Reverberating (body) memories of war. Exploring embodied continuities among Burundian ex-combatants

Speaker: Eliane Giezendanner

The demobilisation of combatants marks a crucial point of transition from military to civilian life. It not only involves a change of categorical status, but also an underlying (external) assumption, aim and expectation of a corresponding change of being. In this presentation, I will critically engage with this presumption of a clear-cut transition, based on qualitative life history interviews with Burundian ex-combatants of the two major armed movements who fought in the country’s civil war – CNDD-FDD and PALIPEHUTU-FNL. Using memory as a broad conceptual and analytical framework, I aim to deconstruct the various ways in which the war-time past remains present in their current lives and continues to impact their ways of being, even numerous years after demobilisation. On the one hand, I will highlight how the past is “re-lived” through explicit memories and recollections of war, and how these may – voluntarily or involuntarily – be cued and sustained, amongst others through the body. On the other hand, I will explore how the past is “re-enacted” through implicit body memories – skills, dispositions and habits acquired in the military group. These insights underscore lasting impacts of the war experience on individuals’ lives and ways of being – blurring and defying clear boundaries between past and present, combatant and civilian. The body emerges as crucial in such continuities, both as a potential cue for explicit memories, and a carrier of implicit ones. This suggests the importance, and great potential, of bringing the body into the focus of DDR programs and longer-term interventions.

Eliane is a PhD candidate at IOB, University of Antwerp. She holds an MA in African Studies from the University of Basel, Switzerland. Her research focuses on former combatants in Burundi.