Commentary

Legitimacy and Coherence: A Recipe for Effective DDR in Uganda

in Program

By Jessica L. Anderson – Disarmament,
Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) is a universal and essential
part of any post-conflict peacebuilding process.  However, when DDR is
poorly planned it can undermine programming and work against
reintegrating former combatants. Northern Uganda’s reintegration
process demonstrates some of the unintended consequences of ad hoc
initiatives that lack a coherent strategy.

Since 1986 a civil
war in northern Uganda between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the
Ugandan government has displaced two million civilians and killed tens
of thousands more.  Both the LRA and the Ugandan Army committed
widespread murder, rape and abuse of displaced civilians, and the LRA
recruited the bulk of its fighting force by abducting an estimated
30,000 children into its ranks.

The wide-scale use of
abductions over a protracted conflict makes the reintegration process
for northern Uganda even more complicated than usual.  For instance,
LRA leader Dominic Ongwen, indicted by the International Criminal
Court, is notorious for his acts of brutality.  Yet, he was also
abducted at the age of ten, forced to kill loved ones, lead raids under
threat of death, and suffer extraordinary abuse by senior commanders.
Many child soldiers went through similarly horrific experiences, and
their responsibility for violent crime is therefore riddled with
ambiguity.  

The diverse experiences of “victim-perpetrators”
such as Ongwen, largely abducted youth and children, needs to be
thought about carefully in designing reintegration programs.  There are
three significant ways in which victim-perpetrators pose a dilemma to
aid providers and policy makers on how to create a just and equitable
reintegration process.

Firstly, government-issued resettlement
packages for disarmed combatants have fomented resentment in local
communities for what is perceived as a reward for violence.  The
packages are part of Uganda’s 2000 Amnesty Act, and they present a
visible display of resources for returning combatants that their
non-combatant and impoverished community members do not enjoy. 
Secondly, this resentment has been exacerbated by international
organizations’ programming for ex-combatants.  These programs also
often specifically target returnees instead of the wider community for
aid, despite the fact that there might be a greater need among
community youth overall.  Finally, there is even a hierarchy of
deservedness among former combatants’ themselves: Returnees will be
angry if someone who was abducted for several weeks as a porter
receives aid before someone who was abducted and served with the LRA
for over a decade.  In each situation, stability and equity have been
sacrificed for a procedural and uncritical approach to reintegrating
ex-combatants.  

Amidst these scenarios, peace talks began
following a ceasefire in 2006, and the peace agreement specifically
addresses DDR for at-large LRA rebels. The agreement calls for
reintegration to be an integral part of the Government’s  Peace,
Recovery, and Development Plan (PRDP). Officially launched in October
of 2007, the plan has yet to be implemented.  In theory, it will
reestablish stability in the region through transitional justice
initiatives, essential services, and a range of education programs and
income generating activities.  

Reintegration programs need to
be embedded within a wider and more coherent agenda for how Ugandan
society is going to recover from war. In particular, organizations need
guidance on how their programs will fit into a larger framework that
caters to all survivors, and how to avoid the unintended consequences
of further alienating returnees. Ideally the peace and development plan
can fill this void, but it needs to be funded and backed by political
will.  A concerted peace and development strategy that incorporates DDR
into its framework will give northern Uganda a sorely needed logic to
how donors and the government assist the war-affected.  

In
addition to the coherence of an overarching policy, peace and
development initiatives need to learn from the mistakes of the past and
ensure that programming is considered fair and legitimate by all war
survivors.  The complications embedded in issues such as resettlement
packages and targeted development programs are the product of applying
a generic solution for the complex issue of reintegration. DDR
programming needs to appreciate the nuances of the conflict, and how
these nuances will play out in programming decisions. Such a coherent
strategy, effectively implemented with sensitivity to the diversity of
combatants and the needs of the community at large, is critical for a
successful transition and durable peace in Uganda.

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