Tuesday, June 16, 2009

West African Militias

As the recent assassination of leading politicians in Guinea Bissau illustrates, militias are a problem in West African society.

John Emeka Akude, in Recipe For Strife explores the factors that have caused militias to play such a major role in West Africa.


Under the new international dispensation, it is no longer necessary to control an entire state in order to exploit natural resources. It is enough to have access to the commodities in question. Some strongmen who lost state-guaranteed privileges turned to attacking states’ resource bases. Precious stones, gold, iron ore and even timber are lucrative resources on the world market. Those who sell them – whether legally so or not – make good incomes.

As state institutions became redundant, however, employment in the public sector began to dwindle. The number of alienated youth rose astronomically. Even many educated young men no longer had a perspective of steady employment. Youth unemployment in West Africa today is about 50 % (UNOWA 2006: iv). For most of the affected, the choices are
– armed robbery,
– joining a militia,
– smuggling cocaine to the West, or
– embarking on a dangerous journey to Europe across the Mediterranean with shanty boats.

It is easy for members of the disgruntled elite to recruit the unemployed as foot soldiers. Militia leaders can thrive on the global trade in conflict resources, while their rank and file terrorise societies. In an ironic twist, spreading violence boosts the standing and credibility of warlords, as they can offer a sense of security to those loyal to them.

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