Endogeneity and exogeneity in the struggle for recognition in Somalia
Harmonie Toros and Arrliya Sugal

At a recent meeting in Mogadishu, a Somali elder challenged national and international scholars and policy-makers who were debating how best to destroy the non-state Islamist armed group al-Shabaab, active in Somalia for over a decade. ‘When you say, “destroy al-Shabaab,” you are speaking about destroying us. Al-Shabaab is part of Somali society. If you destroy al-Shabaab, you destroy us.’ The statement illustrated the role that recognition plays in engaging with non-state armed groups and the complexity surrounding this question.

The chapter examines how recognition in the case of non-state armed groups goes beyond the question of legality and legitimacy, to whether a group is recognised as part of the social fabric of a society or external to it. Al-Shabaab has had close ties to transnational non-state armed groups, particularly al-Qaeda, and numerous state actors have tried to engage with it as a mere extension of al-Qaeda. The claim that al-Shabaab is exogenous to the conflict and, indeed, to Somali society is a specific form of mis-recognition. Al-Shabaab reacts to this by denouncing the current government as being controlled from outside forces, too, thereby trying to undermine its legitimacy.

The mutual allegations that either the government or al-Shabaab are not ‘one of us’ deny the respective actor to have a legitimate role in the conflict and its solution. Thus, the chapter goes on to argue that the question of whether an armed non-state group is recognised as endogenous or not has direct consequences for conflict transformation.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition

In the social sciences, recognition is considered a means to de-escalate conflicts and promote peaceful social interactions. This volume explores the forms that social recognition and its withholding may take in asymmetric armed conflicts. It discusses the short- and long-term risks and opportunities which arise when local, state and transnational actors recognise armed non-state actors (ANSAs), mis-recognise them or deny them recognition altogether.

The first part of the volume contextualises the politics of recognition in the case of ANSAs. It provides a historical overview of recognition regimes since the Second World War and their diverging impacts on ANSAs’ recognition claims. The second part is dedicated to original case studies, centring on specific conflict phases and covering ANSAs from all over the world. Some examine the politics of recognition during armed conflicts, others in conflict stalemates, and others still in mediation and peace processes. The third part of the volume discusses how the politics of recognition impacts practitioners’ engagement with conflict parties, gives an outlook on policies vis-à-vis ANSAs, and sketches trajectories for future research in the field.

The volume shows that, while non-recognition prevents conflict transformation, the recognition of armed non-state actors may produce counterproductive precedents and new modes of exclusion in intra-state and transnational politics.

Evolving conflict trends and implications for the recognition of armed non-state actors
Véronique Dudouet

The nature of conflicts (and conflict actors) is constantly evolving, and since the 2010s we have entered into the era of ‘violent extremism’. However, such labels are subject to historical change, too, and they enable certain practices and kinds of behaviour towards armed non-state actors (ANSAs) while precluding others. How ANSAs are labelled has important ramifications for whether their claims to recognition can be met.

This chapter takes a practitioner’s perspective in order to explore the purpose, dilemmas and options for recognition of ANSAs through soft-power ‘engagement’ by governments or third parties (state or non-state) actors – through the prism of contemporary conflict trends, that is, in the era of violent extremism. The chapter opens up a broad perspective on several ANSAs active in various conflicts and world regions. It traces the labels given to ANSAs historically and analyses the practices of engagement related to them.

While the term ‘recognition’ has so far not entered the conceptual world of practitioners in the field of conflict transformation, the chapter tries to evaluate whether and how it could be a useful conceptual addition. In particular, it tries to delimit recognition from engagement, as well as identifying how the two concepts relate to each other. In the conclusion, the arguments made in the chapter are used to critically reconsider the novelty of ‘violent extremists’ and give an outlook on how the concept of recognition could be used in dealing with these groups.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
Stephan Hensell and Klaus Schlichte

The history of non-state armed groups since the end of the Second World War shows that they often follow a particular trajectory in international politics. While initially being denounced as ‘criminals’, ‘bandits’ or ‘terrorists’, they later often become recognised as regular political actors. How armed groups become legitimate actors in world politics has not yet been systematically analysed. We argue that the ultimate legitimation of such actors, their recognition as official actors by other governments, largely depends on historical timing in three consecutive eras. Two analytical perspectives are suggested. The first is the ‘politics of legitimacy’ of armed groups. Armed groups seek to justify the use of violence by referring to identities, institutions, interests and political aims. They make legitimacy claims and engage in strategies of self-legitimation or in the politics of legitimacy. The other perspective is the politics of recognition of the ‘international community’. States and international organisations are the major actors in the global state system that are able to confirm and validate legitimacy claims of armed groups through acts of recognition. The international recognition of armed groups is in part a reaction to the demands of these groups, but in part also motivated by a host of other facctors, which sometimes seem to defy any logic.

The core argument is that the politics of legitimacy and international recognition of armed groups is subject to historical change, depending on the international contexts of these policies. Armed groups need the right ‘world historical timing’ in order to be successful in achieving recognition. The chapter draws on a database on armed groups which was established by one of the authors and on both authors’ case-related fieldwork in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeastern Europe.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
A comparative study of Boko Haram, Niger Delta, IPOB and Fulani militia
Michael Nwankpa

In 2011, Nigeria established its first anti-terrorism legislation and Boko Haram was listed as a terrorist group in 2014. In 2017, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a secessionist movement in the southeast of Nigeria, became the second conflict group or social movement to be proscribed by the anti-terror law. Unlike Boko Haram, IPOB’s struggle is underlined, to a large extent, by genuine grievance and its modus operandi is largely non-violent.

Unsurprisingly, the proscription of IPOB did not generate the same worldwide recognition and support as that of Boko Haram. Rather, it attracted national and international condemnation. Yet, the Nigerian government has not reversed its action. This raises important questions regarding the motivation for proscribing IPOB and the impact on the group’s transformation, as well as on other conflict groups and situations across Nigeria. Interestingly, the current government led by President Buhari, a Fulani, has been noticeably silent or at best has expressed a weak response to the ‘terrorist’ acts committed by the Fulani militia group. Also, the government’s reluctance to proscribe the militant groups in the oil-rich Niger Delta region counteracts any argument regarding fairness in the application of the anti-terrorism law.

This chapter therefore analyses the characteristics of each conflict group and why they are recognised or mis-recognised, and attract a certain kind of labelling, as well as the implications of such on the transformation of the conflict group and the benefits or drawbacks to the government and the conflict actors.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
Evidence from Tumaco, Colombia
Jan Boesten and Annette Idler

The authors’ data reveal variation in how local civilian populations perceive the behaviour of different violent non-state actors that operate in the same context. The chapter explores the reasons for this perception. It provides an intriguing entry point for recognition-based analyses of violent non-state actors.

The authors highlight that a successful transition, aiming to construct effective (civilian) state institutions in marginalised regions, requires understanding pre-peace accord relations between armed actors and local communities. They ponder whether the different experiences of guerrilla and paramilitary order in Colombia are indicative of differing effects of vertical and horizontal organisational structures and behavioural patterns of the armed group on the ability to recognise and be recognised. It is argued that in the context of non-state order during armed conflict (particularly when the line between crime and conflict is blurred), recognition is contingent on the existence of institutions. The organisational structure and behavioural patterns that are held responsible for enabling a degree of mutual recognition between armed actor and local community are of two types: the coherence of the internal organisational structure of the armed actor enables procedures for recognition by the community (they know who to talk to); and the space the armed actor allows for local communities to express their grievances indicates recognition of the community by the armed actor (providing space for input). Hence, post-conflict institutions should fulfil those two conditions: coherent, enduring structures (organisation) and space for voicing grievances that results in action (input and responsiveness).

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
Promoting inclusivity in the mediation of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in South Sudan
Jamie Pring

This chapter aims to examine possible processes of recognition, mis-recognition and/or non-recognition in the process of including an armed non-state actor (ANSA) in a peace mediation process. In particular, it examines the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – In Opposition (SPLM-IO) in the mediation of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in South Sudan from December 2013 to the signing of the peace agreement in August 2015.

The mandate of the mediation and its assessment of the conflict enabled the recognition of the grievances put forward by the SPLM-IO and eventually its formal establishment and inclusion in the peace process. However, the simultaneous inclusion of unarmed non-state groups, the cultural predispositions of elites in South Sudan and the institutional identity of the mediating organisation, IGAD, limited the level of recognition given to the SPLM-IO. This also reinforced its preference for continuing violence and breaking ceasefire agreements alongside its participation in the mediation. Furthermore, the mainly bilateral treatment of the conflict in 2013, inherited from the previous IGAD mediation process, perpetuated the non-recognition of other ANSAs, which contributed to the violence in 2013 and the division of the SPLM into two, as well as the recurrence of violence and the proliferation of ANSAs from 2016. The analysis draws on the concept of mis-recognition to further nuance the relationship between inclusivity in mediation processes and the recurrence of violent conflict, and on 128 expert interviews which the author conducted with African local and regional actors during her field research trips in 2017 and 2018.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
Mitja Sienknecht

When it comes to granting or revoking recognition of domestic groups, governments are the principal actors. However, actors of world politics – such as international organisations (IOs) – have steadily gained in relevance in these recognition processes of intra-state groups. They can play a decisive role in the recognition or non-recognition of an armed non-state actor (ANSA), thus influencing the conflict outcome. Studies considering the world political system in recognition processes have mostly analysed them from a top-down perspective, focusing on separatist movements which are somehow dependent on the recognition of the world political system. ANSAs are surprisingly often conceptualised as passive agents – only ‘receiving’ recognition but not actively striving for it.

In this chapter, it is argued, first, that ANSAs are, indeed, active agents who lobby actively for their recognition on the world political level along global norms. Secondly, the chapter shows that (non-) recognition is a dynamic process and that it is subject to constant transformation. Actors of the world political system might revoke their recognition, while ANSAs might change whom they are addressing. The chapter aims to analyse the triangular relationship between ANSAs, governments and actors of the world political system regarding processes of (non-)recognition. The case of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê, PKK) and its struggle for recognition on the world political level serves as a case in point. The study sheds light on (i) the way in which ANSAs actively seek recognition from different international actors; and (ii) how IOs influence intra-state conflicts through their recognition practice.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
Risks and opportunities for conflict transformation
Maéva Clément, Anna Geis, and Hanna Pfeifer

Many contemporary violent conflicts involve armed non-state actors (ANSAs) as conflict parties. Governments are often hesitant to enter informal talks and negotiations with ANSAs, and yet in many violent conflicts such ‘talks’ are initiated at some point. Engaging with ANSAs is considered risky. Talking and negotiating usually imply gradual steps of recognising and legitimising the counterpart. In successful cases, ANSAs can be transformed into non-violent political parties and their legitimate goals eventually become incorporated into state policy. But recognition can also backfire by creating counterproductive precedents and new modes of exclusion in politics. In unsuccessful cases, armed non-state actors might escalate the violent struggle. At the same time, mis-recognition, which individuals or collective actors experience as humiliation, disrespect or false representations of their identity, can be seen as a major cause of political resistance and escalation.

By conceptualising the (mis-/non-)recognition of ANSAs, pointing to potential ambivalences and addressing its meaning for conflict transformation, the introductory chapter provides the broader analytical frame and contextualisation for the edited volume. It links the concept of recognition as developed in international political theory to research on ANSAs in peace and conflict studies. What forms of (non-/mis-)recognition of armed non-state actors occur in violent conflicts? Which risks and opportunities arise in processes of conflict transformation when state actors recognise armed non-state actors or, conversely, deny them recognition? The theoretical-conceptual considerations presented here draw on examples from the case studies as discussed in the individual contributions to the volume.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition
Hanna Pfeifer

Lebanese Hezbollah is arguably the most powerful armed non-state actor currently active. Founded as an Islamic resistance movement against Israeli occupation in the 1970s and 1980s, Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organisation by several Western states and, since 2016, by the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Since 2015, it is known to have been involved in several armed conflicts in the Middle East, most importantly as a supporter of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war, but also as a provider of military training for resistance groups in Iraq and Yemen.

At the same time, however, Hezbollah representatives have been part of all Lebanese governments since 2011 and they occupy a number of seats in Parliament. Finally, Hezbollah is also a very active provider of social and welfare services in the Lebanese South and the Beqaa.

For all of the roles it takes, Hezbollah has often been described as a hybrid organisation, which escapes established typologies of both Islamism and terrorism. The chapter, based on the author’s field research in Lebanon, seeks to explore and map the variety of recognition practices that revolve around Hezbollah. It analyses what kind of recognition Hezbollah seeks from different audiences, among them the Lebanese and transnational Shiite community, the Lebanese people, competing political parties in Lebanon, and Western and Middle Eastern states, as well as international organisations. It traces how recognition-granters react to Hezbollah’s claims and what consequences these parallel processes of recognition, non-recognition and mis-recognition have on inner-Lebanese and regional conflict dynamics.

in Armed non-state actors and the politics of recognition