I have long held the belief that the patchy success of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programmes is largely because there's little point having the D and the D if there's no meaningful R. In other words, you can disarm and demobilise a fighting youth as much as you like, but if youth are not able to find a sustainable means of reintegrating back into society and most importantly into the workforce and the economy, then they will go back to guns and to making a living how they know best and how circumstances allow.
Preaching this mantra, as is my wont, to those seated at my table at a working dinner in post-crisis country X last month, I was a little surprised to find that the DDR programme officer seated to my left also thought there was little point in disarmament. Having been asked by my local counterparts earlier during the day for case studies and programme plans of successful weapons collections programmes in other countries, I was hoping this DDR officer would be able to point me in the right direction. Instead he told me there was no point in carrying out weapons collection programmes in X-land right now. His reasons were numerous:
"In a country with the sort of long leaky borders you find here, people can re-arm themselves within ten days if they really want to" he said. "Handing in weapons, especially for cash incentives, just helps the arms trafficking trade, because people will simply keep coming back to hand in another weapon a few days later for another payment."
"No, no," he continued, "a weapons collection programme is often just another money-laundering scam for corrupt officials. It has a cathartic effect on the people and the government, and is especially soothing for foreign do-gooders and development agencies. It lulls everybody into a false sense of security, without really getting to the crux of the problem. Don't kid yourself, weapons collection programmes are not the panacea of DDR."
That all too familiar maxim these days 'Guns don't kill people, people kill people' (but as Eddie Izzard notes "the gun helps") comes to mind. Knowing that removing the need to resort to violence is the elusive way forward, I asked him how, in his opinion, to get to the crux of the problem. He listed his top three priorities for what, he felt, needs to be a multi-faceted approach:
- Reinforce (possibly pre-existing or traditional) alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, including transitional justice, as well as the courts;
- Restore confidence in the police and local security;
- Regionalise the solution by working with neighbouring countries in order to minimise the resupply of illicit arms and tighten border controls.
That's no small order. But it does have the hallmarks of endurance and sustainability. It's not enough to confiscate weapons (although it helps) — the reason to use weapons needs to be defused. When people resort to violence, the state needs to be able to intervene effectively, and with the trust of its citizens. Finally, no state stands in isolation when it comes to stemming the flow of violence and conflict.
And I still add a fourth point:
4. Revitalise the economy and, importantly, the labour force; for idle hands work mischief.
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