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Simple soldiers? Blurring the distinction between compulsion and commitment among Rwandan rebels in Eastern Congo

Abstract
Abstract

Media descriptions of the conflicts in the Eastern Congo usually depict violent events as being systematic attacks by rebels and militias (perpetrators) on the civilian population (victims). While much attention has been given to the victims of such violence, less effort has been made to understand the perspectives and underlying motives for violence of those who are actively engaged in fighting the war. Using anthropological arguments, this article argues that the use of the terms ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’ are scientifically problematic when attempting to explain contemporary conflict(s) in the Eastern Congo and other similar war situations in Africa. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), whose leadership was an orchestrating agent in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, I demonstrate that not only is the victim/perpetrator dichotomy unclear, but also that combatants may frequently regard themselves as being both victims and perpetrators at one and the same time. I argue that the main factor behind this dual identity is that, while combatants in the Congo may be under a compulsion to commit violence, they may simultaneously be fully committed to their armed group and to its collective political ideology. While our conventional understanding of the membership of armed groups tends to make a sharp distinction between compulsory participation and commitment to a cause, I show how, in the context of the Eastern Congo, these categories are not, in fact, mutually exclusive.

Résumé

Les descriptions médiatiques des conflits dans l'Est du Congo dépeignent généralement les événements violents comme des attaques systématiques par des rebelles et des milices (auteurs des actes) sur la population civile (victimes). Alors que l'attention s'est fortement portée sur les victimes de cette violence, l'effort de recherche cherche moins à comprendre les perspectives et les motifs qui sous-tendent la violence de ceux qui participent activement aux combats. Usant d'arguments anthropologiques, cet article soutient que l'utilisation des termes « auteur » et « victime » est problématique sur le plan scientifique pour tenter d'expliquer les conflits contemporains dans l'Est du Congo et d'autres situations de guerre similaires en Afrique. S'appuyant sur des travaux ethnographiques menés sur le terrain auprès des Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), dont les dirigeants ont aidé à orchestrer le génocide au Rwanda en 1994, l'auteur démontre que la dichotomie victime/auteur n'est pas claire, mais aussi que les combattants se considèrent souvent eux-mêmes à la fois comme victimes et auteurs d'actes de violence. L'auteur soutient que le principal facteur à la base de cette double identité est le fait qu'au Congo les combattants peuvent être amenés à commettre des actes de violence sous la contrainte, mais peuvent aussi simultanément être entièrement dévoués à leur groupe armé et à son idéologie politique collective. Alors que notre compréhension conventionnelle des membres de groupes armés tend à faire une nette distinction entre participation obligatoire et dévouement à une cause, l'auteur montre comment, dans le contexte de l'Est du Congo, ces catégories ne s'excluent pas mutuellement dans la réalité.

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Africa
  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
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