Reintegrating Ituri's ex-militias, an uphill task

As UN peacekeeping troops increase the pressure to disarm the militias of Ituri, in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), their reintegration into society is beset by many problems.

Of the 9,012 fighters who had voluntarily laid down their guns by the end of March, only a few hundred were able to make use of reintegration programmes and jobs promised to them.

In March, the mood of a committee known as CLAP, in charge of local community projects for demobilised soldiers, was sombre.

"Militias who surrendered their arms are hanging around town harassing people," Edith Casaboli, a nurse managing the health centre in Kasenyi town, told IRIN.

She also heads CLAP, which comprises the local chief of police, a headmaster, a clergyman, the town administrator and the leader of a youth group against HIV/AIDS.

"The disarmed militias hustle our population for money and food," Tibenderana Balinda, the youth leader, said. "That is because only a few reintegration projects are already up and running. They also discourage others from disarming. Our streets are not safe because of this."

CLAP's job is to assess reconstruction projects submitted by militias, ideally formulated as business plans with the help of an experienced local NGO. Projects must benefit the local population, and are meant to help former militiamen start businesses and earn an income, thus getting them off the path of destruction and violence.

A DIFFICULT JOB UNDER DIFFICULT CONDITIONS

Kasenyi, once a thriving city port on the shores of Lake Albert, is host to one of seven transit sites set up in Ituri for the disarmament and reintegration of some 15,000 militiamen.

Many of the former soldiers sheltering temporarily in the white tents of the transit site are in their teens and early 20s. In six years of conflict, they have learned little more than how to use the gun to meet their daily needs.

Acknowledging that reintegration programmes were far behind schedule, the head of UN Development Programme's (UNDP's) office in Ituri's main town of Bunia, Marie-France Desjardins, said, "Transport and communication is a real mess."

However, she added, "We are getting there."

Former militias waiting in the transit site in Bunia.

UNDP is in charge of the "project for community rehabilitation, reintegration of ex-combatants and the reduction of small arms", known as ComRec - an important component of the process of demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) in the DRC.

DDR includes an information drive for militias and civilian communities, confiscation of weapons, identification and registration of the former rebels and an orientation about their free choice to enter either civilian life or join the army.

If the ex-militiamen opt for the army, they are immediately turned over to the Congolese armed forces, the Forces armées de la république démocratique du Congo, who integrate them into their ranks.

If they choose civilian life, they are entitled to enrol into a ComRec programme. They then undergo a three-day crash course where they are briefed on aspects of civilian life, and what they must do in order to get money and technical aid for job-creation projects.

After orientation, the men are sent home with a travel allowance of US $50 and food for a family of five for one month. Once in their home villages, the ex-fighters are supposed to organise themselves into groups of between 10 and 20, and to develop projects which need CLAP's approval. When the committee is satisfied, and ComRec money is granted, the ex-fighters start rebuilding their communities – which often suffered violently at their own hands.

Among the 8,270 militias who had been disarmed by mid-March in Ituri, fewer than 200 chose the military. The rest opted for civilian life.

IMPATIENCE AND VIOLENCE

An instructor sensitises former militias at a transit site in Bunia.

In a tent in the Bunia transit site, Matheus Israel, a former rebel, lectured 20 militiamen.

On a board he had listed a dozen trades and professions that young men might dream of: mechanic, carpenter, electrician, driver, fisherman - even teacher and lawyer.

Most of those present were skinny and fed up with fighting. After the promises that had been made to them, their expectations ran high.

"The [US] $50 we are getting is nothing," Matesso Daundro, formerly a member of the Lendu Front des nationalistes integrationnistes, told IRIN.

"We could get our guns back," he said.

Another militiaman, who asked that his name not be disclosed, said: "It is very difficult for us to survive without guns. The movement was our income. Now they have to give us jobs."

A psychologist with the ComRec programme, Floribert Kitoki, gives counselling at the Bunia site and often has to calm aggressive behaviour.

"The militias are very impatient. They can easily become violent if their situation does not move forward," he said.

Unfortunately, this is often the case. Once back home former soldiers find that their expectations are not easily met.

Abdou Faboure is the coordinator of the transit site in Aweba, 75 km southeast of Bunia and formerly a stronghold of the Front de resistance patriotiques en Ituri, also mainly Lendu. He told IRIN that in the five months since the site opened in November 2004, only 65 of 248 ex-militiamen had found temporary employment in ComRec-financed road and health centre rehabilitation projects. Many, he said, had left the area for Bunia because of "ethnic problems".

Unemployment in Bunia is already high, and the city suffers from nightly robberies and rapes; many of them, residents say, committed by ex-rebels.

In other places where transit sites have been built there is insufficient local capacity to help the demobilised men set up their entrepreneurial groups and utilise ComRec's support.

PRACTICAL PROBLEMS ON THE GROUND

"In order to avail [themselves] of our programmes the militias have to produce project papers. But many of them don't even know what a project is," Desjardins said.

"The capacity of local NGOs, who should help the militias, is weak. Accounting, reporting and monitoring is a problem. In one case, we even suspected an NGO of embezzlement," she said.

Ex-militias help to reconstruct a health centre in Kasenyi.

Another serious problem is the lack of professional skills among the militias.

In Kasenyi, the Association for Social and Community Development (ADDSA) is the only local NGO able to comply with requirements of international organisations like UNDP.

The association, based in Bukavu, capital of the eastern province of South Kivu, runs two rehabilitation projects in Kasenyi to repair the town's health centre and maternity hospital.

ADDSA's coordinator, Diana Kule, has found it extremely difficult to make use of ex-rebels.

"Qualified militias are very hard to find," Kule said. "Often they can only be used as helpers. But they find this work degrading. Usually only heads of families stay. They younger ones disappear after a few days."

The head of the UNDP-ComRec team in Kasenyi, Christine Ibiliano, said other able organisations like ADDSA did not exist. She also expressed little confidence in the ability of ex-militiamen to draw up feasible ideas of their own.

"A group of [ex-] militias even wanted to make a business with [a] cantonment of [current] rebels," Ibiliano said.

During a mid-March seminar held in Bunia, UNDP appealed to about 30 local NGOs operating in Ituri to help with the ComRec programme. Apart from an Italian NGO called COOPI, which supports female victims of sexual violence, no international NGO has yet participated in the ComRec programme, designed to reintegrate former militias and to strengthen local economies and capacities.

Although disarmament in Kasenyi started in September 2004, Kule said there had still been no real reintegration by the end of March.

FISHING WITHOUT A SAFETY NET

At the end of March, the only project under way in Kasenyi fitting ComRec requirements was headed by Santos Ntwara, a former lieutenant-colonel and chief administration official of the rebel movement Parti pour l’unité et la sauveguarde de l’integrité du Congo.

Beneficiaries of a fishing project for demobilised ex-militias in Kasenyi.

Ntwara founded Cojedev, a "youth committee for demobilised volunteers" and started a fishing enterprise for himself and 11 of his former combatants. They received support from a local fishing cooperative, which acted as an interface between CLAP, UNDP and the ex-militias.

Now the former fighters are the proud owners of 300 metres of fishing nets, three canoes and a cooler for their catch, all financed with $8,877 that the UNDP provided.

However, the process, from the group's formation till the arrival of financial support, took almost five months.

Ntwara said his group was set up on 28 October 2004, and on 18 November the project was submitted. However, the money was only approved on 20 December and came from the UNDP on 10 March 2005.

"Luckily MONUC [the UN Mission in the DRC] gave my men jobs doing road maintenance for one month, which helped us to survive," Ntwara said.

Desjardins, in UNDP's Bunia office, said financing delays had much to do with security problems, lack of communication and the inability of local committees to monitor and follow-up projects.

Casaboli of CLAP said further DRR would be difficult.

"Combatants who still carry their arms will only gain confidence in the ComRec programme once they see results of projects that are approved," she said. "We have the mandate to follow-up on the projects and monitor them. But we do not have the capacity."

Desjardins said CONADER, the national commission for disarmament in the DRC, should have a safety net for the period between the disarmament and when the ex-militias can actually enter a project.

However, the head of the CONADER office in Ituri, Cornel Duku, told IRIN, "A security net exists - it is part of the $90-million reinsertion package financed by the World Bank."