Since the late 1980s, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group originally from Northern Uganda led by Joseph Kony, has been engaged in a war with the Ugandan national army, the People’s Defense Force. In the developing world, this type of protracted civil war is far from uncommon. The effects of long-term armed conflict on former soldiers — a subject within the emerging field of post-conflict research — is an area that continues to be examined.
A 2009 study from Yale University in the American Political Science Review, “From Violence to Voting: War and Political Participation in Uganda,” assesses the effects war-related violence and combat have on social and political participation in Northern Uganda. The study uses survey data from more than 700 male Ugandan youth, ages 14 to 30, from the rural areas of Kitgum and Pader, where LRA recruitment in the form of abductions was widespread over the two decades of war.
The study’s findings include:
Similar connections between conflict experience and political connections have been detected in other countries, the author notes, including in Sierra Leone and Aceh, Indonesia. In Uganda, “interviews with the youth yield narratives of newfound self-control, confidence, and skills. Such accounts, although far from conclusive, nonetheless mesh with psychological theories of posttraumatic growth and political evidence on expressive voting…. These findings may have (hopeful) implications for millions of fighters in dozens of war-torn countries, especially in Africa. To the extent that positive political engagement also springs from violence against civilians, many more millions may be affected in the same way.”
But the author also notes that the study has several limitations that should restrain “generalizations of the results,” including the limited way that political participation was measured (confined to voting, community leadership and holding of political jobs), and that the survey only sampled young men.