Angola + 10 more

Freetown Conference urges improvements in disarmament, demobilization, reintegration programmes in Africa

AFR/1199, DC/2972

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

FREETOWN, 23 June - Returning ex-combatants to civilian life is one of the most critical elements for the success of African peace processes, argued African practitioners in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes, at a three-day conference in Freetown, Sierra Leone. "DDR has been at the heart" of the transition from war to peace, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone said. "Without a comprehensive DDR programme, the prospects for long-term stability will remain dim. All post-conflict programmes -- be they political, social or economic -- depend on DDR and how people judge its success."

The Conference on Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Stability in Africa, held 21-23 June, also concluded that DDR efforts must be better tailored to specific national circumstances, be nationally owned, take into account the regional dimensions of conflicts and be linked to wider reconstruction, recovery and development efforts. The participants argued that DDR programmes are now entering a new phase, in which their mandates and relationship to broader peacekeeping and peace-building efforts must be defined more precisely and in which the perspectives of African practitioners and beneficiaries should take a more central place.

The Conference was co-organized by the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa. It brought together African DDR practitioners and stakeholders to share experiences and ideas about ways to improve the design, operation and implementation of such programmes. The more than 100 participants came from 15 African countries, as well as from a number of donor countries and international and regional organizations. The African participants included government officials, current and former members of national DDR commissions and peacekeeping missions, beneficiaries of DDR programmes, members of armed forces and representatives of women's associations, civil society groups and communities hosting ex-combatants.

Dr. Namanga Ngongi, a former Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, co-chaired the Conference at the request of the Special Adviser on Africa, UN Under-Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari, who had just been appointed the new Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. Stressing the UN's recognition of the importance of DDR, Mr. Gambari's message to the Conference cited the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which noted that "demobilizing combatants is the single most important factor determining the success of peace operations". He added that lasting and durable peace also requires reintegrating ex-combatants into well functioning and well governed societies that offer attractive long-term opportunities and benefits for all citizens.

The other co-chair of the Conference, Sierra Leone's Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Momodou Koroma, welcomed the UN's decision to hold the Conference in Freetown as a sign of confidence by the international community in the country's return to peace and stability after a decade of civil war. While Sierra Leone's DDR programme was successful, not all such efforts in Africa have had such an outcome, he noted, challenging the participants to generate ideas for doing better.

A series of eight detailed case studies were presented from Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. Participants from Côte d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Somalia and Uganda also shared their experiences. These cases highlighted the wide diversity of DDR efforts in Africa, reflecting the differing dynamics of their conflicts, the nature of the peace processes, the extent of political will of the various parties and numerous other factors, including regional and international influences. Despite the differences and varying levels of success, participants identified a number of common features.

One recurrent theme was that DDR programmes should concentrate on what they do best -- assisting ex-combatants -- and not become overloaded with many other post-conflict needs. Those wider demands should instead be addressed by accompanying relief, resettlement and rehabilitation efforts for all war-affected populations, including rebuilding local communities that were ravaged by war. DDR undertakings should, however, be linked with such broader actions, especially to help reintegrate ex-fighters and direct them towards productive roles.

Participants also felt that more attention, energies and resources should be devoted to the reintegration aspects of DDR. This is because they are not only more complex in nature, but also confront difficulties in attracting sufficient voluntary financing, compared with the disarmament and demobilization phases, which are funded from assessed peacekeeping resources. Reintegration programmes should also be more gender-sensitive than they have been.

The Conference agreed that the responsibility for making changes lies both with Africans and with UN peacekeeping missions and agencies, multilateral institutions and donor countries. African participants, for their part, laid the groundwork for building a stronger network of DDR stakeholders in Africa, to continue sharing experiences and generating further ideas for improvement. They decided to link up with and send their recommendations to other initiatives designed to enhance DDR operations, including the Stockholm Initiative on DDR and the UN Inter-Agency Working Group on DDR.

In addition to many specific and detailed recommendations that emerged from working group sessions, the participants agreed on a number of broad recommendations. Those included:

  • DDR programmes should not be overburdened, but rather should be more closely linked both to the initial peace agreements and to broader post-conflict relief, resettlement and rehabilitation efforts.

  • The national ownership of DDR programmes should be enhanced by supporting the efforts of all national stakeholders (governments, civil societies, warring factions and others), including through technical assistance and capacity-building support.

  • The international community should support and work in genuine partnership with national DDR stakeholders. It should also better coordinate its own efforts and make its DDR funding mechanisms more flexible and timely.

  • Every effort should be made to include regional perspectives in the design and implementation of DDR programmes.

  • The needs of special groups associated with warring factions (particularly women, children and the disabled) should be included in the design and planning stages of any DDR effort.

  • To promote durable stability after a DDR programme has completed its task, longer-term development programmes should be initiated and adequately funded, to help address the root causes of conflict.