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Flip-flop rebel, dollar soldier: demobilisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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Why is the peace process in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) faltering? Why have the demobilisation programmes been unsuccessful? This paper, from the School of Oriental and African Studies, analyses these problems against the background of the DRC’s culture of violence, its informal politics and economy and the crises faced by ordinary people. Demobilisation programmes do not address fighters’ motivations and the peace process has led to immediate gains by some parties while institutionalising destructive systems and long-term losses for the population.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has experienced a series of violent conflicts in the last ten years. During the early 1990s, neglected elements of the army and population systematically pillaged the major towns in DRC. Soldiers are not paid and therefore can be recruited to rebel armies for a few dollars. However, demobilisation programmes, which bring promises of reintegration grants, have not enticed people to disarm.

The 1980s and 1990s saw the devastation of infrastructure and the disruptive implementation of structural-adjustment programmes. Features of the informalised economy include artisanal mining and evasion of the state through non-payment of taxes. Elites have deliberately fuelled and exploited insecurity to impose and maintain a particular political order. These regimes have relied on foreign support, so the culture of violent power has been reinforced internationally.

Although there has been some improvement in security countrywide, demobilisation has been slow, as has the peace process itself, and both have significant problems.

  • Demobilisation was conceived as being a short technical project in which responsibility was not specifically allocated.
  • The combatants were not realigned according to their political inclination. The provision of material incentives on a person-by-person basis misplaced the decision-making process.
  • Demobilisation did not account for the ongoing tensions, particularly with Rwanda, that make defection and remobilisation attractive.
  • The political elites that made gains from the demobilisation programme and peace process were not elected or promoted by popular support and the economies that they established violently during the war have not been dismantled.
  • The mechanisms for implementing agreements were described only in vague terms, therefore no party is either responsible for achievements or for addressing weaknesses that arise.
  • UN support for the peace process was small and militarily unconvincing.

There needs to be a thorough analysis of the political economy of the conflict, tracing in detail what is being achieved and how. International funders should:

  • analyse the context of the peace process including the lack of infrastructure, the bias of aid and the involvement of Rwanda and Uganda;
  • prioritise the establishment of contacts and contracts between the leaders and the population;
  • engage with the links between the formal and the informal economies, thereby decreasing the costs to ordinary people of integration into formal economies;
  • respond to the needs of non-aggressive parties through the construction of physical and political infrastructure; and
  • acknowledge that violence is more than an obstacle to demobilisation, it shapes the relationships between DRC and Rwanda.


Author: Zoë Marriage
Source: Marriage, Z, 2007, 'Flip-flop rebel, dollar soldier: demobilisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo', Conflict, Security and Development, 7(2), pp. 281-309, Routledge
Size: 30 pages