Center for Peace, Democracy and Development

Disarming Militias in Libya: Look to the Examples of Others

Posted in Disarmament, Libya, Middle East, Peacebuilding with tags , , on October 10, 2012 by michaelkeating

The BBC reported on how in Benghazi and Tripoli last week (10/29), over 600 Libyan militiamen turned over their weapons to the Libyan army in exchange for the opportunity to win electronics such as laptops and TVs.
This is just a small victory for peace building considering that some 200,000 Libyans  have access to over 2 million weapons that include a variety of weapons ranging from tanks to handguns.

The weapons are in the hands of militia groups  as a result of the 2011 Libyan civil war and were primarily acquired from the Gaddafi regime or from neighboring countries. Previous attempts to collect them have failed but it seems that momentum was gained after the attack on the US embassy in Libya on September 11 that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The government put out public announcements on TV for the recall of weapons and it worked to a limited degree because of disgust over the terrorist act from just a few weeks before and a desire on the part of many civilians to establish peace and begin rebuilding the state. See the report here.

Peter Fragiskatos argues, in a BBC op-ed, that there are hundreds of militia groups motivated by  two reasons: for ideological reasons and for
material gains.   We know that at least this recent success story appealed to those looking for material gains. The trick may be figuring out the right incentives for groups that are motivated by ideological reasons. Attempts to replicate this recent weapons turnover will likely be tried in other Libyan cities. What can be learned from this?

Fragiskatos pointed out that this is not the first successful attempt by governments to collect arms after domestic civil strife. He highlights
that there have been successful attempts in Albania, Mozambique and Cambodia to collect weapons. In these cases, governments provided the militia with job training, various tools, or community projects using local labor as incentive for weapons turnover to the military.

If the Libyan government would like to implement weapons collections in other cities and make meaningful progress to this end, perhaps they should upgrade incentives to more practical ones that could offer the militia groups opportunity to improve their livelihoods. TVs are not going to provide permanent employment opportunities for these rebels. Rather, job education, household tools, public works projects will help to employ people and rebuild society. Furthermore, with help from the international community in the form aid, there should be guaranteed incentives offered to every one of the 200,000 estimated rebels who hand in weapons rather than entering them into a lottery with only the potential to win prizes.

It is still too soon to tell if this will be successful in fostering peace and aiding the society rebuilding process. In the months to come. if the Libyan government continues to successfully recall weapons, this could offer insight into how to help heal future post conflict societies and how to help them avoid falling into  viscous cycles of conflict.

Check out this BBC video clip of a Libyan weapons collection checkpoint and read the full article, “Libyans hand over hundreds of weapons to army.”

Priscilla DeGregory is a graduate student in the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston.


Darren Kew on Democracy and Ethnic Diversity

Posted in Education, OECD, Somalia with tags , , on September 25, 2012 by michaelkeating

Professor Darren Kew, Executive Director of the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy at UMass Boston reflects on the relationship between ethnic diversity and democracy for a forum published by the Zocalo Public Square, a social networking site for critical thinkers. The complete forum is found here.

Darren’s contribution is below:

On the surface, ethnic and religious diversity seem like a lethal mix for democracy. Commentators typically precede descriptions of ethnic, racial, or religious conflicts with words like “intractable,” under the belief that these identity differences follow an inescapable logic of mutual animosity that must at some point come to blows. It is feared that, since one or the other religion must be “right,” or one or the other language or cultural patterns must be dominant, democratic compromise and negotiation will break down in this climate of mutual suspicion and conflicting values.

Many authors have cited democratic successes such as Finland or Japan as proof that less diversity is better for democracy. Others note that diverse democracies like the United States built their institutions during periods of ethnic hegemony first, and only later expanded the franchise. In our case, for instance, some argue that Anglo-Saxon dominance of American life for the first couple centuries ensured a fairly mono-cultural imprint on our political behavior during the critical years we were building our institutions—so that they could withstand the stresses once other ethnic and religious groups were allowed equal footing in the polity.

These views miss the fundamentals of how democracy thrives. First and foremost, democracy does not presume a common system of beliefs or identities. In fact, it assumes the opposite: that people have an array of opposing interests and beliefs that must be worked through in order to find a broader public good. The only principles that we need to have in common for democracy to work are beliefs in negotiation, compromise, and mutual respect. The rest can be negotiated sufficiently to govern well, even though we may not agree on core issues. Effective public policy does not need unanimity—it only needs a sufficient consensus. Brazil, Ghana, India, Turkey, South Africa, and many other democracies are emerging well despite massive ethnic and religious divides.

Second, democratic systems depend upon a balance of power in order to thrive. This not only means checks and balances among the arms of government, but also requires healthy balances between the state and society, unions and management, rich and poor, and so on. Consequently, religious and ethnic diversity plays a very important role in keeping society from being monolithic, and thus in preserving the balance of power against authoritarian government and society. Multiple identities promoted by multiple religious and cultural institutions ensure a diversity of structures in society that serve as countervailing forces to prevent any one group or view from winning every policy debate and squelching opposition. In the absence of a vigilant and diverse political opposition, the public lacks alternatives to replace a government it no longer favors, and democracy loses its most basic check against irresponsible leaders and, ultimately, against oppression.

Darren Kew is executive director of the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development at UMASS Boston, and Associate Professor in the UMASS Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance.