Two years ago Invisible Children launched their “Kony 2012” campaign.
This viral campaign brought attention to the Lord’s Resistance Army, its leader Joseph Kony and the abduction of thousands of children. Two years later we seem to have forgotten all about it. Yet there is still the need for continued support for the thousands of former child soldiers and their affected communities, not to mention the many children being exploited and abducted to this day. The United Nations recently instated their “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign. This campaign seeks to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by national security forces by 2016. Over the next two years there will be increased support to eight government’s efforts to release and reintegrate children into civilian life and end recruitment practices. These eight countries include Afghanistan, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. While this initiative is promising, there are still many difficult issues that have yet to be properly addressed. One of these challenges is the transition from short-term humanitarian aid to long-term development approaches.
I completed my Masters in Public Issues Anthropology and International Development Studies this past fall. My research project examined the benefits and challenges of integrating post-conflict development with reintegration efforts for former child soldiers in northern Uganda. I discussed the challenge of creating what is often described as a “positive environment” for returnees to be reintegrated into. An insecure environment becomes a hindrance for both successful reintegration and post-conflict development. Communities need to be rebuilt so that there is something to be reintegrated into. Children cannot simply be reintegrated into an environment that offers little to no alternative options to involvement in war. Youth must be reintegrated into communities that offer sufficient economic and social support. Reintegration is not as straight forward as simply placing an individual back into their community and providing skills and resources; it requires that the proper environment and rights co-exist.
Research studies and many NGO’s agree that there needs to be a more comprehensive framework that integrates reintegration, rehabilitation, community reconciliation, peace and security and post-conflict development. A significant challenge is in increasing the coordination of these different approaches and creating a comprehensive framework for long-term development. A long-term perspective gives people hope and goals for the future. Short-term assistance, in the form of emergency services that include food aid and medical care, and Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) programs, in the form of psychological and livelihood support, need to transition into long-term development approaches. These development approaches need to include further economic reform and long-term peace, security and post-conflict reconstruction. Reintegration must simultaneously address underlying structural problems such as poverty, hunger, lack of education and employment opportunities and denial of basic human rights before rehabilitation can be successful. Conflict often impairs a society’s longer-term capacity for development and short-term humanitarian aid; which is what many current NGO’s focus on; tends to have little impact on the underlying problems and causes of underdevelopment. However, there is often a lack of long-term funding and interest from donors and organizations. As a result short-term assistance ends up being the only option.
The transition from short-term humanitarian aid to long-term development is just one of the challenges in creating a more safe and secure environment for children. Recent incidents in Nigeria (the abduction of over 200 school girls who remain missing) and South Sudan (the use of approximately 9000 child soldiers in the current civil war) are just two more examples of the need for increased international attention and support for children and their affected communities. Without the proper rights and security in place these kinds of situations are going to keep occurring. Reintegration efforts and short-term humanitarian aid are not enough. DDR programs are not development projects; DDR programs are designed as short-term measures to help communities transition from war to peace. If DDR is to be sustainable and successful in the long-run it needs to be integrated with post-conflict reconstruction and socio-economic development. There needs to be shift from short-term aid to sustainable long-term development. The international community needs to offer continued support. We cannot so easily forget about the victims.