Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 July 2018
Political violence in post-conflict Sierra Leone has been primarily characterised by inter- and intra-party conflicts, peaking around elections but erupting occasionally throughout the democratic cycle (ARI 2011). The 2007 elections for example saw significant clashes between supporters of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and the All People's Congress (APC) (Christensen & Utas 2008). The 2012 elections were deemed peaceful, yet during the campaign there were attacks on the opposition leader as well as skirmishes between party supporters (CCG 2011; Mitton 2013). These forms of violence have been far more common than violent action ‘from below’, which, as we saw in Chapter 4, is difficult to organise. Electoral violence is not new to Sierra Leone. As Chapter 1 showed, the country's political history is rife with examples of young people being mobilised for chiefdom elections or as hired hands under the APC's repressive one party state. In the aftermath of war, these events take on new meanings and they are shaped by the specificities of reconstruction and democratisation.
Regardless of their collocation in history, young people's violent exploits around elections summon a specific version of the ‘ticking bomb’ narrative, one that envisions their political engagement as destabilising by framing them as actors mobilised ‘from above’ by entrepreneurs of violence (see Collier et al. 2003). The assumption here is that youths, made corruptible by poverty, are easily exploited by powerful political interests. This narrative depicts young people lured by the immediate material rewards offered for acting violently as well as the opportunity for profit in the midst of chaos.
This chapter looks at the intricacies of the process for recruitment in political violence and how they relate to young people's labour market experiences. Following the political violence trail revealed an interesting contrast between two groups’ involvement in violent political incidents. The first was a group of Belgium sellers, who had on occasions made themselves available for violence around elections. The second were members of so-called political party ‘task forces’. A comparison between these two groups’ experiences reflects the importance of understanding political violence through the lens of young people's competition for inclusion in redistributive networks. Violence was used by some young marginals as a form of navigation, a way to signal loyalty to political strongmen in an attempt to cement reciprocal relationships, or to elicit the ‘love’ of a sababu.