Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Wednesday, October 29

Blattman on the logic of child soldiering

Chris Blattman has a post on his blog about a paper he's working on, which has some fascinating insight into the relationship between child soldiering and the use of coercion among rebel groups. Drawing data from insurgencies in Uganda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Colombia, and relying particularly on a set of both qualitative and quantitative data from northern Uganda, Blattman shows a correlation between the use of coercion and the use of child soldiers in populating an armed movement.  There is significant variation in both of these features across different settings, though. The graph above, for instance, shows the age ranges (with the block signifying 25% to 75%) among the soldiers in various armed insurgencies.  The study, then, attempts to answer questions about why there is such a wide range in both the ages of rebel soldiers and in the use of forced recruitment?  

The figures above make the case that adolescents are more susceptible to coercion, via fear and indoctrination. In the upper one, you can see that the younger the abductee, the more likely he was to have felt allegiance to the movement; below, the younger the abductee, the longer she stayed in the bush.  The basic logic of Blattman's argument is that rebels need able-bodied soldiers, but those groups that need to rely on coercion to maintain their numbers skew younger, as these captives prove easier to keep and to keep loyal.  Such groups, like the LRA in Uganda, seem to strike a balance at adolescents, as they are old enough to be effective fighters, but seemingly young enough to be indoctrinated.  Blattman has a draft of the paper online, which is definitely worth a read.

Regarding the LRA, at least, one factor in their reliance on abduction, which Blattman discusses in the paper, is the lack of support they derive from the community.  An unpopular insurgency to begin with, this Acholi rebellion originally branded itself a defender of the ethnic group against tribal chauvinism, but it has since become alienated by waging a vicious war against the very civilian population it sought to protect.  The LRA happens to have the youngest composition of the rebel groups in the study, and relies almost entirely on coercion to maintain its numbers. Can we then conclude that child soldiering can be a direct product of rebellions that lack widespread support?