Research Report


Bjørn Møller
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2006
Pages: 45
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 4-4)

    The term “militia” either has a very broad (and correspondingly vague and/or abstract) meaning or it is used to refer to different phenomena. The Encyclopædia Britannica defines a militia as a “military organization of citizens with limited military training, which is available for emergency service, usually for local defense.”² However, the term is also used to signify armed forces with only weak links to the state, or indeed to forces opposing the state.

    One way of conceptualising militias may be to situate them along two continua – from policing to soldiering and from state to “anti-state,” as illustrated in Fig....

  2. (pp. 5-7)

    In the sense of organised self-defence by societies, militias have been around for centuries or even millennia. Even though they are thus probably a much older phenomenon than that of the state, in the following we shall focus on militias in settings dominated by states, i.e. where there is either a reasonably strong state or where the absence of such a state is significant, as in the case of collapsed states.

    In Europe, citizen militias were thus lauded by, among others, a thinker who is sometimes referred to as the very father of the notion of raison d’état, Niccolò Machiavelli...

  3. (pp. 8-9)

    Even though they thus have a history in Europe and North America, militias are far from an exclusively northern phenomenon, but they also have a historical background in Africa.

    Most armies in precolonial Africa seem to have consisted almost entirely of infantry, organised according to three different models: citizen armies (i.e. militias), “conscripts” (either locally enrolled and fighting under local chieftains or centrally enrolled and divided into more or less standing units) and professional soldiers. Many of these troops were (at least de facto) slaves, sometimes captives from defeated neighbouring tribes.14 Most of these armies were quite small, at least...

  4. (pp. 10-14)

    After their attainment of independence African states have continued to rely, to a large extent, on militia-like armed forces as auxiliaries. One of the reasons for this is probably the mismatch between needs and capacities. On the one hand, African states are, as a general rule, quite weak in several respects – e.g. economically, militarily and in terms of failing legitimacy because of neopatrimonialist forms of government.21 On the other hand, the tasks they are supposed to handle are also gargantuan.

    The main challenge is not defending the national territory against foreign aggression, which is a rather rare occurrence in...

  5. (pp. 15-25)

    In the following we shall take a closer look at three case studies of Sierra Leone, Sudan and Rwanda, focusing on “pro-state militias” in the (sometimes unofficial) service of the incumbent rulers of the states in which they are operating.

    The war in Sierra Leone was to some extent a side-show to that in Liberia.43 It began with an assault into the eastern part of the country in March 1991 launched not only by the socalled Revolutionary United Front (RUF) but also by forces of Charles Taylor’s NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia) in an attempt to topple president Momoh’s...

  6. (pp. 26-27)

    We have thus seen that African states have on numerous occasions made use of the services of militias, i.e. part-time paramilitary forces, for a variety of missions, ranging from the upholding of law and order and national defence to counter-insurgency and even genocide.

    There are certainly advantages to be derived from such use, viewed from the point of view of the incumbent rulers of the state.

    First of all, militias are cheap and thus an obvious choice for governments strapped for cash, as is the case of most in Africa. There is no need for full-time salaries, even in times...