CategoryMid-Level Commanders

The Ties that Bind: Ex-Military Command Structures as a Foundation for Peace or Source for Insecurity? by Anders Themnér

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

Once a General, always a General?

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?

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Informal networks and excombatants: brief meeting report from Liberia

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.

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Hunting generals in Grand Gedeh

One of the fascinating things with a society like the Liberian is that with quite little effort you can meet with people all the way up in the hierarchies. This goes for former rebel groups as well. Some of the top brass officers did not shy away from meeting us in Monrovia. In Grand Gedeh it proved a bit more difficult.  Allegations of training camps, where old and new soldiers were supposedly gathering to prepare for incursions in either Liberia or neighboring Ivory Cost had recently led to the arrests of some former MODEL people. Even if nobody seemed to really know which country was meant to be targeted, everybody knew and talked about it when we reached to Zwedru, the county capital of Grand Gedeh. Obviously it made former generals slightly apprehensive talking to us. Some even said that when they heard that we were looking for them they initially ran away because of fear. In their eyes a European researcher is likely to be connected to the Liberian government, at least from their perspective both appear equally remote and intruding. However after entering into conversation and when we were given time to explain ourselves most let go of their doubts. One thing however that they really wanted us to highlight was that there are no training camps in Grand Gedeh and, for rather obvious reasons, there is no need to train for already trained and seasoned rebel soldiers. Having heard ample training camp rumors before, for instance in Sierra Leone, and knowing how soldiers are mobilized into rebel armies, I agree with them, camps is if anything an obstacle for efficient mobilization of troops in a semi-policed setting like Grand Gedeh, unless the government itself has their stake in it. The presence of camps in Grand Gedeh today is highly unlikely. Yet one should be reminded of the volatile situation on the Ivorian side of the border and from the Liberian side small armed groups have crossed the border into Ivory Coast and attacked villages. Such cross-border attacks are however extremely rare and also most surely appear in isolation. Continue reading

Hunting generals in Grand Gedeh

One of the fascinating things with a society like the Liberian is that with quite little effort you can meet with people all the way up in the hierarchies. This goes for former rebel groups as well. Some of the top brass officers did not shy away from meeting us in Monrovia. In Grand Gedeh it proved a bit more difficult.  Allegations of training camps, where old and new soldiers were supposedly gathering to prepare for incursions in either Liberia or neighboring Ivory Cost had recently led to the arrests of some former MODEL people. Even if nobody seemed to really know which country was meant to be targeted, everybody knew and talked about it when we reached to Zwedru, the county capital of Grand Gedeh. Obviously it made former generals slightly apprehensive talking to us. Some even said that when they heard that we were looking for them they initially ran away because of fear. In their eyes a European researcher is likely to be connected to the Liberian government, at least from their perspective both appear equally remote and intruding. However after entering into conversation and when we were given time to explain ourselves most let go of their doubts. One thing however that they really wanted us to highlight was that there are no training camps in Grand Gedeh and, for rather obvious reasons, there is no need to train for already trained and seasoned rebel soldiers. Having heard ample training camp rumors before, for instance in Sierra Leone, and knowing how soldiers are mobilized into rebel armies, I agree with them, camps is if anything an obstacle for efficient mobilization of troops in a semi-policed setting like Grand Gedeh, unless the government itself has their stake in it. The presence of camps in Grand Gedeh today is highly unlikely. Yet one should be reminded of the volatile situation on the Ivorian side of the border and from the Liberian side small armed groups have crossed the border into Ivory Coast and attacked villages. Such cross-border attacks are however extremely rare and also most surely appear in isolation. Continue reading

Hunting generals and a few other things

“Look there is a general”, shouts our assistant, and we all get out of the car to extend greetings with a rather surprised former general with mild looking eyes. We are in Zwedru, the capital of Grand Gedeh County in Eastern Liberia, for a few days doing research former commanders and their roles in the post-war and former generals of MODEL are not too hard to find in Zwedru. However they are afraid to talk as it has been rumored for some time that there are training camps in the county and the police have arrested some former combatants allegedly have something to do with that. “But why should we train?” some former generals ask, “we are already properly trained”. Last year’s election in Liberia created some tensions in the country, between the ruling UP party and the oppositional party CDC. Grand Gedeh is a CDC stronghold. Grand Gedehians also point out that they were loyal and militarily active in pushing Charles Taylor and his regime out of the country but have not received any thanks and benefits from the current government. Their county remains very much marginal in Liberian politics as well as economy. To make the situation more delicate many inhabitants spent long stints of the war years on the other side of the border in Côte d’Ivoire (C.I.) or have relatives there. The change of government in C.I., a government that many Grand Gedehians supported, meant that both Liberians and Ivoirians residing on the Ivorian side had to run away from property and livelihood to take refuge on Liberian territory. Today they say that Burkinabes, but in reality it is people from the north of C.I, have taken over the prosperous plantation economy in C.I., whilst about 69.000 refugees of Ivorian origin and a large but unknown number of Liberians were forced into Liberia. This is naturally creating tension. These are some of the topics that I intend to publish on my blog over the next few days. Findings are temporary and originate from my last research trip in Liberia.

Off to Liberia

What is the role of former military commanders in Liberian politics? With this question in my mind I am today leaving for Liberia on a ten-day field study. The second round of the presidential election is of course a great opportunity to study the role of ex-military networks in the democratic process.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf seems to be heading for a certain victory in the election’s second round after former warlord Prince Johnson openly stated his support for the sitting president. Under any circumstances most of his supporters would place their vote on Johnson Sirleaf. Prince Johnson enjoys strong support in the Nimba county whose population during the civil war was engaged in a conflict with a population group from southern Liberia. Johnson Sirleaf’s opponent Winston Tubman, with support mainly in the south, is viewed as a dangerous force by many people in the north. Continue reading

Off to Liberia

What is the role of former military commanders in Liberian politics? With this question in my mind I am today leaving for Liberia on a ten-day field study. The second round of the presidential election is of course a great opportunity to study the role of ex-military networks in the democratic process.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf seems to be heading for a certain victory in the election’s second round after former warlord Prince Johnson openly stated his support for the sitting president. Under any circumstances most of his supporters would place their vote on Johnson Sirleaf. Prince Johnson enjoys strong support in the Nimba county whose population during the civil war was engaged in a conflict with a population group from southern Liberia. Johnson Sirleaf’s opponent Winston Tubman, with support mainly in the south, is viewed as a dangerous force by many people in the north. Continue reading

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