Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) separated the demobilised child soldiers after the Mai-Mai militia surrendered to government forces (25 November 2013). (UN PHOTO/SYLVAIN LIECHTI)

Why has the DRC seen unending conflict over the last two decades, despite having a comprehensive DDR programme in place?


From the very beginning, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) new disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme was lauded as a key process that would bring peace and security to the eastern DRC, and sustainable stability in the African Great Lakes region. For the past two decades, the region has remained embroiled in an unending deadly conflict that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and increased the number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the proliferation of armed rebel groups has continued unabated.

Through its resolutions 20981 and 2147,2 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) supported the development of a comprehensive DDR and disarmament, demobilisation, repatriation, reintegration and resettlement (DDRRR) programme. The United Nations (UN) also called on the DRC government to uphold its commitment to the initiated security sector reform (SSR), and that the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) had to provide support and advice for the programme’s implementation.

The Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) troops arrive in Goma, DRC (28 May 2013). The Brigade was deployed with a mandate within the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) to neutralise and disarm armed groups that threaten peace in the eastern DRC. (UN PHOTO/CLARA PADOVAN)

In 2013, MONUSCO’s new Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) and the DRC national army, Forces armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), launched an attack on the armed group Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23).3 The defeat of this rebel group influenced several other rebel groups to surrender, disarm and join the third phase of the DDR programme (DDR III). Established in 2013 by the DRC government, the DDR III programme was officially launched in 2015. There are more than 4 800 ex-combatants (out of a targeted 12 205 combatants, dependants and communities)4 in the demobilisation camps. With a total budget of US$85 million,5 the programme is managed by the unité d’exécution du programme national de désarmement, démobilisation et reinsertion; that is, the Project Implementation Unit – Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reinsertion (UEPN-DDR).

Two other programmes – DDR I and DDR II – took place previously, in 2004–2007 and 2008–2011 respectively. The UEPN-DDR was preceded by several other institutions that were in charge of the DDR6 programme: the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (CONADER) in 2003 and the National Programme for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (PNDDR) in 2004. The UEPN-DDR was established in 2007 to replace CONADER.

The aim of the current programme is to contribute to the stabilisation of the security situation in the eastern DRC through the disarmament and reintegration of Congolese and foreign armed rebel groups that remain active on Congolese soil.7 Partners that are providing assistance to DDR III include the World Bank, the European Union (EU), Caritas Congo, the Institut National de Préparation Professionnelle (INPP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Swedish government and MONUSCO. These organisations and partners play a significant role in ensuring the continued implementation of the SSR programmes and the demobilisation and reunification of children associated with armed forces or armed groups (CAAFAG) with their families.

The Current Situation

Since the signing of the Global and Inclusive Agreement in December 2002, which led to the official end of the Congo Wars, the number of armed groups has increased8 – despite DDR being a prerequisite for sustainable peace, security and development in war-torn or post-conflict countries such as the DRC. The two former programmes, DDR I and DDR II, did not achieve the originally set objectives as expected. Both programmes were established to demobilise, disarm and reintegrate thousands of armed combatants, as well as to repatriate foreign combatants. It was hoped that through these processes, peace and security could be consolidated and a large number of armed rebel groups neutralised. DDR I and DDR II did not achieve any stability in the eastern DRC due to lack of political will, poor governance, embezzlement of funds, wrongful implementation of the planned DDR policies, and the reintegration of former war criminals into the national army. In addition, thousands of former combatants continued to keep their armed rebel chains of command by refusing to be deployed to other provinces in the country other than where they were operating during the conflict.

Since DDR III’s inception, violent incidents have erupted in the demobilisation camps. Thousands of ex-combatants with their dependants were regrouped in two designated demobilisation camps: the Kitona and Kamina military camps.9 These two camps were located far from the ex-combatants’ home communities in an effort to stop the occupants of these camps from leaving, even if living conditions were unacceptable. The hardships in these camps have often led to conflicts among occupants. During a protest on 25 February 2016 against new army recruits in Kitona camp, two ex-combatants were killed and properties were destroyed.10 Similar incidents have also been reported in Kamina camp.

DDR III was designed to avoid the pitfalls of the DRC’s failed 2004 and 2009 DDR initiatives, specifically by paying more attention to, and devoting more resources for, skills enhancement training and the reintegration phase11 to help people become self-sustaining. Ex-combatants attend training courses in small business and entrepreneurship (auto mechanic, masonry, baking, hairdressing, numeracy, conflict resolution and so on) in both camps. They are taught these new skills to become productive when they are placed into communities of their choice. Female, disabled and chronically ill ex-combatants and CAAFAGs also learn skills that they can use once they are reintegrated or reunified with their families. CAAFAGs’ tasks are performed by UNICEF with the support of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as outlined by the UEPN-DDR’s monitoring and evaluation officer.12

Ex-combatants attend training courses where they are taught various skills, so they can be productive when they are eventually placed in communities of their choice. (UN PHOTO/ABDUL FATAI)

Tensions recently escalated in the demobilisation camps due to poor living conditions. Ex-combatants protested that they were still based in the camps, despite having completed their training courses. The relocation process was suspended in June 2016 due to a lack of financial resources from partners. In July 2016, the DRC government resumed the relocation of ex-combatants into their communities of choice, with thousands of them having already been successfully reinserted. The ex-combatants targeted for such programmes receive financial incentives (reintegration grants) when they depart the camps. Tensions remain high among the 3 591 ex-combatants and their 559 dependants who remain in the two reinsertion camps, awaiting return to their communities.13 Sweden and the World Bank have contributed US$7 million and US$15 million respectively,14 but this is not enough to complete the programme.

The eastern DRC has become the most vulnerable region of the country in terms of security and development. The DDR programme is currently encountering various challenges in a post-conflict country that is still suffering the impact of years of war, conflict and instability.


DDR is an important peacebuilding tool that can promote reconciliation, promote the rule of law and enhance the protection of civilians. DDR III is, however, experiencing a number of challenges:

  • Logistical resources: The DRC government has so far allocated more than US$20 million for transport, logistics, food assistance and other expenses.15 These funds were in addition to those that came from other partners. Some partners are still reluctant to fulfil their financial pledges because they suspect that the programme may not work. In June 2016, a few days after the government began the process of transporting ex-combatants back to their original communities in South Kivu and North Kivu provinces, the operations were postponed to an unspecified date. They were then resumed in July 2016. One of the lessons learned from previous DDR programmes was that success could only be achieved if there was “better budgeting for transport”. There is much interest among combatants to participate in the DDR programmes, with hundreds of them calling on the government to speed up the reintegration process.16
  • Programme implementation: The M23 recently called for a new and better demobilisation programme. It blames the government’s ineffectiveness and inefficiency for the poor implementation of the current programme.17 The current reintegration process is the DDR III’s most complex phase and the DRC government is facing several obstacles in implementing it fully.18
  • Political context: A crisis that could destabilise the entire country is looming over the DRC electoral commission’s decision to delay elections. President Joseph Kabila is serving his second and last term, which should expire on 19 December 2016. He has been accused by the opposition of trying to amend the constitution to remain in power and serve another term. Since its independence in 1960, the DRC has never had a smooth transfer of power. A new political crisis in this vast country will indeed derail the DDR programme, with the risk of thousands of ex-combatants rejoining their former armed rebel groups.
  • Instability in the region: Armed rebel groups from neighbouring countries are operating in the eastern DRC – the most prominent being the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), which continues to use the DRC as a rear base to attack Rwanda. Only a few of this rebel group’s troops have accepted the UN’s offer to voluntarily disarm. The Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has increased its attacks against civilians in North Kivu province, around the town of Beni, while Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) rebels fled to the northern DRC after an escalation of the South Sudan civil war in July 2016. The continued presence and activities of these armed rebel groups reflect their capacity to recruit new combatants. Their refusal to disarm impacts peace consolidation in the DRC and the African Great Lakes region.
  • Economic decline: One of the most important foundations for successful DDR is an economically prosperous environment into which the combatants should be reintegrated, rather than being reinserted into a poverty-stricken community.19 The DRC is among the poorest countries in the world. For the past two years, the economy has slowed down, commodity prices are currently low, there is a high unemployment rate, and the government has cut spending and sought World Bank assistance.20 The DRC government claims that there is not enough money to fund the upcoming general elections, and has only contributed about 24% of the overall DDR budget.21 The economy cannot grow under such circumstances, and will be limited in its ability to create job opportunities for able-bodied people to prevent them from joining armed rebel groups.

Recommendations and Conclusion

While it is true that DDR III is not a panacea to peace and security, its success or failure will play a major positive or negative role in peace consolidation and stability in the eastern DRC and, indeed, the whole country. If the country slides back into violence, this unstable region of the Great Lakes will be engulfed in further protracted conflict that will be worse than the current situation, which is already of great concern. A threat of renewed conflict will inevitably undermine efforts at peacebuilding and reconstruction. The protracted DRC conflict is deeply rooted in and influenced by exogenous factors that DDR alone cannot resolve. However, the success of this programme will gradually erode backsliding towards unchecked and continued fighting.

The DRC police launch flares during a demonstration in Goma (19 September 2016). Protestors were demanding the resignation of President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the DRC since 2001. Opponents fear he is planning to extend his rule unconstitutionally. (GALLO IMAGES/AFP/MUSTAFA MULOPWE)

Peacebuilding stakeholders should aim to address the root causes of the DRC conflict. The DRC government should enhance good governance, launch large-scale development projects that create employment, consolidate state authority, strengthen weak local government institutions, and promote democratic processes through impartial justice practices that ensure a fair electoral cycle, as recommended by the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region. This framework requires the DRC government to continue its SSR programme to prevent armed rebel groups from destabilising the DRC and its neighbours.22 These suggestions have been proposed as possible facilitators for establishing long-term stability in the DRC – in particular, the eastern region.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, meets with rehabilitated children released from armed groups and armed forces in Kitchanga, North Kivu, eastern DRC (23 February 2016). (UN PHOTO/ESKINDER DEBEBE)

Instability in the eastern DRC is primarily due to the proliferation of armed rebel groups, political insecurity, land disputes and ethnic conflicts. These armed rebel groups may not disarm until there is peace and stability in their villages. The availability of arms in villages and communities is a dangerous situation that ex-combatants may capitalise on by reintegrating armed groups into armed insurgencies, if there is no economic alternative for them to be productive and make a living.

Another threat to stability could be the lack of sustainable income-generating activities. Although ex-combatants learn small business and entrepreneurship skills, there is no guarantee that their small enterprises will be successful, as they do not have any business experience or reliable markets. Most of the armed rebel groups occupy large territories rich in mineral resources such as gold, coltan and diamonds, and they can easily acquire weapons and ammunitions through illegal exploitation and illegal trading. These ex-combatants were able to sustain the conflict for many years and provide for their dependants, indicating that the mineral trade was lucrative. Hence, self-employment might not be the only incentive for them not to regroup and join armed rebel groups, should their business ventures not work.

Armed rebel groups have the resources and opportunities to destabilise the government. The FIB, together with the FARDC, should use all necessary means in terms of its peace enforcement mandate to neutralise active local and foreign armed rebel groups that are reluctant to disarm. Although the FIB’s 3 000 troops and MONUSCO’s 20 000 troops23are working in support of the DRC government to maintain and enforce peace, the security of the population is the primary priority of the government. Consequently, the FARDC, national police and all other security forces should be provided with resources and means to fulfil their missions, as well as incentives to avoid them absconding to join the rebel units. Through cooperation with MONUSCO, the FARDC has projected that all armed groups will be neutralised by December 2016.24 This is an ambitious target to achieve, based on the current security developments on the ground. Given this, the DRC government should reform the security sector, as the success of the DDR III programme relies on the ability of the security forces to perform their duties. An effective DDR III will improve security in the country, and enable an environment for the economy to grow.

While it could take a few years to confirm the success or failure of DDR III, there is scepticism about its possibilities for success. The predictions for failure are highlighted by three indicators that constitute DDR III’s weaknesses:

  1. The security situation is still fragile and does not permit the programme to carry out its missions effectively.
  2. Political crisis and civil unrest will ensue following the government’s failure to hold general elections as scheduled and prescribed in the constitution.
  3. There is a lack of funds to cover DDR III’s expenses.

If these three issues are not addressed by all stakeholders, DDR III – which reflects the true characteristics of DDR I and DDR II – will fail in equally similar circumstances. The regional groups and organisations to which the DRC is a member – the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – must step in quickly to address these challenges, which are slowly edging the DRC into yet another quagmire of violence, indiscriminate and deliberate targeted killings of defenceless civilians, destruction of property and infrastructure, and displacement of communities.

The DRC government should contribute more funds to DDR III, so that the programme can be comprehensively implemented and can address all the challenges faced by – and posed by – ex-combatants and armed groups. DDR III should complement other post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding programmes and SSR reforms, so that reluctant armed rebel groups are further encouraged to join the programme. The failure of DDR III could pave the way for more insecurity and instability in the DRC and the African Great Lakes region.


  1. United Nations (2013) ‘UNSCR 2098’, Available at: <http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_res_2098.pdf> [Accessed 17 August 2016].
  2. United Nations (2014) ‘Security Council Authorizes Year-long Mandate Extension for United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo’, Available at: <http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11340.doc.htm> [Accessed 7 September 2016].
  3. M23 is an armed rebel group that is named after a peace agreement signed on 23 March 2009 with the DRC government. The group comprises former rebels of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). As part of the peace agreement, these rebels were integrated into FARDC until their mutiny in 2012.
  4. Kabatunanga-Kajima, Jeff (2016) Interview with the author on 22 August. Kinshasa, DRC.
  5. Irin News (2015) Doubts Plague Congo’s Latest Demobilisation Programme. Irin News, 12 November, Available at: <http://www.irinnews.org/report/102209/doubts-plague-congo%E2%80%99s-latest-demobilisation-programme> [Accessed 6 September 2016].
  6. PNDDR (2014) Global Plan on Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration. Kinshasa: Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Vlassenroot, K. (2013) South Kivu: Identity, Territory, and Power in the Eastern Congo. Usalama Project Report: Understanding Congolese Armed Groups. London: Rift Valley Institute.
  9. Kitona Camp is in the province of Kongo-Central. Kamina is in the province of Haut-Katanga.
  10. Radio Okapi (2016) ‘Base de Kitona: 2 morts dans les affrontements entre démobilisés et recrues des FARDC‘, 25 February, Available at: <http://www.radiookapi.net/2016/02/25/actualite/securite/base-de-kitona-2-morts-dans-les-affrontements-entre-demobilises-et> [Accessed 20 September 2016].
  11. Irin News (2015) op. cit.
  12. PNDDR (2014) op. cit.
  13. United Nations (2016) ‘Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 3 October, S/2016/833’, Available at: <http://www.un.org/en/sc/documents/sgreports/2016.shtml> [Accessed 9 October 2016].
  14. Kabatunanga-Kajima, Jeff (2016) op. cit.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Radio Okapi (2016) ‘Kamina: l’opération d’évacuation des ex-combattants vers leurs familles connait des difficultés‘, 24 June, Available at: <http://www.radiookapi.net/2016/06/24/actualite/societe/kamina-loperation-devacuation-des-ex-combattants-vers-leurs-familles> [Accessed 22 September 2016].
  17. Le Monde (2016) ‘RD Congo: les ex-rebelles du M23 réclament un meilleur programme de démobilisation‘, 17 June, Available at: <http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2016/06/17/rd-congo-les-ex-rebelles-du-m23-reclament-un-meilleur-programme-de-demobilisation_4952931_3212.html> [Accessed 30 August 2016].
  18. Kabatunanga-Kajima, Jeff (2016) op. cit.
  19. Yakovenko, M. (2014) ‘DDR III and a Potential New Role for Militias in the DRC’, Available at: <http://www.ssrresourcecentre.org/2014/10/20/ddr-iii-and-a-potential-new-role-for-militias-in-the-drc/> [Accessed 24 June 2016].
  20. Wilson, T. (2016) ‘Congo Scales Back Eurobond Plans as it Seeks World Bank Help’, Bloomberg, 17 May, Available at: <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-17/congo-scales-back-eurobond-plans-as-it-seeks-world-bank-support> [Accessed 12 August 2016].
  21. The government’s contribution of US$20 million is almost 24% of the total budget (US$85 million).
  22. African Union (2013) ‘Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region’, Available at: <http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/scanned-on-24022013-125543.pdf> [Accessed 10 July 2016].
  23. DefenceWeb (2013) ‘Force Intervention Brigade “Forced” M23 Back to Peace Talks’, 7 October, Available at: <http://www.defenceweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=32122> [Accessed 2 November 2016].
  24. United Nations (2016) op. cit.
  25. Appreciation is extended to Senzo Ngubane and James Machakaire for their support with this article.
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