At the point this project was launched (2006), the experiences of individual ex-combatants with DDR—especially the longer-term process of reintegration—were rarely examined, and therefore did not filter into the planning and implementation of other DDR operations.
This project helped remedy this knowledge gap by examining Liberia's DDR program – its benefits, shortcomings, and practical and ideational implications – from the point of view of individual recipients, and making policy-relevant recommendations on how reintegration in particular can be better constructed and implemented in similarly challenging environments.
The project was jointly funded by the US Institute of Peace and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with a project period of 2005–2009, and resulted in a Fafo policy report; four peer-reviewed journal articles; a book chapter; and briefings of findings to UN and Norwegian policymakers.
Key recommendations from the policy brief include:
1. Maximalist or minimalist reintegration?
Because the reintegration concept is so vague, it can be interpreted and operationalized either broadly or narrowly, i.e. in a maximalist or minimalist way. The former interpretation implies a more ambitious, transformative reintegration agenda; the latter would suggest an approach to reintegration focused on expedience, where the program aspires less to creating a lasting impact in the lives of ex-combatants and more to time-limited gains (such as those derived by giving former fighters something to do in the months immediately following demobilization).
In Liberia, the language and expectations surrounding reintegration were those of the transformative agenda; yet the implementation and resources were minimalist, geared towards expedience. This incompatibility led to raised expectations, followed by frustration and dissatisfaction among our informants.
The answer is not to prescribe only maximalist or minimalist responses: reintegration programming must reflect local constraints and conditions and available resources, and will therefore vary according to circumstance.
However, approaches to reintegration should not vary internally within missions, as seen in Liberia, with its (probably unintentional) attempt to straddle the maximalist/ minimalist divide. Local partners, practitioners, and donors must therefore decide in the planning phases whether a maximalist or minimalist approach is desired and realistic.
Access to and allocation of funding, and whether that funding is accessed or voluntary, is an important consideration in determining which approach to use.
2. Communicate and manage expectations
Once reintegration's scope and objectives are determined, these must be communicated clearly and consistently both within the mission, and between the mission and participants – commanders and rank-and-file ex-combatants – in order to manage expectations, especially where reintegration is scaled more modestly.
The DDR program in Liberia suffered from inflated, and unattainable, expectations among ex-combatants.
3. Be flexible about DDR content and structure
Faced with limited resources, more flexible or modular approaches to DDR – such as delinking the DD from the R – could fit with minimalist approaches to DDR, while potentially having a broader developmental impact even than maximalist approaches that focus solely on ex-combatants.
Delinking recognizes that non-combatants are often in similarly dire straits as ex-combatants. It may also mitigate against the hardening of group identity among ex-combatants/ DDR participants, and lessen resentment from non-combatants over preferential treatment for former fighters. It counteracts the incentive structure that encourages people to claim and maintain the status of ex-combatant, while reducing the period when ex-combatants are perceptibly differentiated from wider society.
Combined with an adequate information campaign before disarmament begins, delinking would also enable the international community to provide an immediate and concrete disarmament benefit, without creating false or unrealistic expectations related to reintegration.
Morten Bøås (then Fafo)
US Institute of Peace