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Militarized refugees as causes of regional conflict systems? The cases of Zaire and Tanzania compared

Open Panel

Abstract

The relevance of militarized refugees for the regional diffusion of violence and the development of a regional conflict system is still neglected in peace and conflict studies. What impact do combatants or potential recruits hiding among innocent refugees have on the regional diffusion of militant violence? And how can these “refugee warriors” lead to the development of a regional conflict system? The concept of regional conflict systems is the theoretical frame of the paper. These systems are geographically determined areas of insecurity, characterised by interdependent violent conflicts with a plurality of different private, sub-state, national or transnational actors. From a social constructivist perspective it is argued that not only one factor at a time plays a crucial role in the emergence of regional conflict systems, but that there is always an interaction between structural factors on one and triggering factors on the other hand. In a combined approach first the structural framing conditions and the background for the emergence of particular actors, interests and motives need to be analysed. In a second step it is asked for historical and chronological interactions, processes and dynamics. The empirical part of the paper compares two striking and related cases of militarized refugees: The refugee situation in Zaire and in Tanzania in the 1990s. In both cases, combatants were hiding among the masses of hundreds of thousand of refugees that fled after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the civil war in Burundi from 1993 onwards. In Zaire, the refugee warriors got the chance to rearrange themselves and attack not only their home country Rwanda, but also ethnic Tutsis in the Eastern provinces of Zaire. The effect was the intervention of the ADFL with their allies Rwanda and Uganda and the emergence of a regional conflict system in 1996/7. In Tanzania in contrast the situation was tense but remained peaceful. This is not only due to humanitarian organisations that separated the combatants from the refugees in the case of Tanzania, but did not so in Zaire. Furthermore, it is stated that the emergence and diffusion of regional violence became only possible against the background of the structural factors and framing conditions. In the case of Zaire, these were mainly the fragile state structures with the government of patrimonialism and mismanagement by the long-year dictator Mobutu. Added to that were ethnic tensions between Banyarwanda und the autochthones in Eastern Zaire that provided another reason for Rwanda to intervene. In Tanzania, on the other hand, the state structures were relatively stable. The causal dynamics of these two different cases will be highlighted particularly in the paper. The paper concludes with the insight that in case of any humanitarian emergency resulting out of militant conflict the international community has to find a strategy that addresses both structural framing conditions and the triggering factors to prevent the regional diffusion of violence.