“We Have Been Sensitized”: Ex-Combatants, Marginalization, and Youth in Postwar Sierra Leone



ABSTRACT  Civilians in Makeni, Sierra Leone, describe their relationship with the ex-combatants of the rebel RUF as a state of being “sensitized” to their presence. I argue that “sensitization” connotes civilians’acceptance of ex-combatants living among them, while they refuse to incorporate ex-combatants into the social order. Civilians, although treating the war as a “state of exception,” refuse to grant ex-combatants the grace of belonging to this exceptional time. They question whether youth socialized to violence against elders ever belonged to the social world, thus the possibility of their reintegration is suspended. Ex-combatants’ assertive demands for social acceptance, adoption of reintegration discourse and development practices, and disdain for “useful” work mark them apart from “mainstream” youth, rendering them socially and economically marginal. They are threatening not because of the war but because they represent the vanguard of youth who disdain manual labor and elder control, a long-emergent social trend. [Sierra Leone, states of exception, ex-combatants, youth, transitional justice]