The Dream of Putting Down their Weapons


After less than two years, RET’s programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has achieved major successes in the field of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR). Implemented in the province of South-Kivu, it prevents the recruitment of children and adolescents by armed groups. Its holistic approach fights against stigmatisation, promotes peace and social cohesion, while uniting the energies of all the stakeholders towards a common goal: Making sure the child soldier phenomenon in the DRC becomes part of history.


Any good DDR project has to fully implement the three phases: disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration as well as activly include local communities. A partial approach will achieve nothing tangible. Also, it is important to understand that even if the term often used to describe the phenomenon is “child soldiers”, most are actually young adolescents. The term child soldier only means that the combatant (1) is under the age of 18.


DDR is a process, which puts into play political authorities, the national armed forces, the illegal armed groups and the international community. It defines the roles of each of these actors along the different phases, and is first set into motion by the national government. RET’s programme fits into this broader framework and brings all these actors together. In Africa numerous countries have tried to implement DDR programmes. It is however a long and complex process, which has not always been successful.




The first phase, disarmament, is about enabling young soldiers to leave the illegal armed groups. Concretely, RET’s role is to raise awareness among the commanders, explain the illegality of recruiting soldiers under 18 and convince them to free the under-aged combatants within their ranks and put an end to this type of recruitment. RET is therefore in constant dialogue with these groups, with of course the authorisation of the government and international forces.


Then we enter the demobilisation phase. This is a transition period, which gives young people the time to start addressing the profound traumas they have endured. They are admitted in RET’s Centre for Transit and Orientation (CTO) in which our teams of psychologists, nurses and counsellors help them recover. During approximately three months they find a balance and start preparing their return to a normal civilian life. The centre also promotes healthy cohabitation between the different ethnic groups present. Young people brought up to despise one another are today friends, breaking the cycle of hatred. Once stabilised and oriented towards either studies or vocational training, the authorities deliver an attestation of demobilisation: the necessary authorisation to go back to civilian life.


If the two “D”s of DDR are complex enough, the “R” of reintegration is the longest and most critical phase.


At that moment the former young combatants have to confront the return to a civilian life they left long ago. Without support and hope for the future they may seek to return to the armed groups.


RET thus provides for the cost of each learner’s education, and regularly visits them and their teachers to verify that everything is going well. For those who do not feel comfortable resuming their studies, RET proposes vocational training schemes better adapted to their needs. Teachers as well as educational, political and military authorities are also given a proper understanding of the psychological state of these youth at risk. Also, vulnerable youth from the local communities are proposed educational opportunities as well, in order for all to be protected. This approach allows for real sustainable reintegration.


All along the way, from awareness-raising of armed groups, to psychosocial support and orientation, to reintegration in the scholar system, education is the heart and soul of a DDR programme. This is why it resonates with our mandate and why our DDR programme is so successful.


RET’s team knows that the task at hand is extremely complex, however concrete results confirm that we are on the right track. Perseverance is now our main concern, as many more await their new life.


(1) Any picture related to this article serves as an illustration and does not depict a person who has been a soldier, but who is part of RET’s programme as a vulnerable youth facing similar protection needs. As stated, the programme includes beneficiaries from local communities as well as former combatants.