(Header: Ivorian rebel soldiers. Photo credit: Jonathan Alpeyrie. Licensed under Creative Commons.)

Although the civil-war ended seven years ago, Ivorian soldiers are still fighting. Despite being integrated into the national military, the former rebel combatants are now mutinying against the higher ranks of the new military they serve. In January 2017, soldiers seized Bouaké, the second largest city in Cote d’Ivoire. Frustrated by their poor living conditions and the stark differences in pay between ranks, rebels mutinied demanding the salary increases and bonuses they were promised while fighting to oust former President Laurent Gbagbo. Despite promises made to end the January mutiny, soldiers revolted again in May 2017 when those promises were unfulfilled.

Is there a way to integrate rebels into militaries without creating divisions between ranks? Could a unique integration approach serve to improve the situation in Cote d’Ivoire?

Under normal circumstances, 1+1=2. What if a government (one force) could integrate ex-rebels (another force) into national militaries post-conflict, thereby creating a whole new military force (a third force). So then could, 1+1=3? In a report for the Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform, Mark Knight theorizes that the best process of rebel to military integration is one that follows the 1+1=3 method. Two separate military groups merge creating a third force, so that neither of the two dominate. Knight theorizes that the creation of a united third force would prevent divisions between ranks within the military. Rebel to military integration can unite rebel groups and government soldiers into a single force through reconciliation, military training, sensitization, and political education programs. A successful integration process can support peacebuilding efforts by bolstering long term stability.

Post-apartheid South Africa serves as a popular and successful case of rebel to military integration. In 1994, the integration process began uniting rebel forces and incorporating them into existing military structures. The process implemented education and training programs that multiple scholars in the conflict literature have found to be essential for successful integration (Licklider, 2014; Knight, 2009; Harsch, 2009; Noyes, 2010). By contrast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo illustrates the perils of unsuccessful rebel integration into national armed forces. The country underwent a peacebuilding process designed to integrate former rebel groups into the national army beginning in 2003, but the country struggled throughout the integration process with a lack of additional training and biased ranking systems (based on previous ranks within rebel groups) causing soldiers to flock to the commands of their former leaders. These divisions served to further polarize the army and were a factor in the country’s relapse into conflict.

Ivorian rebels torching car, source: Stefan Meisel (2011) // Flickr Creative Commons

This summer I worked with MIT Political Science PhD candidate Philip Martin currently conducting field work in Cote d’Ivoire) to provide a systematic overview of existing studies and research that examines rebel group integration into national militaries. The analysis focuses on the consequences of integration and understanding why efforts to integrate former non-state armed groups into state armed forces sometimes fail.

To build the overview, I focused on theories and case studies on rebel to military integration. Among the most important arguments in the literature, scholars suggest that through established employment in the military, former rebel soldiers gain an investment in the security of their country and a financial disincentive for conflict to reoccur (Glassmyer and Sambanis, 2008). When groups cede some power (rebel military strength, group influence, and arms) a greater individual disadvantage forms—creating some investment in peace because there is no longer a personal advantage to conflict (Jarstad and Nilsson, 2008).

In the case of post-conflict Cote d’Ivoire, initial findings suggest that contrary to Glassmyer and Sambanis’ theory (2008), gainful employment does not always create a financial incentive that ensures cohesion within new military structures. The reoccurring mutinies in Cote d’Ivoire are an example of when employment conditions, if agreed upon conditions of employment (eg. pay or ranking systems) are not met, may actually create an incentive to defect from formal command systems. Jarstad and Nilsson’s argument (2008) likewise does not hold in the context of Cote d’Ivoire. If everyone does not concede some power (mutinies based on the stark differences of pay between military ranks), the investment in peace weakens.

Kennedy Middleton (right) presents at the MIT Summer Research Program poster session.

Where there remains some incentive for war, agreed upon conditions are not met and mutinies occur; my review to date suggest that 1+1 does not so easily =3. In the case of Cote d’Ivoire, the integration process is struggling to create this third force. And until state authorities manage to resolve the problem of deep dissatisfaction and divisions within the national military, the country remains at risk of relapse into renewed violence and instability.


Kennedy Middleton (kmiddle2@scmail.spelman.edu) is a senior majoring in Political Science at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She is part of the 2017 MIT Summer Research Program interning with MIT GOV/LAB.

Works Cited

Glassmyer, K., & Sambanis, N. (2008). “Rebel—Military Integration and Civil War Termination.” Journal of Peace Research 45 (3): 365-384.

Harsch, E. (2009). “Reforming Africa’s Security Forces.” United Nations Africa Renewal.

Jarstad, A. K., & Nilsson, D. (2008). “From Words to Deeds: The Implementation of Power-Sharing Pacts in Peace Accords.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 25 (3): 206-223.

Knight, M. (2009). “Security Sector Reform: Post-conflict Integration.” Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform.

Licklider, R. (2014). “Merging Competing Militaries After Civil Wars.” Center for Complex Operations: Prism 5 (1) 52-60.

Noyes, A. (2010). “Military Integration in Africa.” Institute for Defense Analysis: Africa Watch 10 (7) 4-5.