By Gabrielle Belli
The field of DDR has always been plagued with the same issue: policy lagging behind practice. Although the Integrated DDR Standards (IDDRS) is considered the global policy guidebook for DDR practitioners, it is not immune to this issue. Section 4.30 on reintegration can especially use some updating.
With regards to political reintegration, the IDDRS is too narrow. Ex-combatant groups go through a process of transformation, “from an illegally armed entity into a legitimate political party or civilian unit operating within the legal parameters of the state” (51). But what if the group is not fit to become a political party?
Elements to be considered during the transformative process include motivations of the armed group, degree of popular support, perceived legitimacy, leadership capabilities, organizational structure, technical support, degree of political experience and capacity, a unified political message (or not) and overall, the nature of the peace and post-conflict security situation. Each of these factors are named in the IDDRS and all of them are crucial to armed group transformation–if one was to overlook any of these elements, the risk of failure to create a political party or actor exponentially increases.
Considering all of the elements that need to be taken into account, it is likely that many groups cannot transform into political parties, and many that try end up failing. For example, in Sierra Leone the RUF did not make a successful political party due in part to their incoherent political agenda. As a result, reintegration communities take the biggest toll, but donors lose funds and practitioners risk reputational damage. What is the alternative, then? Disbandment? Veterans Associations? How far can Interim Stabilization measures go? As exhaustive as it is, the IDDRS reintegration module does not offer enough policy support to answer these questions. There is a wide range of political activities and legitimate participation available, like public debate, journalism, advocacy and policy making that go without mention.
Furthermore, the only context that the IDDRS considers is a post-conflict one. Maybe in first and second generation DDR that was always the operating environment, but third generation DDR is often mandated in areas with ongoing conflict without a peace agreement – CPA. This renders “nature of the peace” moot. What if there is no peace? What if the CPA obviously won’t hold? DDR practitioners are frequently thrust into precarious situations like these, armed with only the IDDRS and their instincts.
The time has come to reframe DDR as a conflict prevention tool, not exclusively as a post conflict tool. Trending topics in DDR like CVE and ‘normalization of relations’ are being mandated at unprecedented levels. Once on the ground, DDR programming most likely adjusts to respond to context and does not strictly adhere to the IDDRS guidelines. But in order to create better programming, lower perceived levels of failure and improve livelihoods of beneficiaries, we cannot wait any longer to amend the IDDRS.