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April 9, 2009 / Tom Hill

‘Criminality’ in West African Conflicts

ausoldierdarfur2me2For those with an Athens password check out William Reno’s recent article in International Peacekeeping on ‘Criminality in West African Conflicts’.

Below is the abstract. Note in particular the striking implications for post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation strategy over interests in ‘rooting out criminal networks’:

Most standard analyses and policies aimed at peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction in West Africa understand members of armed groups, and especially their leaders who engaged in illicit commerce, as criminals. This analysis and the policies that follow from it miss the extent to which these transactions now contribute to the construction of new political relationships and are seen by those who participate in them as one of the few avenues for active participation in the post-war economy and politics. This article explains how illicit commerce underlies new political relationships in West Africa. It shows how measures to disrupt these transactions can destabilize politics. But often those who participate in illicit markets prove able to manipulate externally imposed measures and assert their own interests.

The importance of harnessing existing social networks, whether ‘criminal’ or otherwise, in building post-conflict (or in-conflict) stability is an increasingly recurring theme in the practitioner orientated literature. Regarding this issue, here’s another extract from Reno’s article:

Some networks that are formally defined as criminal have significant social roots. Not all of their activities are exploitative. Some provide protection, status, and income to significant groups of people in ways that do not necessarily compete with the construction of state authority. This occurs along a spectrum; some groups are much more predatory and exclusive, while other incorporate local social structures and popular expectations in their operations. These observations suggest that networks that enjoy measures of popular legitimacy may present opportunities for post-conflict state builders.

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