DDR, Child Reintegration and the Lord’s Resistance Army

Issues surrounding the LRA and its brutal treatment of children abducted from areas of northern Uganda, the DRC, South Sudan, and more recently CAR, have abounded for more than 20 years. The mechanism often applied to provide rehabilitation or reintegration of these children has been through DDR programmes. The results are subject to various interpretations, and certainly have not systematically addressed the larger issue for the need for former LRA children reintegration through DDR.

The assertions by Norbert Mao, the president of the Democratic Party in Uganda, that the LRA pose may be the next Al Qaeda misplace the LRA and child DDR issue. Not withstanding variances in the group’s composition, structure, motivations and ideologies, the fact of the matter may be that if the LRA could be the next Al Qaeda, they would have been. In a way, Mao’s statements speak tellingly of the political will, or lack thereof, historically present by the international (and regional) community to tackle and resolve the LRA issue.

Lacking the explicit recognition that the political will to tackle the LRA issue is absent runs the incumbent risk that shortcomings in DDR will be blamed on insufficiencies in reintegration. In doing so, proposed solutions may not address root issues. One such solution may be casting NGOs as being a detriment to LRA child DDR. While it must be acknowledged that DDR has too often adopted a one size fits all ‘cookie cutter’ approach to DDR, it is equally true that NGOs have played a critical role in child DDR and reintegration, and continue to do so in Africa and beyond. This includes the use of traditional customs such as dance, animal offerings, healing ceremonies and other means to support child reintegration and community reconciliation. These methods were prevalent in the early 2000s in the Mano River junction where children also did not need to possess a weapon to gain entry into programs.

So what is at issue for child DDR in Uganda and in neighboring countries no longer with the LRA? NGOs are tasked to do ‘ad hoc’ DDR with government programs for former LRA child reintegration not integrated into civilian institutions. One reason may be that DDR is a tool used in post conflict settings, and while the LRA is not technically an ‘active’ conflict zone they represent a real and present security risk. On this front Mao was right on target. DDR cannot be an effective mechanism for child reintegration as the preconditions to undertake a systematic and programmatic response are not present. These include the cessation of hostilities, a minimum guarantee of security and the political will of the parties involved in the process – none of which exists.

Should the government institute programs for the reintegration of child solider coming out of the LRA? – Yes. Should local and traditional Acholi customs be utilized? – Yes. Does the issue of the LRA require a durable solution before DDR can be efficacious? –Yes. Are NGOs a detriment to reintegration and DDR processes in Uganda and beyond for children coming out of the LRA? – Likely not a prime mover.

Prescriptively, then what is needed? Any entity attempting to implement reintegration through a DDR for LRA affected areas success will in part be shaped by the political will to find a durable resolution to the LRA issue. When this occurs a DDR effort can adopt a holistically and comprehensive programmatic response. Traumas experienced by LRA child victims will require context specific and ongoing attention including harnessing local customs and traditions, however; these will need to be determined by communities, not NGOs, the international community or even national government. The real ‘cookie cutter’ impediments to DDR may be the tendency to measure success in individual socio-economic terms – vocational training, bicycle repair and so on; coupled with the imposition of any reintegration model or modality.

While the preconditions to start a credible DDR are political will, minimum-security guarantees and cessation of violence, the preconditions for success will be anchored in social, psychological and psychosocial reintegration. The lack of social reintegration will become barrier to market as former LRA children will not be able to secure livelihoods irrespective of their marketable skills. Likewise, inadequate psychological and psychosocial reintegration may change attitudes, though in the end not behavior, limiting children with appropriate skills to be able to utilize them in public, social and community settings.

This situation is not unique to children coming out of the LRA and entering DDR. In Somalia Al-Shabaab youth face a similar dilemma. The preconditions for DDR are not present; metrics of success were largely socio-economic and communities determine barriers to reintegration as much as, and maybe more so than markets. Variables such as alcohol and drug abuse, crime, drop out rates, sexual and domestic violence will be indicators of failure and success. The issue will not be one of who implements, rather when and how programs are designed.

3 thoughts on “DDR, Child Reintegration and the Lord’s Resistance Army

  1. Keep in mind that maintaining the LRA is a convenient means of mobilizing defense expenditure for Museveni. Without Kony there would be little incentive to keep NRA troops in Acholi areas. Nice piece.

    1. One could also consider that having the LRA running around South Sudan, CAR, Uganda and the DRC makes for a convenient way for US and other Western interests to gain access to several countries in a regions of significant geo-strategic importance to the US at this juncture.

      It would not be the first time the US has embedded ‘advisors’ on the ground that are working on matters of perceived national security for the country….

  2. Conflict in Uganda started as early as late 1980s that sprung from internal conflicts that involve the ousting of President Milton Obote. However the Uganda’s successor, Idi Amin whose coup was initially welcomed by a widespread of enthusiasm begins to fall short as Amin dissolved and altered the constitution which grated him absolute power and eliminating all opposition. Amin reign did not last long as Amins government has devastated the country and its developing economy leaving him to be overthrown and forced to flee in exile by Tanzanian back rebellion that included Yoweri Museveni, Amins Successor. In the late 1980s, Obote regained power under the UPC in a general election, which was contested by many and considered to be fraudulent. Obote installed an increasingly repressive regime, which led to Uganda having one of the worst human-rights records in the world.

    In an effort to control the opposition led by current president Yoweri National Resistance Army guerrilla group, much of the north of the country was laid to waste and an estimated 100,000 people were killed. Despite these oppressive moves, by 1985 Obote was deposed again and overthrown by his army commanders in another military coup. In the chaos that occurred after, Museveni was able to seize control of the country. Museveni proclaimed a government of national unity and declared himself President.

    Since then Uganda has been involved in a civil war in the north against the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA is led by Joseph Kony, who wishes to, allegedly, establish a state based on the biblical Ten Commandments. Kony is accused of carrying out widespread abduction of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. It is estimated that the LRA have abducted around 30,000 children and that the civil war has led to the displacement of 1.6 million people from Northern Uganda and the death, mutilation and kidnapping of more than 100,000 people.

    Peace process?

    Two previous sets of peace talks (1993-4 and 2004-5) between the Government of Uganda and the LRA plunged precisely because no solutions to these obstacles were found. The last negotiation towards peace talk was in July 2006. Evidently we can certainly point out several reason as to why the peace talk prove to be hard.

    First, there is a high tendency by the existing government to keep the country at war. For example, if most of the groups from the north/Gulu/Alcholi are fully pacified then this would mount to a serious of opposition, thus it was seen to be better to keep rebel/fighters to be disconnected and devastated politically.

    Second, the Alcholi population remains to be a top question in conducting a peace process. Over the years the explicit violence between the Ugandan government and the LRA has affected the most to the Alcholi (child soldiers, women as sex slaves and etc). Concession towards the Alcholi will be difficult. Furthermore, the legal document that administer the discussion of the peace process it lacks the inclusivity of affected individuals and in this case is the Acholi population who are affected most by such conflict (i.e. IDPs?).

    Lastly, DDR may perhaps serves as an ideal entry and integration point for mainstreaming humanitarian, recovery-to-development and related security and peacebuilding efforts. However such efforts seem to be bleak for the case of Uganda as conflicts are now spilled over between neighboring states. Conducting DDR process in an active conflict and force operation is considered to be hard especially for the case of Uganda. For example, the conflict is seen to be between the “south and “north’ (LRA) however the continuing conflict spilled over between borders and draw support from regional neighbor creating further proxy wars between internal Uganda and between States.

    Going around the Peace Process

    As stated above, the government has high interest in keeping the country at war. Thus, unless there is an active support from the general public Vis a Vis the Acholi, the Ugandan government is unlikely be able to defeat nor cripple the LRA. Against that backdrop perhaps one theoretical approach is that international organizations, NGOs as well as other external entities can help to mediate further the peace process that includes building confidence between the government and local populations. For example, capacity building particularly concentrating the developments of local capacities and increase dialogues between communities leaders can be explore further.

    The indictment of the LRA by the request of the Uganda government. For all we know the LRA has committed tremendous human rights violations. Following such investigation the ICC has given an arrest warrant towards the LRA commanders (including Koni). However, the ICC in this process was seen to be a complement towards national justice process that clearly do not exist. Given that thought international organization can/should further build stronger legal hoop holes based on an attempt for a possible prosecution towards Joseph Kony and its related army commanders.

    For all we know, government as a sovereign entity has the duty to protect its citizen and based on international humanitarian law such government is required to take all feasible precautions. Obviously since Uganda is at was civilian protection is unrealistic. However, what the government should and ought to do is provide greater protection to civilians (IDPs) through a better focused military operation that includes coordination between existing military and humanitarian agency. Coupled with such initiatives, external entities such as the UNHCR should increase their number of personnel on camp site to monitor the widespread of ongoing abuses committed by conflicting parties.

    Lastly, the international community have a greater role in terms of both financial and political support. For example, if the UN is unwilling to help tone down the crisis by deploying peacekeeping operations in the region then it should delegate its “authority” to existing regional organization such as the African Union. Since 2012 with authorization from the UNSC the African Union has established a regional task force that hunt down the LRA, however further examination in its success remains tested as donors and other regional actors plays a significant role in the success of such initiatives.

    Danurdoro Parnohadiningrat

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