This Section looks at the quality of peace and political dynamics after civil war, especially in cases that involved a rebel-to-party transformation. It will bring together a series of panels to examine a range of urgent and underexplored themes facing conflict studies today, including the organizational challenges facing former rebel parties; their influence on state building and peace building processes, and the meaningfulness of their engagement; democratization and institutional design following rebel transitions; the role of local dynamics (and their interaction with state and international processes) in the transformation of rebel groups and their subsequent trajectories; and the nature of governance and societal change after a rebel-to-party transformation, amongst others. It welcomes methodological diversity and innovation to encourage cross-disciplinary conversations about politics after civil war. In-depth case studies and large-N studies that engage in conversations across methodological boundaries are welcome. In addition, it welcomes empirical, theoretical and applied policy-focused research related to these themes.
Since 1990, nearly every peace settlement negotiated to end a civil war has been premised upon the construction or expansion of party-based electoral politics. Integral to these agreements are provisions for former war contenders and rebel groups to transform into political parties that compete for voter support to gain access to power. Even in places where civil wars ended in one-sided victories (as in Sri Lanka and Angola) or where new states have been formed (as in Kosovo, East Timor and South Sudan), the introduction of multi-party systems and electoral democracy were integral to these countries’ new constitutions.
Indeed, over the past decade an important body of research has emerged that examines the processes by which former rebel organizations transform into political parties, focusing on both the organizational challenges of transition and the impact of these transformations on political settlements. Recently, scholars have also examined how rebel group successor parties adapt to electoral politics and on the links between the wartime rebel group dynamics and their post-war political behaviour. We are thus gaining a better understanding of the conditions under which rebel group-to-political party transformation occurs, the intra-organisational dynamics that influence party behaviour, and how such parties adapt to the electoral game.
Yet significant gaps in our knowledge and understanding of these processes remain, especially when it comes to longer term processes around political and societal transformation and their effects for democratization, peace building and state building. What is lacking in our current understanding of “post-civil war political dynamics” is a deeper and more systematic analysis of how the legacies of armed conflict and the post-war dynamics of political contestation, from the national to the local, shape these key processes in the decades after civil war has ended.
For example, one area to explore further is to explain variation in whether and why some former rebel groups seem to be better equipped to fulfil a party’s role in raising the voice of minorities or marginalized groups than others. While scholars of democratization have explored institutional mechanisms to mitigate conflict, our insights about institutional design often rest on the assumption that the political parties operating in those institutions effectively represent key societal groups. But do they? To what extent are these parties effective advocates of policies and if so which policies? These questions are important for deepening our understanding of how the key stake-holders to the civil war contribute to the urgent tasks of governance that directly impinges on long-term conflict resolution and development.
Another under-explored area relates to the nature of former rebel groups political participation, especially their electoral participation. A number of scholars agree that armed groups may be born of governments’ exclusionary practices, such as social, political and economic repression of minorities. The corollary of this is that with political inclusion of former armed groups through electoral competition, alongside institutional reform to enhance minority group representation (such as ethnic quotas, regional autonomy provisions or proportional representation), their reliance on coercive measures will diminish. But this depends on how well parties are able to aggregate and articulate the interests and grievances of their constituents. This raises questions such as, how meaningful is the electoral participation by former rebel groups in politics? Are these parties exerting a durable force on the character of politics, or does organizational weakness or the emergence of new cleavages render them increasingly less relevant over time? To what extent do war-related factors trump the effects of institutional design?
The role of former armed groups in ‘precarious state-building’ processes merits additional attention. Scholarly debates to date have focused mainly on international interventions, paying less attention to how domestic political elites and local agencies shape state building. The observable patterns and dynamics of the political conversion trajectories of rebel groups speak directly to both the capacities and limitations of former rebel groups as state builders. As Tilly has argued, understanding state-building requires us to take into account the “coalitions, rivalries, and confrontations between major political actors outside of the state.” Given that many armed groups mobilised around a discourse of demanding enhanced representation and fundamental state transformation, a central question remains whether and how that discourse and goal is manifested in the post-war era. To what extent do rebel group successor parties – and other political elites – contribute to inclusive state-building? This requires further weighing in existing societal divides and how these are challenged and replicated inside or outside the former armed groups, for example in relation to gender relations, class cleavages or ethnic divisions. How are these dynamics influenced by multitude of interactions between other actors, including international, domestic and local agents?
The section is organised by the Politics After War Research Network (www.politicsafterwar.com). We invite full panels and individual papers that broadly fall within the realm of the section topic. The section aims to place scholars at different stages of their careers in conversation with each other, in order to encourage, inspire and create dialogue between the fields of critical peace and conflict studies and political party research.