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.