This paper analyses the micro-determinants of social integration of former combatants into civilian life by exploring popular perceptions of integration and reconciliation at the community level. Presenting “What the Communities Say”, the status of integration of former RUF fighters in Sierra Leone and their coexistence and reconciliation with their community of residence is examined. I establish, first, that on the surface of day-to-day interactions Sierra Leoneans have achieved a state of peaceful coexistence amongst each other, successfully integrating the majority of former RUF rebels. This positive account leads me to two questions, namely, which factors on the micro-level are responsible for this success and, secondly, how deeply rooted this success is. Regarding the former, I come to the conclusion that integration and coexistence in Sierra Leone are based on a collective effort driven by pragmatic rather than emotional motives, as the fastest way of establishing a state of non-violence. With regard to the second question, my interviews show that peace in Sierra Leone relies on a number of conditions. I then turn to the level of emotions, exploring notions of forgiveness, revenge, and reconciliation. Deep-seated rejection and frustration with the current situation is revealed. Next, I discuss the actual interactions within the communities I studied. A picture of systematic discrimination against ex-combatants emerges. This discloses overall – and not surprisingly – the complexity of the process of integration and reconciliation in a war-torn society. The final section points to policies needed to stabilise relations in Sierra Leone, showing the importance of economic development as well as long-term social interventions.
CRISE Working Paper No. 63, 50 pp.