CategoryPost Conflict

Generals for good? Do-good generals and the structural endurance of wartime 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.

Continue reading

West Point – Conflicting perceptions of crime, security and Liberian ex-combatants (by Mariam Persson)

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.

Continue reading

”Even my grandmother would go fighting” (Guest Post by Ilmari Käihkö)

Sitting between houses in a yard close to one of the busiest roads in Monrovia we were seven: six former ”generals”  – a common term used to refer to any rebel commander – of the rebel group LURD and me. Not one of us seems to have much to do, and we spend the whole day under the same tree. One of the generals I know due to a lucky coincidence first leading me to a close relative of his, who in turn led me to him. Through this man I met a few of the other generals. Still a few of the generals present are new faces to me. This seems to matter little, as friendship extend easy to even my new acquaintances. Discussion flows, and my presence is accepted by all of them. By the end of the day I am amazed by the everyday life of my informants, and the ways it differs from the combatants I’ve lived together with in Grand Gedeh County. Continue reading

”Even my grandmother would go fighting” (Guest Post by Ilmari Käihkö)

Sitting between houses in a yard close to one of the busiest roads in Monrovia we were seven: six former ”generals”  – a common term used to refer to any rebel commander – of the rebel group LURD and me. Not one of us seems to have much to do, and we spend the whole day under the same tree. One of the generals I know due to a lucky coincidence first leading me to a close relative of his, who in turn led me to him. Through this man I met a few of the other generals. Still a few of the generals present are new faces to me. This seems to matter little, as friendship extend easy to even my new acquaintances. Discussion flows, and my presence is accepted by all of them. By the end of the day I am amazed by the everyday life of my informants, and the ways it differs from the combatants I’ve lived together with in Grand Gedeh County. Continue reading

Bleak prospects in Ivory Coast: the Third Ivorian War (Guest post by Ilmari Käihkö)

As this researcher packed his things and returned to Monrovia the prospects in Ivory Coast require one more look. While I still regard Ble Goude’s victorious prophecy that I discussed in my previous post false in the sense that toppling Ouattara’s government will prove impossible, there is yet still a possibility that the same prophecy will be fulfilled: if victory is sought in an impossible situation the trick to succeed is to redefine victory. After all, is this not what everybody does? (For one fine contemporary example witness the downgrading of ambition of the US-led ISAF-coalition in Afghanistan) Continue reading

Bleak prospects in Ivory Coast: the Third Ivorian War (Guest post by Ilmari Käihkö)

As this researcher packed his things and returned to Monrovia the prospects in Ivory Coast require one more look. While I still regard Ble Goude’s victorious prophecy that I discussed in my previous post false in the sense that toppling Ouattara’s government will prove impossible, there is yet still a possibility that the same prophecy will be fulfilled: if victory is sought in an impossible situation the trick to succeed is to redefine victory. After all, is this not what everybody does? (For one fine contemporary example witness the downgrading of ambition of the US-led ISAF-coalition in Afghanistan) Continue reading

The logic of staying mobilised – Liberian ex-combatants and the 2011 elections (Guest post by Mariam Persson)

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

“We will be victorious” guest post by Ilmari Käihkö

“We will be victorious” is a famous statement made by the former Ivorian Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude before the elections in Ivory Coast in 2011. This statement soon became iconic when the group Les Galliets adopted it as an intro to its militaristic and anti-imperialistic pro-Gbagbo electoral song called C’est Mais.

As we now know with hindsight, Gbagbo was not victorious in the elections, and equally failed to cling to power in their aftermath. While Gbagbo is awaiting the beginning of his trial at Hague, Ble Goude himself is sought after following cross-border raids to Ivory Coast. Nevertheless, the song remains as popular as ever among the supporters of the former president, many of whom currently reside in the refugee camps and their environs in the Grand Gedeh county of the neighboring Liberia. Continue reading

Has Grand Gedeh County become a frontline? Guest post by Ilmari Käihkö on the situation in the Liberian borderlands

Recent weeks in Grand Gedeh following the cross-border attack to Ivory Coast have been interesting. After the arrival of the “Joint security” consisting of the Armed Forces of Liberia, the armed Emergency Response Unit (ERU) of the Liberian National Police and the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, the city was transformed into an armed camp overnight. While not a new phenomenon, the white United Nations choppers landing to and rising from the airport only enhanced the mood that something was happening.

A police officer stationed in Zwedru spoke his mind about the new forces sent from Monrovia: he was concerned about the possibility of these forces harassing local citizens, which could lead to serious problems due to reasons found in the recent history of the country. Everybody in Zwedru remembers how the security forces of the now imprisoned former President Charles Taylor harassed people in Southeastern Liberia. Continue reading

Update on the situation in Eastern Liberia and Western Ivory Coast (guest post by Ilmari Käihkö)

Following the attack from Liberian soil to Ivory Coast that resulted in the deaths of seven peacekeepers from Niger working under the United Nations flag as well as a number of Ivorian civilians and military an update is in order. While my previous post explained the general situation, the targeting of UN peacekeepers requires some further explanation.

I got the news about the attack immediately from my supervisor in Sweden, who had learned about it from the Swedish television on the morning after it had been executed. During the day I must have asked around 50 people about their reactions and thoughts concerning the incident. Not one was aware that it had even taken place. Only on the second day information had begun to trickle down to Zwedru, mainly from the Ivory Coast. Continue reading

© 2020 Mats Utas

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑