Rulers and Rebels

Political bodies, rulers as well as opposition groups, are expected to adhere to principles of good governance. This concept has been given a central position in relations between states. Though the concept is not very well defined, there is more or less consensus that political institutions should respect the rights of individual citizens and minority groups. The polity should not only serve the interests of some specific classes, communities or tribes in the country, but those of society as a whole. It should not be guilty of corruption, cronyism or fraud, neither financially, or politically. It should be willing to share power and to respect non-violent transfer of power, when the people demand this, for instance through elections. It should engage itself in a democratic process; guarantee transparency and accountability. It should demand from its citizens that they respect the law. However, also the polity itself should respect the rule of law. And its laws should be based on a constitution that cannot easily be changed at the arbitrary will of those who are in power.

Such are more or less the conditions of good governance. Their precise definition will differ between countries and, for each country, over time. However, the hard core is always the same: democracy, human rights and rule of law, which in particular limits the use of force and violence.
But do such principles of good governance also apply to opposition movements, insurgents and rebels? They do not govern, but their objective is to get access to power in the country, to share that power or even to replace the regime. In their struggle to achieve their objectives they use violence and meet counter violence.International charters concerning human rights and international humanitarian law set the norms for the behaviour of all parties, but in reality it seems inevitable that principles of human rights and good governance are violated during the struggle, by governments as well as rebels. But rebels want to become governments and, once upon a time, parties in governments were opposition or rebel movements.
In many countries it has taken centuries before standards of good governance were met. This applies also to the West. In some of those countries achieving better governance was the result of an ongoing process, sometimes resulting in rather sophisticated governance structures. In some this process was halted by factors beyond control of the polity itself. Other countries suffered a set-back, due to an abuse of power by authorities or as a result of action by opposition forces to grasp that power. However, overall progress towards better governance has proceeded everywhere. This progress was facilitated by a growing international consensus that the concept of good governance reflects a more advanced phase in the relation between state and society or between governments and individual citizens. .
The endorsement of values of democracy and human rights by the international community in the Charter of the United Nations and in related and subsequent treaties and declarations has made these a global phenomenon, also applicable to other than Western countries. These other countries have subscribed to these norms and standards out of free will, when they joined the United Nations. Efforts have been made to preach these values, to export them or even to impose them on other nations. However, it is clear that such values are only sustainable if they are internalized and become the common property of the citizens of the country itself, if they are part of their own mindset, something they strive for themselves, because they consider this as a positive thing, at least as a protective device.
In younger states the people have had less time to make such a choice and to institutionalize democracy and human rights into the political structure of the country. That is in particular true for nations that have become independent nation states after decolonisation, a process that started in the 1940s and was more or less completed thirty years later. Many nation states are presently no more than thirty to sixty years old. It is no wonder that in many of these states governance is less good, when measured with the help of the criteria mentioned above. It can only be less good than as they did not have the long history of state building and policy making as states in the West where it took centuries of violent political struggle before governance standards were enshrined in declarations such as the Bill of Rights (in England), the Declaration of Independence (in the United States) or the Constitution of the Netherlands.
For some of the new states it was not self evident at all that they would wish to adhere to good governance principles, because those were the principles of their colonisers, from which they had just liberated themselves. Colonial countries, while applying such standards at home had often violated human rights and democratic principles within the country they had occupied. So, colonial countries could be blamed for having applied double standards. Some new regimes were quite enlightened, respecting the human rights of their citizens. Others applied authoritarian government practices, similar to those of their colonizers, or even turned into dictators themselves soon after having taken office.
It would be interesting to study the reasons behind the different developments. The specific character of colonial rule may have played a role. Some colonizers were more enlightened than others. However, the societies concerned also differed amongst themselves. Some of them were characterized by tribal structures, with rather authoritarian chieftains. In others the new leaders were contested right from the beginning by competing movements, which turned into adversaries. This resulted in internal disturbances, insurgence, violence and civil war. Regimes often responded by resorting to counter violence, human rights violations and oppression. In a number of instances sooner or later this resulted in efforts to liberate the country again, this time from the new rulers who had become authoritarian oligarchs and were seen as the heirs of the colonial oppressors. In other instances this led to an endeavour to split the territory of the new state. Other countries, which had been formally independent throughout, like many Latin American countries, were also affected by the virus of liberation in the new phase of globalisation following decolonisation. In many of these countries too, insurgence, rebellion and civil wars broke out.
Many of these conflicts were decades old, or even older, but they had been fought below the surface, without many opportunities to deal with them in political terms. The root causes of these conflicts were sometimes economic, sometimes religious or cultural, sometimes nationalistic or tribal. They had been overshadowed by the world wide ideological contest between capitalism and communism. The parties to these conflicts were easily overpowered by outside forces from the East or from the West. During the Cold War the West as well as the East tried to contain a possible extension of each other's sphere of influence in the Southern part of the world. Both had been in favour of keeping the status quo and had tried to prevent change within countries that might result in alliance hopping. Both had given political, economic and military or intelligence support to friendly regimes, irrespective as to whether these regimes were representing the interests of their own population. Internal conflicts were often contained or oppressed with the help of outside forces.
The end of the Cold War put an end to this. After the fall of the Berlin wall such conflicts could surface more easily. Change within countries was no longer prevented or obstructed by powers from outside.However, such change very often took place in a violent manner. Conflicts which already existed in many societies of the so-called then Third World, but which had been contained with the help of outside powers, re-emerged. Many of these conflicts were not purely political. They had social and economic roots, or were of a tribal, cultural or religious character.
Feelings of resentment, anger, revenche, retaliation and hate were mounting. It is therefore unsurprising that after 1989 in so many countries violent conflicts broke out and that so many victims were made. This was the third wave of violence.
The three waves of rebellion - the anti-colonial struggles, the anti-oligarchy clashes following decolonisation and the internal community rifts after the Cold War - cannot be sharply distinguished from each other. They overlapped and affected each other, in time as well as in character. The root causes were not dissimilar. The objectives of the various rebel movements were not always very clear. Sometimes they were mainly anti anything, without well defined political objectives and without well elaborated programs. But at a certain point in time all these movements had to transform themselves from a purely military force into a political entity, either as a government or as an opposition party. Sometimes that was necessary because the military struggle had been won and power had been grasped. In other cases the transformation was necessary in order to sustain that struggle, to gain support from the population, to participate in political negotiations or to gain international recognition and acclaim.
In this book seven case studies are presented of such transformations. Some have been successful, others failed. The reasons for success or failure are to a high extent country specific, just like the various conflict causes and the objectives of the movements concerned. But the authors have tried to sketch a general picture. They have also made an effort to draw some general conclusions on how to foster the rebel-to-party transformation in a post-conflict environment. At the same time they warn the reader: such a transformation is neither linear nor one-dimensional, and the change as such is neither irreversible nor pre-defined. Having said this, they present some general characteristics on the basis of the assumption that there is a strong link between the origins of a rebel movement, how they operate during the war and how they function as political organization after the war.
This is a sound hypothesis. The authors distinguish nature and motivation as well as various operational characteristics of rebel movements during a violent conflict: organisational and leadership structure, methods of recruitment and sources of support. This distinction results in a logical framework for the analysis that leads to interesting observations. These apply not only to the individual movements studied, but lead also to conclusions concerning the general pattern of transformation and the conditions for success. One may perhaps differ with the respective authors with regard to the relative success or failure of individual movements and their prospects, but in general the conclusions of the studies are plausible: A transformation is successful, first, when the leadership shows a demonstrated commitment to a peaceful ending of the conflict; second, when fighters are completely disarmed and demobilized and cut off from para-military forces; third, when the principle of electoral competition is being recognized and enough political capacity has been built to take part both in the elections themselves as well as in the elected political bodies thereafter. For many rebel movements this is a tall order. The conditions for success as presented in this book are pretty obvious, but in practice they can not easily be met, anyway not all of them at the same time.
Is it politically acceptable to see such a transformation as a gradual process, or will a transformation only be successful if it is being implemented at one go, as soon and as complete as possible? Political realism will lead to the conclusion that a step by step transformation will be inevitable. If that is the case it would be worthwhile to define yardsticks in order to judge whether progress is fast enough and not stalemated or reversed. It would also be useful to learn the lessons from past successes and failures and elaborate policies to guide future transformations. In the fast expanding literature about conflict and development, bringing theoretical insights and practical experience, this book is a welcome contribution.
Implicitly the essays in this book raise questions for further study. The seven case studies concern both the second and the third wave of movements. In all cases analysed in the book also other rebel movements have been active, more or less parallel. Often these were competing movements. That is not uncommon. It happened also during the liberation wars against colonial occupation. Some of the competing movements have gone through a transformation process themselves (for instance, PLO in comparison to Hamas), others not at all (for instance, the so-called Other Armed Groups in Sudan, parallel to SPLA). Does the success or failure of the transformation of a movement also depend on the posture of its competitors? This is a question that would warrant further study.
It would also be worthwhile to compare the conditions for success and failure of the second and third wave movements with those of the first wave. For instance, has the relative success of the transformation of Frelimo into a political party influenced the transformation of Renamo? Or, can the origin of a rebel movement in the second and third phase be explained in part by the relative success of the transformation of an anti-colonial liberation movement into a political entity in an earlier phase? Could a successful transformation of a first wave movement, also in terms of good governance, explain why in that country no significant rebel movement has operated? To which extent does good or bad governance by a regime determine the success of rebel movements and that of their transformation into a political body?
All these questions relate to humanitarian law, human rights, democracy and good governance in general. The lessons learned and the questions posed are of great importance. The waves of rebellion are not behind us. On the contrary, since the beginning of this century they are more widespread than before. This is one of the consequences of globalisation. Increasingly rebel movements cross national borders. They all have their have their diasporas, supporting them politically, financially and with weapons. The struggles are intense and can last long. The number of casualties and other victims is often high. In the present phase of the development of nation states around the world the causes of conflict and contestation are no less fundamental than in the past. Studying these underlying reasons for rebellion is a matter of high relevance for governance, national as well as international.
This is the text of a foreword, written for the book From Soldiers to Politicians. Transforming Rebel Movements After Civil War, edited by Jeroen de Zeeuw and published by Lynne Rienner London, 2008.The book is the result of a research project which had been organized by Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relation, The Hague. I had been requested by Clingendael to write the foreword. However, the publisher decided not to publish it, because of its length.