Taming the lion – Socializing the guerrilla

The debate about the way to fight for freedom is usually emotional and sometimes acrimonious. All not surprising because ‘freedom’ is a very seminal and fundamental human need. But all actions have consequences, some perhaps unforeseen or more often ignored. Others unexpected.

This article is a thought share with a definition of the factors that accompany an armed struggle and some solutions to take care of problems that are born as a result of the very forces that need to be unleashed if the freedom struggle is to be successful. You need lions to fight. But those lions must be tamed once the fight is over if civil society is to live in peace. The guns must be melted and re-cast into plowshares and the killing fields must grow food. Paradoxes which must be faced and resolved, or society will degenerate into never-ending strife.

Let us see what happens in an armed struggle, wherever it may be:

  1. There is a proliferation of arms and ammunition as is seen all over Africa.
  2. Military training is given to anyone who is willing and to many who are not, conscripted forcibly for the cause. Witness the armies of ‘child soldiers’ in the various freedom struggles all over Africa. Training is given especially in the use of explosives and guerilla warfare.
  3. The successful indoctrination and understanding that it is acceptable to attack the government and its agencies and anyone who supports them. Add to this the ‘acceptability’ of ‘encouraging the population (often with the tacit pressure of the very visible gun) to ‘support’ the armed struggle with money and supplies as a mark and ‘proof’ of their ‘patriotism and solidarity’ with the struggle.
  4. The promise of a land paved with gold when the struggle is won, where everyone will have plenty, everyone will be king and the sun will shine and rain will fall on demand. These promises are made by those who know them to be impossible to actually fulfill and are believed by those who should know better, all because at the time they are fighting the oppression is horrific enough to enable them to believe anything to keep the motivation going.
  5. Many never live to see if the promise comes true or not. Those who do are almost always destined for disappointment to discover that to earn a living is not as easy as was promised or expected.
  6. The freedom fighters (called terrorists, insurgents, rebels etc.) have a cause which has wide national and international support. This support is kept alive by their governments in exile as well as their ambassadors, informal and formal. Freedom is a powerful draw. It has the sanction of justice and ‘right’. So, the money flows in.
  7. Nations who make and sell weapons train the ‘rebels’ (for want of a better word), arm them and use the opportunity to test their training and weapons. Meanwhile of course they sell the same weapons to the opposite side, this time openly. Russia and China in Africa. America and Britain in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Same game.
  8. The heavy-handed ways that Governments in power use in their attempts to put down the freedom struggle actually always backfire and instead strengthen it. The strategy of almost every government is to use methods that are horrific and draconian so that they will strike terror in the hearts of the rebels. That works as long as the psychology of the people works that way. But when you are faced with people who take pride in dying at the hands of an obviously superior enemy, it has the opposite effect.
  9. Secondly the more draconian the method, the more sympathy it gains in the eyes of the public which is the support base of the rebel. Further those who are its victims, gain the stature of martyrs and the method strengthens the rebellion and makes the recruitment of new soldiers easier instead of its intended effect of putting down the rebellion.

Once the rebellion is successful there comes to the fore a new set of challenges, now for the erstwhile rebel leaders who now take off their battle fatigues and put on Armani suits to walk the corridors of power. In a word, ‘What do we do with our former comrades in arms?’ Promises made now must be fulfilled. And people are short of patience. Also, the tune has now changed – it is no longer acceptable to attack the ‘government’ because not the ‘government’ is us. People who have become used to the fact that to earn what an ordinary worker earns in a year, all that you have to do is to point a gun at someone, don’t take kindly to the idea that it is no longer possible to earn a living quite so easily. Getting an old soldier to head-load bricks is not an easy job for anyone. Crime starts to proliferate in the newly independent country. Add to this the fact that this new ‘criminal’ is not the ordinary thief but a highly trained, battle hardened mercenary soldier with extensive experience in the use of arms, explosives and tactics, with many willing, equally highly trained comrades all used to discipline and taking orders, you have a major problem on your hands. Many African countries are facing this challenge.

Psychologically the boot never fits on the other foot. The newly independent government does not look good killing its own people in the name of controlling crime. Laws of capital punishment when abolished get votes but come back to haunt when all you can do to someone convicted of violent crime including murder is to give him a free holiday for a few weeks when he is caught. A jail run according to human rights rules is a holiday with free food for a soldier used to living off the land in the bush.

The only country, as far as I know, who dealt very successfully with the challenge of taming ex-soldiers and socializing them to civilian lives after decades of fighting an armed rebellion against the French and Americans is Vietnam. There is no crime in Vietnam that is worth speaking of and ex-soldiers have gone back to their rice fields and civilian occupations and have not turned to violent crime as a means of making a living. Perhaps it is the culture of the country and the discipline of communist rule that achieved this. However, it bears looking at the experience of the Vietnamese people in detail to see how they managed to create a situation where not only is crime under control but there is also no visible hatred of Westerners even though the Vietnamese preserve the history of their freedom struggle with great pride. They have not forgotten what happened, but they have not allowed its negativity to blight their lives today.

I believe that there are four simultaneous issues that must be addressed in this challenge of ‘taming the lions’ who fought in the freedom struggle.

  1. Disarmament
  2. Education
  3. Economic Development
  4. Policing
  • Disarmament
    1. Recruit former guerillas into the regular military, police, forest service and paramilitary of the new state. It’s a great way to get trained soldiers at no cost. This must be done even if it means that the new government must incur an additional expense. That expense is less than the cost of having large bands of armed men roaming the countryside.
    2. License all weapons. Issue licenses for all weapons. Substitute automatic weapons with single shot weapons which people can be permitted to keep for self-defense and hunting. All automatic weapons must be surrendered and keeping them must be made illegal. Licensing has the benefit that the government will know who has weapons and where they are.
  • Education
    1. Technical education: Set up technical training institutes to impart short hands-on courses in technologies that are ‘saleable’, where the trainees can set up their own workshops repairing various kinds of machines. The focus must be on teaching the skills in a very efficient and timely way so that the trainees can quickly put their newly learnt skills to economic use. The typical student will not be someone who is big on reading a great deal. It will be someone who may be reasonably good with his/her hands and needs a job. The course must be designed to facilitate his/her learning to make it as easy and painless as possible, yet make him capable of earning a living.
    2. High quality primary and secondary school education. These schools must be set up in the resident communities so that children don’t have to travel long distances and the school becomes a part of the community and has a positive effect on the society at large as well. The focus of education must be on inculcating values and ethics and preparing students to take leadership roles in the future. Special attention must be paid to community development, taking care of commons, skills training and leadership education. It must be understood that these are not ordinary schools but institutions for nation building. Sufficient time, thought-share and resources must be invested to ensure that they yield the results that are expected.
    3. Teachers Training Colleges: Teachers must be trained specially to work in these schools. Most important to inculcate in the teachers a strong sense of mission where they are conscious and proud of being the builders of a new nation and are willing to do what it takes to make it happen.
  • Economic Development
    1. Entrepreneurial Training: It is my belief that the economies of the world of the future will depend heavily on small and medium enterprises for their survival and growth. We already know that SMME’s contribute to the societies in which they exist and are a source of creating not only employment but also influence life quality, ethics and values, modes of behavior, culture and education. It is essential that people are trained in setting up small and medium enterprises. Training in good governance, financial management and technical efficiency must be provided. Some hand-holding with on-going consultancy as the business develops with help in service areas, like tax planning, insurance, employee development can be provided from a central pool of specialized resources.
    2. Industry and universities must partner in entrepreneurial development by providing opportunities for ancillary manufacture and training. Newly trained artisans can be absorbed into major manufacturing and service industries where these exist. A clear advantage over hiring untrained staff.
    3. Venture Capital: Entrepreneurial development must be supported with credit facilities where money is made available as venture capital for the entrepreneur to start his business. Lending institutions must be open to innovative ways of lending and repayment as first time entrepreneurs may not have collateral to pledge. The purpose must be to fuel entrepreneurial growth and not to merely make money out of lending. Global experience in micro-credit to fuel small enterprise is very encouraging.
  • Policing & Law Enforcement
    1. Zero Tolerance Policing: The rule of law must be supreme and crime must be dealt with, with an iron hand. Soft pedaling for political reasons is the single biggest reason for the proliferation of crime in newly independent states which have taken the armed struggle route. Breaking the law is a clear sign of lack of respect for the state and a lack of interest in its welfare. The welfare of the victim must supersede the interest of the criminal who willfully and knowingly commits a crime. Immediate and decisive response and no favoritism in bringing criminals to book are the two essential ingredients of good policing. Nobody must be above the law and this must both be audible and visible. Only then can crime be controlled.
    2. Courts play a key role in the enforcement of the law. While on the one hand interests of human rights and proper investigation must be served, on the other hand sentences must be deterrent enough for potential criminals to think twice before committing a crime. I favor capital punishment for murder, especially where it is aggravated with rape and torture. When a criminal does not care for the victim and rapes and murders a poor defenseless woman, I don’t see any sense in giving him a sentence of a few years in prison, reducible for good behavior behind bars, only to be unleashed on society once again a few years later. Such punishments are no deterrent to the criminal mind. When the murderer and rapist had no sympathy and compassion for the victim, it is not for society and the courts of law to have sympathy for him. The one who deserves sympathy is the victim and his/her family whose right it is that they be compensated for their ordeal and suffering. When courts dispose of cases with fairness, speed and decisiveness, it has a salutary effect on crime.


As the title of the article suggests, lions can be tamed if the tamers are prepared to take decisive action and are willing to take hard decisions. Speed is of the essence because the longer things are allowed to drift, the more difficult their correction becomes. The other challenge is in implementing all of the above simultaneously which adds to the complexity of the situation. However, that is essential because we are dealing with two generations at once. One must be rehabilitated; the other trained.

On the brighter side is the fact that once these initiatives are put in place, then it can be expected that things will move smoothly and when the new generation takes its place in the scheme of things they will inherit a country that they can take to greater heights because it has been set firmly on a strong foundation.

0 0 votes
Article Rating

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x