KIGALI, August 12, 2009 -- Fifteen years after a genocide that took the lives of nearly one million people, Rwanda is working hard to rehabilitate its devastated infrastructure, restore social norms and embark on a long-term development strategy.
The successful demobilization and economic reintegration of former soldiers, or ex-combatants, is a major part of that strategy and is crucial to maintaining stability in the small land-locked country.
Reintegrating Rwanda’s Ex-Fighters
In June 2001, Rwanda’s government asked the World Bank to lead efforts to revamp and expand the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Program (RDRP), a program launched in 1997, following the signing of the Lusaka Peace Accord and with support from UNDP, to repatriate and reintegrate members of Rwandese armed groups. Many of the groups had fled to neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo after the genocide ended. Members of the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) were also targeted for demobilization in order to reduce the economic burden caused by a large army.
Under the program’s second stage, the Bank would help mobilize resources and coordinate donor support, among other activities.
In 2002, the Bank launched the International Development Association-funded Emergency Demobilization and Reintegration Program (EDRP). The US$25 million program aimed to demobilize an additional 45,000 ex-combatants, as well as provide them with assistance in assimilating into civilian life. The program also helped facilitate the reallocation of government resources away from military spending and into key areas, including the social and economic sectors.
Amongst the ex-combatants demobilized were those who had sustained serious injuries during the war, and who now had severe disabilities. Some had lost all their limbs, while others were paralyzed. Yet others lost their sight. There were also those afflicted with severe mental disabilities as a result of fighting in the war. While some of these ex-combatants went home to live with their families, many required round-the-clock care and handicap-accessible facilities, and so were sent to military hospitals.
Building a Lasting Hope
Faced with the challenge of re-integrating these severely disabled ex-fighters, and in line with the recently established legislation for the social protection of disabled ex-combatants, the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC), the government agency in charge of implementing the program, realized a major part of the reintegration process was a need for homes that could accommodate the disabled.
“What the [ex-combatants] needed desperately were houses,” said Francis Musoni, Coordinator for the RDRC.
The Commission, with help from the World Bank, prepared a housing scheme activity to be included in the EDRP project. After careful planning and some thinking out of the box, the scheme was given the go-ahead and, in 2008,162 handicap-accessible homes were built.
Today, the housing scheme is open to all disabled, demobilized soldiers, regardless of previous military affiliation. To qualify for a house, an ex-combatant has to be evaluated as having a disability rate of at least ninety percent, in line with the new legislation.
Also included in the legislation framework is the provision of a life-time monthly stipend of 50,000 Rwandese Francs for each person under the scheme. The small allowance helps cover the cost of subsistence, and a full time caretaker if needed.
“Now they can live in a family environment, and there is a community around them, which was missing in the hospital environment,” said Musoni. “They look more healthy than when they were in the hospital, and more happy when they smile.”
In addition, project beneficiaries are entitled to free medical insurance and transportation.
“You can see a change in their behavior…they have a revived hope in life,” Musoni said.
Challenges facing the program
Although 162 ex-combatants have received housing through the EDRP, over 300 more still need access to handicap-accessible homes. In addition, the homes that have been built require additional resources to build retention walls and pit latrines, and gain access to electricity. And, despite a shortfall in resources to finish the existing scheme, the RDRC has plans to expand the program to include skills training for those who can work, and to build production workshops and recreation facilities within the handicap-housing compounds.
The Emergency Demobilization and Reintegration project closed in December last year. However, the World Bank has committed to finance a second phase of the program to support its continuation for an additional three years. World Bank support aims to Help Rwanda’s Demobilization and Reintegration Commission continue the work of national reconciliation, contribute to general peace in the eastern region of the DRC, which has been affected by Rwanda’s conflict, and help the Government of Rwanda dismantle the last remaining armed elements of the genocide.