Claudia Forster-Towne

A conference of questions

What role do ex-warlords have to play in the post-conflict setting? Are they a hindrance to the perusal of peace or a necessary ‘evil’? Is there are a gap in literature regarding the role of leaders and personalities in the pursuit of peace? And would a term such as warlord democrats serve to better capture the complexity surrounding the involvement of ex-warlords in political processes. These were some of the questions tackled at a two day conference titled: “Warlord democrats: Agents of change or instigators of insecurity?” hosted by the Nordic Africa Institute on the 20th and 21st of September.

Academics and practitioners from Nigeria, the DRC, the Netherlands, North America, Lebanon, Nigeria, and Sweden gathered to both present their papers and ideas on the topic as well as thrash a the way forward when dealing with this new, and largely unchartered territory.

The conference raised several pertinent themes and debates which will help to frame the research both analytically and conceptually. These debates included the tension between individual agency and structure, which individuals matter, the politics of democracy, the time space conundrum, and the usefulness of the term warlord democrat.

The conference ended with more questions than answers but there was a loose consensus that the unit of analysis for the forthcoming research should remain individuals who were formally involved (and most likely maintain) military connections. There is a research gap from the perspective of individuals themselves in post-conflict settings and the role their personalities and decisions play. This shift is focus is also seen as being policy relevant.

This policy relevance is further enhanced by framing the research around electoral processes. Although it was noted that there are important players in other social networks and that focusing on elections leads researchers to the banks of the normative debate surrounding democracy it was decided that the focus on electoral processes enables researchers to consider how players partake (and do not partake) in the political landscape. The availability of media material surrounding elections and visibility of these actors during this time makes this framework even more attractive. One is also able to consider the role and function of voter constituencies and their relationship to the actions and rhetoric of former warlords.

Moving forward, the conceptual and analytical value of the term ‘Warlord democrat’ will be given further consideration. During the course of the conference the significance of the largely ironic, ‘fluffy’ term came under scrutiny and many felt that the normative baggage the title carried may hinder its analytical ability. Other suggestions included ‘warlord politician’, and ‘political military entrepreneur’.

Beyond this, other challenges included how to: deal with the time/space conundrum; determine which policy audience the research will be directed at; and decide whether this would be a largely exploratory or explanatory research endeavour.

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