Rebels driven by rivalry not greed

May 21, 2004

Revenge and rivalry rather than greed and ideology encourage people to join armed rebel groups, according to Colombian scholars.

Findings from the Crisis States Programme, which is funded by the Development Studies Institute (Destin) at the London School of Economics, challenge the premise that armed rebellions are driven primarily by economic motivations. Destin is collaborating with researchers at three Colombian universities to discover why insurgent groups are created.

Jean-Paul Faguet, a lecturer at Destin, explained: "In the case of Colombia, it is not about ideology and often not about obtaining a salary."

The main guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), does not pay its 19,000 soldiers, while 30 per cent of its members are women, who join to confront machismo rather than for material reasons.

Revenge and personal and local rivalries seem to be the main reasons for pursuit of political goals through violence. Francisco Gutierrez, a professor at the National University in Bogot , highlights spite "as an important emotion shared among recruits".

Professor Gutierrez added: "Armed conflict can be reduced by understanding why people join in the first place."

The research points to the efficient organisation of rebel groups as a factor in their longevity. James Putzel, director of the Crisis States Programme, suggests that "the rise of armed groups and their persistence is fundamentally linked with a failure and weakness of state authorities".

Dr Putzel believes that this research "may inform the international community about the mounting violence from a radicalised minority within Islam and push the major powers to focus more attention on why young Muslims are driven to pursue terror".

But Dr Putzel warns against branding as terrorists all who pursue politics through violence: "Colombian authorities and other governments are more inclined to label problematic armed rebel groups as terrorists, making it more likely they will get US military aid."

Jonathan Di John, a lecturer at Destin, said: "The Crisis States programme enables Colombian researchers to investigate a neighbouring Andean project and address the lack of comparative research at the regional and international level among Andean scholars."

Destin academics this week met their Colombian counterparts in Bogot under the auspices of the British Council to present their research. "While the funds originated from the UK, we have been able to develop a real sense of a partnership among equals in this programme," Dr Putzel said.


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