“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
In the recent report of the United Nations (UN) Security Council Panel of Experts on Liberia the authors express a stern warning concerning the dangers posed by former combatants for the cross-border security in the Mano River belt. According to the Panel of Experts, these former combatants in Liberia “present in remote border regions… live in semi-organized autonomous groups outside of any State authority, often under the direct influence of former ‘generals’ who commanded rebel factions during the Liberian civil conflict”.[i]
I acquired the report less than a week after returning from Liberia, where I’ve spent more than ten months during the past two years investigating networks of former combatants as a part of my PhD research. The bulk of my fieldwork has been conducted in the Southeastern Grand Gedeh County, which is also the area the Panel of Experts focus on due to the recent cross-border attacks from Grand Gedeh to Ivory Coast. Because I am most familiar with this setting, and because the report obviously focuses on Grand Gedeh, I will also concentrate on the county.
We just launched a new website with images and texts from Freetown, Sierra Leone. The site is a platform for both a photo exhibition: Pentagon (photos and texts from my fieldwork) and a film: Jew-Man Business (directed by Maya Christensen, filmed by Christian Vium and produced by me). The new website has been created by Hanna Berhanusdotter who has been an academic intern at NAI. Please have a look: http://www.economyofthestreet.com/
This is a somewhat adapted English version of my text “Im Frieden hilft der General” published in the latest Issue of Welt-sichten (October 2013, pp. 45-47). see http://www.welt-sichten.org/personen/18332/mats-utas
One of the central aspects of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs in post-conflict settings is to break the ties between rebel commanders and their soldiers so as to make remobilization more difficult and reintegration into civilian life easier. I have over the past 17 years conducted research with ex-combatants in Liberia and Sierra Leone, two small West African countries still recovering from years of brutal rebel warfare. I have in both countries built up close relationships with former combatants and therefore dug deeper into the realities of commander/soldier networks and the socio-political realities wherein they exist. Questions I will ask in this text centers around DDR and the breaking of commander/soldier networks and I will try to answer three interdependent questions: Who benefits from this breaking of networks? And contrary in whose interest is the maintenance of these networks? Is it at all feasible, or even desirable for post-war societies to break these networks?
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.
Chaos is something we tend to see when we don’t understand how things work. Chaos is what we think we witness when we forget to take our time to listen to people’s stories, and let fear and excitement lead us in our hunt for sensational war stories.
I struggle to keep up with Adam today. He is walking fast and Will and I have to hurry along the narrow alley-ways between the small zinc houses and sheds not to lose sight of him. We have to squeeze ourselves between women cooking for their families, children playing in the small open spaces and chasing each other between the houses. I apologise for being in the way and for just walking in where women are preparing food, people are having their meals or taking a rest. Most people just give me friendly smiles back and continue with their business. A few look a bit surprised to see a stranger there but most don’t bother at all. I try to focus on where Adam is going so he won’t have to wait for us on every corner, but I haven’t seen Will in a long time and we get caught up in our conversation as usual and Adam patiently has to wait. Adam turns left and right along narrow paths between the cramped houses. I turn to Will and joke about whether Adam actually knows where he is going. Will laughs and admits that he has no idea where we are either. But Adam knows his way around here. He used to live here for some years just after the war. For me West Point still is a maze. I had only been in this community a few times since I first started to visit Monrovia some years ago. Situated on a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean this township of the Liberian capital wasn’t a place one often just passed by without any particular errand. However, doing research on what I call ‘post-war rebel networks’, ex-combatants who had preserved their links to each other after the war came to an end, it was maybe a bit strange that my research hadn’t brought me to this township that often in the past, judging from its reputation of being inhabited by so many ex-combatants. But my informants had been residing elsewhere. I only recently had begun to spend more time in West Point.
Networks of Big Men become alternative governance structures in states where formal governance structures are weak. This is especially the case in post-war societies. With a specific focus on Liberia the outcome of this was discussed at a meeting organized by the Swedish Embassy and UNMIL in Monrovia. The SRSG to Liberia, Liberian ministers, UN staff and ambassadors where among the sixty participants of a two hour seminar on March 6, 2013. Gun Eriksson Skoog and Mats Utas from the institute together with Mariam Persson Swedish National Defence College/Kings College London gave a lecture that was followed by a lively discussion by an informed crowd.
In most post-conflict countries much is at stake and tensions are high during elections. The Liberian 2011 elections were no exception. The difference between winning and losing can be huge, because in Liberia the winner takes it all. But here I’m not talking about the presidential candidates, the winner incumbent president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf or her main antagonist Winston Tubman. The political elite will always find ways to survive no matter the electoral turnout. Here I’m talking about the followers, Liberians (in this case, ex-combatants) far from the privileged elite who gave their loyalty to the competing candidates with hopes and dreams about a better future. Two years earlier, in July 2009, the formal closure of the Demobilisation, Disarmament, Rehabilitation and Reintegration process had been announced – which if successful – would have implied former combatants’ reintegration into civil society and the dismantling of rebel networks. But the election period was yet another evidence of remaining rebel structures still used for political purposes, despite all official initiatives of demobilisation and reintegration. It revealed how very important it is for many ex-combatants to become what they regard as ‘politically active’, but more so, it highlighted the importance of supporting the ‘right’ candidate, to wit, the next president. While elections can be advantageous for ex-combatants, giving loyalty to the losing candidate can be devastating. The experiences of Alex and Michael illustrate this. Michael, a former LURD commander, managed to secure important political connections leading all the way up to president Johnson Sirleaf. Alex, a former vigilante leader, established a network of ex-combatants later mobilised by Tubman during his election campaign. For Alex and Michael and ex-combatants around them, with few opportunities in a post-war society, the elections were crucial. But while their political engagement was on the one side very beneficial it was for the losing side disastrous. Continue reading