Saturday, May 12, 2007

Lumpen Militariat in Post-Ideological Conflict in Africa

In March 1973, Ali A. Mazrui published an article titled "The Lumpen Proletariat and the Lumpen Militariat: African Soldiers as a New Political Class" (Political Studies 21.1: 1–12). The term Mazrui used, "lumpen militariat," to describe a class of semi-organized and semi-literate soldiers who, kept out of the circle of clientelism, increasingly begin to demand a share of power and influence, is clearly more useful today than in the 1970s.

One of the phenomena discussed in "The New Face of Warfare" by Fatin Abbas (The Nation 28 May 2007), as well as the books reviewed by it (Jimmie Briggs's Innocents Lost, P.W. Singer's Children at War, and Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier), is the problem of the lumpen militariat in a post-ideological conflict -- war as the end in itself rather than a means to achieve an ideological end (such as establishing a republican or socialist state), fought by soldiers with no ideological commitment, their only motive being to stay alive and eat enough in the midst of dire poverty and hunger -- who recruit children as young as five:
It is in Africa, considered to be the epicenter of the child soldier phenomenon. . . . In the 1991-2001 civil war between Sierra Leone's government and the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), as many as 80 percent of all fighters were between the ages of 7 and 14. In the two waves of civil war that engulfed Liberia between 1989 and 2003, up to 70 percent of government and rebel combatants were children. In the recent war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), ignited in 1996 by Laurent Kabila's revolt against Mobutu's regime, roughly half the fighters (between 30,000 and 50,000) were child soldiers. (Abbas)
Unfortunately, the review as well as the books reviewed confuses this predominantly African phenomenon, arising out of the ruin of failed states and in turn ruining failing states in the only continent that has seen absolute as well as relative declines in living standards in recent decades, with a very different phenomenon of young men and women, only slightly under 18, joining such ideological armies as FARC.

What's the difference? An ideological conflict can result in a state that is better than the ancient regime before the conflict; a post-ideological conflict, often endless, never does -- if it ends and results in a state at all, it merely establishes the dictatorship of the militariat (no longer quite lumpen as they acquire state power), very often a new ethnocracy to boot.

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