DR Congo

Study on Ex-Combatant Associations in DR Congo Reveals More Social Than Economic Benefits

The TDRP interviewed members of associations in six different cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to study the role of associations in the reintegration of ex-combatants.

In the DRC, 58 percent of households declare that at least one of their members belongs to an association. In such a vibrant associative context, collective approaches in the reintegration of ex-combatants have been increasingly implemented.

However, little is known about how associations may contribute to repairing the social and economic fabric in Congo. To learn more about this, the TDRP financed a study conducted by Dr. Natacha Lemasle in late 2010 in six different cities: Kinshasa, Kisangani, Kindu, Kalemie, Lumumbashi, and Likasi.

Focus Groups

Dr. Lemasle carried out extensive interviews with members of associations through focus groups. Associations that participated in the study included a wide range of activities but usually focused on one such as carpentry, farming, tailoring, soap making or brick making.

All associations that participated in the study had mixed membership: some associations were created by ex-combatants and joined by community members, and others were community associations joined by ex-combatants. The interviewees were both former combatants and members of their resettlement communities.

In total, 268 Congolese belonging to 26 associations participated in the focus groups. Out of concern for cross-checking information, Dr. Lemasle also conducted one-on-one interviews with representatives of the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, local agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) supporting the associations, as well as some leaders and members of associations.

Limited role in economic reintegration

While the expectation was that associations play mostly an economic role in the reintegration of ex-combatants, the study shows that their role is in fact primarily social. Associations offer their members ways to cope with vulnerability and unexpected shocks, rather than create revenues.

Less than one in five associations generated enough revenues to redistribute to their members regularly as their main source of income. Three main barriers account for this lack of economic success:

  • Lack of assessment of the market needs (carpenters selling expensive sofas in a rural area in Kindu)
  • Lack of tools and materials (a tailor association with only 4 sewing machines for 25 members)
  • Lack of management capacities (most association representatives mentioned their difficulty in drafting a budget, making decisions regarding potential investments, and managing people).

Associations also spent considerable resources and time for their legal registration, without getting significant benefits from it, for instance accessing micro-credit. Surprisingly, only one out of the 26 associations met had used micro-credit to fund their activity and acquire the necessary tools and land.

To enhance the economic potential of associations, simple measures may be helpful: support for legal registration and access to microcredit, training in leadership and management skills.

Addressing vulnerability

Associations in which ex-combatants participate are in fact mostly created to cope with vulnerability. As summarized by a woman ex-combatant in Likasi: “It is because of suffering and the search for solutions to daily problems that we decided to create the association”.

25 of the 26 associations presented the need for coping mechanisms as the main incentive to create associations. Almost all associations claimed they were providing support for some of the medical needs of their members. Three associations out of five contributed to funeral expenses, and two associations out of five mentioned the provision of small loans to pay for school fees. These funds usually came from monthly dues from members, as well as from the small benefits from the associations' collective activity usually representing a few hours of work per week per member. In some cases, additional contributions were asked to the members to help one of them cope with an emergency situation.

Mending the social fabric

Associations also play a strong socialization role between ex-combatants and community members. Encouraged by donors and NGOs, associations of ex-combatants have opened membership to community members and vice-versa. This facilitates ex-combatant access to production means (tools and land), a critical issue in particular when ex-combatants resettle in an area far from their original home base.

Associations, and in particular their elected presidents, vice presidents, and counselors, also actively work at preventing and solving conflicts between members, but also sometimes between ex-combatants and the rest of the community, as was the case in Kisangani.

Completing the study

The results of the study were presented to the Congolese national DDR commission and implementing partners. The ensuing discussion confirmed the need to support associations of ex-combatants, in particular by supporting their legal registration, and by providing basic training in banking, management and access to micro-credit. It was also emphasized that support should be provided to ex-combatants associations to facilitate their integration into civil society support networks.

The qualitative study is being completed by a nationwide survey that will provide a comprehensive understanding of the state of reintegration in the country and measure the extent to which ex-combatants belong to associations.

Dr. Natacha Lemasle works in the Fragile States and Conflict Unit – Africa Region at the World Bank in Washington, DC. She specializes in Post-Conflict reconstruction, ex-combatant reintegration and social accountability.