Does the New Disarmament and Demobilization Program Stand a Chance of Success? 

Collected firearms for destruction in Goma (North Kivu) in November 2013 (Photo MONUSCO/South African Battalion).

By Reagan El Miviri, Analyst at the Kivu Security Tracker, and Pierre Boisselet, Coordinator at the Kivu Security Tracker.

In early August, DRC President Félix Tshisekedi appointed a national coordinator to head the new Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Reintegration and Stabilization Program (P-DDRCS). This type of program seems vital to place eastern DRC on the road to peace. However, all previous DDR attempts have largely failed. Will this time prove any different?

On August 7, 2021, President Tshisekedi appointed Emmanuel Tommy Tambwe Rudima to the position of National Coordinator of the new Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Reintegration and Stabilization Program (P-DDRCS), established one month earlier.

This announcement had been expected for months, even years. Since the failure of the third “Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration” program in eastern DRC (DDR3) with a planned 2015 launch, but which was never effectively implemented, the country had been without a program of this kind. In December 2019, the UN Security Council had already “called upon” the Congolese government to “appoint a senior coordinator to address Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration.” 

This type of program is therefore vital for progress on the path to peace in eastern DRC.

Why is a DDR Program Needed?

The largely military approaches, encouraged by Félix Tshisekedi since his arrival as president in January 2019, have still not resulted in the expected outcomes. At times, they have even worsened the situation, such as the “large-scale” offensive launched against the ADF at the end of October 2019, and which was followed by a wave of civilian killings, unprecedented since that of 2014-15.

The “state of siege” implemented in the provinces of Ituri and of North Kivu from May 6 this year, has not had the expected results either to date. This has in essence consisted of the transfer of large swathes of civil jurisdiction over to military or police governors, administrators and mayors. But civilian killings have continued since it came into being: at least 723 civilians have been killed by armed actors the North Kivu and Ituri since May 6 (cross-checks are still ongoing concerning the further killings occurring during this period). The ADF, the deadliest of the 122 armed groups listed by the KST in eastern DRC, are behind most of the killings (they are implicated in the deaths of at least 396 civilians). In recent months, its sphere of action has shifted towards the territories of Irumu and Mambasa in Ituri province. The armed forces and police are themselves implicated in the deaths of at 65 civilians.

As a result, the state of siege, which had the near-unanimous support of the political class at its launch at the end of April, is now facing criticism. Pointing to the lack of results and demanding that the minister of defense come before them to explain the situation, 90 national members of parliament boycotted the vote to prolong the state of siege on August 3.

In this context, could the new P-DDRCS or Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Reintegration and Stabilization Program bring peace to eastern DRC?

The negotiations entered into in recent months, between the FARDC and the armed groups of the Petit Nord (the territories of Nyiragongo, Rutshuru, Masisi, Walikale, and the south of that of Lubero), have resulted in surrenders. However, none of the main militia heads has, until now, handed himself in to the authorities, which makes such progress reversible. Also, previous surrenders show that such advances are rarely long-lasting without a properly funded and organized DDR program, which provides real support for combatants. Former combatants of the Nduma Defense of Congo-Rénové (NDC-R), billeted in Rumangabo (Rutshuru territory, North Kivu), have. for instance, carried out multiple lootings of the surrounding villages, such as on May 25 this year. Many of those who have surrendered have also returned to the bush and rejoined their armed group. Additionally, in the absence of a DDR program to replace them, most attempts at creating peace and mediation agreements in recent years have never got off the ground.

Since 2003, at least three DDR programs have been launched nationally, without any decisive progress. A significant number of the current members of armed groups have gone through such DDR programs before taking up arms again in a movement of “circular return” and a “recycling of rebels.”

Does this new DDRCS program have any chance of success when the previous ones have failed?

A Controversial New Coordinator

Initial reactions to the appointment of Tommy Tambwe to the position of national coordinator have not been very encouraging. His profile as a former senior member of the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD, of which he was Vice-President of South Kivu, in particular) and a leader of the Alliance for the Liberation of Eastern Congo (ALEC), both rebel movements backed by Rwanda, have caused hostility from members of civil society. Dr Denis Mukwege, a Nobel Prize winner, shared his “caution” and believed that “it was time to break with policies whose aim was to give promotions to those who should be brought to justice. In a press release, the NGO Human Rights Watch (co-founder of KST) opined that this appointment raises “serious concerns.”

Regarding armed groups, the news was hardly better received. The Collective of Movements for Change (CMC), one of the main militia coalitions in the Petit Nord and, as such, one of the significant targets of the P-DDRCS, declared their hostility to Mr. Tambwe who they describe as a “puppet” and “mercenary of the foreign invaders of our country.”

In South Kivu, Tommy Tambwe’s province, this appointment also seems to be problematic. Civil society organizations as diverse as the Solidarité des jeunes fuliiru (SOJEF) and the Banyamulenge Mutual Societies Coordination Committee have denounced his selection as the head of the P-DDRCS.

The new P-DDRCS National Coordinator rejects such criticism. During an interview with KST in Kinshasa on September 1, he promised that, as from his first trip to eastern DRC, his delegation would “improve the living conditions of those who had already surrendered,” and that “many new combatants would surrender and be welcomed.” This trip was to have taken him to the provinces of “Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, Tanganyika and Maniema.”

Will the Donors Support the New Program?

Another challenge is to convince the donors to back the program. Tommy Tambwe has stated that the Congolese state will contribute its own funds to this program. “We have recovered 1.1 million USD from the budget lines of the STAREC and PN-DDRC,” [two institutions replaced by the P-DDRC], he specified to KST. “This would be used to become operational immediately but is insufficient. We are currently in talks with the executive to find further funds from the already approved 2021 budget. And we will also develop the budget for 2022.”

The level of state support therefore remains to be defined. There are justified fears that it remains insufficient without the help of foreign donors. DDR3 in particular had failed on that issue: potential funders, chastened by the suspicions of corruption and misappropriation of funds in previous programs, had believed that the necessary guarantees had not been forthcoming.

Does the international community have a positive view, at this point, of the new P-DDRCSy? Upon the presentation of the idea of a community DDR by the governors of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri in October 2020, the Ambassadors of the European Union, United States, Great Britain and Canada had expressed their support.

However, an initial hitch occurred during the publication of the ruling establishing the P-DDRCS on July 4. A Western diplomat questioned by KST was unpleasantly surprised to discover that the structure of the program allocates less decision-making to the three regions the most affected by insecurity than he expected. He fears that centralizing the program jeopardizes its effectiveness.

Tommy Tambwe’s profile has also raised concerns in Western diplomatic circles in Kinshasa; such concerns have been strengthened by the reaction of civil society and armed groups. However, no foreign country has publicly criticized his appointment, leaving the door open for collaboration. According to a source close to the program, funders will not try to change the President’s mind on the subject of his appointment. It remains to be seen, however, whether they are willing to fund the program.

On August 24, in Kinshasa, Tommy Tambwe met with eight diplomatic delegations (those of the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and of several of its member states, in particular). Several sources who took part in this meeting have indicated that it went rather well: delegations had the feeling that their concerns had been taken on board by the new P-DDRCS Coordinator and his team. It is expected that they will be invited to join the steering committee.

But not all issues have been solved. According to a source at the World Bank, it has already rejected the idea of directly funding the P-DDRCS. This doesn’t mean that no funding will be provided for projects within the framework of this program, but the Bank – and all the diplomats in communication with KST – appear to want to avoid funding the national structure as such. In the long term this could cause problems by weakening the capacity of the P-DDRCS to administer its entire program, in particular with carrying out tasks such as the identification and monitoring of demobilized combatants. These funders however have not ruled out providing technical support to the program, along with MONUSCO, which has also undertaken to support the new program.

Which Strategy Should be Adopted? 

For the P-DDRCS to work, it also needs a strategy capable of having learnt from previous failures.

It has a few arguments in its favor. Firstly, the political context has changed compared with previous programs: after 18 years of Joseph Kabila’s reign, the rise to the head of the country of a president who has not taken part in armed conflicts in the last 20 years is a window of opportunity to convince armed groups to lay down their weapons.

The struggle against Joseph Kabila’s regime had long been the corner stone of the armed groups’ leader’s justification for taking up arms. Ever since the arrival of President Félix Tshisekedi in January 2019, several groups (in French) had spontaneously expressed the wish to join a DDR process to “serve” the country.

Also, if we were to wonder about the relevance of the state of siege in fighting against insecurity in the east, this is a measure of the will of the government to do something about this issue. As underlined by the government’s spokesperson in a Débat Africain podcast, the state of siege banks on its psychological effect: it shows the government’s commitment to put an end to armed group activities in the provinces concerned.

Another advantage of the P-DDRCS is that it is the fruit of the merging of STAREC and the National DDR Program, two institutions which were previously under two different ministries (Planning as regards the STAREC and Defense as regards the PN-DDR), which led to redundancies and conflicting competences.

However, who conducts security policies in eastern DRC has not been entirely clarified. This remains split between the P-DDRCS, under the presidency, the Ministry of Defense, led by Gilbert Kabanda, and the National Oversight Mechanism (NMS) of the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement, led by Claude Ibalanky.

Lastly, there remains the task of implementing a clear and convincing strategy. This program’s vocation is to be community-oriented. This is itself an interesting idea. In “Untangling the Gordian knot of insecurity”, the Rift Valley Institute proposed that in 2013 the previous program had been insufficiently community-oriented. The authors noted that by only targeting combatants, the DDR had undermined reconciliation efforts since “the communities that they return to had the impression that those who had taken up arms were being rewarded by giving them money and professional training.

During his first trip to eastern DRC, Tommy Tambwe plans to “implement in each province “Consultation Frameworks for Peace Program Support” (CCAPs) with the authorities, civil society, customary chiefs, religious confessions, tribal mutual societies, NGOs, youth, women, etc.,” he told KST. “We do not want people to come and say afterwards that they had not taken part in the process,” he added.

“However, the strategy itself remains to be developed along with MONUSCO specialists,” he clarified.

The Dilemma Posed by Reintegration

This strategy will invariably collide with the social reintegration of combatants into communities and the issue of their possible integration into the armed forces.

Providing economic alternatives to former combatants is an essential part of reintegration into the community. However, such alternatives should be fit-for-purpose. In the past, reintegration programs led former combatants towards ill-adapted activities (work in mills, hairdressing, etc.), since they didn’t have the skills required to take on such roles.

Also, the ruling establishing the DDRCS specifies that integration into the armed forces will only be possible on an individual basis. This is a means of rejecting collective integrations, which have occurred in the past. Such military integration is seen as a red line by the international community and by civil society, as it perpetuates the cycle of violence and impunity by incentivizing the taking up of arms to eventually benefit from this type of program.

However, this intransigence may well be difficult to apply, particularly for the armed groups which have already started a demobilization process. This is the case, for instance, of the Union of Patriots for the Liberation of Congo (UPLC) or the Patriotic Resistance Front of Ituri (FRPI), which have received the promise that its members will be integrated into the army, along with recognition of their ranks. This is the basis upon which they accepted to remain billeted in camps. The hope of amnesty and integration into the FARDC is also often one the main motives for armed groups to surrender. According to some reports, the historic head of the Nduma Defense of Congo-Rénové (NDC-R), Guidon Shimiray, has recently proposed this type of condition prior to considering his surrender.

The new leaders of the P-DDRCS are faced with multiple challenges: convincing skeptical funders of their ability to develop an effective program; lead it to its successful implementation; and breaking with past practices whilst finding a way of motivating combatants to surrender. This will be no small challenge.

Has the State of Siege Improved Security in the Eastern DRC?

A hearing in progress before the military court in Uvira (South Kivu) on May 16, 2021. (Photo MONUSCO/Justice Support Section, Bukavu).

By Pierre Boisselet, Coordinator of the Kivu Security Tracker.

Despite what the Congolese authorities announced, there have been few military operations since the onset of the state of siege, and civilian security has deteriorated in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

Regaining control of National Road 27, of the Mbau-Kamango trunk road, “freeing” of various localities in the territories of Djugu and Irumu from the clutches of armed groups, “neutralization” of the members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) or their associates… Based on official statements, you might think that multiple victorious offensives had been launched by the army since the start of the siege on May 6, and that the security situation is about to come under control.

Data collected by the Kivu Security Tracker (KST) however, portray a different picture of the situation. Since the state of siege was decreed by President Félix Tshisekedi on April 30, civilian security as a whole has, in fact, gotten worse in North Kivu and Ituri provinces. KST has recorded the deaths of at least 223 people there in May, compared with 198 in April.

Number of civilians killed in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri in April and May 2021

The killings in Boga and Tchabi, in Irumu territory, which led to 55 civilian deaths, during the night of May 30 to 31 (the deadliest day ever recorded by KST), were largely responsible for this upswing. However, from one month to the next, the death toll also increased in Beni territory (74 civilians killed in May, compared with 47 in April) and in Mambasa territory (35 civilians killed in May, compared with 3 in April).

It is also difficult to detect a genuine uptick in FARDC activity in the same period. KST logged 29 clashes involving the FARDC in May, compared with 26 in April. No head of an armed group identified by KST has been killed or arrested by the FARDC or the Police – a Mai-Mai head, Jackson Muhukambuto, was arrested on June 8, 2021, but by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN).

Highly-localized Progress 

So what about the government’s recent announcements? At the start of June 2021, for example, Kinshasa announced the pacification of the Mbau-Kamango trunk road, in the territory of Beni. Yet the reopening of this trunk road had already been announced in September 2020 by the then minister of defense, and no incident had been recorded on this road by KST in 2021. It seems improbable for the state of siege to take credit for this…

However, there have been FARDC announcements that have resulted in concrete action in the field. The Congolese army, for instance, has retaken all of National Road 27, which links Bunia to Uganda. At least ten members of the Codeco-URDPC group, which was occupying various localities along this road, have been killed. Since then, this group has largely left this road and incidents have fallen drastically.

The FARDC also retook the town of Nyakunde, close to Marabo (Irumu territory) and several surrounding villages from the Chini ya Kilima-FPIC. Eleven militia members were killed and fourteen arrested. However, it remains difficult to know whether this offensive is genuinely linked to the state of siege: it started on May 2, that is, after the measure was announced, but before it came into force. This offensive took place at a heavy cost for civilians, as we will learn below.

Lastly, although some ten ADF members were effectively killed close to Halungupa (Beni territory) on May 9, the FARDC lost at least as many men on the days following. Above all, it has not brought the number of killings perpetrated by the ADF under control. Quite the contrary: KST recorded the deaths of 98 civilians in attacks attributed to this group in May, that is, nearly twice that of April (53).

Number of civilians killed by the ADF in April and May 2021

Additionally, a series of killings were perpetrated close to Biakato, in Mambasa territory, an area in which the ADF have never been present until now. They therefore appear to be pursuing retaliation against civilians and growing their area of operations – a process ongoing since the start of the large-scale operations against them, launched in October 2019.

Locations of the killings perpetrated by the ADF in April (to the left) and May (to the right) 2021

As concerns extra-operational measures, the FARDC announced that they had arrested three soldiers, suspected of links with the ADF, even if they refused from providing any details. Regional intelligence service coordination efforts were continued, with the organization of a workshop in Goma at the start of May, even if this was in all likelihood scheduled well before the state of siege announcement. This kind of measure may well have a positive impact in the long term. However, in the absence of more details on their substance, it is difficult to evaluate it. Their possible effects are in all cases not visible for the time being.

Persistent Absence of Joint Planning

Nor has the attitude of the UN Mission to the DRC (MONUSCO), the target of protests in North Kivu in April, radically changed on the ground. It carried out an aerial bombardment of an ADF base on May 14, which had not occurred for several years. However, according to several UN sources, this operation had been planned before the state of siege decree.

MONUSCO remains committed to reforming its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), by creating four “Quick Reaction Forces” of 150 blue helmets each, comprising Kenyan, Nepalese, South African, and Tanzanian troops, who would be capable of more rapid interventions. The Tanzanian faction is already operational but the new units will only be fully operational in August.

Above all, in the persistent absence of joint planning of operations – an absence which remains to this day unaltered by the state of siege – no truly joint MONUSCO-FARDC operation is possible, nor is any large-scale unilateral operation by the blue helmets planned. MONUSCO appears for the time being therefore, limited to reacting to attacks by armed groups in the best of cases. Regardless, KST has not recorded any FIB-initiated clashes with the ADF since 2018.

Lastly, problems relating to the absence of a working disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program remained. Several former members of the NDC/R Bwira group, stationed in Rumangabo (Rutshuru territory), looted the neighboring village of Kayenzi to find food four days after the visit of the military governor of the province, Constant Ndima Kongba.

Uptick in FARDC Abuses

Concomitantly, there has been a marked uptick in the number of civilians killed in incidents involving the FARDC: 32 cases were recorded in May, compared with 17 in April. Several particularly serious incidents occurred in Ituri. After the FARDC retook the town of Nyakunde, they killed seven civilians during combing operations in the village of Nongo on May 2 and eight civilians in the villages of Banikasowa, Ndenge I and II on May 15. In their statement, the FARDC claimed that all of those killed on May 15 were militia members. However, the presence of women and children among the victims, witnessed by several sources, lends little credence to this statement. Beyond the abuses themselves, this type of violence can have a lasting adverse effect on the population’s confidence in the FARDC, a much-needed ingredient of success for any counter-insurgency operation. Many of the area’s inhabitants fled the area following the onset of operations.

A woman was also killed after refusing the advances of a soldier in Nizi (Djugu territory) on May 16, a civilian was killed after having been taken by a militia in Djaiba on May 16 and a civilian was killed during a raid by the FARDC against the mine at Malindi-Buo (Mambasa territory) on May 20.

As the problems relating to respect for human rights are longstanding, and as the operations against the Chini ya Kilima-FPIC started before the entry into force of the state of siege, it is difficult to certify that these new abuses are linked to this measure. However, it cannot be excluded that at least some of the incidents are related to a sentiment of heightened impunity on the part of some members of the FARDC following the state of siege announcement.

Beyond the military impact, the state of siege also has—perhaps above all— psychological, legal and political effects, which are likely to impact dynamics of violence in the long term.

These have enabled the FARDC to take control of local entities’ civil institutions (the provinces since May 6, but also of towns and territories since May 26). And the many statements by the new governor of North Kivu on the state of finances and revenue generation in his province may suggest that the control of the related financial resources is a matter of particular concern for the new authorities.

At the national level, the state of siege and the resulting security and military issues are hardly debated in parliament. At the national assembly, this measure–which still lacks a legal framework–was extended for two weeks at the request of the government. 334 MPs officially voted for the measure, with hardly any debate. President Félix Tshisekedi now plans to pass an authorization law to allow him to renew the measure without consulting parliament, according to reports of one of his discussions with senators, which would limit any regular assessment.

This situation could also be used by the government to adopt unpopular measures. This is specifically the case of military cooperation agreements that President Félix Tshisekedi has long wished for but whose implementation has always been thwarted by lack of political support.

Thus, the DRC and Uganda have signed an agreement to “stabilize” the east of the DRC according to the Ugandan government. However, this has not been made public, and nothing has been submitted to parliament, as the Constitution demands (in French) for this type of agreement. Discussions with Rwanda, which have been ongoing for several months, have continued. But “it has become practically impossible to publicly demand respect for the Constitution on such subjects,” explained a member of parliament anonymously. “The president’s followers would accuse us of being traitors to the nation.” In the absence of transparency on these agreements, it is difficult to assess their possible consequences. However, in the past, some foreign army operations on Congolese soil have led to human rights violations without long term solutions.

Unanimity on the state of siege has somewhat faltered since the Boga and Tchabi killings, during the night of May 30 to 31. Following this incident, the military governor of Ituri province was forced to recognize that until then he had essentially been focused on “assessing the situation” and the “implementation of all the teams.”

On June 1st, the Minister of Defense, Gilbert Kabanda, stated that the situation would be different within two weeks, after the government had “moved some men” and unblocked further resources. It has not, however, specified a budget or a timetable.