- Violence, Intervention, and the State in Central Africa
In central Africa, the state's supposed monopoly on violence is tenuous at best. Road checkpoints staffed by armed men who determine right to passage, search vehicles, and demand payment may seem like familiar characteristics of the state: security, violence, taxing. But these actors may not necessarily be state security personnel. They could be Chadian bogobogos, ex-rebels that act as "volunteer customs officers," who at times enforce the Chad–Cameroon border and at other times facilitate smuggling. They could also be Central African coupeurs de route, "road robbers," who take from travelers with relative impunity and with political ideologies that are not immediately obvious. Such actors in central Africa could be any number of characters from a cast of men in arms in the region—conventional rebels, [End Page 401] soldiers, ex-rebels, or ex-soldiers—sometimes even at the same time, only some of which can be categorized in terms of relation to the state.
These examples emerge from two new monographs—each drawing on a decade of research in central Africa—that help shed light on the region's politics and the role that conflict and arms play in it: Marielle Debos's Living by the Gun in Chad: Combatants, Impunity, and State Formation and Louisa Lombard's State of Rebellion: Violence and Intervention in the Central African Republic. They are useful studies of central Africa on their own, but also complement each other. Their analyses describe processes that are particularly pronounced in their field sites, but are also common—though subtle—phenomena the world over. For example, they explore how violence is carried out in war, how armed actors relate to one another during and after conflict, and how demobilization programs fail in the wake of conflict. These are just some of the subjects that both authors address with a critical lens on how war is understood. A central theme the authors tackle is the role of the state—how politics are conducted outside of the state's territory, and how France and the broader international community (or "good intentions crowd" , as Lombard describes it) engage with the state. The result is that these books, and the dynamics drawn out in them, offer much to scholars of the state, war, and intervention everywhere.
This updated translation of Marielle Debos's work conceives of taking up arms as a practical occupation—a métier—shared by soldiers, rebels, and bandits, with the same person often moving between these categories. The one constant is how these men (and they are almost always men) leverage their guns to make a living. Debos explores the blurred boundaries for armed actors in times marked by neither war nor peace (Richards 2005) by studying both how men wage war and how they use arms and uniforms outside of wartime. Labeling this moment and place as "the inter-war," she sketches out an experience that may not necessarily be violent but is founded on the threat of potential violence and operates under the assumption that "war is always emergent" (Debos 2016:8). This métier is linked to both the mode of governance and the mode of economic accumulation in Chad. The practical occupation of arms in war and inter-war periods is discussed throughout the book's three parts—the history of Chad, the careers of men in arms, and the governance of Chad today.
Part 1 focuses on the history of armed action in Chad from the precolonial era and French colonialization through decolonization to the present moment. Debos begins in Chapter 1 by discussing how France kept Chad [End Page 402] in a perpetual state of inter-war throughout colonization, a state in which both armed resistance and colonial conscripts circulated around the colony, creating a common foundation from which men in arms would later emerge. In Chapter 2, she looks at the process through which peasants...