Monthly Archives: May 2012

Charles Taylor, bustered! War narrative walled in.

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So, they finally bustered the bastard…that’s what many might think at the 50-year  sentence Charles Taylor received by the Special Court for Sierra Leone yesterday. And indeed, it’s not in any way regrettable that someone like Charles Taylor should disappear in some prison for a couple of decades, yet what is utterly bizarre that he was not sentenced for whatever murder, deaths, cruelty, torture and killings that occured in the Liberian civil war but for “aiding and abetting” the RUF in neighbouring Sierra Leone. His apparent crime was to have sold weapons to the RUF and “advised” them on attacks on Sierra Leonean towns in 1998 and 1999. But of course, this alone would not allow to construct a case against Charles Taylor, so according to the prosecution, Charles Taylor’s real crime was to have elaborated a plan with Foday Sankoh in which the terrorization of the populations by all violent means available played a key role. As for any mundane murder, prosecution had to prove that the terror of the Sierra Leonean war was the planned, intentional and voluntary outcome of Charles Taylor’s plan. Hence, the entire indictment is built on the assertion that Taylor and Sankoh had met in the late 1980s in Libyan training camps and that they had elaborated such a devilish plan sometime 1988 or 1989 prior to the RUF entering into Sierra Leone.

There are a number of things that are very fishy in the entire trial, from its timing to the final court announcement of the sentence in which allegedly one of the judge’s microphones was switched off to silence his reservations over the trial’s procedures. These are footnotes to the much larger problem of international criminal justice and how it (im)possibly can render justice, all of these having been brilliantly discussed by Martti Koskenniemi. What I found interesting for this post is how this judgment contributes to the construction of a particular narrative of the war in Sierra Leone that is less and less based on documentary evidence, of which very little was presented at the trial, and more and more on hear-say as well as retrospective reconstruction of ideas, motives and interpretations of events. The Sierra Leonean war is an excellent case to observe how war narratives are constructed. The country was too small and insignificant before the war broke out to have attracted huge amounts of research into its political, economic and social structure and yet, as an anglophone country, it had already served as case study for the state failure literature, notably with the analysis of William Reno, in the wake of Zartmann’s “quasi-state” analysis. It is actually this mixture of a little evidence we have, which, despite its internal thoroughness and consistency, comes together to a picture that conveniently suits some powerful states in this world (see also Chris Mahoney’s comment on the Charles Taylor trial).

The merits of Reno’s excellent analysis notwithstanding, this partial, generalized ignorance of Sierra Leone’s social conflicts prior to the civil war lent itself conveniently to uphold three basic claims throughout the war and now in its aftermath: a) the government of Sierra Leone, i.e. Siakah Stevens,  mismanaged the country for personal motives but the basic governance structure of the country, which was not fundamentally changed since the colonial times,  is by and large ok; b) the only problem of the lopesidedeness of the Sierra Leonean economy which relied/s heavily on multi-national companies for the exploitation of its mineral resources is that the government was/is too corrupt (see a.); and c) consequently, Sierra Leoneans would live happily if only the government were not corrupt OR, to talk in the present time, without a corrupt government they have all reason to live happily. This three-layered argument conveniently conceals the detrimental nature of multi-national companies’ engagement in the mineral exploitation of Sierra Leone, it hides from our eyes the miserable living conditions of notably the rural populations before the war and also after, which have been, additionally, hardened after the ravishing effects of the structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s, and it finally points exclusively to the domestic government as main actor of politics, hence silencing the numerous external influences on Sierra Leone’s politics, from the IMF to the former colonial power Great-Britain.

However, if these three elements are re-integrated into the analysis the narrative of the war in which Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh played Risk in large scale on the Liberian-Sierra Leonean border appears overly simplistic and actually not that right anymore (some this can actually be pieced together through a careful reading of the rare literature on Sierra Leone before the war, whether by Paul Richards, Alfred Zack-Williams, William Murphy, Caroline Bledsoe or Marianne Ferme) . The real problem with the verdict’s thin documentary base lies exactly there: for all these other aspects, too, there are only very few documents. Whether it is the shadowy role of the British FCO, army and secret services or the ghost-like appearance and disappearance of private security companies all over the country, whether we look at lack of serious analyses of the Sierra Leonean economy before the war and its criminal features or at the ways the Sierra Leonean political structures shape social forces in a way that violent dissent is “the last way out” (to take up Jeff Goodwin’s title), and if we simply, for just a moment, assume seriously that Sierra Leoneans maybe did not live happily before or even now after the war…then we quickly stumble over questions we need to ask about the appropriateness of the global economic structures, the role of international organisations and of former colonial powers, of neighbouring countries like Nigeria or South-Africa, and about the inappropriateness of tools like peacekeeping and peacbuilding in these contexts.

Yet, the documents that could answer these questions are well hidden or simply inexistent. We will have to wait at least another 10 if not 30 years until we can access the archives of the British FCO and MI5 in order to understand the role the British forces played in support of the private security companies and the so-called Self Defence Forces of Sierra Leone (and the same is true for South Africa which is the country from which many of these private security companies originated and which might also hold valuable documents on them); we will probably never be able to access any documents which will tell us much about the transnational networks of money and diamonds through which people like Jamil Sahid Mohammed financed the Sierra Leonean and the Lebanese war; nor will we probably ever have any access to any documents which might exist on the overall very unglamourous role of the African Union peacekeepers; and we will most certainly never find any documents that tell us anything about how it comes that in the current economic situation of Sierra Leone the large majority of businesses engaged in the mineral exploitation sector are financed through British, Israeli or American capital.

Yet, whereas in the one case, namely Charles Taylor’s trial, the lack of written evidence was taken as prove that the hear-say is true, the lack of written documents will be for a very long time considered as prove that there is not and never has been any other problem in Sierra Leone than that of too greedy elites and weirdo, illuminated warlords. By the time historians will be able to access those other documents, this narrative will have become the standard narrative in history books and that conflict analysis that does not like to look far beyond the policy reports of the same international organisations which have constructed exactly this narrative (as for instance the Uppsala Conflict Encyclopedia).

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The CIA speaks….tapes on the “Phoenix programme” in Vietnam

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Amazing! hours of tapes the journalist and historian Douglas Valentine had collected on the so-called Phoenix program, explaining how the CIA trained the South Vietnam Army and counterinsurgency operations. Requires some patience but certainly worth it…and not only for the information itself but also a highly interesting lesson in partial amnesia, retrospective rationalizations and justifications, or simply complacency and the always present banality of evil…

Go here.

 

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Child soldiering as cheap option? Bernd Beber and Chris Blattman on child soldiering.

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Carl von Clausewitz was 13 years old when he served as Lance Corporal in the Prussian Army. Napoleon was 10 years old when he was admitted to the Military Academy at Brienne-le-Chateau.  Childsoldiers, both. But certainly not the kind of child soldiers Bernd Beber and Chris Blattman are thinking of with their model of child soldier recruitment. The data they  use to construct their model is, in fact, derived from a survey of former child soldiers of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army and is preoccupied with explaining child soldier recruitment in Africa. As true economists they propose a model to explain child soldiering in which child soldiering is the cheap option…sounds simple but, as so often, it is not really and it is, additionally, not entirely convincing.

Their model is, indeed, a bit slopsided: they assume that child soldiers are not as effective as adult soldiers. For a rational, utility-maximizing leader it is therefore, normally, not sensible to recruit child soldiers. However, if the difficulties of retaining rebels in the group are taken into account it is, in the end, cheaper and easier to forcibly recruit children  because the use of indoctrination as well as the impunity with which they can coerce children to stay with them makes it easier to retain them than adult soldiers. This is the case if children have few or no alternatives, i.e. they cannot run away and there is no prospect of being protected by the state. So far so good. What remains quite murky is their argument that children are less effective soldiers than adults and that therefore their recruitment is puzzling. Hinging upon this argument is their argument about the use of violence and the ensuing policy recommendations…it is therefore worthwhile to discuss this assumption a bit more.

Why should child soldiers be less effective than adults? Beber and Blattman suggest that they are physically not strong enough to make good soldiers  if compared to a 21-year old. But.. it is actually questionable that a 21-old is so much stronger than a 14-year old if we consider the physical lives people have in these countries. Of course, a 21-year old is strong, and probably still stronger than a 14-year old…yet, what is interesting about 14-year old  boys in these countries is that they are strong, too, that they are enduring, used to hard physical labour and certainly in the physical shape to do all what a soldier needs to do, yet, on top of that, they are malleable, easily compliant and, hence, easier to control.  All this together makes them actually a much more attractive recruit than a 21-year old!

Whereas in the US it is certainly true that a wimpy kid cannot outperform a college freshman, this is can be mainly explained by the long lifespan in industrialized countries where physical labour has largely disappeared and physical force is built up mainly during adolescence through leisure sports. But this is not how physical capabilities develop in rural societies in Africa. In Uganda (and other countries with high incidence of child soldiering and child labour like Sierra Leone or Liberia) life expectancy oscillates around 50 years, in Sierra Leone and Liberia, two other countries where child soldiering was rampant, life expectancy before the wars was even lower: 43.1 (1980) and  43.8 (1980)  respectively. If we apply a simple development model of let’s say 30% of a life being childhood, 60% being a parent and 10% being old, we can see that childhood is over at the age of 10 in most of these countries. The short life expectancy also shifts the normal curb of peak performance capacities. If these are between the age of 24-28 in olympic sports among sportsmen of industrialized countries with an average life expectancy of 76 years, they are more likely to be around the age of 14-17 with a life expectancy of 50 years.

Such estimates are rather plausible if we consider additionally that rural children start working in household and farming at a very early age. If a Liberian, Sierra Leonean or Ugandan man of rural origin reaches the age of 21, he is likely to have physically worked for 15 years, hence, rather have the physcial strength and healthiness of a 35-year old in an industrialized country, or even older given the hardship of the labour he did (and malnutrition and diseases). All this considered, a 21-year old might still be stronger than a 14-year old, yet, the 14-year old is of such physical strength and endurance that it makes perfect sense to “engage” child soldiers, particularly adolescent boys  — as the authors’ own survey confirms, stating that 14-year olds were three times as likely to be abducted by the LRA than 9-year olds!

This holds particularly true if we consider that adolescents in most rural areas are already holding crucial roles in pastoring or farming, hence, that they constitute already an important part of the workforce. If we assume that children are exactly attractive because they are strong enough to be enduring  soldiers then they cannot be cheap…everyone, the farmer and the rebel leader, are in fact competing over the resource of strong and healthy boys. As a central pillar of rural labour, boys and young men would not be released into the army or a rebel group unless the family or patron would be appropriately compensated. For rebel groups it makes therefore perfect sense to abduct these children rather than having to pay for them. Abduction happens because strong and healthy children are a valuable resource in rural areas of these countries.

But what about the retainment argument of Beber and Blattman? Even abducted, or especially when abducted, the retainment of child soldiers remains problematic. In Beber’s and Blattman’s model, violence mainly serves the purpose of penalizing “bad” behaviour of the recruits and it is cheaper to use violence than to propose positive incentives… as long as the children have no or very few outside options (like running away or alternatives outside the rebel group). This argument fits well also if we assume that child soldiers have been abducted because they are better fighters than adults. Actually, it fits even better as it can explain also very specific types of violence which are characteristic for situations in which child soldiers are involved,  like attacks against the village and family of the child soldier, forcing them to kill their kin or committing taboo violations like “desecrat(ing) bodies” as described by Beber and Blattman. This violence barrs the children’s return to their village and family, hence, increases the retainment with the rebel group.

But if the family or village  is not killed, why don’t they always and by all means try to get their children back? Here, again, Beber’s and Blattman’s assumption about the outside options appear not to be thought through thoroughly and considering what we know from ethnographic research about rural African societies. Beber and Blattman argue that outside options would be the possibility that the rebel leader will be penalized by an external actor for abducting and violating the children and that, given the absence of the state or international powerful actors in these wars, this outside option is more or less nil. What Beber and Blattman do not consider is the outside option of society: the extremely strong stigma on the children (especially girls) and the fact that most of these children have been already on the lowest scale of the village’s social hierarchy — despite (or because) their value in rural work.

The low social status of children in African rural society can, indeed, be functionally explained by their crucial role as work force. As the strongest elements of the rural society their potential power has to be in check. Elder-based social hierarchies with clearly defined strata and positions (usually sanctioned by corresponding communitarian rituals, ceremonies, initiation rites etc.)  and refined patron-client structures within families (mind that most of the child soldiers were actually foster children) are excellent social means to keep the young, strong and potentially rebellious in their place. Physical punishment, and rather brutal physical punishment, of children has therefore often been explained by the disciplinary necessity to keep children and particularly young men in exactly their social position.  It might therefore very well be that for these children it does not matter whether they are being physically punished and having to work heavy duties for some family member or some rebel leader — at least this is what studies like Norma Kriger’s study on Zimbabwe, Mats Utas’s study on Liberia and Paul Richards’ study on Sierra Leone have found. And it explains why families, from their side, are not always keen getting those children back. Outside options are not (only) reduced by the absence of the state but by the particular social hierarchies of rural African societies and the stigma of childsoldiering in these societies.

What does that change in Beber’s and Blattman’s model? Well, it does not change much in the explanation of violence for retainment purposes but it changes a lot when it comes to policy recommendations…

Beber and Blattman argue that “raising the cost of child recruitment is crucial”, whereby they are thinking of penalizing child recruitment more effectively and severely through state or international institutions of justice. However, if the violence of abduction is the result of the already high costs of child soldier recruitment and if the violence internal to a rebel group serves the purpose of destroying social links then this policy could have exactly the reverse effect. The incentive to rapt children and to “turn them over” becomes higher as does the necessity to “wean” them from their home through violent acts becomes even more urgent.Violence might be increase even if the risks for the rebel group which are associated with the child’s escape or persecution require absolutising the soldiers’ loyalties.

The second recommendation is to raise “real opportunities”, i.e. educational and income, for adolescents to increase the outside options…yet, this makes only sense if these children and youngsters are not seen as being bound into social hierarchies and family networks but as the liberal, atomized, rational decision-making actor whose only impediment to chose freely between fighting, farming, schooling and becoming an accountant, are the rebel leader’s violence…this might work if demobilized former child soldiers find themselves atomized in cities and refugee centres and to avoid that they return into rebel groups or criminal gangs…but it is less likely to work as preventive measure where these kind of decisions are not those of the children in the first place. At least not if children remain in the double position of being essential for the rural economy and being on the lowest level of social hierarchies.

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Syria and the politics of naming

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Violence has erupted again in Syria, indicating the failure of the UN special envoye Kofi Annan to find a peaceful solution to the conflict between the Syrian government and … yes, well, how would you call them? The government calls them “terrorists”, the international press calls them mostly “rebels”, some say “resistance fighters” and they call themselves mostly “revolutionaries” and refute the label of “civil war“. Of course, it is a common place that one’s terrorists or another’s freedom fighters. But the politics of naming are not simply an ideological word game but they conceal more important debates about the epistemology of conflict analysis and about the ontology of conflicts. As Jacob Mundy and Yves Winter point out, these name tags say a lot about the legitimacy that is conferred to the armed action and to the response. The question is not only whether the terms “terrorism”, “rebellion”, “revolution” capture accurately the violence displayed by a violently protesting group; the question is also which means of response and repression become legitimate for the government and international actors who might be involved. The legitimate means with which to respond to violence are certainly different whether we treat violent actors as criminals, rebels, terrorists or revolutionaries.

But, as Mundy argues, getting the name right also means getting the cause analysis right. In this perspective the naming is part of the conflict itself. Rebellions are much more short-sighted and are closer to riots than to the to the ideas of changing entire socities which are expressed in the notion of revoutions. Revolutions seek fundamental change in politics, society and economy, and are more profound and usually ideologically framed. The belittlening of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere as “Arab Spring” has concealed much of the revolutionary, and ideological impetus. Consequently, although the violence in Syria is often described as resulting from the movements of last year, the political and causal relationship becomes murky once the Syrian revolutionaries are called rebells or violent protesters. Rebels and protesters are a conjectural, punctual phenomenon; they can be — maybe — “sold off” through two, three policy measures and the regime could live on. Revolutionaries  want President Bashar Al-Assad’s head and those of his regime; they want another economy and they are trying to imagine another society.

Revolutionary situations are not merely situations in which human rights are violated — This is how the UN are presenting the story in Syria. Reducing such a situation to human rights violations wrongly infers that human rights would be, in principle, respected in this country but that they are not now, at this moment and more or less accidentally by this government. The fundamental legitimacy of the state’s goverment to act and to represent a, however configured, state of law is not disputed when such situations of collective violence are barely presented as human rights violations. However, in a revolution arbitrary violence by the government is neither accidental nor can it be dissociated from the already vanished legitimacy of this government. The human rights violations are secondary to the alltogether disputed legitimacy of the government itself. And this also means that ending arbitrary bombings, arrests, torture etc. will not restore Assad’s legitimacy…as the recent bombings in Damascus have shown. Naming wrongly means understanding wrongly means not being able to solve the conflict.

Revolutions are not civil wars, however, they can easily develop into such. But again, the name tag “civil war” implies yet new meanings which may or may not capture the causes and dynamics of the ongoing violence. In contrast to revolutions, which mark the overthrow of an existing order, civil wars are rather associated with long lasting violence, attrition, and the idea of homogenous groups confronting each other (e.g. confederates vs. yankees; Reds vs. Whites). They imply militarization (as contrary to armed violence), strategy, planning and long-term organisational formations. This may include ideological training and development that would not be observable in simple uprisings.

Yet, the reality on the ground of civil wars is also much more messy with pouches of protest and resilience within the government, splinterings of groups, a large variety of in-group fighting, diverse actors with different goals, ideological and political changes etc. Not all who are fighting in a civil war are revolutionaries or they actually might be but not forcibly the same…What they are cannot be decided a priori and from the outside but only after a careful analysis of the motives and causes of the violent actors. Whoever wants to understand the complexities of revolutionary wars might want to read through David W.P. Elliott’s “The Vietnamese War“.

Whereas media might be excused needing a handy and quick category for violent situations like in Syria, academia and policy circles at least should show more awareness that naming implies knowing and understanding the motives and causes of the violence. For Syria, this is seemingly not what is happening though.

 

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Global social hierarchies, war and charity – what the humanitarian award for Prince Harry tells us

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Prince Harry and his brother were awarded the so-called Humanitarian Award by the Atlantic Council. Felicity Arbuthnot rightly deplores the cynism of this award yet it is not enought to simply deplore the complacency of the West that is expressed in such a ceremony. The Atlantic Council itself has never been an organisation seeking fair exchange and relations with the Non-West but was, on the contrary, founded on exactly the principled idea that the West, and particularly American white liberalism, is the beacon of civilization and humanity. Actually, there is nothing else one would expect from an organisation that is led by a former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, and a former National Security Council Advisor of George Bush Sr., Brent Scowcroft, who also served as military assistant to President Nixon. From an ideological point of view, the Council’s “Strategic Rationale for Promoting Transatlantic Values in the World” says all. If there were any doubts left that the leaders of the Atlantic Council are straight Republicans, it is sufficient to look at Hagel’s voting record in Senate (everything’s there: Iraq War, Patriot Act etc.) — athough fairness is due to Scowcroft who did criticize the Iraq War (!).

Ideology apart, the Council and its board as well as the price winners become interesting if we look at them as a social class and map them in the social field of world politics. If we take only those three men — Hagel, Scowcroft and Prince Harry — we find striking similarities. Of course, the obvious one is that they are white, anglosaxon, practicising Christians and male. But there is more: they are all multi-millionaires, partly by heritage, partly through own companies. They have all received their education in high-class institutions (Eton, West Point, Columbia etc.); they have all served in the army yet in the rather comfortable roles of officers rather than privates. Of course there is an important difference in age which might explain that Prince Harry does not share other similarties with Scowcroft and Hagel yet. These two are furthermore  closely associated with numerous big business companies, served on advisory boards, and  have been working with and in a number of important foreign policy think tanks, the Council on Foreign Relations among others. Brent Scowcroft is CEO of the lobby group (advisory company in official language) of his name which offers services by their “principals and network of consultants reach into governments and businesses worldwide, enabling us to represent clients in virtually every market, drawing upon local as well as global resources.”  All three together probably have a private fortune equivalent to some of the poorest states’ governmental budget and certainly an address book with which they could overthrow the world tomorrow.

In every single aspect, these three men represent the dominating class in world politics. They have the resources, the finances and the political and social power to shape political decisions and, much more importantly, to steer the discourse on right and wrong, to barr alternatives in politics and society and  to make sure that their personal position is neatly reproduced for future generations of their own kind. The award for Prince Harry signifies exactly this: this kind of fortune, this kind of social class and this kind of politics have to be reproduced. World peace is associated with the reproduction of this class. These men have understood very well that threats to their comfort do not only stem from other social classes within their country but also from other parts of the world, whether renegade states or the world social forum.

Obviously their goal is to keep possible and real, contentions of their fortune at arm’s length through a well-dosed mixtures of charity and violence. Humanitarian interventions represent exactly the ideal tool for this double-faced policy. They are, by definition, never aggressive but only beneficial for their objects. They are, by definition, desinterested and altruistic. They are aimed at changing an obvious status quo — commonly ousting a government — and hence, not conservative…even though they are exactly that as they preserve the dominance of white, male, Christian and liberal politics, yet in a way that makes it seem obvious, the right thing to do and even as a sacrifice. Bourdieu’s “symbolic violence” par excellence. The humanitarian discourse is the perfect glove for the fist of global riot control. Given the power people like the English royalty, the Scowcrofts or Hagels represent, their Atlantic Council and Humanitarian Award is, indeed, humanitarian as this kind of power has already shown its real, not only symbolic violence…it is therefore that this humanitarian award is entirely compatible with Prince Harry’s military service in Afghanistan, or with any other warmongers’ award – as long as real violence of the award winners served the same purpose as the Antlantic Council’s symbolic violence: preserving a world order where anglo-saxon world, with their white, Christian male leaders, stay on top. In this respect, the humanitarian awards are even the Mr. Hide face of the Jekyll of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Theirs is just their own definition of humanitarian…a particular one.

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Bosnia revisited: a very, very quick relational analysis of the Bosnian war

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In 2002, Rogers Brubaker published a fascinating paper “Ethnicity without groups” discussing different ways how the emergence of ethnic groups can be understood. The paper, and the later book of the same title, are extremely illuminating as they constitutes a clear departure from the reified identitary view of ethnic groups (that view that only speaks in the collective singular) through using a strictly relational analytical framework. Later on, Andreas Wimmer has developed this as “configurational analysis”, explaining the dynamics of ethnopolitics and ethnic conflict. In the 2002 paper, Brubaker refers mainly to Bourdieu’s theorizing about the genesis of social groups, exploring how the mutual perception and the mutual tit-for-tat between social groups may lead to ethnicization of a group or not, and to what kind of ethnopolitics.
Inspired by this paper, I tried, some time ago, to apply such a relational framework to the Bosnian case. While puzzling the different relationships together, I started drawing charts where different actors were positioning themselves and against whom in the space of the Bosnian conflict.




The result is the graph above which shows a quite complicated, almost fractal assembly of dichotomous conflicts in which there is always a primary competition between two or three actors in a smaller political field (often the national field, but in the case of the EC also the European field) and which is influenced and related to the competitive struggles in the larger field of the internationalized Bosnian conflict.
Pushing this relational framework further into the time after the war, this graph comes out:

What is striking in the comparison of the two is the orderly impression the last graph makes. The United Nations (in form of the UN mission to Bosnia, SFOR and the Office of the High Representative) seem to have bundled the struggles and relations between all actors like a prisma bundles light rayons. If the real mission of the UN, hence, consisted in absorbing competitive struggles on the global area and to serve as catalyst for conflicts on the local, national or regional level?

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Colonial legacies and armed conflict: how to assess their continuity?

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There is, quite often, a certain intuition that colonialism has had an effect on contemporary armed conflict. Sometimes this intuition is based on simple observations of continuity of those conflicts since independence: the Karen conflict in Myanmar (Burma) for example. Sometimes it is the arbitrariness of colonial borders that is invoked when explaining the transnational nature of certain conflicts like in the Touareg war in the Sahel at the moment (see the blog on Mali). There are also intuitive parallels between forms of violence, for instance there is an overlap of the regions where child soldiering is rampant with former slave raiding regions. And there are obviously the much more discrete continuities like the rule of law, the form of property rights or administrative structures.

Yet, what they all have in common is that, beyond intuition, it remains difficult to assess how these legacies can still have an impact today. 50, 60, even 70 years have passed since independence and 2, 3 or even 4 generations should see changes, transformations and disruptions of these “traditions”. A first step to assess colonial legacies has to be taken, obviously, towards knowing and understanding the impact of colonialization on the societies concerned. Now is a good time for research on the last years of colonization as a number of archives are becoming accessible. However, they do not always keep the promises they hold and particularly the recent opening of the “lost” archives that have been recently released at the National Archives in Kew on the British colonies. Most of the comprimising documents on British exactions, notably during the Mau Mau revolt, have been destroyed, making it hard for historians to establish political responsibilities all the way up to London. And yet, even before the opening of these archives, a couple of books had established that the British were anything but peaceful and civilized in their colonial mission – an observation that still does not go down well today. David Harvey’s book has been discussed already. But there are also Madhusree Mukerjee’s “Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II” or Caroline Elkins’ book “Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya” which both show with quite massive evidence the major, indispensable role that systematic violence against colonial subjects has played in the British Empire. This said, the French obviously haven’t been nicer colonial masters at all and whoever wishes to read through the horror of the Algerian war can do so now online; nor the Belgians since we know the latest from Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghosts” …

Yet, once we know of the violence of imperialism — how can we conclude any effect on today’s societies? There is the common question that has be asked about the local populations which benefitted from colonialism. Colonialism, in its different forms, destroyed and reorganised social power elites but had a varying impact on power structures. A careful comparison of cases could elucidate if colonialism had a major impact on the ways and forms how social groups referred to each other, particularly with respect to property, social marginalisation and the use of violence, or if it only changed one elite group against another. Ahmad Alawad Sikainga’s “Slaves into workers” is a fine example of such a study. He shows how slavery in Sudan persisted from pre-colonial through colonial times until today, however under changing masters and in different guises. In a different way, Greet Kershaw’s “Mau Mau from below” (see here for a review) is equally interesting as it shows the intertwining and interlocking of several conflicts: social and ethnic conflicts between the different Kenyan groups and the conflict with the colonizers. The question of property rights and economic production structures is, second, closely related to the first one. As such it is rather well researched, however, a comparative study bringing insights from the literature on postcolonial political economy together with the question of continuities of violence is still lacking. Again, a major problem remains, that all these studies are disparate single case studies and of which the conclusions have not yet been systematically compared.

 

 

 

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