What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

On arming the tribes...

Have you gone to bed last night without thinking of the crisis in Darfur? Well, then I shall perhaps remind you of the crisis in Darfur now that you have woken up today. A couple of days ago I was complaining about ideas from US defsec Robert Gates' circles that the overall solution to Afghanistan's problems would be to help some local tribal militias kill more people they don't like, with, according to Pentagon hopes, Global Jihad Inc. staff included in the latter category.
Here's an excerpt from a study by Øystein H. Rolandson, titled Sudan: The Janjawiid and Government Militias. It's an excellent piece of work, I so find, and I especially liked its concept, that it would look at something all too often totally neglected: understanding the motives of loyalist violence in a post-colonial state. Here's an author who gives you a picture more detailed than the "these Janjawiid are natural, devilish manifestations of a desert which we all know is a terrible place, home to only terrible things" sort of one.
From page 162-163:

"To explain fully the role of the Janjawiid in Darfur, it is necessary to examine this phenomenon in the context not only of Darfur's history but also of conflicts elsewhere in Sudan. There was ample historical precedent for a Sudanese government to outfit and employ autonomous armed groups as part of a military effort. When the second civil war in the south started in 1983, mobilisation of tribal militias had already begun. In the mid-1980s, Khartoum used militias on a large scale in the northern Bahr el-Ghazal and western Upper Nile. Since then militias have been used all over the south and in southern parts of the north."


"Why does the government of Sudan choose to use a weapon that appears to be ineffectual, and even counterproductive, in fighting insurgencies? Some disincentives connected specifically to the Janjawiid militia were mentioned above. Creation of militias increases hostility and distrust among tribes that are dependent on each other in peacetime. The Sudanese state is weak, and the central government's legitimacy is limited. Giving carte blanche to irregular forces erodes the state's monopoly over the legitimate use of violence. Moreover, the government lacks control over the militias, and it may prove difficult to demobilise and disarm the Janjawiid and others who want to stay armed and can easily run away or hide their weapons. To be sure, 'Khartoum knew well that it could not disarm the Janjawiid even if it wanted to, despite repeated promises to do just that in 2004...' "

When I'm reading such things about Darfur, I see this guy in front of me shouting, if I heard it correctly, something like "THIS!!! IS!!! DARFUR!!!"
But in fact it could be elsewhere, too. We're quick in denouncing ugly tactics, such as that of playing off tribes against each other in weak post-colonial countries, but when it comes to a lack of resources to secure our interests in certain places on our own, it seems like some of us are perfectly happy to take a leaf out of the most criticised regimes' book.
Anyway, it's that sort of wider comparative perspective because of which I assume a book like African Guerrillas - Raging Against the Machine edited by Morten Bøås and Kevin C. Dunn (with the study by Rolandson in it) is one that could possibly figure on Abu Muqawama's COIN book list, too. It's not exclusively about insurgency as such, and it is rather academia-oriented in discussing the structural circumstances in which insurgencies take place, with a particular focus on the African context. However, if you'd think there's nothing practical in it, then, as I've attempted to demonstrate, it may be time for you to dispose of such bias. In fact one can find many interesting things in the book to note even with faraway places like Afghanistan on one's mind. So here's the cover, and check out the book if you can. (The pic is rather small, so I should tell you that on the side of the pickup truck the sign says "No die - no rest." I thought that's a cool cover photo. It was made by Morten Bøås himself, on some adventurous field trip.)
Update (December 17): Robert Gates may have read what I wrote - just kidding. But what he is saying now makes much more sense all of a sudden. Quote, with highlighting by me:
" "There has been an interest in seeing if we can strengthen our interactions at the provincial and local levels," while still working mainly with the central government, he said.
"The worry that we have and the care that we would have to take that we have not faced in Iraq is, we don't want to re-empower warlords and we don't want to create independent militias," he added. He then emphasized that this was a Karzai effort and that the Afghan president is setting limits such as barring al-Qaida members from the reconciliation move.
"What we are interested in is: Can we detach local areas and perhaps even some Taliban leaders from the insurgency and get them to reconcile with the government?" he said. "

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