Recognizing a window of opportunity between the ending of Sierra Leone’s war and the beginning of trials by the International Special Court for Sierra Leone, Columbia University’s Earth Institute provided expedited support for a data-gathering project to better understand the causes and consequences of Sierra Leone’s civil war, the internal dynamics of the fighting groups, and the best strategies available to the international community to respond to the security concerns raised by civil conflicts.
In partnership with a Freetown-based NGO, the Post-conflict Reintegration Initiative for Development and Empowerment (PRIDE), we conducted a large-scale survey of ex-combatants during the summer of 2003, collecting information on all stages of the Sierra Leone conflict. Four months of intensive data collection on the ground yielded surveys of 200 non-combatants and over 1,000 ex-combatants from all factions and regions of Sierra Leone.
The data offers a systematic assessment of the dynamics of the conflict and the post-conflict period. It provides a key source of information that can help contribute to a more complete history of the conflict, evaluate the prospects for continued peace, and influence appropriate policies for intervention and post-conflict reconstruction in Sierra Leone and other regions of civil conflict.
This report provides a first-cut at the evidence on how the factions were organized, how combatants experienced the demobilization process, and trends in post-conflict reintegration. Because interest within Sierra Leone is presently focused on peacebuilding and the reintegration process, this interim report focuses especially on parts of the survey related to demobilization and reintegration.
A range of seemingly rival theories attempt to explain why some individuals take extraordinary risks by choosing to participate in armed conflict. To date, however, competing accounts have typically not been grounded in systematic, empirical studies of the determinants of participation. In this article, we begin to fill this gap through an examination of the determinants of participation in insurgent and counterinsurgent factions in Sierra Leone’s civil war. We find some support for all of the competing theories, suggesting that the rivalry between them is artificial and that theoretical work has insufficiently explored the interaction of various recruitment strategies. At the same time, the empirical results challenge standard interpretations of grievance-based accounts of participation, as poverty, a lack of access to education, and political alienation predict participation in both rebellion and counterrebellion. Factors that are traditionally seen as indicators of grievance or frustration may instead proxy a for more general susceptibility to engage in violent action or a greater vulnerability to political manipulation by elites.
Lots of resources are put into assisting ex-combatants return to civilian life. But we don’t understand the reintegration process well and whether interventions to support it are effective. We find that a history of abuse is a good predictor of reintegration difficulties but we find no evidence of the effectiveness of UN programs, although we emphasize that no evidence of an effect is not the same as evidence of no effect.
We seek to understand why some fighting factions are so much more abusive to civilian populations than others. There are many possible reasons for this; in the Sierra Leone case variation in the discipline of subfactional units appears best able to account for behavior with civilians. Within both the rebel and the militia groups abuses were significantly more limited in the more disciplined units.