When the 'War Attitude' persists: How Pro-Government Militias affect Society in the Long Run

Release date: 2023-05

Resorting to so-called pro-government militias (PGMs) in the face of severely challenged state forces is a timeless phenomenon in government politics across the globe. However, providing military training and distributing weapons to civilians can represent a security risk—in the short and the long term. Sierra Leone and Liberia share a history of protracted civil wars with the involvement of numerous pro- and anti-government militias. Previous research also demonstrated that networks of former combatants continued to exist in both countries after the end of the civil wars. However, most of these studies were conducted in the early 2000s, the first decade following the civil wars and thus lack a long-term perspective.

In this Paper, I address the question of how PGMs affect societies politically and socially in the long run.
Building on qualitative interviews conducted 20 years after the end of the civil wars, my study indicates that in Sierra Leone and Liberia
\ networks of former combatants continue to exist;
\ the membership in pro-government militias creates persistent identities;
\ networks of former combatants can become an instrument of political violence;
\ networks of former combatants affect social development.

From these findings, it can be concluded that former (pro-government) combatants represent a potential instrument for exercising political violence—even decades after the official end of a conflict. Furthermore, the analysis suggests that if the ruling party, as in the case of Sierra Leone, or the current government, as in the case of Liberia, is willing to use violence to enforce its interests, ex-militias seem to be the resource to use. The political will thus has a decisive effect on the question of which form of (political) violence is exercised by ex-combatants.

With a view to the upcoming elections, political violence may increase. Incidents in recent years show that political elites in Sierra Leone and Liberia are willing to use violence to maintain power. As the cooperation between former combatants' networks and the ruling elite continues in both cases, it also seems possible that the ruling parties will use former (pro-government) combatants around elections to intimidate political opponents.