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«THE ROLE OF MILITIAS AND OTHER PARAMILITARIES IN AFRICAN (UN)CIVIL WARS Bjørn Møller DIIS Working Paper no 2006/23 © Copenhagen 2006 Danish ...»

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TEL +45 32 69 87 87 • diis@diis.dk • www.diis.dk



Bjørn Møller

DIIS Working Paper no 2006/23

© Copenhagen 2006

Danish Institute for International Studies, DIIS

Strandgade 56, DK-1401 Copenhagen, Denmark Ph: +45 32 69 87 87 Fax: +45 32 69 87 00 E-mails: diis@diis.dk Web: www.diis.dk Cover Design: Carsten Schiøler Printed in Denmark by Vesterkopi as ISBN: 87-7605-158-7 Price: DKK 25.00 (VAT included) DIIS publications can be downloaded free of charge from www.diis.dk Bjørn Møller, Senior Research Fellow, DIIS Contents



The Concept of “Militia”

The Historical Background

Militias in African History

Militias in African Conflicts

“Uncivil Wars”

Militaries and Paramilitaries

Case Studies

Sierra Leone: Rebels, Sobels and Kamajors

Sudan: Slave Raiders, Mujahidiin and Janjaweed Militias

The North-South Conflict: Islamists v. Secularists

Darfur: Ethnic Cleansing by Militias

Rwanda: Genocide by Militias

Conclusion: Pros and Cons of the Use of Militias


–  –  –

Abstract Recent violent conflicts in Africa have seen extensive use of very irregular armed forces by governments. Examples include the use of Kamajors in Sierra Leone, Janjaweed and other militias in Sudan and Interahamwe militias in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The paper, originally written for a seminar on Threatened Trust. The transformation of the state and fading civil security at the Centre for African Studies, Institute for Social Anthropology, University of Basel, Basel, 9-10 January 2006, analyses the historical background of such phenomena, the strategic benefits and drawbacks of the resort to such forces, the consequences for the conduct of armed conflicts and the implications thereof for the civilian populations. Finally, it points to a number of complications caused by the presence of such forces for peace settlements and post-conflict peacebuilding, including DDR (disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration) of former combatants and security sector reform.

–  –  –

Preface The use of militias and other paramilitary forces seems to become increasingly frequent, not only in Africa but also elsewhere. As pointed. This may be a cause of some concern, as that voiced in

the Human Security Report 2005:

Usually more heavily armed than the police, though more lightly armed than the military, paramilitaries can be disciplined forces under effective government control – or private armies operating outside legal constrains, responsible only to themselves, and operating death squads and torture camps (…) For governments, paramilitaries offer many advantages. They can be recruited rapidly, often from groups that are sympathetic to the regime. (…) The significance of paramilitaries lies in their institutional location outside of regular military and police commands and ministries.

Indeed, there are often no formal lines of authority between state authorities and paramilitary leaders,. This relative independence allows national governments to shrug off responsibility for human rights violations perpetrated by paramilitaries. (…) Their power and independence means that paramilitaries can – and often do – survive long after the regimes that created and sustained them have been swept aside.

Unless they are reincorporated into the new regime, they can become a source of violent disruption and pose serious threats to the new political order.1 In the following I shall further explore some of these claims. As an introduction the concept of “militia” is explored, finding it to refer either to a very multi-facetted phenomenon or, indeed, to several different phenomena. This is followed by an account of some historical precedents, both in Europe and in Africa as well as by a tentative assessment of the present prevalence of it subSaharan Africa. Three case studies are presented, illustrating the complexity of the phenomenon, leading up to a preliminary evaluation of the phenomenon as such, highlighting the complications which militias and other paramilitaries pose for post-conflict peace-building, including disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of combatants.


The Concept of “Militia” The term “militia” either has a very broad (and correspondingly vague and/or abstract) meaning or it is used to refer to different phenomena. The Encyclopædia Britannica defines a militia as a “military organization of citizens with limited military training, which is available for emergency service, usually for local defense.”2 However, the term is also used to signify armed forces with only weak links to the state, or indeed to forces opposing the state.

–  –  –

The Historical Background In the sense of organised self-defence by societies, militias have been around for centuries or even millennia. Even though they are thus probably a much older phenomenon than that of the state, in the following we shall focus on militias in settings dominated by states, i.e. where there is either a reasonably strong state or where the absence of such a state is significant, as in the case of collapsed states.

In Europe, citizen militias were thus lauded by, among others, a thinker who is sometimes referred to as the very father of the notion of raison d’état, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), who regarded them as far preferable to the mercenary armies which were dominating the military scene at his time.

As to the unserviceableness of a citizens’ militia, I say that no troops can be of more service than those chosen from one’s own subjects, nor can those subjects be selected in a better or more proper manner (…) It is certain that no subjects or citizens, when legally armed and kept in due order by their masters, ever did the least mischief to any state. On the contrary, they have always been of the highest service to all governments and have kept them free and incorrupt longer than they would have been without them.3 Militias were also recommended in America, inter alia by Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), who

in 1788 wrote the following recommendations in The Federalist:

If a well regulated militia be the most natural defence of a free country, it ought certainly to be under the regulation and at the disposal of that body which is constituted the guardian of the national security. If standing armies are dangerous to liberty, an efficacious power over the militia, in the body of whose care the protection of the State is committed, ought as far as possible to take away the inducement and the pretext to such unfriendly institutions. (…) To render an army unnecessary will be a more certain method of preventing its existence than a thousand prohibitions on paper.4 The US use of militias, not least for law enforcement, has historically been related to the so-called posse comitatus principle, according to which local authorities (usually sherifs) could conscript citizens for law enforcement – but also to the “Posse Comitatus Act,” passed in 1878 and


intended to prevent abuse of such provisions by insurgents and secessionists.5 Nevertheless, the main gist of the US Constitution was initially to impose constraints on the federal authorities and armed forces, as laid down in the Second Amendment to the constitution, according to which “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”6 This amendment has subsequently been exploited ideologically by NGOs such as the National Rifle Association7 and various groups on the extreme right, some of which refer to themselves as militias, one of them even using the name “Posse Comitatus.” Some of them have even been involved in activities that most would classify as terrorism, and there were links between them and the perpetrator of the attack against the federal building in Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh.8 The Swiss militia system is much less problematic, representing a centuries-old radical form of “citizens in arms,” entailing compulsory military service for all male citizens, in which all members of the militia are required to keep their weapons at home; and all are called up for periodic training.9 Other countries have included elements of the same model in the personnel structure of their armed forces. Some countries, for instance, have home guards, assigned more or less important tasks in the defence of the national territory. For examples, see Fig, 2.10

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Militias do indeed allow for the mobilization of a very large part of the population, which may be relevant in cases of defence against a large-scale invasion. A country with a very substantial proportion of its adult (usually only male) population under arms would be very hard for an invader to “digest,” also because a militia might resort to guerilla tactics, and would be welladapted to “swimming in the countryside like a fish in water,” as advocated by Mao Zedong.11


The founders of western strategic thinking also credited “people’s war” with considerable strength, especially for national defence. Antoine de Jomini had participated in the Peninsular War, where he had been amazed by this rare spectacle of a “spontaneous uprising of a nation.”

For an invader possessing “only” an army, this amounted to an unequal struggle:

His adversaries have an army, and a people wholly or almost wholly in arms, and making means of resistance out of everything, each individual of whom conspires against the common enemy; even the non-combatants have an interest in his ruin and accelerate it by every means in their power. He holds scarcely any ground but that upon which he encamps; outside the limits of his camp everything is hostile and multiplies a thousandfold the difficulties he meets at every step. (...) No army, however disciplined, can contend successfully against such a system applied to a great nation, unless it be strong enough to hold all the essential points of the country, cover its communications, and at the same time furnish an active force sufficient to beat the enemy whereever he may present himself.12 Despite his acknowledgement of the efficiency of guerilla warfare, however, Jomini was horrified with the spectacle of such unorganized warfare. As an alternative, he therefore recommended the creation of a militia (Landwehr) – which would incorporate the popular element in an organized framework. Even Clausewitz took guerilla warfare seriously, devoting an entire chapter in his On War (Book 6, ch. 26) to “people’s war.”13

–  –  –

Militias in African History Even though they thus have a history in Europe and North America, militias are far from an exclusively northern phenomenon, but they also have a historical background in Africa.

Most armies in precolonial Africa seem to have consisted almost entirely of infantry, organised according to three different models: citizen armies (i.e. militias), “conscripts” (either locally enrolled and fighting under local chieftains or centrally enrolled and divided into more or less standing units) and professional soldiers. Many of these troops were (at least de facto) slaves, sometimes captives from defeated neighbouring tribes.14 Most of these armies were quite small, at least compared to their European counterparts. Unfortunately, they were generally also quite weak and therefore unable to hold their ground in the face of European aggression. As a general rule, the Europeans thus met with surprisingly little organised military resistance. A few African nations and states were, however, able to put up a strong resistance to European conquest.15 The Ashanti empire in West Africa (roughly the present Ghana) seems to have had near universal and compulsary male military service based on a feudal form of organisation and tantamount to a levy of freemen, but its army also included slaves from vanquished neighbouring states. At full mobilisation the army numbered around 200,000 troops, who generally exhibited high fighting spirit (i.e. “morale”), springing mainly from strong unit cohesion. This was ensured by having units consist of freemen coming from the same localities, and by the fact that the slaves also belonged to families, hence also had something to lose from defeat. With the exception of a small cadre force, the organisation was similar to a militia system, consisting mainly of part-time warriors receiving no peacetime drill or training. The Ashanti Wars (1873-84) and the subsequent uprising of 1900 thus pitted a fairly well organised African army against that of the British colonialists, who had to resort to the unusual means of a predominantly white army, numbering 1,500 Europeans to a mere 700 Africans.16

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