Weak governments – unable to meet the basic needs of the population – appear to be the underlying factor enabling armed groups to thrive.
“The social contract between the citizens and the state has been broken. The State is [no longer] providing the protection, the services, the legal system to allow people to earn a living and have opportunities,” declares Francesca Grandi, the Editor of the Armed Conflict Survey 2019, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
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The nature of contemporary conflict and its shifting paradigms makes it difficult to apply the traditional tools of peacemaking. The continuous fragmentation of armed groups poses a challenge for the implementation of peace deals. In the Central African Republic, for example, when the conflict started in 2013, there were two factions fighting each other and six years later, in February 2019, 14 groups signed a peace accord.
“But on the ground, there are many more militias and self-defense groups which have not signed the peace agreement. So, this creates dynamics of violence on the ground,” explains Grandi.
Criminal activities in conflict zones
Armed groups engaged in criminal activities have the means to create a parallel economy; they are able to sustain themselves by generating funding and achieve complete independence from the State.
“The drug trade is one the main sources of funding for many groups. Traditionally, peace was [achieved] based on political accord but the motivations of groups who seek profits rather than political legitimacy are very different,” says Grandi.
The tools, traditionally used to broker peace, are based on political leverage but they now prove “insufficient to bring these criminal organisations back into the fold of the rule of law.”
These groups are involved in the drug trade, human trafficking, protection racket and often “capture licit trade.”
In sub-Saharan Africa where the cattle business is very important to sustain the local economy, armed groups are “getting involved in this trade and eschew it to their advantage.”
In regions plagued by rampant insecurity, some armed groups are able to provide a semblance of stability, substituting themselves to a state which is unable to provide public services. Thus, gaining the “loyalty and support of the population.”
Grandi says that in Central America, the gangs literally control territories where security forces cannot enter.
“In these territories, they even create social norms. They are able to enforce rules about how people should behave, dress or consume,” says Grandi.
Exploiting humanitarian aid
Warring parties – on both sides – manipulate humanitarian crisis for their own, often lucrative, advantage.
Grandi gives the example of South Sudan where she says that both the government and the many armed groups make it difficult for humanitarian agencies to reach the population.
“The State create bureaucratic difficulties for the organisations to operate in the country. Armed groups which control different sections of the country request [that humanitarian] organisations to pay fees to access certain areas,” explains Grandi.
Funds which should have been used to deliver aid to a suffering population are diverted by armed groups operating like a state within a state.
The effects of climate change can fuel existing conflicts as there is more competition for scarce natural resources.
In the central plains of Nigeria, the ongoing conflict opposing farmers and pastoralists is exacerbated as both parties are competing for the same land and natural resources.
“Rural societies are the first to suffer the effects of changing climatic patterns, which reduce the prospects for agriculture-based economies and add pressure on the most vulnerable populations.” (extract from ACS2019)
Poor harvests are not only quickly felt in urban areas; it also means lost livelihood for a rural population which then tend to migrate towards urban centres.
A weak government proves unable to provide the “social safety nets” or “alternative livelihoods”, thus fuelling the existing grievances of the more marginalised portion of the population.
“And this plays into the hands of armed groups which are very ready to recruit people who are either out of job and have no alternative but to join them,” concludes Francesca Grandi, senior fellow for Conflict Security and Development at IISS.
Follow Francesca Grandi on Twitter @fragrandi
Follow Zeenat Hansrod on Twitter @zxnt