Friederike Mieth: Coexistence during civil war. Combatants and civilians in Sierra Leone

At the beginning of her presentation on civil war coexistence in Sierra Leone, Friederike Mieth pointed out that the term coexistence has to be understood relatively. The notion suggests the pre-existence of different groups, which in Sierra Leone was not the case. In the context of the presentation, was understood in terms of repeated interactions between different groups of people involved in the civil war.

Mieth argued that the type of armed conflict in Sierra Leone was closer to the logic of riots than to the antagonistic dynamics typically associated with civil wars. There were different armed groups, but those were not formed of out of pre-existing (ethnic or language) groups. Instead they all came from the mass of marginalised youth in the country.

Against this background, Mieth argued, the war did not divide the society, neither in terms of ethnicity, nor in terms of an absolute combatant-civilian divide. Instead, one can observe the continuation of habitualised forms of behaviour as well as of particular social relationships during the war. Mieth described situations, where during periods of intense fighting, people acted according to loyalties which ran counter to the faultlines of the war. As an example, she told the story of a commander of a rebel group, who when his group invaded a town attempted to protect families to which he felt bound by ties of kinship and reciprocity.

In the last part of her presentation, Mieth described how in the postwar situation, the return of combatants to village communities is facilitated by an implicit consensus according to which the current behaviour of a person is more important than what this person did in the past.


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