‘Our brothers who went to the bush’: Post-identity conflict and the experience of reconciliation in Sierra Leone

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A number of distinct sub-fields within conflict resolution share foundational theories and emerge from similar understandings of social conflict. One of the most influential of these theories assumes that conflict environments give rise to ‘otherizing’ dynamics between competing groups. This theory assumes that conflict occurs between and further reifies identity groups. It follows from this theory that conflict resolution practice, and particularly that within the sub-field of peacebuilding, must undermine dyadic ‘in-group/out-group’ conflict through processes of reconciliation and transitional justice. However, the theorized dynamic does not always pertain. In Sierra Leone the truth and reconciliation commission was tasked with fostering reconciliation between the perpetrators and victims of wartime violence. This article describes, however, how former combatants in Sierra Leone are described by many as brothers and friends, as opposed to hated members of a collective “other”. These findings attest to a distinct lack of ‘otherizing’ dynamics and demand a reconsideration of peacebuilding practices after what are often considered ‘new wars’ or ‘post-modern conflicts’ in sub-Saharan Africa. The article argues that some contemporary conflicts might best be considered post-identity because they are based less on national, racial, religious, or ethnic identity than on circumstance, need, and opportunity. In addition, after post-identity conflicts truth commissions may create new competing identities, such as those between victims and perpetrators. In such cases the applied conflict resolution interventions must emerge from new conflict resolution theory which can adequately understand contemporary conflict dynamics and begin to develop non-identity focused interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717-729
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012


  • peacebuilding
  • transitional justice
  • conflict resolution
  • Sierra Leone
  • otherizing
  • New Wars


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