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Last Updated: 07/01/2010
Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-Combatants in Conflict Affected Northern Uganda
Moses Tumusiime

This paper shall apply a discourse analysis of Disarmament, Resettlement and Reintegration (DRR) of ex-combatants with special emphasis on Northern Uganda, a region which has faced conflicts for over two decades. I apply knowledge and skills required to plan, manage and implement programmes for sustainable recovery of war-torn Northern Uganda. The paper will showcase skills in rehabilitation, reconstruction, peacebuilding and the role of civil society. My prior engagement in a post-conflict recovery human rights project in Uganda, as well as my experiences supporting DRR under the Amnesty Commission, will be used to address the topic from a practical point of view. The paper includes a general overview, key actors in the conflict, DRR in detail, Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) issues, DRR challenges, appropriate responses or recommendations and conclusion. I believe this study will also empower me to effectively and efficiently serve in conflict management, peacekeeping and peacebuilding foras.

Key words= ex-combatants, disarmament, demobilization, reintegration

Overview of International Security, Conflicts and Civil Wars, Particularly in Uganda

The term Civil War is defined as “armed combat within the boundaries of a recognized sovereign entity between parties subject to a common authority at the outset of the hostilities” (Kalyvas 2006, 17). About 140 civil wars around the world since 1945 have killed approximately 20 million people and displaced 67 million (Sambanis 2004, 259). Despite this massive scale of human misery, the academic community did not pay much attention to the problem of Civil War until very recently (259). It should be noted that a total of 16 major armed conflicts raged on in 15 locations, with many gathering intensity over the course of 2008 (Gill 2009, 2). Generally, Africa is described as the most violent continent in the world. Indeed, by 1999, out of 37 armed conflicts in the world, 16 (43%) of them were in Africa (Draman 2003, 233). In 2009 the world witnessed more people displaced within their country by conflict and violence than at any point since the mid-1990s. An alarming total of 27.1 million were internally displaced at the end of the year (Elverland 2010). See the world map below clarifying the subject matter.

Source; ©Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2009

According to the Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2009 by Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 6.8 million people were displaced in 2009.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Year Book 2009 adds that the massive displacement of people within countries and across borders is a key feature of human insecurity in which genocide, terrorism and human rights violations inflict havoc on civilians. Previous assessments of conflicts in Darfur, Uganda and the rest of the world offer more insight. So the need for IDP protection and state responsibility is vital.

The roots of the current war between the Uganda government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Acholiland are entwined with the history of conflicts in Uganda and the rise to power of the National Resistance Movement/National Resistance Army (NRM/A) in 1986. Indeed, the multiple civil wars which have affected Uganda, including those in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by the LRA rebels led by Joseph Kony, are a result of the unjust economic and political patterns since the nineteenth century. Some 20 known groups have resorted to violence since then, the most notorious being the LRA (UNDP/BCPR/SADU 2006). Long-term armed conflicts in northern Uganda have led to gross violations of human rights against civilians, destroyed infrastructure and social service delivery systems and led to social disintegration-- thus retarding economic and human development. Despite efforts by governments and other actors to meet the needs of the affected areas, significant gaps still remain in the provision of protection and delivery of social services to vulnerable groups.

Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) of Ex-Combatants in Uganda; (Key emphasis on Northern Uganda).

Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants is a first step in the transition from war to peace. Demilitarization can be used in times of peace as well, to reduce the size of armed forces and redistribute public spending. However, DDR is much more complicated in a post-conflict environment; when different fighting groups are divided by animosities and face a real security dilemma as they give up their weapons, when civil society structures have crumbled, and when the economy is stagnant. DDR supports the transition from war to peace by ensuring a safe environment, transferring ex-combatants back to civilian life, and enabling people to earn livelihoods through peaceful means instead of war (Fusato 2003).

The goals of DDR are both short-term and long-term: demilitarization and demobilization involving large numbers of soldiers are complex processes that require great coordination among the different actors involved in terms of security, inclusion of warring parties, political agreements, comprehensive approaches and sufficient funding.

Successful DDR programmes recognize that not all ex-combatants have the same needs. Effective programmes are those which are flexible and adapt interventions to the specific needs of different target groups and target resettlement communities, because assistance to soldiers who have committed atrocities can be perceived as unfair and can cause resentment. Effective DDR programmes also provide specific programmes for the most vulnerable groups of ex-combatants. The disabled are one such group, child soldiers and women are another (Fusato 2003).

In the case of Uganda, while there have been periods of intense activity intertwined with periods of calm, the most warring groups are no longer active. Much of the present DDR-type efforts in Uganda focus on the LRA-affected areas of the North. Indeed fighting has generated some 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and has caused the physical destruction of most socio-economic infrastructure. Of the 1.4 million IDPs remaining in Uganda, 370,000 were still expected to be in camps and transit centres by the end of 2009. During the course of 2010, it is expected that a further 190,000 IDPs will return to their villages of origin, with the remainder returning during 2011. It is also hoped that, by the end of 2011, the formerly displaced will no longer be classified as IDPs (UNHCR 2010-2011 Global Appeal).

Throughout the years, the government of Uganda has used several means to end the armed conflict: military campaigns, dialogue with rebel groups, cooperation with neighboring countries such as Sudan, Rwanda and the DRC, and presidential pardons. Although such attempts have resulted in many rebel groups being defeated or renouncing armed conflict, others continue to undermine government capacities to enforce law and order, mainly in Northern and Eastern Uganda. Several peace negotiations under international auspices have yielded little progress to date (UNDP/BCPR/SADU 2006).

Following persistent calls for a peaceful resolution of the armed conflict in the country, the Parliament of Uganda enacted a comprehensive Amnesty Act on 1 January 2000, which the Government endorsed on 17 January 2000. National efforts to implement the Amnesty Act have received support from various donors and international organizations. As a result, the government has demobilized and reintegrated a number of combatants who have been associated with insurgent movements. Peace negotiations between the Uganda government and LRA started in July 2006 in Juba, South Sudan, mediated by the semi-autonomous government of South Sudan. A cease fire was signed in August 2006 and then renewed in early November 2006. Peace negotiations continue, though they face many challenges, especially with the International Criminal Court arrest warrants for Kony and others.

Ugandans who report to the authorities to be granted amnesty are referred to as “reporters.” As of December 2006, over 21,000 reporters had been granted amnesty; out of which 19,000 have received initial reinsertion or resettlement kits. There are two broad categories of reporters – ex-combatants and non-combatants. Both categories include women and men, adults and children.

The Amnesty Commission provides overall leadership, guidance and coordination in the implementation of the amnesty law. The Amnesty Commission is also tasked with: raising awareness of potential reporters and sensitizing the public on the Amnesty Act; facilitating and monitoring demobilization, reintegration and resettlement of reporters; promoting dialogue and reconciliation. Demobilization and Resettlement Teams (DRTs) are operating in Arua (Northwestern region), Gulu and Kitgum (North region), Kampala (Central region), Kasese (Western region) where I was fully based, and Mbale (Eastern region).

Implementing Partners;

  • The Amnesty Commission fulfills its mandate mainly through implementing partners. These are;

  • Governmental institutions;

  • National NGOs: Kitgum Concerned Women’s Association (KICWA), Participatory Rural Action for Development (PRAFOD), Gulu Support the Children Organization (GUSCO) and Give Me a Chance;

  • International NGOs: Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, International Rescue Committee, CARITAS, Save the Children Alliance and Save the Children Denmark; and

  • International organizations: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP), (UNDP/BCPR/SADU 2006)

  • Tasks being carried out by the Commission

    The Amnesty Commission oversees the implementation of the following activities which I also supported from 2003-2006 in western Uganda under the DRT Kasese office:

  • Sensitization of reporters and the public about the Amnesty Act

  • Documentation and demobilization of reporters and offer of in-kind assistance packages

  • Identifying the needs of the reporters

  • Linking reporters to development partners

  • Training the reporters on life skills and HIV/Aids

  • Resettlement of the reporters

  • Reintegration of reporters into communities

  • Extensive mobilization of the communities to appreciate peace as a prerequisite for development

  • Social and Economic Reintegration

    Social reintegration has been achieved mainly by promoting the reconciliation of reporters within the family and the community through traditional reconciliation mechanisms, religious meetings and community-welcoming gatherings.

    The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) acted as the lead interlocutor for the Commission in the preparation of the repatriation of 400 reporters associated with West Nile Bank Front (WNBF) from DRC in 2003/2004. During the period from 2005-date, UNDP continued to support the Commission to establish a secure environment for recovery and development in Northern and Northeastern Uganda under the Crisis Prevention and Recovery (CPR) programme. The CPR is central to the government of Uganda development objectives as spelled out in the 1995 Constitution and the 2004 Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP). Under the 1995 Constitution, the state has an obligation to provide a peaceful, secure and stable political environment which is necessary for economic development (UNDP 2007- 2011, 4).

    UNICEF has provided support in the reintegration of child reporters and WFP has provided food to reception centers. National and international NGOs have also assisted the Amnesty Commission in assessing and implementing the special requirements of women and child reporters and providing medical and psychological assistance. The Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Programme (MDRP) has supported the Amnesty Commission since January 2005, through a multi-million dollar project which has helped provide resettlement packages to 15,310 reporters, while building the overall capacity of the Amnesty Commission.

    Support to Children and Women

    All reporters receive the same in-kind assistance package and cash assistance fund. Women are estimated to be about 20 percent of the number of reporters, whereas children constitute 29.2 percent of reporters. The Amnesty Commission recognizes the importance of providing women and girls, especially mothers and expectant mothers, with extra assistance in accordance with their needs. One group that deserves special attention is the child mothers and their children, who were born in the “bush” and have strong stigma attached to them. The child mothers are often welcomed back in their home communities by their families, but often only when they abandon their sons and daughters from the “bush.”

    Resource Mobilisation

    The work of the Amnesty Commission and its implementing partners was financed by the Government of Uganda and direct bilateral contributions from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Great Britain, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, the United States and the European Union from 2000 to 2004. The IOM/USAID/UNICEF/EU support totaled US$ 694,004 in 2002/2004. The UNDP assistance amounted to US$ 300,000 in 2003 and US$ 553,774 in 2005/2006.

    The MDRP trust fund grant of US$ 4.2 million was declared effective in January, 2005. The first disbursement of approximately US$ 1.3 million was released in March 2005. The MDRP grant contributed to redressing the financial situation of the Amnesty Commission in fulfilling its mandate (UNDP/BCPR/SADU 2006).

    Constraints and Challenges faced in DDR under Amnesty Commission.

    Peace negotiations between the government and LRA continue facing many challenges. One of them is the ICC arrest warrant against Kony and other rebels. This caused a setback in peace talks since Kony trusts nobody. The ICC global summit in Uganda now may offer solutions.

    Also, non-Ugandans do not qualify for amnesty and a person cannot be granted amnesty twice. Again, age is a key challenge since children below 12 years cannot be granted amnesty.

    The Commission has struggled to increase its capacity to perform the responsibilities. The number of backlog reporters who have not received reinsertion assistance has remained high, oftentimes putting the credibility of the Commission and the amnesty process at risk. The commission as a body is also limited in terms of financial and human resources. This denies it an opportunity to implement sustainable programmes in the form of DDR to all population structures.

    The geographical coverage of the DRT office is very wide compared to the existing financial and human resources. Each DRT office covers over 10 districts. This, coupled with the little financial and human resources, makes the whole reintegration process very difficult.

    Poor relationships between reporters and the community have minimized levels of acceptability of reporters among recipient communities. Also, the high poverty level among community members has led to many “self style reporters” flocking the Office soliciting for financial and material benefit. There is common discontent in the communities over the packages. Communities feel it’s a reward for wrongful doing; this threatens to dilute the intended purpose.

    The mandate of the Amnesty Commission is short. It expires and requires renewal every six months by the Parliament. It thus disfavors long-term reintegration and planning.


    To realize the cherished peace and progress, effective and efficient tasks shouldered by all stakeholders are indispensable to enable. These tasks should include: participatory planning by all for realistic people-centered services delivery, a clear definition of roles, documentation of activities for proper data tracking, plan review and periodic meetings, harmonious objectives, accountability and transparency of all parties concerned, proper communication to clear misinformation and clear leadership to serve the people and guide them satisfactorily. Honoring peace talks and agreements is also vital to ensure successful DDR processes and lasting peace. Reintegration programmes should account for discrimination against women in education and employment. Special attention should be given to the social reintegration of women who have experienced sexual abuse, who have rejected the patriarchal structure of their communities of origin, or who are isolated because they have been rejected by their families and/or their communities of settlement.

    Strong focus should placed on: state-building as the central objective; different ways to deliver aid; collaboration with international partners; and commitments for the long-term to get results. Indeed, state building and peace building interventions are focused around four objectives: supporting an inclusive political settlement; addressing the causes of conflict; developing state survival functions (security, justice and revenue management) and helping the state respond to public expectations (could include basic services, effective governance or democratization) (DFID 2010). To attain sustainable peace, these factors are as vital.


    Since 1986, Uganda has transformed from a nearly failed state to a country that has achieved consistently high economic growth rates. However the problem of LRA still exists in Sudan and DRC. We have noted that DDR of ex-combatants is a first step in the transition from war to peace and Uganda has made valuable efforts through the Amnesty commission to disarm, resettle and reintegrate combatants and non-combatants.

    Having noted the challenges of DDR in Uganda, it is imperative those roots causes are deeply addressed through a comprehensive DDR-peacebuilding strategy, with short to long-term measures carefully applied. It is now clear that, in a postwar peacebuilding process, a conflict resolution assessment of Intervention, Reconstruction and Withdrawal operations (IRW) is very vital and effective for sustainable peace processes to be achieved.

    Appendix Map: Districts affected by armed conflicts in Northern Uganda, August 2006­­­­­

    Works Cited

    Department For International Development. Building Peaceful States and Societies. A DFID Practice Paper, Glasgow G75 8EA,: DFID, UK, 2010.

    Collier, P. and Hoeffler, A. "Greed and Grievance in Civil War" Economic Papers 56 (4), Oxford , 2004.

    Draman, R. "Conflict Prevention in Africa: Establishing conditions and Institutions conducive to durable Peace." In Conflict prevention. Path to Peace of grand illusion, by D.Carment & A Schnable (Eds), 230- 250. New York, US: UNU Press, 2003.

    Elverland, Siri. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). May 17, 2010. (accessed May 28, 2010).

    Fusato, Massimo. Beyond Intractability; Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration of Ex-Combatants. July 2003. (accessed May 29, 2010).

    Gill, Bates. Armaments, Disarmament and International Security. Research Report, Stockholm, Sweden : Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 2009.

    Kalyvas, Stathis N. “Concepts” In: The Logic of Violence in Civil War, Chapter 1: pp. 16-31. New York: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition, 2006.

    Sambanis, Nicholas. "Using Case Studies to Expand Economic Models of Civil War." June | Vol. 2/No. 2 279 2004. (accessed April 27, 2010).

    Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. June 02, 2010. (accessed May 18, 2010) "Crisis Prevention and Recovery." Programme Support Document (PSD), Kampala, 2007- 2011.

    UN DDR Resource Centre; Country Programme, Uganda. December 2006. (accessed May 28, 2010).

    UNHCR. UNHCR Refugee Agency; Country operations profile - Uganda.-2011 (accessed January 26 2010)

    Moses Tumusiime is a Master candidate of International Peace Studies at the United Nations Mandated University for Peace. He is a Ugandan with a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree from Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. He has served with UN Volunteers in human rights projects supporting Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants under the Amnesty Commission and later with the Uganda Human Rights Commission. He also served as UNV Programme Assistant under UNDP Uganda.