The search for better economic opportunities motivates Ugandan ex-combatants to migrate

In April 2011, the TDRP carried out field research in Uganda to study the mobility of ex-combatants. The aim of this research is to find out to what extent ex-combatants migrate from their areas of reintegration after DDR programs have ended. Viola Erdmannsdoerfer, Operations Officer at the World Bank undertook the field work and gives us more details on the pilot study and her findings.

Viola, what was the objective of the study on mobility of ex-combatants in Uganda?

Basically, we wanted to find out if ex-combatants, once they have resettled in a community, stay in that community or move to a different area. Knowing about the migration pattern of ex-combatants can help DDR programmers reach more of them, and more effectively. Moreover, we can also understand the underlying causes of this migration, from which we can draw lessons to improve other reintegration activities.

How many former reporters* did you interview?

I saw four groups of reporters in Gulu, Kampala and Kitgum. In total, I interviewed 20 former LRA and ADF reporters. Since the sample size of ADF ex-combatants was small, the current findings apply only to LRA reporters. In the next phase of the research, we will include larger samples of both groups of ex-combatants. What I did in April was a scoping survey to determine whether a larger study was needed. I also talked to 6 representatives from partner organizations.

Do we know how many former reporters migrate away from their place of reintegration?

The estimates are that about 20 to 30 percent of ex-combatants migrate away from where they originally resettled after the conflict. This is significant, since it means that potentially 3 out of every 10 ex-combatants do no stay where their initially reintegrated. This has implications for any follow-up work because it is difficult to trace these individuals once they move. Moreover, current DDR programs are not designed to adapt to this mobility. They usually focus their activities on the areas where ex-combatants first resettle (for example through the nomination of community focal points.)

What is the primary cause for the migration of ex-combatants in Uganda?

Ex-reporters move for economic reasons primarily. They move to find better job opportunities to sustain themselves and their families. Migration can be from rural area to rural area, from rural to urban areas, or from urban to larger urban centers. Access to land plays a major part in migration patterns. Some ex-combatants may move because their family owns land somewhere else. In some cases where family members have died, the land may have been taken over by neighbors and so ex-combatants have no means to sustain themselves. Unmarried women or women whose husbands passed away may be forced to move away anyway because in Uganda women do not have the right to own land.

In case of stigmatization of former reporters in the communities of return, do these social factors also contribute to migration?

During my interviews, I have found that even in cases where stigmatization was strong, it was not the primary motivator behind migration. In some instances, the difficulties that former reporters faced to be accepted in their communities were high, but were not sufficient to justify moving. One has to be mindful also of the fact that for some reporters, migration is not an option.

Why is that?

Those who decide to migrate do so because they have contacts in the new location: relatives or friends who can help provide shelter at least initially and leads to find work. For others without this support system or with no funds to travel to larger cities, migration is not possible.

Once in their new environments, how do former combatants cope?

This depends on gender as well as rural or urban settings. In rural areas, they cultivate the land owned by their family, or if that’s not the case, do odd jobs in the farming sector. In urban areas, the main occupations for men are construction work, bodaboda driving and bus maintenance. For women, the primary sectors are restaurant and hotel work, selling vegetables or tailoring.

Is there evidence of reporters who migrated a few years ago going back to their communities of origin?

Some reporters say they would like to go back, but few actually return because of the lack of economic opportunities if they do. So it seems more like wishful thinking than an actual yearning.

How will the findings of this study be used?

As I mentioned earlier, this was an initial scoping survey to see if further work was necessary. We think it is, so in collaboration with the Amnesty Commission in Uganda, we will launch shortly a follow up survey to look more closely at push and pull factors for migration of ADF reporters, and to understand better the implications for the DDR program of the high migration rates of former LRA reporters.

The findings of this study will be useful to the Uganda Amnesty Commission because it is about to establish an Information Counseling and Referral system, and the TDRP is supporting this effort.

Thank you

* Reporters is what former combatants are called in Uganda

Watch the video.