All protest campaigns move through cycles of escalation and de-escalation and ultimately demobilize. Some campaigns demobilize quickly as protesters reach their goals. The 2011 Egyptian uprising, when protesters left the streets after they brought down the Mubarak regime, for example, is a case of rapid demobilization. Others, like the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, demobilize over a longer time span before protests come to a complete halt. In Bahrain, the government first cracked down on the opposition by bringing in foreign troops and then continued to repress protesters until the protesters ended the campaign in 2012. Regardless of the length of time it takes for protesters to leave the streets and stop the protests, demobilization is a complex process. Numerous factors, such as severe repression, government concessions, countermobilization of opposition groups, leadership changes, or even unexpected events, can all bring about demobilization. These factors and strategies may occur simultaneously or sequentially, but usually one or a combination of them lead to the demobilization of a protest campaign. Moreover, demobilization is a dynamic process, as it continues to evolve out of the endogenous interactions among governments, challengers, bystanders, and, in some cases, as in Bahrain, external third-party actors. Even though every protest campaign eventually demobilizes one way or another, the demobilization phase has generally attracted less scholarly attention than the onset and escalation of violent and nonviolent forms of collective action. For a long time, most scholars addressed demobilization indirectly within the context of the repression-dissent nexus as they explored why repression backfires and escalates dissent in some cases, while it succeeds in demobilizing the opposition in others. Nonetheless, factors besides state repression contribute to the demobilization of dissent. In other words, a state’s accommodative tactics, as well as individual, organizational, or even regional and systemic factors that interact with the state’s actions, have the potential to shape when and how political dissent demobilizes. More recently, scholars have begun to examine why and how protest campaigns demobilize by stepping out of the repression-dissent nexus and focusing on a variety of other factors related to organizational structures, regime types, individual-level constraints, and contingent events that affect the trajectory of campaigns. At the same time, recent studies on state repression have also begun to focus more heavily on the different causal mechanisms that explain how a state’s repressive tactics can lead to demobilization. While this new line of research has made significant contributions to our understanding of the demobilization of protests, we are still left with important questions about the demobilization process that have yet to be answered.
Demobilization of ex-combatants is a major obstacle in the transition to a stable postconflict society. The combatants must be convinced to abandon the armed confrontation and hand over their weapons in light of security concerns and a lack of alternative means of income. The challenges to overcoming the commitment problem differ in terms of numbers of combatants who must be demobilized for conflicts that end in a decisive victory and conflicts that reach a military stalemate. Peace agreements can offer several solutions for overcoming the parties’ commitment problems, but often the implementation of the provisions is incomplete. Third parties can offer to monitor an agreement and provide security guarantees. International actors increasingly assist with demobilization and reintegration programs for former combatants and help to overcome security-related concerns and economic challenges. Another solution offered is military power-sharing arrangements and the integration of rebel fighters into the national military. These measures are intended to reduce the pool for potential recruitment for existing or new rebel groups. If ex-combatants are left without means of income to support themselves and their families, the risk is higher that they will remobilize and conflict will recur. Reintegration in the civilian labor market, however, is often difficult in the weak economies of war-affected countries.
Emizet F. Kisangani
The fundamental challenge facing social engineers is to project authority. State building is a process that establishes political order over time. As a top-down strategy, it emerges as an antidote to state collapse. The success of a state is in its capacity not only to provide national security while controlling the means of violence, but also to supply other public goods funded through direct taxes on citizens, who are supposed to make their rulers accountable. The absence of such state capacity perhaps explains the unending political crisis that plagues many post-colonial states, because they tend to control populations rather than territories. Although some efforts have been made toward state building, the state remains fragile in many post-colonial states. Territorial control is limited, and private taxation continues. Local tensions based on ethnic affinities rather than national allegiance remains intense. The analysis of Congo-Kinshasa illustrates these assertions by contrasting three successive periods: the Congo Free State (1885–1908), the Belgian Congo (1908–1959), and the post-colonial period (1960–2019). Of these three periods, only the second entity was able to professionalize the military for state-building purposes. The emphasis on this top down approach in state building overlooks other configurations that postcolonial state builders should contemplate. Societies have historically compensated for the failure or absence of statehood through a number of mechanisms that include, among others, councils of elders and secret societies that may not be difficult to reconcile with the demands of the modern state. The search for this bottom-up approach to state building perhaps explains so many internal conflicts in most post-colonial states as marginalized groups intend to insert themselves into the political system that has excluded them from power.