Eastleigh, Nairobi is pictured as a good area for Somali refugees in media and in UNHCR reports. The migrant Somali population in Eastleigh has developed trade networks and made it a commercial area with major significance not only in East Africa but also globally. According to a report from 2012, by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), asylum seekers and refugees are surprisingly independent and integrated into the socio-economic life in Nairobi. The estate is considered a good area for refugees because of possibilities to socio-economic activities and according to the report, the profile of Eastleigh refugees is “one of incredible resilience and ability to survive in the face of significant odds” (UNHCR 2012). Continue reading
One of Charles Taylor’s best known and most eloquent defenders is John T. Richardson, a Liberian architect, who continues to speak with the former Liberian President two to three times a week. Richardson, an American trained architect who launched his career in the 1970s, winning contracts from the African Development Bank, USAID, and the World Bank to construct rural schools and hospitals across Liberia, became an international pariah several decades later when he was placed on a UN travel ban during the last years of the Taylor administration, which he served in various capacities.
Today, Richardson operates from a cramped but well decorated office in a gated compound just off Tubman Boulevard, the main thoroughfare of Monrovia. His father, Nathaniel Richardson, was one of Liberia’s greatest historians of the era when the country was dominated by the True Whig Party (TWP) and the descendants of black American immigrants (in which both Taylor and Richardson have their roots). Although the younger Richardson states, “I have no ambitions politically” he came, as a result of a self-described humanitarian impulse, to play a major role in the calamitous struggle to shape post TWP Liberia, serving as a loyal adviser to Taylor throughout Liberia’s 14 years of armed conflict. Continue reading
“I miss dancing” a friend of mine says sometime in late June. “What?” I reply, thinking I must have misheard him. “I miss dancing”, he hesitates a bit “…and information [independent media]”. I can’t help laughing “Well one is very important for democracy, the other … not so much” I claim. But then again he has a point. At this stage Bujumbura has been in turmoil for almost two months, he lives in a turbulent neighbourhood, I don’t, but we are all already very tired. People just want their regular lives back, and being able to enjoy life, not just live it. Unfortunately this is not to happen in 2015. Continue reading
The presence of large groups of ex-combatants is often seen as a major challenge to post-civil war stability. Experiences of ex-fighters engaging in different forms of violence have prompted policy-makers and scholars (and to be frank, at times also myself) to ‘securitize’ the ex-combatant issue. This has particularly been true concerning the phenomenon of informal military networks. The sight of ex-fighters interacting with their former commanders, often on a daily basis, is commonly seen as a direct threat to the post-war order, especially since such ties should – according to official disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) jargon – cease to exist. It is true that ex-combatant networks can, and have been, employed for detrimental purposes. Officially dismantled command structures have, for instance, been used for wartime purposes in Macedonia, Mali, the Republic of Congo and Tajikistan; electoral violence in Aceh (Indonesia), Niger Delta (Nigeria) and Sierra Leone; riots in Liberia and Mozambique; and organized violence in Columbia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone. However, recent research has also highlighted how ex-command structures provide vital social services that can further peace and stability. Informal military networks do, for instance, constitute an important source of employment, friendship and security for many ex-combatants. Continue reading
Norway is rarely an issue of debate in Nigeria, but on Sunday 14th December 2014, every major online newspaper in the country published articles about the sale of Norwegian warships to a security company controlled by a former Niger Delta militant. The main issues raised was not only why Norway had sold seven warships to former Niger Delta militant, but equally important what consequences this would have for the tense and possibly violent elections 14th February next year. Continue reading
The conflict that broke out in Northern Mali in January 2012 delayed yet again a long awaited return to the place where I had undertaken fieldwork, and long before that, spent one whole year of my adolescence. While my parents worked for a Norwegian NGO, I lived for one year in the then drought-stricken town of Gossi making friends that were now eagerly awaiting my return. More than one year after the French intervention drove the Islamists back to the fringes of Northern Mali, it was finally considered safe for me to set out towards Gossi. That is, my best friend initially very much wanted me to come, but was soon discouraged by his father and younger brother, who no longer lived in Northern Mali, but in the capital Bamako. The younger brother, a captain in the National Guard, frequently went to North Africa on training missions, and during the conflict was sent there by the military authorities to keep him out of harm’s way when he, as a Malian Arab, risked being conflated with the rebels, who were predominantly Tuareg. In fact, his entire family, whether in Northern or Southern Mali, fled to Burkina Faso during the conflict. Visibly shaken by his own experiences and by what had befallen others, the father urged me not to go lest I be abducted. These days, he said, conflicts between different communities had created so much bad blood that people might designate a person connected to a rival group as a potential kidnap victim only for the sake of inflicting harm upon them. Continue reading
As the sun goes down in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the sound of tropical birds and insects is slowly overtaken by the groaning hums of an army of small Chinese-made generators. They each light up a few light bulbs and a transistor, creating the much-valued ambiance for which Congo is well-known—an ambiance that is consistently lubricated with fair amounts of Congo’s finest beer, the eternal leader Primus. Sweet-voiced Lingala phrases and guitar riffs from the blown speakers pay playful homage to the bliss that the beer has brought the country; as the melodies bounce off the faintly illuminated hand-painted Primus ads all over the country, they form a pleasant multisensory immersion into Congo’s soul. Just like you can get a Coca-Cola everywhere in the world, so you can get a Primus everywhere in Congo. In addition to its contracts with celebrity singers, the brewery has exclusive deals with 68.857 bars in Congo, which carry Primus-branded tables, chairs, and ashtrays. Hand-painted signs for Primus seem to paper every surface in the DRC, making Bralima’s slogan Toujours Leader! (‘Always the Leader!’) into the most-read phrase in the country.
Last week, the International Crisis Group (ICG) published a new report on the eastern DRC in which it zooms in on a conflict over customary power in the Ruzizi Plain (Uvira territory, South Kivu). Apparently, ICG no longer tries to weigh in on broader diplomatic, political and military developments in the DRC, like the recently signed Framework Agreement and the current army restructuring process, but has decided to focus uniquely on conflict dynamics at the micro level. This choice reflects ICG’s understanding of the “root causes” of violence in the eastern DRC, which it describes as “local competition between communities for land and economic opportunities” (p.i). As the report concludes: “far from the national and regional preoccupations of the national government and the United Nations, ethnic spaces are being redrawn by violence” (p.24). In order to prove this point, the report subsequently presents an “anatomy” of the conflict around the customary chiefdom of the Ruzizi Plain, portraying it as primarily resulting from ethnic tensions between the (“immigrant”) Barundi and the (“autochthon”) Bafuliro that have existed since the colonial era.
In the aftermath of civil wars there is a general belief that old command structures of former rebel movements and militias is a serious threat to newfound stability. Indeed there is enough evidence around pointing out how easily remobilized such networks are. There is however a tendency of viewing this mobilization as the very logic of the networks themselves – as if their very raison d’être is to create eternal conflict. The problem with this hackneyed focus on armed groups is that we are letting the leading political characters that acted behind the façade of the armed groups off the hook. In any DDR process a lot of effort is placed on dismantling chains of command, command and control etc., of armed groups. Despite this, ten years after the end of the second Liberian war contacts between commanders and their former soldiers still prevail, yet most commonly for non-military reasons. Indeed some networks of ex-combatants have disappeared but many others remain. It appears that what the DDR process chiefly managed to do was to drive the networks underground and out of sight of the international community.