The story of UNMIL [Book]: DDR lets ex-combatants find new lives

Child soldiers carrying ammunition for disposal at a demobilization event conducted by UNMIL in Tubmanburg, Bomi County. Photo: Eric Kanalstein | UNMIL | 24 Apr 04

16 Apr 2018

The story of UNMIL [Book]: DDR lets ex-combatants find new lives

Muchiri Murenga

The Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) programme was one of the most important early activities of the Mission, running from 2003 to 2006 and involved more than 100,000 ex-combatants. Apart from being one of the priories in the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, successful DDR would enable many other programmes and initiatives to either commence or continue without the threat of disruption by armed and militarised spoilers. It was a joint programme of UNMIL military and civilian components and the UN Country Team, supporting the Government’s National Commission for DDR.

When Civil Affairs officers arrived in the southeastern part of Liberia in March 2004, the DRR programme had not started actively in that area, so the UNMIL staff lived with excombatants in the communities that had not been demobilized or disarmed. Yes, their weapons were kept in caches overseen by UN military observers, and there were sufficient troops to keep the peace, but they still had an impact on community demeanour. Whether the military could actually limit their access to the weapons caches was another question, and on a couple of occasions ex-combatants came into town firing automatic weapons in the air for some celebration, terrifying the local population.

The Civil Affairs officers learned quickly to use their “good offices” and went out into the community to engage with influential warlords and faction commanders to get them to talk to their followers and get them to calm down. But it was also clear to the UNMIL staff that in order to avoid incidents by under-engaged ex-combatants, they needed to be engaged in productive programmes, working back with their communities.

Vocational training and other livelihood programmes were planned for the demobilization camps, but these were not expected to commence in the southeast until later in 2004. The UNMIL team in Zwedru worked with the faction commanders to involve the ex-combatants in food-for-work projects like clearing roads, working on farms and cleaning up schools to keep them busy. Another goal of this work was to establish rapprochement between the ex-combatants and the communities.

With the arrival of contractors for the demobilization camp, the ex-combatants were taken on as labour, keeping them busy building the very facilities where they would later undergo demobilization, psycho-social counselling and vocational training. According to the Civil Affairs team, this prospect also reinvigorated their morale as they at least knew that the DDR programme that they had been promised would eventually reach them.