Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why do young men go fight....

The two important questions for Sudan...

1) What makes leaders decide to fight... to escalate...?
2) What makes young men follow leaders who are likely to fire the first shot.?

These questions have different answers in the beginnings of wartime, and different answers once war is full-on. Sudan right now back in the "beginnings" stage... there is no military commander making tactical decisions on the battlefield, which creates a dynamic of its own (i.e. Obama and McChrystal and Taliban commanders are in a different logic now than they were three years ago). So the decisions of political leaders are whether to initiate or escalate a battle. Or to create the conditions where a spark (an accidental rifle discharge, a deliberate attack by provocateurs) will result in a battle and full-on war.

What would make Salva Kiir order SPLA to take the offensive against SAF? What would make Omar al-Bashir order SAF to take offensive against SPLA?

These questions were prompted by reading Cherry Leonardi's 2007 article in African Affairs, "‘Liberation’ or capture: Youth in between ‘hakuma’, and ‘home’ during civil war and its aftermath in Southern Sudan" which deals with the other question of what makes young men fight when there is an ongoing conflict, namely the conflict in southern Sudan through the 1990s and early 2000s.

She nicely makes the distinction that young men in southern Sudan (she is careful not to overgeneralize, and treat her interpretation of numerous interviews and narratives of events as preliminary and tentative) are not gong to fight because their are angry at their oppressive parents (the generational conflict hypothesis) but in some sense quite the opposite- they are scared of being "abducted" into the SPLA, or they want to join in order to protect their parents and families.  In Leonardi's interpretation, joining the SPLA is like a diversification strategy of the family, to acquire a foothold into the hakuma world.  The treatment of home versus hakuma mirrors the old "two publics" interpretation of Peter Ekeh, and of course is subject to many of the same critiques... reifying hakuma, etc.  But still, it is a worthwhile distinction, I think, and gives considerable nuance to the question of why young men were joining.

A line at the end of the article (p. 412) echoes some of the survey work on demobilized youth done by others in other conflict areas: "Despite the negative depictions being made of traumatized young generations, the many years of war have not eradicated, and have perhaps contributed to, a moral continuity as evidenced in the deeper aspirations of many youth to become 'responsible'."

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