Critical Literature on Reintegration Programs
Other sections gave an overview of formal DDR programs, involvement of INGOs in Liberia and local development of Liberia’s reintegration. This section will examine the critical literature on children’s DDR programs in Africa and Liberia, in particular.
Awodala (2009) looks at the comparative international experience of reintegration programs for former child soldiers. She draws on data from field work conducted in Liberia in 2006 and from secondary sources of data. Before adopting reintegration measures, the social context should be analysed and collaboration between relevant stakeholders should be established. Awodala (2009) questions many of the dominant reintegration components, i.e., family reunification without proper psychosocial support or education and economic opportunities. She considers traditional healing rituals/ceremonies as a possibly vital component of reintegration that is rarely incorporated into reintegration programs. Verhey (2001) suggests that traditional rituals can address the psychosocial issues endured by child soldiers and can provide an acceptance of the child by appeasing and reconciling the child with ancestral spirits. Williamson and Carter (2005) – in research conducted on the IRC’s implementation of Liberian’s reintegration project – also recommend the use of traditional cleansing ceremonies, along with religious support.
The literature, however, did not establish the effectiveness of such measures on the mental health of child soldiers, although they seem to indicate that it does facilitate community acceptance of the child. Williams and Carter (2005) gave contradictory messages, saying that on the one hand consideration of traditional practices is recommended and later stating in the report that not all traditional practices are universally benign and that some are, in fact, harmful; ultimately concluding it is important for an organization (assuming a INGO) to determine what a practice involves before encouraging or supporting it. Again, the literature did not indicate any ill effects nor evaluations of their benefits. It is obvious from the lack of studies that this is an area that warrants further investigation.
Honwana’s (1997) work with traditional healers during Mozambique’s post-war reconstruction offers methods of dealing with trauma that challenge the dominant psychological approaches of Western traditions – psychotherapies using verbal accounts. Rather, religious leaders and traditional healers (curandeiros) organise special purification ceremonies for child (and adult) ex-soldiers as they returned to their communities. They help ex-soldiers deal with their past, as well as serving as a process of forgiveness by the community by way of rituals (Honwana, 1997). This is germaine to understanding community resiliency because Mozambique did not have a formal DDR program because the state and rebel groups did not admit to using child soldiers in combat.
Liberia went through two DDR programs, first in 1997 and then in 2003. The first experience is generally considered a failure because of improper planning by the NGO coordinator, UNICEF, and lack of coordination between relevant actors (Awodala, 2009). The reintegration program in 2003 incorporated more organisations, both local and international such as the Children Assistance Programme (CAP), International Rescue Committee (IRC), Zorzor District for Women and Children Care, Don Bosco Home, United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF), National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (NCDDRR) and other religious organisations.
Whereas the importance of cultural sensitivity in addressing psychosocial problems was largely dismissed in 1997, the 2003 program was said to be more concerned with cultural measures in addressing psychological problems. A deeper and more authentic engagement with the cultures and traditions of Liberian society would have benefited the program, and could have been carried out through greater community involvement in the planning and implementation stages.
Despite the level of relative success, the Liberian experience in 2003 revealed significant under-achievement in terms of the decreasing numbers of former child soldiers in the streets of Monrovia. For example, the three years of educational support which were provided was not enough to see a child through elementary and secondary schools. For skill acquisition, the 2003 experience showed that many of those who completed trainings at vocational centres and were given start up tools, sold them and returned to the street. The implication of the above is that there was faulty isolation of certain needs.
A major criticism has been that former child soldiers were not involved in the design and implementation of reintegration program and as the Awodala (2009) field study shows, former child soldiers were not well educated about the essence of reintegration, which may have led many to be excluded from the process. The Denov (2010) study, however, suggests that many ex-soldiers in Sierra Leone may have chosen not to enter the DDR program to keep their status as an ex-soldier hidden, a major coping strategy to avoid stigma and shame.
The literature indicates that the mental state of child soldiers seems to have been neglected and traditional notions not corrected post-conflict. Medeiros (2007) shares her data collected while working with demobilized child soldiers in Liberia at Handicap International and Médecins du Monde. Essentially these programs – implemented by western psychologists along with local Liberians – provided psycho-social support for demobilized children and youth, aged 11 to 25, using a variety of therapeutic means including theatre, interviews and outreach. Community groups of traditional women and healers (zoes) were also set up when available.
One of the key findings was that the war caused massive upheaval of individual identities and symbolic relationships that had existed prior to the war. Traditional rituals that had been limited to authoritative figures were appropriated during conflict, leading to there no longer being “a symbolic guarantor and the traditional system of meaning that supported and structured its members became only partly possible in the post-conflict situation” (Medeiros, 2007, p. 500).
Medeiros (2007) also outlines the international community responses, initially to deny the complexity of the children’s experiences altogether. He states that few Liberian professionals remained during the conflict and, therefore, those that remained were not formally trained to help children in the interim care centres (ICC) once disarmed. It should be noted that Medeiros calls for psychotherapy and it is not evident whether or not to what extent the community is incorporating local practices now that professionals are returning to Liberia. The literature did not indicate that any mental health standards are being implemented. As the following section shows, there is a growing tendency for the psychological/psychiatric medical model to be implemented in non-Western cultures, which the literature suggests is a disturbing trend in development.
The majority of the literature shows that this is a disconnect between the top-down model and its implementation locally. The formal DDR programs tend to be universally applied, bureaucratic and favored family re-unification over other concerns that leave children vulnerable. Further research needs to be conducted to assess the efficacy and the appropriateness of these particular programs for local populations.