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Former combatants from DR Congo are rebuilding their lives thanks to entrepreneurial training

An ILO programme offers entrepreneurial training to demobilized Congolese combatants, who were often forcibly recruited by armed groups.

Feature | 25 September 2017
KINSHASA (ILO News) – There’s nothing unusual about Dingson Mbusa Malambo’s story. It’s part and parcel of the conflicts that have ravaged the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in recent years.

Dingson Mbusa Malambo, a demobilized combatant
Dingson Mbusa is one of the demobilized combatants trying to get a fresh start, having returned to civilian life after years of fighting. At 35, he’s one of the beneficiaries of a project to train demobilized former combatants in entrepreneurship and management skills at centres helping them to prepare for reintegration in Kitona and Kamina. The project is being implemented by the International Labour Organization (ILO) with the support of the Government of the DRC.

Married and a father of two – a boy aged five and a girl aged three – Dingson Mbusa initially embarked on a traditional career as a teacher at the Kyatenga educational institution in Kayina, a town in the east of the country. All that changed, however, when he was forcibly recruited by an armed group of foreign rebels at the age of 24.

Forced to bear arms

The teacher learned the rudiments of war, trapped in a vicious circle that, a few years later, landed him in the hands of another nationalist rebel group occupying the region. The group gave him a simple ultimatum: fight or die. “I agreed to save my life,” he recalls.

In January 2008, the DRC launched the AMANI programme with the support of the international community. The programme’s goal was to bring a halt to the fighting, facilitate withdrawal from the front lines, enable armed fighters to reintegrate and restore the authority of the State so that internally displaced persons and other refugees could return to their places of origin. But the process took time and it wasn’t until a second programme was created, AMANI LEO, that Dingson Mbusa was finally discharged and joined the entrepreneurship programme set up by the ILO.

Return to civilian life

As Dingson Mbusa explains, “Some people I knew told me about the training programmes in Kitona and that’s when I realized that I could add to my knowledge and change my life. I attended the first part of the programme organized by the World Bank delegation. Then I took the entrepreneurship course offered by the ILO. I learned new skills to give myself a better chance of successfully reintegrating into civilian life.”

“For example, the programme taught me new working techniques, about businesses, how to manage a business successfully. The courses were given by trainers from Lubumbashi,” he says.

I learned new skills to give myself a better chance of successfully reintegrating into civilian life."

Dingson Mbusa Malambo
Dingson Mbusa lost no time in applying the knowledge he had acquired. He knew that his life had been scarred by violence, and he wanted to do something to foster peace, so he created a small NGO, Action d’aide des Démobilisés aux Victimes des Conflits Armés (Aid from Demobilized Combatants for the Victims of Armed Conflicts, or A3DVCA). Its goal is to contribute to a social and humanitarian aid programme.

“After everything I’ve gone through, it’s important to give renewed hope to people and to the victims of armed conflicts,” he explains.

Today, Dingson Mbusa wants to be an ambassador for peace at home and help people understand the evils of war.

Smoothing the transition from war to peace

“The forced recruitment of young people into armed groups is a horrible thing, not only in terms of security, but also from an economic point of view. When they’re demobilized, these young people are left without resources and need help to try to pick up a normal civilian life,” says Aminata Maiga, Director of the ILO Country Office in Kinshasa.

“The Government – through the National Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration Implementing Unit (UEPN-DDR) – signed an agreement with the ILO for the training in entrepreneurship and cooperative management of 4,800 demobilized men and women in the process of socio-economic reintegration at the preparatory centres in Kitona and Kamina,” she adds.

The programme is also part of the ILO’s efforts worldwide to help countries in conflict facilitate the transition to peace. In order to facilitate what is a complex process, the 106th International Labour Conference adopted a new recommendation in June 2017, the Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience Recommendation, 2017 (No. 205).

 "This new standard updates the approach of an earlier, 1944 recommendation, providing a response to contemporary crisis situations relating to reconstruction and recovery by including prevention and preparation,” says Federico Negro, ILO officer for Fragile States and Disaster response in Geneva, says,

“It provides a unique framework focused on work-related measures to prevent conflicts and disasters and to lessen their devastating impact on economies and societies. It pays particularly close attention to vulnerable groups of people, such as children, young people, women and displaced persons. The programme for demobilized combatants in the DRC is a good example of the action that can be taken to facilitate the transition to peace,” he concludes.