2.3 "CONFLICT ENTREPRENEURS": Deliberately creating violent conflict


In the previous chapter 2.2 we focused on root causes of conflict. Continued ignoring of the presence of these factors will greatly enhance the chances of violent conflict erupting. Conflict can also be consciously created however.

Conflict Entrepreneurs

We often think that everyone in a conflict makes maximum effort to avoid bloodshed. In many of the conflicts active in the world now there are politicians and individuals present that seek to increase their own power and wealth through participation in conflict by violent means. It is interesting to note that in many countries this can be a (or virtually the only) opportunity for an individual to make a career in terms of power and finance. Conflicts can offer ways of gaining status, influence and money. In other words: conflict as a career. Other avenues available to resolving the conflict peacefully, might be taken but do not offer a future with them at the centre of power, in wealth or in any positions of control. This is why the integration of 'rebel', 'irregular' forces is so important in negotiations for peace deals.

The "intrastate-", "ethnic-", "sub-state-", "trans-state-" conflicts that we deal with are often described in the media as the result of old enmities, long standing nationalistic tendencies, long-supressed national aspirations that finally "explode out of the pressure cooker."

This description of conflicts makes them 'inevitable' and easily explained. They ignore the role of certain individuals however, who actively steer a conflict from roads that might lead to peaceful resolution to those of violence.

A Definition

Espen Barth Eide in his article 'Conflict Entrepreneurship': defined these conflict entrepreneurs:

"They are actors who use a specific situation or condition for the purpose of establishing a conflict in order to gain something through the exploitation of new power relationships. The gain can be personal (economic wealth, political power) or it can be seen by the conflict entrepreneur to benefit a collective with which he identifies. Instigating a conflict can even be seen as a prerequisite for preserving and protecting that collective against (perceived or real) external threats." [See also In and outgrouping as discussed in week 1] "Whether the 'real' reason is personal or collective gains will hardly influence the way the cause is presented. Any conflict entrepreneur worthy of the label will mobilize 'his' or 'her' group for conflict by convincing the potential group members that the mobilization is for a collective good or in order to avoid the disastrous effect of the other group's mobilizing first. ...the conflict entrepreneur benefits not only by mobilizing strength against another group but also by gaining uncontested power within the group. A leader in war can claims that internal opposition is 'fifth-columnism' and hence silence or get rid of the internal opposition. From Kigali to Pale, it has been demonstrated over and over again that the 'liberals' within a group undergoing a mobilization process for group conflict are the first ones to go. War concentrates the mind marvelously, as the saying goes. At the end of the day, we might even find that the real reason conflict ignition was attempted lies in the internal agenda of the warmonger rather than the external setting where the conflict was fought." Quoted from on the 'Art' of Waging Civil War ("Humanitarian Force", ed. Athony McDermott, PRIO report 4/97, Oslo, Norway p. 66)

No majority needed

The last part of a quote brings me too my next point that you don't need a majority or a large group to create a violent conflict. Often smaller groups of people, a history or ethnic dividing lines to 'work with', fear, lack of information, deliberate misinformation and a dose of violence can go a long way in creating a violent conflict and separating groups. In the former Yugoslavia many Yugoslavians defined themselves as 'Yugoslavians' long into the conflict. They did not agree with the way in which 'their' politicians divided everybody in ethnic groups. The process by which ethnic lines are strengthened can be partially illustrated by this 'made up' story:

A politician goes to the local jail releases some criminals (Arkan is such an example) gives them weapons and a tank and sends them to Bosnia. This Serb militia man comes to a village and puts a gun to a villager's head and asks him: what are you? -"eh I'm Yugoslavian" -"Not good enough, what are you?" -"Croat" He replies. The 'Croat' is shot on the spot. The militiaman puts a gun to his neighbour's head and says: "what are you?" -"Eh, I'm Serb." He is 'Serb', but also 25% Muslim and 25% Croat. The next neighbour is 'Bosnian'. The militiaman walks over, tells the 'Serb' to shoot his Muslim neighbour. If he refuses he'll die and his wife will be raped. Their were also stories of forced sexual acts between the different groups.

This example is not meant to target "The Serbs" as criminals or perpetrators of crimes, just to explain some of the 'in- and outgrouping' dynamics and illustrate that the entire Yugoslav populations was subject to a process that was not necessarily of their choosing. When Yugoslavia disintegrated, there was no police, no higher authority anymore. It was not possible to find safety and security outside of the ethnic group. Ethnic coherence was actively created and attempts at cross-ethnic cooperation and support were specifically targeted to be destroyed.

The continuing exodus of Serbs from Serbia (in the past years and still ongoing) and the (until recently years fully ignored by mainstream media and western leaders) Serbian opposition, that has existed well over 13 years, goes to show that there is no such thing as 'SERBS' or 'The Serbs'. Serbs had for a long time been singled out as 'the' perpetrators of crimes and as the 'black' in a black-and-white picture of the Balkans. Actions that lead to violent conflict were taken by individuals or groups of individuals. They were not exactly democratic decisions by the whole group. Furthermore these people may have been uninformed or without the means to do anything about it (no weapons, no power of other sorts). Opposition was jailed, killed, fled the country.

There is often a need (in the Media) to describe conflicts in such a way that it is 'understandable' for the audience. A more diverse and complex picture of a conflict, though necessary to really understand it, is not presentable on TV within 1 minute. 1 Minute is often the amount time that TV programs have to present a story.
In- and outgrouping is not confined to conflicting parties. The Serbs were mainly potrayed negatively in the (western) media. The representation of the parties in the conflict until a few years ago was very black and white. The Serbs have felt abandoned and isolated by the whole world. This has been a great contributing factor to Milosevic's (continued) power and thus very counterproductive.


Clear examples of conflict entrepreneurs are: Slobodan Milosevic (Serbia), Franjo Tudjman (Croatia) and Sankoh (Sierra Leone). Slobodon Milosevic's road to power can be very well explained in terms of hunger for power where the old enmities were strengthened, relivened and used to the maximum to gain and keep power for Milosevic and his clique. Some of his Yugoslav colleagues embarked on the same road (Tudjman) or failed to take decisions to counter the increasing conflict (Izetbegovic). Izetbegovic also decided to keep his power by strengthening ethnic lines. Leaving Bosnian-Serbs no alternative but to join their ethnic group as well. Often conflicts erupts in conjunction with insecurity factors as described in the previous chapter. These types of 'entrepreneurs' get more chances in such a situation. Politicians or individuals who seek to increase their own power or wealth might use (perceived) political , economic inequalities (or relative economic/political deprivation) or poverty to motivate and mobilise their own group. They often increase the perceived threat.