Archive for October, 2011
Research indicates that there were so many differences among the ex-combatants in Sierra Leone, which serve as a stumbling block to both the DDR programs and the reintegration of ex-combatants in the country. There were strong differences across factions, such as Civil Defense Forces (CDF), Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Sierra Leone army in the ease with which individual reintegrated. Close to 75% CDF fighters returned to their communities of origin before the war started. Only 34% of RUF combatants returned home (Report, Ministry of defense Sierra Leone). Importantly, people who were abducted by these groups were on average less likely to go home to their own communities than individuals who claimed to join voluntarily. These decisions can be explained in part by wiliness of communities to accept returned fighters. 13% of all combatants reported difficulties in finding acceptance from their neighbors at the end of the war. In communities where they easily accepted the ex-combatants, most of them are engaged on socio-economic activities such as farming, petty trading, commercial motor bike riding in the bigger towns and cities, skilled workers such as carpenters and subsistence farmers. If the reintegration process is reverse in different direction, there will be prospect for sustainable peace and development.
Research indicates that non-state armed groups of different type dominate or play an active role during and after armed conflict on two folds: First, they are responsible for violence against unarmed civilians and for the establishment of criminal and informal shadow economies. Next to that, non-state armed groups are often the result of socio-economic and political hindrance in post conflict Sierra Leone. Non-state armed groups sometimes serve as a major challenge for peace building and reconciliation in post conflict countries including Sierra Leone, depending on their situation; they may even serve as both spoilers’ and governance actors. The reintegration of ex-combatants in to society is one of the main problems currently confronting Sierra Leone after the eleven years civil war. During the civil war, combatants in general committed serious crime and atrocities against unarmed civilians, including the very ones in their areas of operation and their home communities. The behavior of committing violence created suspicion and total fear about the prospect of ex-combatants trying to rebuild their lives in the various communities. The reintegration process has so many flaws, despite the intervention of external aid. The Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) were targeting ex-combatants with short-term reintegration programs, but due to the limited fund, long-term reintegration is being held back. There are so many concerns regarding the prospects of finding employment for ex-combatants vis-à-vis their current role in consolidating the hard won peace. DDR programs concentrated more on the ex-combatants than their various communities of origin or communities where they committed major atrocities. The above anomaly brought about some criticisms that the past reintegration efforts were not properly carried out for sustainable peace building and development. Ms Beatrice Pouligny, a senior researcher at the Centre d’ e’tudes et de recherches internationals (CERD) in France, argued that an ‘’approach which focuses on ‘individual’ incentives may miss the broader ‘collective’ dimension’’. Ex-combatants ‘’cannot be considered without taking their families and social ties in to account’’. The country is poor, unemployment is a major challenge among the youth population. The issue of unemployed ex-combatants, who have no means of earning their daily bread, are susceptible to recruitment by criminal gangs or future armed factions. DDR program in Sierra Leone excluded combatants who did not hand over weapon, especially women and children. By October 2002, 56,751 out a total of 75,000 ex-combatants including child soldiers registered for reintegration. Out of the above figure 14,220 completed skill training and 19,073 were in on-going training, leaving out a remaining load of 23,458, (DDR report).
For some of the ex-combatants who managed to go through various trainings, such as schooling or vocational training, their future is not assured due to the high level of unemployment in the country. The current attention that has been drawn to these groups, however, is due to the fact that for a successful post-conflict country like Sierra Leone, the engagement with non-state armed groups is an issue of crucial importance for sustainable peace and development.
In every armed struggle, ranging from mercenaries, bandits, pirates, warlords tribal chiefs or partisans, non-state armed groups always play a vital role, but for the active participants, wars often come to a sudden halt. One day they are on the battlefield, the next day they suddenly have to stop fighting with so many promises. For them to accept the peace process, they have to hand over their weapons and go back to civilian life. They normally encouraged them with incentives, which may take them out of the armed struggle and keep them away from seeking battle, but it does not turn them in to active participants in the peace process. Their sudden transformation from war heroes to civilian who often end up at the bottom rank of society, might even be a disillusion which might not only alienate them from the peace process, but worse, it might set them against the very society that is supposed to absorb them. Former fighters/rebel/soldiers often feel isolated and abandon from society, and hopeless in terms of possibilities to (re)build their lives and gaining the respect of their environment. They often end up in the margin of society, where they form groups and networks with people who find themselves in a comparable situation. This development creates a downward spiral that threatens the peace process. This is especially true for former child soldiers, who feel that they became involved in wars by forces beyond their control and who feel that they should be rewarded with opportunity instead of penalties and disrespect. Post-war societies including Sierra Leone have no or just limited space for these groups and is largely unable to absorb them successfully. Instead, these vulnerable groups are often pushed into the margins of society. Unrest brews among them. They are willing prey for organized crime groups and political actors who want to use them to create unrest in society.
On 24 March, 2011, the United Nations warned that Sierra Leone is still fragile, almost ten years after peace was established. The UN helped to end the eleven years civil war in Sierra Leone that lasted from 1991-2002 and was actively involved in stimulating and creating durable peace. Although the UN and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made efforts to map the risk factors, little attention was paid to the implementation of advice to absorb vulnerable groups into post-war Sierra Leone.The adhoc Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration programs seemed successfully in the beginning of the peace process, but seem to have sewn an albeit, invisible yet undeniable present seed of discontent amongst both former active participants and civilians. Many former fighters reflect on their current (backward) socioeconomic position with nostalgia to the past: during the war they had everything. What has peace brought them? This is the outcome of research our team has conducted in Sierra Leone for the past four years. With the upcoming election in Sierra Leone in 2012, many of these vulnerable members and groups in society are forming informal associations and networks that can be easily exploited by intimidation politics, or worse, to create civil unrest or (armed) conflict. On their turn, wartime civilians express their discontent with the socioeconomic development of post-war Sierra Leone in violent or even war rhetoric. While former fighters feel that they were marginalized at the ending and after the war, wartime civilians feel that they were put in a favored position and received more incentives and stimulation from their government and international bodies than what civilians call ‘them, the actual victims’. Wartime civilians threaten to become even more violent and active participants in possible future conflict, since they feel that active participation and violence is more rewarding than victimhood.