Mobilizing Young Combatants in the Mano River Region

Start date
December 31, 2008
End date
December 15, 2012
Project type
Project code
Total grant
Contact person
Maya Mynster Christensen

The project investigates the mobilisation of male youth into violent networks and institutions across the borders of the conflict-ridden Mano River region of West Africa. By exploring the interplay between combatants, their recruiters and humanitarian interventions the project will generate insight into the cyclic demobilisation and remobilisation in a context of peace building. The project illuminates how combatants mobilise/are mobilised not only into militia groups but also into politics, police forces, private security firms, and military institutions cross-cutting ideological boundaries and enclosed political spaces. A major assumption of the proposal is that the weaknesses of interventionist efforts to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate combatants can be traced to a failure to recognise the organisational forms under which combatants are mobilised; i.e. the link between informal patrimonial networks and violent organisation. In the Mano River region, youth is experienced as a confining position characterised by lack of mobility and lack of prospects for social becoming. Therefore young people depend on patrimonial networks to enhance their life chances - in peacetime as well as in wartime. Rather than being replaced during war, patrimonial networks simply become militarised. Against this argument, the project explores the social becoming of youth through violent mobilisation.


This project has explored the mobilisation of young ex-combatants in the aftennath of the civil war in Sierra Leone. While a dominant logic of the internationally-directed peace process was that combatants should demobilise and adapt to civilian lives in order for peace to be consolidated, the project has documented that militarised networks have remained largely interact. The relative consistency of these networks is a result of their capacity to provide support and protection in the absence of alternative avenues for survival and social becoming. Moreover, the consistency of militarised networks is a product of the emerging markets for violence and security outsourcing that arise not just locally, but regionally and globally. Here, the large population of unemployed, young militia men that became available in the aftermath of the war constitutes an attractive pool of workers both to local and foreign recruiters - because they have the capacity to perform violence, and because the are cheap.
In the PhD thesis entitled 'Shadow Soldiering: Mobilisation, Militarisation and the Politics of Global Security in Sien-a Leone' I explain why ex-combatants tum to violent networks in order to contest social and political exclusion, and I show how emerging markets for security outsourcing inspire violent mobilisation - both nationally, regionally and globally.