Eliane Giezendanner and Bert Ingelaere
Discussion paper 2021.02

How do ex-combatants participate politically in the context of their rebel movement hav-ing transformed into a political party? What factors shape and structure these forms of participation? And what heuristic framework can guide the study of this topic in a variety of contexts in order to fill important knowledge gaps? These questions are at the heart of this paper. While a growing body of literature has in recent years scrutinized rebel-to-political party transformations and their crucial impact on the prospect of sustainable peace, we still know relatively little about the ways in which these processes on the macro- or group-level relate to, and impact on, the micro-level, namely the political participation of individual former rank and file combatants. Addressing this knowledge gap, the paper first charts and further develops the conceptual terrain, based on an analysis of the available theoretical and empirical literature. We consider processes of identification, self-understanding and groupness – constituted by emotions and cognition, the latter comprising ideology – important heuristic devices to develop a fine-grained understanding of factors structuring ex-combatants’ political participation. Second, since the rebel-to-party transformation provides contextual background, we suggest to apply the analysis of these processes in a multi-level framework that connects the micro-level of individuals with ex-combatant networks, associations and organisations at the meso-level and the political party that grew out of the rebel movement at the macro-level. We tentatively apply the proposed framework to the case of Burundi to verify its relevance.