Key Debates & Implementation Challenges

Last Updated: April 7, 2009

Management challenges: planning and sequencing DDR programs

The planning for disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) is recommended to start before a peace process and to be integrated into a national recovery strategy before it is implemented.1 DDR must also be planned in close coordination with transitional processes to review and reform the rule of law and security sectors, as well as efforts to control and reduce small arms proliferation.2

The appropriate sequencing of DDR is open to debate.3 In most cases, the sequence is disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration. However, in some cases the DDR program starts with the reintegration aspect, which may serve a confidence-building measure, to convince combatants to disarm and demobilize or serve as a carrot through its economic and social benefits. Negotiating the right sequence for disarmament and demobilization, and then ensuring that the parties respect this, is an essential component of a transition.4

A common problem is that the reintegration phase often occurs too late in the process. If disarmament and demobilization have already occurred, the different actors (donors in particular) may feel less urgency in investing in reinsertion and even more reluctance in providing further funding for the reintegration of ex-combatants. This may have detrimental consequences for the peacebuilding process.
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Absence of political commitment and clear mandate

Analysts and practitioners have often argued that it is necessary to get a political commitment and a clear mandate from the international community on disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) programs, but unfortunately, this rarely happens. The interests of international and local actors can either coincide in favor of DDR, or can alternatively work to minimize the actual impact of programs in the field. The motivations of local politico-military actors may be to seek a limit to the impact of DDR measures, and to ensure that these do not cause any alternation in the basis of their power and the redeployment of the numerous lucrative activities they may have been engaged in during the conflict. On the part of the international community, DDR procedures are generally seen as risky politically (there is a great chance of failure) and for the safety of the mission staff.5

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A lack of coordination among different actors in the field

In the field, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration have often been conducted in a fractured way, resulting in poor coordination and sometimes competition between and among peacekeeping operations, agencies, funds and programs, which have often worked independently from one another. At best, this has resulted in disjointed programs with large gaps between the various components. At worst, it has led to disillusioned ex-combatants returning to arms as was the case in Sierra Leone and in Haiti.6 It is in this blurred environment and with these ambiguities that international agencies intervene and deploy their various programs, with their own ideology, vocabulary, and techniques. Their work is even more complicated by the traditional division of labor between the diplomats and the operational staff who work more closely on the issues of DDR; the former do not always know how to negotiate the elements of DDR in a realistic and effective way or underestimate the long-term impact of their decisions. No progress will be achieved on the ground if key advice cannot be better integrated at different stages of the decision-making process.7

The UN interagency effort that was at the origin of the UN DDR Resource Center has greatly helped to resolve some of these contradictions, even though reforms always take much longer to get an impact on field practices.

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Difficulties in registering combatants

The difficulty in registering ex-combatants lies in the large diversity of militias and paramilitary groups. A lack of emphasis on weapon holders not covered by disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) mandates (e.g. civilians and militias) often constitutes a major flaw in many processes, especially in countries where everybody is armed according to common belief.8 For example, the eligibility criteria for ex-combatants to enter into the DDR process in Sierra Leone was based on a one person, one gun principle. The only exception to the rule was for child soldiers. The policy was not successful since it was regarded by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commanders as being too exclusive and concessions were eventually made for crew weapons, radio operators and auxiliary groups.9 Shifting the focus to group disarmament proved more effective in disarming significant numbers of combatants while allowing former rebel commanders a certain level of discretion as to whom they included in the group. A key lesson learned over the years is that it is much easier and cheaper to collectively disarm a fighting force that has agreed to lay down its weapons as part of a peace settlement, than to extract these weapons from the hands of individual ex-combatants and civilians later, outside of a formal DDR process.10

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Keeping combatants in camps for too long

Keeping combatants in camps longer than initially conceived in the disarmament and demobilization phases invariably leads to insecurity in and around the camps. In Somaliland, a lack of funding meant that combatants were kept in camps for eight months, causing some to leave the camps areas entirely. In addition, camps might promote the communities of former combatant families to develop into politically awkward semi-permanent settlements. In the Angolan demobilization process in April 2002, plans were originally made for around 50,000 former National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) combatants. However, more than 85,000 UNITA combatants were registered in 35 cantonment areas while approximately 280,000 family members were gathered in family reception areas. These higher than expected numbers of former combatants and their family members, as well as delays in international response to the challenge, have resulted in the process facing a dire humanitarian situation.11 The possibility of delays in the demobilization of ex-combatants could easily pose serious setbacks to a peace process.

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Monetary incentives and resentment

In many cases, the economic component of the reintegration of ex-combatants may be perceived by the rest of the population as rewarding perpetrators of the conflict. Ex-combatants who benefit from this economic package may sometimes be under serious pressure from their former leaders. In Liberia, the payment of a USD300 transitional safety-net allowance had a significantly negative impact on children, who were exposed to abuse and exploitation by their commanders, who wanted a share of the cash benefit. In addition, the allowance has impaired the process of reintegration into communities, where the general sentiment is that the children were rewarded for fighting. The allowance may also act as an incentive to join fighting forces in the future, especially in neighboring countries, where active recruitment of children is often a threat.12 This explains why so many sources recommend relying more on community-based approaches and move away from a focus on monetary or material incentives and to ensure that the benefits received by demobilizing ex-combatants are in line with those given to other war-affected populations, such as internally displaced persons, refugees and returnees. When monetary incentives are considered necessary, they should be made in small payments over a longer period to more effectively assure a peaceful resettlement. 
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Poorly targeted economic reintegration packages

In many post-war situations, as much as 70% of the local population may be unemployed. Post-conflict states with impoverished economies offer little to reintegrate into.13 In Mozambique, for example, five years after the 1992 ceasefire 71% of all demobilized soldiers were still unemployed.14 In Sierra Leone, both civil defense force militias (CDF) and Revolutionary United Front (RUF) ex-combatants remain among some of the most disadvantaged groups in terms of employment, and there have been complaints that reintegration packages have been too short and directed at the wrong job skills. Poorly-directed training and assistance for returning ex-combatants seeking to return to civilian life is a common issue for many disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) programs.

Assistance packages are sometimes too restricted, and inappropriate livelihoods are targeted. A classic example is the provision of assistance for ex-combatants to enter agricultural activities, even though they may never have worked as farmers and may also no longer be able to survive with that kind of work. Others may not want to return to farming because they see it as lacking prestige and think, probably mistakenly, that they could get a better job. In Sri Lanka, most ex-combatants with families could not participate in training with long learning periods out of the need to find immediate alternative income.15 Moreover, people often move during the conflict from rural areas to urban areas. As a result, a number of ex-combatants go to fight in regional conflicts, and pose a potentially destabilizing element when they return. This tendency is not limited to African contexts, as illustrated by the presence of ex-Yugoslav mercenaries in many ongoing wars.

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Incompatibility of liberal economic models and DDR programs

Disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) programs are often at odds with liberal economic models. It is well known, for instance, that when a peace plan calls for demobilization and reintegration of former combatants, the IFIs [international financial institutions] also demand reduction in the civil service payroll and general public expenses. But even for the more welfare-oriented donors and agencies, the link between DDR and economic development has not led to sustained programs.16

The economic policies of deregulation, privatization, deflation, and reduction in welfare, have the effect of making the post-conflict environment more unstable. As a result, the more vulnerable sectors of society rely increasingly on criminal or shadow economic activity. This issue also illustrates the importance of developing regional and sub-regional approaches to DDR, as has been developed by UNDPKO in Africa.17 

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A lack of understanding of the place of demobilized soldiers in society

Scholars such as Macartan Humphreys and Jeremy Weinstein have argued that participating in formal disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) programs may not improve reintegration outcomes along social, political, and economic measures. Their work points to the importance of the combatants experiences during war (e.g. the level of abusiveness of ex-combatant faction vis--vis gaining community acceptance).18 There are many aspects of a combatants war-time experience that may affect their ability to restart economic activities.

However, scholars like Kees Kingma have argued that there have been no in-depth studies on the place of demobilized soldiers in society.19 The majority of analyses have focused on ethnographic descriptions of the demobilization and reintegration process. Further research in this area should be conducted to shed more light on this vital aspect of reintegration.

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The dilemma with reintegrating child soldiers

In many cases, children and teenagers are offered vocational training whereas they prefer to go (back) to school, a chance that many have never had. They may want to have a chance to go back to their family or choose instead to be reintegrated in another community. Many programs will choose not to give them the money package older ex-combatants have received, a difference of treatment strongly resented by former child soldiers. Specific support is also needed to assist them in dealing with the effects of the multiple traumas they have suffered.

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A lack of understanding of the experience of women and girls in DDR processes

Since female ex-combatants do not fit the traditional stereotypes of a woman, they tend to attract the greatest social opprobrium in the post-war period. These women are most likely to slip through the net of the disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) processes and become either social outcasts who barely survive on the margins of society, or an increased security threat in the subsequent months and years. In Sierra Leone, the 2002 riots and female militia activities have indicated that some young mothers had little to lose from resorting to violence as a means of survival.20 In some cases, including Liberia the change in the eligibility criteria to include women associated with fighting forces provided, for the first time, greater accessibility by women to the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program, thus ensuring inclusion of over 20,000 women.21

Most of the attention on female combatants also lacks a holistic understanding of the experience of girls, taking into consideration specific dynamics of conflicts and contexts; their physical, emotional and spiritual situations; their roles and relationships with men, boys, women and other girls in different armed groups.22

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Dilemmas of financing DDR programs

Disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) programs often face funding problems. Obtaining enough funding is difficult, as has been the case in Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Somalia, and Sudan,23 while [d]elays are quite common.24 Voluntary contributions are an important source of funds, especially for the reintegration component, but in most cases there is six to eight month gaps from the time funds are pledged to the time they are available for use.25

The availability of funding, especially its timely disbursement, affects significantly the success and progress of a DDR program26 and its smooth implementation.27 Some of the delays occur in salary payments for demobilized ex-combatants (Afghanistan, Cambodia and Guinea-Bissau). Liberias educational programs for ex-combatants and the Democratic Republic of Congos micro-credit programs have faced financing problems.28 Funding gaps also occur between DDR programs and long-term development and security programs. The international community tends to forget about long-term reintegration processes very quickly. Certainly, disarmament and demobilization may play an important role in stopping the fighting and allowing the beginning of peace building. Too often, however, very superficial short-term action on disarmament and demobilization seems to please donors, rather than long-term action heading towards actual reintegration in all its dimensions. No sustainability can be ensured while donors engagements remain short-term.29 The failure to follow through on promises made because of the lack of reliable funding could result in violence, re-recruitment of those already disarmed into local and regional conflicts and a breakdown of the peace process.30

Therefore, it is essential that the members of the international community (diplomatic, security and development) support their national partners in undertaking a comprehensive planning process for both DDR and longer-term development and security objectives as early in the peace process as possible.31 Further, donors budget cycles, disbursement and auditing procedures should be coordinated with the implementation of the DDR programs.32 Some have recommended channeling the bulk of DDR funding through a multi-donor trust fund mechanism with pre-committed financing.33 To make it sustainable, it should also be quickly included into war-torn societies national budgets in order for local states to be responsible for these aspects.34

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Challenge of managing expectations

Managing the expectation of combatants and communities is a key challenge that is often overlooked. If DDR or weapons reduction are undertaken without an effective communications or public awareness strategy, the consequences can be disastrous. DDR pursued in the Philippines and West Africa reveals how the mismanagement of expectations and inadequate preparation for disarmament generated counterproductive, even lethal, outcomes. Similar to Liberia, a reintegration industry has been spawned in Mindanao, Philippines, where international agencies, such as UNDP and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), continue to support tens of thousands more Moro National Liberation Front ex-combatants and dependents than are believed to exist. In many cases, combatant numbers are inflated in order to claim benefits. In such scenarios, DDR and weapons reduction may not only turn into reward programs, but they can also fuel an illegal and transnational weapons market. Local entrepreneursthemselves often power brokers or former combatantsfrequently hijack such initiatives and consolidate a domestic or regional trade in small arms and light weapons. The emergence of black markets in the wake of DDR and weapons reduction projects has been witnessed most recently in, among other places, Guinea, Haiti, Sierra Leone, and the Solomon Islands. 35 
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Ineffective communications and information dissemination

Public information and sensitization campaigns are important to disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR) programs. Yet, public information campaigns are rarely given much credence. The dissemination of information about DDR activities should use a variety of mediums, not only videos, posters, brochures, leaflets, streamers and banner, which many local populations consider to be superficial propaganda. In addition good relationships need to be fostered with the local media so that local teams can be established to produce more relevant messages for the local population.

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Lack of knowledge of the determinant of success in DDR

While policymakers recognize that disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration are fraught with complexity, few systematic efforts have been launched to evaluate the determinants of successful reintegration by ex-combatants after conflict.36 In the existing literature, the benchmarks for defining a DDR program a success are based on whether or not peace was maintained, soldiers were demobilized, and the international community was able to disburse its funds.37 The number of weapons collected is another indicator of success commonly used instead of improved security or community victimization, which are more intangible but equally important benchmarks.38 Success is also often defined differently because the objectives (and motives) of numerous actors are widely divergent and even contradictory during the post-conflict period.39 The agendas of political leaders generally carry plenty of weight, and this may play in favor of short-term imperatives and superficial programs that are not sustainable. Many police programs have resulted in a few weeks of very superficial training. The same kinds of concerns explain the lack of long-term policy at the international level and its immediate consequence: a lack of consistency and continuity. Practitioners cannot solve contradictions and ambiguities that are not of their own making. But they need to take them into account and develop strategies to manage them, as they have no choice but to act in this blurred environment. This means than in the actual planning, monitoring and successive evaluation of their work, they need to consider the distinction between short, medium and long-term objectives, and to anticipate the contradictions this may create.40

1. International Peace Academy, A Framework for Lasting Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants in crisis situations (2002), 3.
2. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, A/60/705 (2006), para. 9(h), 4.
3. International Peace Academy, A Framework for Lasting Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants in crisis situations, 3.
4. Alex de Waal, ed., "Post-conflict demilitarization," in Demilitarizing the Mind: African Agendas for Peace and Security (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2002), 149.
5. Batrice Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, Centre dEtudes et de Recherches Internationales Sciences Po/CNRS, Secrétariat Général de la Défense Nationale (France) and Program for Strategic International Security Studies (Geneva) (2004), 19.
6. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, para. 7,.3.
7. Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 19.
8. Ibid, 7.
9. Peacekeeping Best Practices Unit, Lessons Learned from United Nations Peacekeeping Experiences in Sierra Leone, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (September 2003), 25.
10. UNDP, Practice Note on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-combatants (2005), 39.
11. Mark Knight and Alpaslan zerdem, "Guns, Camps and Cash: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reinsertion of former Combatants in Transitions from War to Peace," Journal of Peace Research 41, no. 4 (July 2004): 508.
12. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, para. 47, 13.
13. Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 16-17.
14. Jaremey McMullin, "Reintegration of Combatants: Were the Right Lessons Learned in Mozambique?" International Peacekeeping 11, no. 4 (2004).
15. Irma Specht, "Jobs for Rebels and Solciers," in Jobs after War: A Critical Challenge in the Peace and Reconstruction Puzzle, ed. Eugenia Date-Bah (Geneva: International Labour Organization, 2003), 81.
16. Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 16.
17. Ibid, 16-17.
18. Macartan Humphreys and Jeremy M. Weinstein, "Disentangling the Determinants of Successful Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration," (Working Paper No. 69, Center for Global Development, 2005), 2.
19. Kees Kingma, ed., Demobilization in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Development and Security Impacts (New York: St Martin's Press, 2000).
20. Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 9.
21. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, para. 7-8, 3.
22. Susan McKay and Dyan Mazurana, Where Are the Girls? Girls in fighting forces in Northern Uganda, Sierra Leone and Mozambique: Their lives during and after war. (Rights and Democracy, 2004), 18.
23. Albert Carams, Fisas Vicen, and Daniel Luz, Analysis of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Programs Existing in the World During 2005 (Barcelona: Escola de cultura de Pau, 2006), 25.
24. Stockholm Initiative on Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration Final Report (Stockholm: Regeringskansliet (The Swedish Government Offices), 2006), 33.
25. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, para. 9 (j). 3-5.
26. UN Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA) Working Group on Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration, Harnessing Institutional Capacities in Support of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Former Combatants (ECHA, 19 July 2000), 1-2.
27. Nat J. Coletta, Markus Kostner and Ingo Wiederhofer, The Transition from War to Peace in Sub-Saharan Africa, (Washington, DC: World Bank, 1996), 5.
28. Carams, Vicen, and Luz, Analysis of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Programs Existing in the World During 2005, 25.
29. Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 21.
30. UN General Assembly, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, para. 9 (j). 3-5.
31. Stockholm Initiative on Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration Final Report, 36.
32. Coletta, Kostner, and Wiederhofer, The Transition from War to Peace in Sub-Saharan Africa, 5.
33. Stockholm Initiative on Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration Final Report, 35-6.
34. Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 21.
35. Robert Muggah, "Managing Post-Conflict Zones: DDR and Weapons Reduction," in Small Arms Survey Yearbook 2005: Weapons at War (Small Arms Survey, 2005), 284-286.
36. Humphreys and Weinstein, Disentangling the Determinants of Successful Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration, 2.
37. Ibid.
38. Muggah, Managing Post-Conflict Zones: DDR and Weapons Reduction, 283-284; and Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 21.
39. Muggah, Managing Post-Conflict Zones: DDR and Weapons Reduction, 284.
40. Pouligny, The Politics and Anti-Politics of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs, 13-14.

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