Commanders for good and bad

Ten years after the end of the civil war in Liberia, former commanders and soldiers are still tied together in various informal networks. Most often, this situation is considered to be problematic and as a potential threat to peace and stability. However, NAI research shows that former commanders have an important role when a new society is emerging.

– When large farms or mining industries are in need of workers, they often use ex-commanders to recruit from their networks of ex-soldiers, says former NAI researcher Emy Lindberg.

However, former soldiers may take up arms again. This was the case when war broke out in Côte d’Ivoire in 2011 and some ex-commanders in Liberia gathered their former comrades together and crossed the border to fight for one or other of the two sides. Interestingly, these ex-commanders were less integrated into Liberia’s postwar society. Those ex-commanders connected to elites in Liberia, and thus better integrated, were not keen to wage war again, since they have too much to lose by doing so. This indicates that stronger informal networks of ex-commanders and soldiers are less likely to take up arms than weaker groups of ex-fighters.

– In the long run, all networks of former soldiers should be disbanded. However, in the shorter term, they can actually play a useful role. It takes many years to build up democratic traditions and reliable state institutions in war-torn countries. Meanwhile, Liberia must make use of existing structures to move the society forward, says Emy Lindberg.

Read Policy Note by Mats Utas, Anders Themnér and Emy Lindberg.

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