Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Violence, Popular Punishment, and the War in the Central African Republic

Written together with Sylvain Batianga-Kinzi, I have a new article out in the latest issue of African Affairs. 

In writing this article, we had a few objectives. First, we wanted to call attention to the spectrum of violence that has long existed in CAR -- within families, between families, in neighborhoods -- and the way that "non-state" actors have long had the capacity to engage in forms of spectacular violence designed to provoke fear. In our view, these factors help explain the patterns of mobilization that we've seen in the war in CAR over the past couple of years, which have reflected not organized-from-on-high entities but have rather grown out of the way people have responded to the threats they perceive in their midst, on a more diffuse basis. Another objective was to encourage people to jettison the concept "popular justice," the euphemism frequently used in place of "vigilantism." At least in CAR and my guess is elsewhere as well, people who respond violently to social threats like burglary or sorcery do not see their work as "justice," a word that connotes the ideal resolution of a given dispute. Rather, they see it as necessary to punish the (alleged) perpetrator in order to send a message both to the criminal and to anyone else considering that kind of behavior that it is not acceptable. Hence we feel that popular punishment is a more apt term.