A prominent feature of rebel insurgencies in Africa is the use of abduction to recruit fighters. This research investigates forced recruits who embrace the role of rebel within the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The study seeks to understand the motivations for abductees to stay and gain rank within the group that abducted them and by doing so illuminates the role that forced recruits play in the endurance and survival of armed groups that rely on abduction as a means of recruitment. The research was conducted through twenty interviews with former LRA soldiers during four months of fieldwork in northern Uganda. All participants had been recruited through abduction and have now taken up the Government amnesty and returned home. The results demonstrate that the LRA retains its recruits through finely tuned internal control mechanisms. It uses the threat of violence and manipulates a cultural belief in spirits, which both prevent people from trying to escape. Contrary to the findings in previous research, the LRA does not terrorise their recruits into staying. The LRA gives rank when recruits demonstrate compliance and commitment. In turn, rank reaffirms commitment to the group. A recruit has to demonstrate ability, initiative, courage, and the ability to kill on the battlefield; in short, they have to show they are a good soldier. Those that are not good soldiers die during the fighting, or are killed by their own side. The benefits of rank are largely non-material: rank gives a recruit respect and power within the group, and the ability to ‘marry,’ all cultural conceptions of masculinity. Overall, forced recruits stay with the LRA because gaining rank offers them status that civilian life cannot, while internal control mechanisms in the group make leaving undesirable. This research demonstrates that forced recruits are not traumatized into staying with armed groups, but rather are effectively initiated into becoming soldiers through processes that promote compliance and allegiance to the group. In conclusion, this project, by closely examining the phenomena of forced recruitment, sheds new light on the neglected issue of the role that forced recruits play in the endurance of illicit groups.
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Thesis advisor: Griffiths, Curt
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