Author:Zoe Marks (Harvard University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the scope and significance of armed group ideology in light of the tendency to dismiss African rebel groups as lacking political ideology, drawing on the RUF/Sierra Leone case study.
Paper long abstract:
This paper examines the scope and significance of armed group ideology in light of the tendency to dismiss African rebel groups as lacking ideology. Existing studies of African wars often rely on historically informed typologies that categorize insurgents' aims and beliefs according to their position vis-à-vis liberation struggles or external sponsorship. Such historical contingencies weaken the analytical salience and operationalizability of ideology as a category and concept. This paper critically examines the political historiography of African armed group ideologies to identify how and why they began to be dismissed in the past quarter-century. I excavate the ideology of the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone - a paradigmatic apolitical, resource-driven rebel group - to examine the contours and bounds of rebel ideology in practice. Using original documents and ex-combatant interviews, I demonstrate that the group's key text and widely accepted narratives about 'Green Book' inspiration are wholly inconsistent with the internal ideology training manuals used to educate members. Moreover, violence and coercion were integral to the group's 'ideology training' that is often presumed to be separate and apart from physical-military practice. The analysis raises important epistemic questions about how syncretic ideologies have been measured and silenced, and empirical questions about the transmission of political ideas between rebel leaders and fighters.
Ideology and Armed Struggle in Contemporary Africa