Academic journal article Global Governance

Strategic Approaches to Reintegration: Lessons Learned from Liberia

Academic journal article Global Governance

Strategic Approaches to Reintegration: Lessons Learned from Liberia

Article excerpt

SIX YEARS AFTER THE END OF THE LIBERIAN CONFLICT, EX-COMBATANTS are no longer considered a serious threat to peace and stability in Liberia. Systematic surveys conducted by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) show that there is no national network of ex-combatants, although local groups of ex-combatants still exist in some locations. From a security perspective, the reintegration of ex-combatants has been largely successful in Liberia. This good news is not a coincidence; it is due to six years of sustained effort to reestablish rule of law throughout the country, to rebuild institutions, to promote early recovery, and to reintegrate the former fighting forces as well as other war-affected populations. The government, with support from the United Nations, many bilateral and multilateral partners, and national and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), has worked diligently to achieve this.

This, however, does not mean that all problems related to reintegration are completely resolved. First, there are some persistent localized networks of ex-combatants. These networks often continue to exist for economic reasons as ex-combatant groups engage in a variety of legal and illegal activities. The involvement of these groups in illegal economic activities and other criminal behavior is a particular concern, which UNMIL is addressing jointly with the government, UN agencies, and various international partners.

The second challenge is unemployment, or, more broadly, the lack of livelihood opportunities for ex-combatants as well as for the general population. Ex-combatants have received training, counseling, and career advice, but livelihood opportunities are scarce in a postwar economy, with a very precarious employment situation (85 percent do not earn enough to lift themselves and their families over the one-dollar-a-day poverty line, according to a 2009 International Labour Organization [ILO] study (1)). Faced with a lack of livelihood opportunities, ex-combatants and other high-risk youths sometimes resort to illegal means of income generation, contributing to insecurity and hampering their community reintegration.

When a 2008 US Institute for Peace study asked Liberian ex-combatants if they would fight again, two-thirds responded with a categorical "no." The remaining one-third cited poverty and lack of economic opportunity as the main reasons that could make them go back to war. Interestingly, women ex-combatants appeared more ready to fight again for economic reasons than men. Unemployment and lack of livelihood opportunities are therefore considered serious security concerns.

Since 2003, an array of efforts have been undertaken to reintegrate ex-combatants in Liberia, from classic disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration (DDRR) to strategic monitoring and community-based interventions that aim at promoting alternative livelihoods. This article is considering what those efforts have achieved and what was not achievable, explain why it is time to end targeted assistance to ex-combatants in Liberia, and propose the next steps to be taken.

The DDRR Program in Liberia, 2003-2009

An important milestone in UNMIL's mandate occurred on 21 July 2009: the completion of the reintegration component of the official DDRR program, nearly six years after it began. Following a faltering start in December 2003, the disarmament and demobilization component resumed on 15 April 2004, and when it ended on 4 November 2004, over 101,000 persons had been disarmed and demobilized. This number greatly exceeded the initial estimates of 35,000-38,000 ex-combatants, a projection based on the ascribed strength of the warring factions. The jump in the number of DDRR beneficiaries was partly due to a lowering of entrance criteria, namely the amount of weapons to be handed over in order to be eligible for demobilization and reintegration assistance. The relaxing of entrance criteria boosted the number of DDRR beneficiaries, posing a challenge to the planning and implementation of the program. …

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