I fully agree with both Omer and Patricio about the need of DDR programs. Below, I am sharing with you the World Bank’s experience in demobilization and socio-economic reintegration of both adult and child ex-combatants:
Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) contributes to security and stability by disarming combatants, removing them from military structures, and socially and economically integrating them into their respective communities. DDR programs downsize armed forces, or disband them altogether. They are usually part of broader efforts to demilitarize (e.g. landmine removal, Security Sector Reform, etc.) and consolidate peace (e.g. justice, reconciliation, community-based reconstruction, etc). In the context of socio-economic reintegration, DDR programs can also reduce poverty. Over the past twenty years, there have been DDR programs in more than 30 countries. About two-thirds of these have been in Africa.
The World Bank’s involvement with DDR programs began in 1992 with the Uganda Veterans Assistance Program. The Bank’s role has been primarily on demobilization and reintegration activities as the Bank’s mandate limits its involvement in disarmament. The World Bank has provided financial and technical assistance to more than 25 projects in 16 countries.
Between 2004 and 2009, the World Bank administered the largest DDR program in history, the Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP), to support the demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Involving 40 national and international partners, MDRP mobilized US$500 mil in donor and IDA financing and provided assistance to more than 300,000 ex-combatants in Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. At its closure in 2009, a follow-up trust fund program administered by the World Bank, the Transitional Demobilization and Reintegration Program (TDRP), was established to continue providing technical and financial assistance on DDR activities. TDRP (2009-2017) mobilized more than US$40 mil in donor financing to finance demobilization and reintegration activities, and reached more than 250,000 direct project beneficiaries in Burundi, CAR, DRC, South Sudan, Rwanda and Uganda. At the regional level, significant progress was made on institutionalizing the technical and financial DDR capacity within the African Union Peace and Security Department through the joint World Bank – UN capacity support to African Union.
While the majority of reintegration activities financed by the Bank have taken place in Africa; countries in ECA, MENA, LAC, and EAP have also been supported by the Bank. The beneficiaries of Bank-supported reintegration operations are mostly former combatants, both adult males and females who have participated in combat and/or supporting roles.
The MDRP-financed special projects for child soldiers and children affected by conflict created opportunities to support needs of child soldiers and those severely affected amidst ongoing conflict and beyond. MDRP facilitated five specific projects for child soldiers, one in Burundi and four in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), totaling 23.7M USD, alongside activities targeting children through overarching DDR programs in other countries. MDRP supported approximately 53,880 children through customized support for various age groups, socioeconomic conditions and psychological needs. It provided capacity-building support to local institutions, communities, schools, NGOs and leaders in responding to needs of returning child soldiers and establishing connections with host communities.
These projects responded to a variety of push-and-pull factors that predicate child participation in armed conflict. It provided education and technical training, and primary services, alcoholism support and interim care to ease demobilized child soldiers into societies. Instead of being matched into foster family care akin to past cases of reintegration programming, these projects allowed children to return to their families and communities of origin. Doing so guaranteed socio-economic assistance to families and mitigated risks of reenlistment owing to financial hardships. Independent evaluation of project activities revealed that reintegrated ex-child soldiers fared better on average compared to their civilian counterparts. Some of these lessons learnt can be used to determine activities to support child soldiers in Yemen during conflict, as well as following its relapse.
The World Bank has managed to accumulate much knowledge regarding DDR and its wider impact on stabilization and peacebuilding efforts. Core learning can be summarized into five main lessons that are essential to the success of a DDR program:
1. DDR is not a standalone operation and must be coordinated with wider stabilization, recovery and development programmes including a comprehensive Security Sector Reform. As building blocks in transitions from conflict to peace, DDR programmes often occur in phases, throughout the continuum from conflict to ceasefire and the signing of a peace accord, to post-conflict stabilization, transition and recovery, and ultimately, to peace and development. Therefore, feasible DDR goals shall be set and discussed by advisers during peace negotiations. DDR staff should be deployed at an early stage, and links established between the DDR programme and SSR and justice and reconciliation efforts.
2. National ownership is essential for the success and sustainability of DDR programmes. In the past, too many DDR programs were overly controlled by external actors who did not make enough effort to establish sustainable partnerships with national institutions and local authorities. As a result programs created were insufficiently adapted to the dynamics of local conflicts, and unsupportive of the capacities of local institutions and unresponsive to the needs of local populations. It is essential for the government to design a National Strategy for DDR that represents the interests of all stakeholders and is developed with support from technical experts within and outside the country. At this stage, the international community should provide strategic, technical, operational and financial support to DDR. However, ultimately, the government and key actors in the peace process are responsible for implementing peace, security and development of their own communities and nations.
3. The DDR programme should be implemented by a National Commission for DDR with technical support and finance provided by the international community. In previous projects, the National DDR commissions have been strengthened through the provision of technical assistance to improve program preparation and design; enhance beneficiary needs assessment; provide information, counselling and referral services; strengthen monitoring and implementation; and overall management information systems and external communications. Partnership with international institutions not only provides oversight and advice but also allows countries to leverage WB financing and other donor financing.
4. Sufficient finances should be available before the start of a DDR program. It is strongly recommended that adequate budget is allocated for full implementation of the DDR program to avoid time-lags that can contribute to escalation of violence and weaken state legitimacy, thereby, reversing the effects of the whole peace process.
5. The design on the DDR programme needs to be context-specific and should reflect the socio-economic realities on the ground. Reintegrating ex-combatants into their communities is a complex process that is dependent upon buy-in from host communities, support from families, availability of alternative livelihood opportunities etc. Therefore, the project design should collect information regarding ex-combatant’s socio-economic profiles, community perceptions regarding DDR and conduct an economic analysis of the job market to ensure the highest probability of success and lowest rate of recidivism of the DDR programme.
That said, we can build on our experience and start thinking about future DDR in number of MNA countries. The main challenge we do have respond to is how to build resilience to violent extremism amongst returning ISIS fighters, potential recruits, respective families and host communities. High export of radical fighters from the region indicates the both potential reintegration of returning combatants as well as de-radicalization need to be equally addressed. As those who participate with armed groups draw from a wide variety of influences, past approach towards traditional ex-combatants need to be reconsidered. Decades of civil disturbances, role of state-based military in conflict, massive arms trade, proliferation of radical Islamic groups in the region indicate that a localized and renewed concept of DDR and violence prevention needs to be developed.
Therefore, it is time to design a project that can be immediately implemented as pilot project in country like Tunisia and replicated elsewhere in the region. With consideration for the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq, such an intervention will seek to increase critical knowledge and build a successful model that can be rapidly applied in those contexts after cessation of hostilities.