Case Studies

/Reintegration of youth ex-combatants in fragile settings
Case Holder:
Charleine Mbuyi-Lusamba & Federico Negro

Reintegration of youth ex-combatants in fragile settings

Promotion of Youth Employment in Fragile Settings

Background & Context

32 years under Mobutu’s regime (1965-1997) led DRC through poor governance at all levels to the extent that, when Rwanda was fighting Hutu militias in the East of the country in 1996, DRC had neither the military capability nor the political power to attract international assistance to halt the violation of the integrity of its national territory. This escalated to the forming of a Congolese Rebel group “Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la liberation du Congo – AFDL”, led by Kabila.

AFDL extensively enrolled young and child soldiers called “Kadogo” who walked down the River Congo from the East all the way to Kinshasa in just seven months, almost without any resistance, and took over power in May 1997.

That was the First Congo War. The Second Congo War started in 1998 after Kabila asked its Rwandan and Ugandan military allies to leave the country.

Since then the country has been through successive armed and ethnic conflicts involving several countries and various militias. The war has so far resulted in illegal trade in natural resources, unfair distribution of national wealth, internal and external migrations and millions of deaths mostly as a result of poverty, disease and malnutrition.


The Problem

Despite several peace agreements of which two, involving major influential belligerents, were signed in 2002 and 2013, DRC was in 2015 still hosting 70 active rebel groups operating in the East. Many of those involved mentioned the failure orabsence of Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programmes as well as the failure of the government to offer alternative livelihood solutions to ex‑combatants among the factors that resulted in the proliferation of armed groups.

The peace process ironically worsened the political dynamic. The 2002 agreement, which marked the beginning of a transitional government, together with a series of demobilization and reintegration initiatives, contributed to a fragmentation of the political scene which in turn gave rise to the same phenomenon within armed groups. While provincial and national parliaments were multiplying, some leaders started using armed groups to intimidate their rivals and strengthen their reputationas strong men, thereby pressurising militias into political activities. These developments gave rise to escalation of violence as politicians and communities were mobilized to respond to violence with violence over leadership disputes. At the same time the government used the army on a clientelist basis, causing dissatisfaction and defections that ended with the fragmentation of rebel groups backed by opportunist politicians. To date DRC has millions of (ex-)combatants, mostly youth originally enrolled by force and with no clear economic opportunities or prospects. Six former rebel leaders are currently being tried at the International Criminal Court.

Following the 2013 agreement, the international community suggested a single, integrated and comprehensive Reinsertion and Reintegration Project (RRP) for Congolese fighters not suspected of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or gross violations of human rights with a view to contributing to the consolidation of peace in eastern DRC by improving stability, food security and access to goods and basic services. Against this background the government called for the ILO’s assistance to provide entrepreneurship training in the Reintegration Preparation Centres (RPCs) of Kitona and Kamina to prepare 4,800 ex-combatants for economic reintegration.


Ex-combatants are both participants in and victims of conflicts, most of them enrolled in armed groups by force. Conflicts affect them in such away that their reintegration needs to go beyond just returning to their previous life before the conflict. Besides securing their livelihoods through economic solutions, they also need to surmount the trauma and face new challenges to integrate, be accepted and feel legitimate in a society in which they contributed to the destruction of social, economic and human assets. Following a peace agreement, disarmament and demobilization, reinsertion is a process that consists of significant efforts towards stabilization, reconciliation and reconstruction as a foundation of a longer-term reintegration.

The ILO’s technical assistance to RRP was within the reinsertion component to provide entrepreneurship training for ex-combatants. The overall objective of the intervention was to contribute to the socioeconomic reintegration of ex-combatants through the promotion of job and income opportunities in their home communities, by reinforcing their entrepreneurial capacities and their general knowledge by means of cooperatives and financial education. To this end the project aimed to: (i) develop adapted entrepreneurship training materials; (ii) train and upgrade trainers; and (iii) train ex-combatants in entrepreneurship with a view to identifying and developing viable business ideas.

Value Proposition & Activities

Demobilized ex-combatants have been clustered in the ReintegrationPreparation Centres (RPCs) of Kitona and Kamina to receive diverse trainingin the framework of their reinsertion. As most ex-combatants have a low literacy level, the ILO adapted the Generate Your Business Idea (GYB) package of the Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) entrepreneurship training course in response to their literacy level as well as to their intellectual and emotional dispositions. Illustrated training materials include a facilitator’s guide, participants’ manual and workbook. The ILO’s intervention took place from April 2016 to June2017. During that period, the ILO:

  • adapted and provided updated GYB training materials;
  • supervised the training and upgrading of trainers in the adapted GYB;
  • developed monitoring and reporting tools in a participative way together with implementing partners and the national counterparts;
  • sensitized trainers on tips and behaviour in relation to ex-combatants, emphasizing that they should adhere to the pedagogical aspects and refer participants to camp authorities on issues beyond their competences astrainers;
  • supervised the training of ex-combatants in Kitona.

The ILO selected the national technical and vocational education and training institute (INPP) and the SIYB network as implementing agencies. They have now extended their training portfolio to include entrepreneurship training for ex-combatants. This pool ofexpertise is a national asset beyond the scope of the ILO’s intervention.


Learning & Results

The adapted GYB training increased ex‑combatants’ interest in starting economic activities. Ex-combatants’ plans for self-employment and employment are now clearer. As considered during the project design stage, ex‑combatants confirmed that entrepreneurship training would need to precede vocational training. “GYB training has helped me realize that bakery is the sector that corresponds to my capacities and my environment opportunities. I would like to develop my business in that instead of small stock-breeding I have been trained in” said one of the female ex-combatants. This also indicates the importance of hands-on coordination mechanisms between actors involved in the design and implementation of the RRP.

The project has trained 33 trainers (seven of whom are female), and afirst wave of 458 ex-combatants (six female). Now it is important to help them acquire additional entrepreneurship skills, develop their business plans, access finance and access markets in their returning communities. This will require building-up of the capacity of local financial and non-financial business development service providers to offer suitable, affordable services andpost-delivery support to (female) ex-combatants.


Conclusion & the future

Reinsertion activities are taking place at RPCs and reintegration will take place in communities. Ex‑combatants called on the government and other peacebuilding actors to guarantee their security against possible human rights violations in the communities to which they returned. This might be possible through community awareness and advocacy campaigns and through contacts between ex‑combatants and members of returning communities, for instance by means of business group formation or joint efforts in small-scale community infrastructure rehabilitation and construction.

The returning communities are not the only threat to ex-combatants’ reintegration. Ex-combatants’ environment included war lords, political leaders, fellow ex‑combatants, and so forth. The question is how to help them build up resilience vis‑à‑vis their environment and most importantly their own acceptance that they deserve a chance to start a new life, as they will soon enter adulthood.

The other fundamental question concerns the extent to which economic reintegration of ex-combatants or overall employment programmes contributes to peacebuilding. Although the RRP notices changes in the attitudes of ex-combatants to economic development and social cohesion, generally such evidence is rare. Therefore there is a huge need for impact assessments.