New political violence in Africa : secular sectarianism in Sierra Leone

P. Richards

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    17 Citations (Scopus)


    Mary Douglas (1993) has indicated some of the shared concerns that keep voluntary enclaves together as 'social movements'. The present paper describes a rather different kind of enclave politics, being concerned with the 'new violence' of groups enclaved by social exclusion and force. The paper focuses on the emergence and subsequent development of dissidents in the civil war in Sierra Leone. The RUF was at the outset a tiny but conventional guerrilla force, modelled on one of the militias in the Liberian civil war, and seeking to overthrow a decayed neo-patrimonial 'one-party' regime. Gaining little popular support, its members became marooned in forested isolation on the Liberia-Sierra Leone border. Recruits were mainly school children seized by force and 'converted' through having to take part in atrocities against rural civilians. Unable to return to the larger society on pain of summary execution, captives have had little option but to adjust to the political fantasies of a violent and unstable leadership. They were enclaved by force. Indicating the predictive strength of Douglas' arguments about the cultural dynamics of the enclave, the subsequent atrocity-drenched story of the RUF suggests that it is not the content of belief that determines institutional culture but vice versa. To survive, the enforced enclave develops the concerns of the classic 'sect' - a doctrinaire 'rationality' (expressed in crude acts of 'subtractive' violence), rejection of magic, decision making by lots, preoccupation with defection, otiose leadership style. If the rest of the world is to come to terms with violent enclave organizations such as the RUF and Algerian GIA it may have to pay more careful attention to the way enclave institutions think. They may not respond 'rationally' to the kinds of incentives offered by mainstream groups organised around hierarchical and/or individualist systems of social accountability.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)433-442
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1999


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