN, government and international stakeholders attempt to build a sustainable peace. We have seen some success, as national and international DDR plans have adopted a more community-based approach.