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Rwanda: Helping Ex-Combatants Put Down the Sword

Last Updated: August 2009
Rwanda: Helping Ex-Combatants Put Down the Sword and Pick Up the Ploughshare


Years of violence and discord in Rwanda—following collapse of the Arusha peace process in April 1994 and the ensuing genocide—soon spilled over its borders, fuelling a regional conflict involving neighboring countries in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Regional peace initiatives finally culminated in the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement of July 1999, with the governments of Rwanda and several other nations beginning withdrawal of their forces from the DRC in 2001. Diplomatic progress following the Lusaka Agreement, the Rwandan government’s policy encouraging repatriation and reintegration of members of armed groups of its nationals, and the deterrent capability of the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) have combined to improve prospects for resolution of the Rwandese portion of the protracted conflict.


Reintegrating ex-combatants into civilian life is critical to maintaining social stability and economic growth and reducing localized violence. To that end, the government implemented the first stage of the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Program (RDRP) with the support of the United Nations Development Programme in 1997–2001, demobilizing more than 18,000 of its soldiers. The government then requested World Bank assistance in June 2001 to revamp and expand the program, mobilize resources—including IDA financing—and coordinate donor support for follow-up efforts. The main goals of RDRP during stage II were to demobilize 22,000 additional ex-combatants from the Rwanda Defense Force and 12,500 from various armed groups, provide them with assistance to successfully reenter civilian life in the town or village of their choice, and facilitate reallocation of government expenditure from military to social and economic purposes. Some 15,000 ex-soldiers of the Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR), the former national army before the genocide, also were targeted for reinsertion support, while 12,000 members of FAR and the Rwanda Defense Force who were decommissioned during stage I but were having difficulty making the adjustment were targeted for reintegration support.


The Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Program has made considerable progress in enabling thousands of former combatants to return to productive civilian life.

- The phase II target to demobilize 22,000 soldiers from the Rwanda Defense Force by 2007 was met and surpassed, with 22,675 discharges completed. A total of 7,091 of the targeted 12,500 armed group ex-combatants also were demobilized. Meanwhile 12,969 FAR ex-combatants received reinsertion assistance. All 22,675 RDF ex-combatants and 6,262 of the adult armed group ex-combatants demobilized during phase II received stipends to help them get a start with a small business or agricultural project.

- Extra support was available for those at special risk. Vulnerability Support Window (VSW) grants of about RW 150,000 were provided to the 11,098 RDF ex-combatants demobilized during stage I who were still having difficulty gaining a foothold in civilian life. VSW grants were also extended to 17,678 ex-combatants demobilized during RDRP II who faced special hardship. Specialized social rehabilitation assistance was provided to 674 ex–child soldiers demobilized during stage II, and medical support was provided to 8,400 ex-combatants who were disabled or chronically ill.

- The project’s second phase included an HIV/AIDS initiative to increase awareness of the disease and provide voluntary counseling and training to ex-combatants during demobilization and reintegration. The project closely coordinated with existing HIV/AIDS programs to mainstream the counseling. During demobilization, a protocol was in place to ensure that all ex-combatants were (i) informed about the importance of prevention and the value of testing, and (ii) provided with pretest counseling, (iii) voluntary testing, and (iv) posttest counseling about what to do next, with those testing positive referred to national programs for treatment and those testing negative informed about how to prevent future infection.

- Support for economic reintegration has been diverse and inclusive, frequently involving encouragement of community-based ventures (associations and cooperatives) by ex-combatants and civilians (eventually totaling 9,821 participants), with profits re-circulated through a local development fund. A comprehensive economic package was provided to help discharged Rwanda Defense Force soldiers return to civilian life and get on their feet. In addition to the previously mentioned Vulnerability Support Window grants that went to those at special risk during both phases of demobilization, all 22,675 veterans decommissioned in phase II received on their day of discharge a Basic Needs Kit (BNK) of RW 60,000 to cover the costs of getting home and purchasing food and household supplies and meeting immediate needs. A month later they received a Recognition of Service Allowance from the banking system, with the amount based on a sliding scale tied to the soldier’s former rank. Finally, they qualified for a reintegration grant of RW 120,000 to start a small income-generating activity. Armed group ex-combatants repatriated home from the Democratic Republic of Congo also began to receive similar benefits, which continue today. Recognition of Service Allowances were paid to 12,969 FAR ex-combatants, 3,242 of whom also qualified for VSW grants.

- Realizing that many ex-combatants had educational deficiencies and needed more than a cash stake, the project also provided opportunities for training and technical assistance. Formal educational support was provided for 669 ex-combatants, vocational training for 1,885, and apprenticeship training for 664. An adult literacy program reached 2,093 ex-combatants in 2007, while other programs provided courses in basic business skills and conflict management. A support package for associations and cooperatives of veterans and civilians included (i) business training, (ii) study tours, (iii) technical assistance and (iv) project competitions to reward successful socioeconomic reintegration. A total of 1,523 participants from community-based organizations benefited from this effort.


Total project cost for the second stage is estimated at US$62.6 million, with the government providing US$2.7 million and IDA another US$28.8 million.

A further US$14.4 million was provided through the Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) of the Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP) administered by the World Bank. (Additional resources of US$8.8 million and US$7.9 million were provided bilaterally by the governments of the United Kingdom and Germany, respectively.)

IDA has played a significant role in development of a regional sector-wide approach through the Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (see, a partnership that brings together seven neighboring governments, 13 donors, and a number of UN organizations and other partners to promote stabilization and recovery in the area by supporting the demobilization and reintegration of some 450,000 ex-combatants from the Great Lakes countries of Central Africa. MDRP provided the umbrella under which the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Program was supported.

Next Steps

Protracted disarmament and repatriation of ex-combatants from Rwandese armed groups, mainly in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, remain an acute concern. The MDRP partnership and the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Program have contributed to greater transnational awareness of mutual interests and to confidence building that have furthered the demobilization process, in close collaboration with the Government of the DRC and with the UN Mission (Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo, MONUC). To consolidate the gains achieved during stage II of this effort, a follow-on project to initiate stage III has been developed and presented to the World Bank for a grant request of up to US$18.5 million. The World Bank has pledged a grant of US$8 million and will set up and administer a multi-donor trust fund through which other funders can channel contributions expected to total another US$8 million. The Government of Rwanda will contribute US$2 million in counterpart funding.

The overarching goal of RDRP Stage III is to further consolidate peace and stability in the Great Lakes Region (especially in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo) through disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the remaining Rwandan armed groups and continued reduction in size of the Rwanda Defense Force.

Learn More

Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Project (2002–07)
Project documents

For more information, please visit the Projects website.

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