Vol 29 No 4 (2020): Nordic Journal of African Studies
Articles Social Studies

Performing neutrality in ‘post’-conflict Burundi: The political dimension of reintegration of ex-combatants

Guðrún Sif Friðriksdóttir
Department of Social Anthropology, University of Iceland & RIKK – Institute for Gender, Equality and Difference, University of Iceland
Published December 17, 2020
Keywords
  • ex-combatants,
  • reintegration,
  • Burundi,
  • politics

Abstract

The reintegration of ex-combatants has a number of dimensions: economic, social, and political. This article explores what reintegration, defined as the shedding of the ex-combatant identity, means for the political participation of former combatants in Burundi. Based on 10 months of fieldwork during the tumultuous year of 2015 in Burundi, I argue that in order to be considered reintegrated, ex-combatants need to sacrifice their right to act as active political beings, by what I call performances of neutrality. My interlocutors, however, were both interested in political issues and maintained a connection to their old group. Hence their quest and claim to be politically neutral was a performance which revolved around not being visibly connected to political parties. For those who were working hard to shed their ex-combatant identity, other ways of channelling their political interests needed to be pursued and their participation in the 2015 protests was de-politicized.