Disarmament, Demobilization and Community Reintegration: Life After Fighting
Moussa Abdula was 20 years old when he joined a Mai-Mai self-defense group, before being recruited by the M23 rebel group in exchange for huge financial promises. After 4 years of a life of violence, he surrendered to MONUSCO and joined the Mission's disarmament, demobilization, and community reintegration (DDR) program. On September 15, 2022, Moussa was returned to his family in Kalemie territory, Tanganyika province.
191 ex-combatants demobilized since the start of 2022
Like him, 164 other Congolese ex-combatants and 27 foreigners have been sent back to their communities or repatriated to their countries of origin since the beginning of 2022, thanks to the efforts made by MONUSCO DDR section.
Through several sensitization, mobilization for peace and social cohesion sessions organized by MONUSCO, many ex-combatants agreed to join MONUSCO's DDR program, organized in support of the national DDRR program (disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration).
After having voluntarily laid down their weapons, these former combatants benefit from support in the MONUSCO demobilized camps, where they receive psychological, health and nutritional care.
Discouraging attraction to armed groups
“I was motivated to leave the Mai-Mai to join the M23 after receiving a sum of FCFA 100,000 [150 USD] from my recruiter, with the promise of receiving a little more each month. Which was much higher than what I earned within the Maï-Maï self-defense group where we fought for the control of the wealth and areas with the other small armed groups in the locality of Lemera, territory of Uvira”, says Musa.
Like him, most ex-combatants say during the interviews that their membership of armed groups is mainly motivated by poverty, unemployment, and the lure of profit. They are attracted by the false financial promises often used by the leaders of armed groups to lure them into their ranks.
Thus, beyond demobilization as such, DDR/RR programs also set up projects aimed at reducing community violence (CVR) for the benefit of thousands of ex-combatants not eligible for the Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Recovery and Stabilization (PDDRCS) Program.
In Butembo, a former member of the UPCPC-LPC armed group benefited from the CVR vocational training project in carpentry and received support kits. He now claims to be the owner of a carpentry workshop which will help him to live and have employees under his management.
“I decided to surrender because I noticed that there was nothing that could help me advance in my life and stop my suffering in the bush. I paid nothing to participate in the CVR project, where I learned carpentry and I see with satisfaction that this job will help me in future and allow me to be economically independent,” he says.
Between 2021 and 2022, 3,757 people, including ex-combatants, youth at risk and vulnerable women benefited from 41 CVR projects implemented within their communities. There were 10 projects in Bunia, 4 in Beni, 7 in Goma, 9 in Bukavu, 7 in Uvira and 4 in Kalemie, i.e. in the four priority areas of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and from Tanganyika.
Essentially, these projects revolve around income-generating activities, but also socio-professional and technical training in the fields of carpentry, masonry, saponification, agriculture as well as the rehabilitation and construction of public infrastructure.
In this way, the implementation of the CVR program contributes to the stabilization of communities by creating an enabling environment, before and during the implementation of the PDDRCS.
From a difficult life to a peaceful life
Before participating in the fighting, Moussa says he underwent, for a year, normal military training, and a process of "desocialization", at the end of which he received weapons and combat gear. "After my military training, I took part in the operations in Bunagana, Rwaguba, Bugusa, Shangi, Kavumu, Chengerero", he explains.
But the terribly hostile conflict environment and abuses, including murder, rape, kidnapping, illicit taxation, etc. produce a psychological shock that ends up pushing many young people to leave the bush, tired and traumatized by their actions on their own population.
After months spent in the transit camp of MONUSCO DDRRR section in Munigi, Nyiragongo territory, Moussa said he was happy to have made the choice to give up his former life as a combatant.
"I surrendered to the MONUSCO contingent because I felt sick and tired of living in the forest, after long years of kidnapping and killing my own people for the sake of money," says Moussa, with tears in his eyes. "I hope my community will accept me and give me the chance for a better reintegration."
His return, facilitated by MONUSCO, indeed delighted his family, who were happy to welcome him.
“It is a miracle that he is still alive. We have been looking for him for a long time since he left in 2015. God is alive,” said one of Moussa’s family members on September 15, hugging him and covering him with kisses, grateful for the work done by MONUSCO to bring back their son alive.