From Warlords to Politicians: Transforming Rebel Movements Into Political Parties


Tatyana Denisova, Sergey Kostelyanets


Over the past few decades, African countries have faced a new phenomenon in political life – the ascent to power of former warlords – leaders of insurgent anti-government movements or tribal militias, who become presidents, vice presidents, prime ministers and members of parliament. Warlords seek to translate their wartime gains into material wealth and social status and gain political office to consolidate their military exploits. To achieve this, they employ many different strategies: transforming their armed groups into political parties, joining existing political organizations, establishing totally new parties, or conducting individual political activity.

In societies where power is accumulated through the expansion of social networks – political, economic, military, ethnic, religious, regional, etc. – it becomes extremely useful for a politician to play several leadership roles. Access to various networks allows leaders to expand their base of support: this partly explains why African political elites are represented not only by politicians, but also by businessmen, priests, football players and former warlords. Since most African countries since independence have been in a constant transition from authoritarian to “democratic” governance, from public sector dominance to liberal economies, from limited violence to large-scale warfare, elites have constantly had to invent new roles for themselves in order to maintain political power. If they were unable to achieve the transformation that the situation required, they risked becoming marginalized figures. In this sense, recent warlords intuitively felt it inadvisable to distance themselves from their past wartime activities. Depending on the audience and circumstances, they either emphasized their former merits as field commanders, or, on the contrary, diligently portrayed themselves as vigorous peacemakers.

The literature on peacebuilding and post-war reconstruction, with rare exceptions, ignores such an important aspect as the influence of former warlords on post-conflict electoral processes, focusing almost exclusively on organizational issues, the level of effectiveness of state institutions, intra- and inter-party struggles, methods of ensuring security, and the degree of readiness of polling stations. The present paper aims at filling this gap.


Africa, conflicts, peacebuilding, political parties, militias, warlords, electoral processes, security




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