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”Simple Soldiers?” : Blurring the Distinction between Compulsion and Commitment among Rwandan Rebels in the Eastern Congo

  • Anna Hedlund
Publishing year: 2017
Language: English
Pages: 720-738
Publication/Series: Africa
Volume: 87
Issue: 4
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Abstract english

Media descriptions of the conflicts in the Eastern Congo usually depict violent events as being systematic attacks by rebels and militias (perpetrators) on the civilian population (victims). While much attention has been given to the victims of such violence, less effort has been made to understand the perspectives and underlying motives for violence of those who are actively engaged in fighting the war. Using anthropological arguments, this article argues that the use of the terms ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’ are scientifically problematic when attempting to explain contemporary conflict(s) in the Eastern Congo and other similar war situations in Africa. Based on ethnographic fieldwork among the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), whose leadership was an orchestrating agent in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, I demonstrate that not only is the victim/perpetrator dichotomy unclear, but also that combatants may frequently regard themselves as being both victims and perpetrators at one and the same time. I argue that the main factor behind this dual identity is that, while combatants in the Congo may be under a compulsion to commit violence, they may simultaneously be fully committed to their armed group and to its collective political ideology. While our conventional understanding of the membership of armed groups tends to make a sharp distinction between compulsory participation and commitment to a cause, I show how, in the context of the Eastern Congo, these categories are not, in fact, mutually exclusive.


  • Social Anthropology


  • ISSN: 0001-9720
Anna Hedlund, photo: private
E-mail: anna [dot] hedlund [at] soc [dot] lu [dot] se


Department of Sociology


Department of Sociology
Lund University
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Faculty of Social Sciences