Journal Issue

War to Peace Transition in Uganda

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
January 1993
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The end of the Cold War has brought an end to many of the armed conflicts (Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Namibia) that disrupted the African continent during the past decade. It has also fostered political liberalization (Benin, the Gambia, Mali, Namibia, and Zambia). Together with the economic transformation that is taking place in many African countries, these political adjustments offer the opportunity for governments to reallocate scarce resources from national security to social and economic development.

One country—Uganda—has already begun a reallocation process, reducing the share of defense expenditures in total public expenditures to a budgeted 16.7 percent in fiscal year 1993 from 31.2 percent in fiscal 1990. The country plans to achieve this reallocation by demobilizing 50,000 soldiers over a three-year period beginning in 1993. During fiscal 1993 alone, Uganda’s transition from war to peace is expected to reap a “peace dividend” equivalent to about $14 million.

A review of Uganda’s demobilization program and its progress to date demonstrates that while the war to peace transition holds the promise of recapturing substantial resources for development, it also presents the same transitory social and economic development problems of any transformation and adjustment process. As a case study, Uganda’s experience with demobilization offers unique guidance for other governments that will be seeking to set their countries on the path to economic and political modernization.


Uganda’s National Resistance Movement (NRM), which came to power in 1986, inherited a country whose economy and society had been devastated by fifteen years of civil strife. But since 1986, the NRM and its military arm, the National Resistance Army (NRA), have been moving the country toward social and economic reconstruction and development. In 1987, the government launched a program of stabilization, economic recovery, and structural adjustment that resulted in a marked improvement in economic performance, including real GDP growth of about 5 percent annually and a reduction in inflation to less than 15 percent. These economic adjustments, coupled with ongoing reforms in public sector finance and management, have resulted in the need to cushion the impact of civil service reform on large numbers of retrenched civil servants, which is being accomplished through the provision of a transitory safety net.

On a parallel track, demobilization of the NRA is releasing large numbers of potentially vulnerable persons and their families into a relatively hostile labor market. Many of these soldiers have no home beyond the NRA. little experience of civilian life, no savings, and few marketable skills (Table 1). If they are simply discharged from the military, experience from other parts of Africa—and within Uganda itself—suggests that they could resort to banditry and other forms of unlawful behavior to provide for themselves and their families, further burdening a very weak economy and undermining the country’s hard-won stability. Recognizing that demobilized soldiers would constitute a “specially disadvantaged group,” the government decided to establish a Veterans Assistance Program (VAP) to facilitate their integration into the civilian economy.

Table 1A typical NRA veteran
• male. 20-30 years old
• married, with 2.17 dependents
• primary school education, semi-literate, unskilled
• intends to earn living as peasant farmer
• few personal possessions: no housing
• 30 percent chance of serious medical disability, including HIV infection

Veterans Assistance Program

Uganda’s demobilization program aims to provide a transitory safety net linked to a longer-term program of reintegration into a productive civilian life.

Program planning and underlying assumptions. The first step in creating the VAP was to undertake a needs assessment. Three feasibility studies were carried out by local consultants, covering:

  • a profile of the personal characteristics and post-demobilization aspirations of military personnel;

  • the structure and cost of near- and longer-term reintegration programs; and

  • the structure and cost of administrative arrangements.

A primary objective of the demobilization program was to create a peace dividend that could be applied to priority economic sectors, so new soldiers will not be recruited to replace those released from the NRA. Demobilization will represent a permanent net reduction-in-force, and veterans will not be eligible for employment in either commercial activities run by the military or the civil service.

The program covers the veteran and his immediate family (a “vulnerable social unit”), not just individual soldiers, thus increasing the number of potential beneficiaries to over 70,000. It anticipates that this approach will also smooth the transition to civilian life and community reintegration.

Benefits are being provided to veterans in their home districts, thereby spreading the social costs of reintegration among as many communities as possible. This is intended to encourage veterans to find employment in these areas, rather than congregating in Kampala or other urban centers, and to reduce the risk of large groups of former soldiers disrupting law and order.

Other features of the program are:

  • it will be administered by civilians;

  • it will include a monitoring and beneficiary assessment program to ensure that benefits are used as intended;

  • community services will be enhanced in the home communities to accommodate the additional needs and to provide an incentive to these communities; and

  • veterans and their families will receive a mixture of cash and in-kind benefits to keep the administrative and logistical burden to a minimum.

Program structure, objectives, and design. Following the recommendation of the third feasibility study, the government decided to implement the VAP in three stages: assem-

bly and discharge; demobilization; and reintegration. The first phase, handled by the army, occurs over a minimum period of two to three days in central assembly points in various regions of the country. The second phase of demobilization provides the transport and settling-in benefits. The latter are spread over time (six months) and location (discharge point and home district) to ensure that they will be available when actually required and used as intended, as well as to encourage veterans to settle in rural areas. The final phase, reintegration, incorporates the longer-term social adjustment, training, and employment programs.

Preparing for demobilization. Although Uganda had hoped to demobilize some 30,000 soldiers by October 1992, the government soon recognized that it would be unwise to discharge soldiers before the VAP was in place to support their transition to civilian life. It therefore decided that Phase I of the demobilization would not begin until the VAP administrative structure was ready to function.

On October 20, 1992, the legislation creating the VAP was approved by the National Resistance Council. By mid-November, the first group of soldiers to be demobilized had been identified by name, rank, and home district, and the preparation of a computerized personnel management system and discharge documentation began. Plans were also in place to move the soldiers from their units to assembly points, and assembly points had been provided with requisite shelter, water supply, and sanitation facilities. By mid-December, the remainder of the administrative structure had been readied (see box), and a detailed plan for administering and monitoring entitlements to veterans at the district level had been devised.

The financial management and control systems were operational by mid-December. In addition to local staff, external auditors were recruited to insure total program transparency and accountability. Since most of the entitlements for veterans were to be in the form of cash payable through local banks, it was imperative to ensure that the banking system was capable of establishing individual accounts for each veteran in a timely fashion throughout the country. Finally, the details pertaining to the transportation of veterans to their home districts were ironed out, and contracts were signed with transport companies.

Program implementation

Severe budget constraints meant that Uganda was unable to implement the Veterans Assistance Program without external financial support. At a meeting in Kampala in September 1992, several donors, including the World Bank, agreed to finance Phase I of the program, covering up to 23,000 soldiers (plus some 50,000 dependents), at an estimated cost of $19.4 million. This was some 7,000 fewer soldiers than originally planned for the first round because the time needed to identify potential veterans (volunteers, the ill and disabled, and redundant personnel) was longer than originally planned.

Phase I funding covers six months of settling-in assistance for each veteran and his dependents plus creation of the VAP administrative structure, including monitoring and evaluation functions. An additional $5 million was pledged for a longer-term training and skills development program.

Disarmament and discharge. The NRA is responsible for delivering soldiers to assembly points, and for disarming and discharging them. The Army command has promised that no veteran will remain in possession of any military equipment whatsoever to allay fears among the public that the demobilization program will result in increased law and order violations. As proof of veteran status, upon discharge, each soldier is issued a non-negotiable identification document and an entitlement contract. These documents not only enable the veteran to receive settling-in entitlements but also include a statement of the rights of inheritance for next of kin.

The settling-in package. Upon discharge, veterans receive a subsistence allowance to enable them to purchase civilian clothing, food, medicines, and other basic necessities for the journey. Once they arrive in their home districts, they receive additional short-term demobilization assistance and in-kind building materials. The second and last installment of entitlements provided under the six-month settling-in program are transferred to the veteran approximately 2½ months after the first payment. Parent Teacher Association school fees for up to two children for a period of one year are also paid by the DVO directly to the school (Table 2).

Table 2Settling-in package
Cash payments$490Clothing, lood. and medical allowances; transition per diem; agricultural and building allowances.
In-kind payments$228Roofing materials; school fees; transportation to home district; community social services.
Total value$718Distributed over six months.

According to the troop profile developed in the spring of 1992, two thirds of all NRA soldiers would like to take up farming. The working assumption of the VAP is that most will do so, at least for a period immediately following demobilization, making access to land crucial to the VAP’s success. While only 30 percent of Uganda’s arable land is currently in use, some districts may have difficulty in providing veterans with land. This will be particularly true where the soil is of moderate or poor quality or land is used extensively—for cattle raising, for example. District administrators and DVOs in these areas have been instructed to attempt to resolve land problems locally, but to report to the VAP Board if it proves impossible to find a solution at the district level.

Longer-term reintegration

The VAP assumes that veterans will be able to provide their own subsistence at the end of the six-month settling-in period. Given the educational, skill, and medical backgrounds of many veterans, however, additional targeted assistance will be necessary if ex-soldiers and their families are to become productive members of their new communities. The VAP thus plans to give particular attention to strengthening social services, providing a community support network for job and personal counseling, helping veterans gain access to productive assets and skills, and sensitizing the communities to the needs of veterans.

Social services. Half of the 23,000 soldiers to be demobilized in 1993 are being discharged because they are socially maladjusted, medically ill (including those with AIDS), or disabled. The current capacities of basic social services in many of the communities are likely to be insufficient to handle this additional burden. Communities with limited capacity in social services and a large number of returning veterans will, therefore, receive special assistance. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector agencies have been contracted to provide additional testing, counseling, and treatment during the first six-month settling-in period; these services will be extended in subsequent phases of demobilization if the efforts prove necessary and effective.

To combat the perception that veterans are receiving unjustified priority in the delivery of social services, these additional programs will be available to all members of the community. Equally important, existing testing, counseling, and treatment capacities will be strengthened, rather than supplemented by parallel services, as long as they accurately reflect local needs. In addition, the NGOs and other organizations will enhance local capacities to deliver such services by training staff. This social development dimension of the program is critical to reducing the stigma and fear often associated with ex-combatants and to closing the potential social distance between existing community members and returning veterans.

Job counseling, training, and access to productive assets. NRA veterans will have a wide variety of training and job counseling requirements. Although most intend to take up farming, many veterans do not possess adequate skills or knowledge to move beyond subsistence agriculture. Nonfarm employment opportunities will be limited by the veterans’ lack of civilian sector employment experience, formal education, and marketable skills.

The feasibility study for the long-term reintegration package suggested a number of options, ranging from adult literacy courses and local informal vocational training to more formal technical courses at established training centers. Short-term technical training courses in carpentry, weaving, tailoring, welding, metal fabrication, bricklaying, agriculture, and fisheries may be administered through a training voucher system in which each veteran would receive vouchers usable at selected training institutions. Such an approach would enable consumer choice and flexibility, thus promoting a more “demand driven” and presumably relevant supply of training response.

NRA veterans also have few, if any, financial resources to fall back on and will require access to credit and other services to facilitate their entry into farming or to support the establishment of small enterprises. Participation in ongoing development projects, run either by the government or by NGOs, can provide some of the necessary support. It has also been suggested that a special credit scheme be established to support NRA veterans seeking to produce food and cash crops, raise livestock, or engage in fishing.

Sensitizing the community. To allay the concerns of communities receiving veterans and to sensitize community members to the special needs of veterans and their families, district veterans officers met with community leaders before veterans arrived in a community to explain the demobilization program, hear their concerns, and seek their assistance. Such meetings are expected to occur frequently over the life of the demobilization program. Other community-based projects are planned, including information and reconciliation workshops, measures designed to promote mutual trust, and counseling.

A successful beginning

Phase I of the demobilization program has been implemented efficiently to date. Between December 18, 1992, and April 1, 1993, some 20,000 soldiers (and their families) were discharged from the NRA and demobilized to their home villages.

The budgeting, financing, expenditure, and auditing of Phase I was also implemented essentially as planned. Only a few problems arose, and the VAP was seeking to address them: temporary homelessness, loss of discharge papers and cash payments, and AIDS-related deaths. There have only been a few instances of veterans committing criminal offenses, and these are being handled through the civilian criminal system.

Contracts were awarded for the staff development and the monitoring and evaluation programs by late February. The monitoring and beneficiary assessment program will provide feedback to management for program improvement; analyze the impact of the program on retrenched soldiers, their families, and their communities; evaluate the budgetary impact of the program; and provide information for the design of the second phase demobilization and longer-term reintegration programs. The staff development program trains the key im-plementers and managers of the program in their duties and responsibilities, problem solving and counseling techniques, communication skills, and management and administrative requirements.

At a two-day workshop for district veteran officers in early March, the experience of the first three months of Phase I was reviewed, and DVOs were trained in advisory and referral techniques as well as in methods for solving problems such as access to land and receipt of entitlements. In addition, by the end of February, communities were being helped to strengthen their basic services for veterans who are disabled, socially maladjusted, or suffering from AIDS.

By early March, the VAP executive secretariat had prepared a draft program for the longer-term economic reintegration of veterans. It is anticipated that this program, essentially oriented toward training and employment, will begin by the end of the first six-month period with financing from the German Government. This reintegration program may also be available to the estimated 20,000 plus ex-combatants of former struggles in Uganda who self-demobilized earlier. The executive secretariat has also prepared a plan for a Phase II demobilization of 10,000 soldiers, which will be discussed with donors in August 1993, following the monitoring and evaluation of the first phase demobilization.

Fad or new product?

World Bank participation in this bold demobilization experiment raises questions about the potential role of the donor community in such endeavors. While its roots are political, war to peace transition holds the promise of providing additional resources for development. Technically, it presents the donor community with the same transitory social and economic development problems of any transformation and adjustment process, be it industrial conversion, protection of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, or the provision of a safety net for the human casualties of parastatal and civil service reform.

Containing defense expenditures through measures to improve efficiency—including improving financial management, auditing, and accounting systems—could contribute to the release of budgetary resources for more productive development purposes. But the overall reduction in force will have the greatest impact, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where the bulk of military expenditure is not on weapons but on personnel.

The Ugandan experience suggests that with careful planning it is possible for African governments to demobilize their oversized armies without social disruption and without undermining security. The savings from reduced military expenditures can contribute significantly to social expenditures of general benefit.

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