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Assessing the Reintegration of Ex-Combatants in the Context of Instability and Informal Economies: The cases of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan

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The implementation of effective disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes in countries emerging from violent conflict are essential for building and maintaining peace and security. In many instances the disarmament and demobilisation of former combatants was achieved, but reintegration remained a challenge, due to the long-term focus and the substantial resources that are required for such a process to be successful.

Income generation and livelihood opportunities are arguably vital for the success of reintegration processes. That is, in order to discourage the remilitarisation of ex-combatants, alternative and appealing means of making a sustainable living should be available to these individuals. In addition, if former combatants are able to make a constructive economic contribution to the communities to which they settle, these communities are more likely to be receptive to their presence.

Reintegration processes are, nonetheless, often implemented in fragile environments, that include fragmented economies, in which most income generating activities are informal or unreported. Such economies are often characterised by unregulated, illicit activities, in which official governance is weak. In this context, formal sector employment and income generating opportunities are limited. However, to date, there has been limited and dispersed data on the manner in which former combatants interact with the informal economic sector.

Given this state of affairs, the Transitional Demobilisation and Reintegration Program (TDRP) of the World Bank commissioned the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa to undertake a research project on the extent to which ex-combatants interact with the informal economy in order to sustain themselves and their dependents. The research was undertaken in three countries: the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC – in the regions of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu) and South Sudan. This project was indelibly linked to another research project that exclusively focused on the reintegration of ex-combatants in the eastern DRC, the results of which are included in a separate report.

The four specific focal areas of the research project were as follows:

  1. An assessment of the state of conflict in terms of how it impacts on the economy in all the three case study areas;

  2. An assessment of the nature of the economy (and labour market) in the case study areas;

  3. An assessment of the employment and sustainable livelihood options that former combatants pursue in the case study areas; and

  4. An analysis of the types, dynamics, successes, challenges of ex-combatant income-generating activities in the three case study countries.

The research took place between February and September 2011, with the research findings and analysis being presented in this report. In addition to a literature review and an assessment of published research and data on the subject matter, the project utilised a comparative case study field research method in each of the three countries, which included:

  • Semi-structured interviews with key DDR stakeholders;

  • Focus group discussions with former combatants;

  • Focus groups with affected community members wherein sizeable numbers of ex-combatants are residing.

  • Semi-structured interviews with practitioners in agricultural, trade, commerce, mining and other economic sectors; and

  • Semi-structured interviews with key informants in the same communities as ex-combatants.