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Life or Death: Buying Time for Peace - Screening and Discussion

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:30

Bruno Donat, Communications Officer, MDRP
Sarah Michael, Social Development Specialist, MDRP

Tony Zachariades, Deputy Programmes Manager, Regional Issues Unit, DFID

Nicholas Bates, Regional Adviser, Regional Issues Unit, DFID


Sara Pantuliano, Research Fellow, Humanitarian Policy Group, ODI


Sara Pantuliano, in the chair, introduced the MDRP, pointing out that it is a unique and comprehensive framework for Dembilisation and Reintegration (D&R) in the Great Lakes region which includes seven countries (Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda). She then introduced the panellists and asked Bruno Donat to introduce the documentary.

Mr Donat, the producer of the documentary, told the audience that the film was made during summer 2006 with some footage from 2005 and was still undergoing some editing. The film is intended as a demonstration to partner organisations as a communications tool, but also for a general, public audience. The context is D&R of ex-combatants in the Great Lakes region. Mr Donat made the point that the programme does not deal with disarmament.


The film begins with an epilogue explaining the scope and goals of the MDRP and its activities in the region. It features interviews with some of the 400,000 adult and children ex-combatants who are receiving support and training through the MDRP in the 7 Great Lakes countries mentioned above. It also includes interviews with people working in various MDRP projects in the region. The film raises a number of questions regarding country-ownership of programmes and the need to address the root causes of conflict in order to avoid the recurrence of conflict and associated re-mobilisation of the ex-combatants who are currently struggling to rebuild their lives and find places in their communities.


Points and questions raised in the discussion which followed the screening included:

  • D&R in Angola and Sierra Leone: Bruno Donat explained that Angola is one of the most advanced post-conflict countries in the Great Lakes region and has made good progress. The conflict in Angola finished before the MDRP started, so disarmament and demobilisation had already been achieved. The focus now is therefore on reintegration. The MDRP was in many respects built on the lessons learnt in Sierra Leone and it has become the first programme of its kind to be implemented at a regional level.

  • Community dynamics concerning the absorption of ex-combatants, their impact on community security and perceptions of justice/injustice within communities: Sarah Michael said that according to studies of ex-combatants' perceptions of reintegration success, they feel accepted within their communities. Social impact studies in Burundi and Rwanda also yielded positive findings, demonstrating that ex-combatants are not perceived as a security threat. On the contrary, they can have a positive impact; for instance, educating others about HIV/AIDS using sexual health training received in D&R camps.

  • Supporting the children and women who fall into the category of being "associated with" rather than "actively participating" with the armed forces category within the MDRP: Sarah Michael noted that there are specific grants for dependents in Angola, but that each country has its own definitions of who is included as an 'ex-combatant and thus eligible to benefit from the programme. Specific programmes for children and women associated with the armed forces use definitions of 'ex-combatant' that are both more gender sensitive and include children. The programme provides parallel and equal benefits. Nicholas Bates pointed out the importance of differentiating between so-called 'camp-followers' and active participants. The former often get mixed up in the chaos of the demobilisation process.

  • The longer-term psycho-social recovery of society and the issue of justice: Tony Zachariades stated that the sensitive issue of truth and reconciliation is decided by each individual country programme. Sarah Michael added that while the issue of justice is country-dependent (in Uganda, for example, demobilised ex-combatants are amnestied for the crime of rebellion and much reconciliation takes place at a local level through traditional ceremonies), the general tendency is for people to choose peace almost invariably in the trade-off between justice and peace. Ex-combatants usually are prepared to take responsibility and recognise their crimes and are generally not afraid to talk about what they have done. In many countries, the DDR programmes have a direct connection with government justice programmes. On psycho-social recovery, the main challenge is capacity. Most of this work is conducted with children who receive psychological assistance as part of their rehabilitation and before being reunited with their families. Much of this work is done through community protection networks (NGOs, church groups, girls' mutual support groups). Bruno Donat added that MDRP does not accept criminals, nor do people who still carry guns qualify. Each state decides individually, however, how they will approach the issue of war crimes. The Rwandan government is uncompromising on genocide perpetrators, for example.

  • The programme's impact on households: The footage shot inside houses had to be excluded from the film due to the bad quality of the material. There is however evaluation work being done regarding the impact the programme has at the household level. Whole families are usually targeted in the programming.

  • Rape as a weapon of war: Nicholas Bates explained that DFID recognises this problem and is trying to support of the victims of rape. Sarah Michael added that the issue is addressed in D&R centres, where ex-combatants receive training on gender interaction and reproductive health.


ODI and the Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP) co-hosted a screening and discussion of a new documentary about efforts to demobilize and support the reintegration of almost 400,000 ex-combatants in Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

The MDRP is a multi-agency effort funded by the United Kingdom, ten other donors and the World Bank, and involves dozens of partners, including various UN agencies. It is the largest program of its kind in the world.

The film features interviews with adult ex-combatants and children formerly associated with armed forces, who are trying to reclaim their lives after national and regional conflict. African government officials, program donors and MDRP staff members also speak about the progress that has been achieved so far, and the challenges they are experiencing as they collaborate in this unique international partnership which aims to break the cycle of conflict and create the necessary conditions for peace in central Africa.