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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Professor Abye Tasse: Conversion from guerrillas to civil life - Rebels with a cause?

18th March 2009, 17:30 to 18:30, The Old Library, Grey College

IAS/Grey College Public Lecture

“They have lost everything that makes them human. They do not deserve to live. That is why we must kill every single one of them. Think of it as destroying a great evil.”

Ishmael Beah, The true Story of a Child Soldier: A Long Way Gone,
(Harper Perennial, London, 2007, pp. 108)

The iconic figure of Che Guevara romanticized the Guerrilla fighters in 60s and the 70s. Since the 1980s they have lost their appeal. More precisely, they are frequently demonized and dehumanized by the media. The recent “civil” war in Sierra Leone and that in the Mozambique between the forces of Renamo and Frelimo and the atrocities committed during these wars has certainly contributed to shaping and framing the new image of Guerrilla fighters as non-humans. Additional new images have emerged with the notion of Child Soldiers (Victims, Perpetrators, Killing machines … simultaneously).

With the creation of the image of Guerrilla fighters as non-human, we have also observed the existence of multiple actors engaged in armed struggle. For different reasons some have ceased to exist, others have been “successful” and now hold the command of States. This has certainly been the case in Africa, which has seen the arrival on its political scene of “new” governments that have emerged as a result of often lengthy armed struggles.

This time these armed struggles were waged not against European colonial powers, but against repressive governments led by African leaders: Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Ruanda are such examples. Much has been written about the leaders of these governments and, on the “illusion or disillusion” of western countries or the hope for Africa. But, when it comes to the understanding of significance of the armed struggle movements, apart from the official histories - which are often derived from the political movements themselves - very few scholars have paid attention to this subject. As a result literature analysing the wide area of armed struggle in Africa and people lives thereafter, have often focused primarily on two areas: child soldiers and demobilization of combatants. Because these studies have not been rooted in an African perspective, they tend to generalise and present a singular vision of all forms of armed struggle and erroneously depict those involved in armed struggles as inhuman. This is the thesis Professor Tasse wishes to challenge.

Focusing on the example of Ethiopia and studying the life trajectory of former guerrilla fighters (before engagement in guerrilla life, life in guerrilla and after) occupying multiple social position currently, Professor Tasse will attempt to present and discuss: the process of engagement in the armed struggle movement as a commitment for Social Justice; life in the guerrilla as highly disciplined and civil; and multiple modalities of transformation of former guerrilla fighters in civilian life.

Professor Tasse is currently an IAS Distinguished Fellow at Grey College and is Assistant Vice-President for Strategic Planning and International Affairs at Addis Ababa University. His main areas of academic research are social work and migration; social work and ethnicity; and comparative research on migration.

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