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In what ways are masculinities constructed and demonstrated during civil conflicts in sub Saharan Africa and how do they change when conflicts end?

February 21, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced many civil conflicts in the past 50 years; Ogbonna-Nwaogu (2008) mentions that over thirty wars had taken place in sub-Saharan Africa within the first decade of post-independence era. Civil war conflicts are often initiated by men, as are the peace-making negotiations leading to the end of them and as suggested by Handrahan (2004), conflicts are often about forming male identity and male power systems. A view supported by Skjelsbaek (1997), who claims that men  often are involved in every aspect of war, from deciding when a war should start to allocating military resources.

Additionally, men’s roles in civil war conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa has a terrible effect on more marginalised groups such as women, children, and men displaying a non-dominant form of masculinity, (Ogbonna-Nwaogu, 2008). Therefore, it is important to examine the constructions of different forms of masculinities present during conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in post-conflict contexts and as Barker & Ricardo (2005) suggest, gendered analysis of men, therefore needs to consider the plurality of masculinities. Moreover, there is need to examine how these changing masculinities impact on how gender inequalities should be addressed. As such, this paper will aim to explore the effects of the military in creating and perpetuating expected male roles, examine the manner in which power is displayed during civil conflicts and the emergence of hegemonic masculinities as well as the notion of hyper-masculinity. In addition, the topic will explore the role masculinities has during peace-making negotiations. Lastly, this paper aims to look at how masculinities change in the post conflict context.

The reasons why civil conflicts start in sub Saharan Africa varies and Ogbonna-Nwaogu (2008), believes that European colonialists and imperialists are partially to blame, as they changed the political climates of many sub-Saharan African countries. Likewise, the effects of European imposed governance systems and militarism led to patriarchal forms of ruling and in conjunction with a lack of transition to democratic governance practices, allowed for many civil conflicts the sub region has experienced to occur in the post-colonial era (Shah, 2010).

The military plays a major role in the construction of male identities, often leading to claims that the military is synonymous to the notion of what manhood is supposed to represent and as such, military actions are often about supporting the male toughness ideology (Cahn & Ni Aolain, 2009). Additionally, the military worldwide consists of only 2% female personnel thus, ensuring and contributing to the sector being a deeply male environment (Skjelsbaek 1997).  Moreover, the reasons men join the military or insurgent groups differ; ranging from forced conscription, a method adopted by several government forces in Africa including the conflicts in Uganda and Sierra Leone to voluntary recruitment. Likewise, Enloe (1993 as cited in in Skjelsbaek, 1997), argues that by joining a military force, men get assigned roles which are different to those held in their normal environments. These new roles then become part of the social construction of their masculinities. Therefore, the military environment becomes an arena whereby masculinity is created and celebrated. Consequently, supporting the notion that socialisation and training which the military offers are essential for men as engaging in war doesn’t come naturally so their identity needs to be changed in order to get them to fight (Goldstein’s 2001). Moreover, military environments create a sense of camaraderie for those partaking, which is often a result of the masculine identities they have created (Skjelsbaek, 1997).

Furthermore, military training emphasises the need for recruits to be manly and brutal, traits which are often deemed as powerful, as opposed to fear and sensitivity which are seen as unmanly (UNESCO 1997), therefore, reinforcing notions of gender inequities and the idea of hyper-masculinity. In addition, the concept of  hegemonic forms of masculinities also contribute to the reasons why the number of female military recruits are low, as they do not represent what it supposedly means to be a man, especially in the sub-Saharan African context where women are still expected to adhere to stereotyped gendered roles (Hafkin, 2002). Also, it is the same reasons why homosexual men are not prevalent in the military, as they too may threaten the masculine culture which exists (Skjelsbaek 2007).

Militarisation has also been used by some to gain political power in Africa and through the effects of the cold war which saw billions of dollars’ worth of weaponry sent to Africa, it was possible to achieve political power through coups, as was the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (, 2000). Likewise, in wars in Mozambique and DRC, aid packages from western donors included military training which often resulted in the creation of militarised dictators such as Idi Amin and Mobutu and more recently former Liberian head of state, Charles Taylor, who was trained in Gaddafi’s Libya prior to the start of the civil conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the early 1990s (, 2000). Such forms of militarisation perpetuate and support the male dominance ideology.

Having discussed the role the military plays in constructing hegemonic forms of masculinities, the paper will now discuss how some men became involved in combat. As earlier mentioned, some men voluntarily joined state forces and insurgent groups, whereas others were conscripted. In addition, warmongers used existing masculinities to manipulate and recruit men as combatants. For example, in conflicts in the Sudan, Uganda and DRC, the stereotyped belief of men as protectors of females and their families was used against them (Schäfer, 2009). As such, men were pressured into conflict in the guise that they will be protecting their relatives but in actuality, the agenda of the warmonger was the one being enacted. Furthermore, wars in Sierra Leone & Liberia saw warmongers use child soldiers to carry out their deeds and  like the East African conflicts, the hatred of the state which some boys had were used to manipulate them and through the use of drugs and alcohol, they were exploited for someone else’s political agenda. However, for some of the child soldiers, being a part of the conflict as combatants meant that they became “big men” (Barker and Ricardo 2005:25) as they were ordered to carry out extreme violence to local communities, thus supporting the view that masculinities and violence are learned experiences  (Cahn & Ni Aolain, 2009). Moreover, there is the implication that even within more hegemonic forms of masculinities, different hierarchies exist.

As the above outlined that during civil war conflicts recruitment styles may vary, this paper will now examine the effects of hyper masculinity and hegemonic masculinities in times of civil war conflicts. There are no singular forms of masculinities and certain masculinities become more prominent during civil conflicts (Barker & Ricardo, 2005). Hegemonic masculinity represents “norms & institutions which actively serve to maintain men’s authority over women & over subordinated masculinities” (Dudink et al. 2004:51). This is evident in African civil conflicts, particularly in how men display their authority and power over women. Moreover, hyper masculinity plays a similar role as the hegemonic masculinity as it is also a form of masculinity which opposes femininity and homosexuality and incorporates aggression as a key focus. In addition, this form of masculinity plays an enlarged role in wars (Cahn & Ni Aolain, 2009).

Social structures and patriarchal systems have contributed to ensuring that women remain the most marginalised group during conflicts (Cahn & Ni Aolain, 2009). Often rape is used as a weapon against women and it is usually carried out by both state forces and insurgent groups. For example, Charles Taylor coerced and encouraged boys to carry out rapes of women and girls in the Liberian conflict as a way of discrediting the masculinities of the male family members who were forced to bear witness (Schäfer, 2009), and as such aiding the view of the pluralities of masculinities present during conflicts. Moreover, in the Rwandan conflict, soldiers raped an estimated 400,000 women and claimed that the intent was to spread HIV/AIDS (Barker & Ricardo, 2005).  Therefore, through the use of rape as a weapon, the men and boys could exert not only power and dominance over the civilian population but also disenfranchise the girls and women whilst reaffirming their dominant militarised masculinities (Baaz and Stern, 2009). Likewise, men also adducted girls and women and forced some into becoming brides during conflicts (Schafer 2009). All of which supports the notion that males sexualities in a conflict environment become more extreme as they don’t adhere to state rules and the notion of hyper masculinity becomes more prominent.

On the other hand, for some women, being abducted meant that although they lose control of their identity and in some cases sexual identity, they became a part of the combatant force, and some, in Sierra Leone for instance, were able to use the power systems created by their abductors to become commandos in their own right and carried out the same atrocities as their male counterparts (Sjoberg, 2009). However, women’s role in conflicts are often linked to stereotyped gender tasks such as cooking and looking after the sick (Schafer 2009). Therefore, the display of masculinities not only has an impact on women, it also involves them in conflicts either as fighters or as sexualised entities.

Men also suffered from sexual violence inflicted by male soldiers during conflicts. However, sexually abused males experiences are not highly reported or well researched as such, there is not much literature on their experiences (Barker & Ricardo 2005 and Sivakumaran 2007). In the Congolese conflict, soldiers raped men as a way of humiliating them as well a strip them of their manhood in order to make them submissive thus, like sexual violence against women, sexual violence against men is also about dominance and a display of power dynamics (Sivakumaran 2007). Similar to the raping of females, the rape of males created a stigma during wars and after, as many men feared being labelled as homosexuals. Therefore as Storr (2011) stated, could be a reason why the reported cases for men are low. Moreover, although female rape is still significantly higher in numbers during conflicts, male rape victims should also be accounted for as it will aid females as well by removing the stereotyped notion that women are the only ones susceptible to rape and that men are not vulnerable (Storr, 2011).

Having discussed the use of rape as a weapon to disempower females and males, the role of masculinities in the peace building process of civil conflicts will now be discussed. Skjelsbaek (1997) mentions, men are involved in every aspect of war including peace making and peace building. Similar to other aspects of conflicts, the peace making process often excludes marginalised groups especially women who only make up 4% of people involved in peace negotiations globally (Cahn & Ni Aolain, 2009). The effects of this are that when peace negotiations occur, only male ideologies are taken into account. Moreover, even when women are present during negotiations, it was not guaranteed that gendered issues will be at the forefront (Schäfer 2009).  In South Sudan for instance, women were said to be partisan and as such discredited (Schäfer 2009). Therefore, it is important for men to be more gender equitable when peace negotiations are taking place, however this is difficult as the dominant masculinities present during conflicts would not allow men to see issues concerning women as important.

Moreover, peace negotiations normally lead to a process for demobilization where armed forces and insurgent groups stop fighting and the latter surrenders their weapons. The process in many conflicts on the continent is often enacted by large organisations such as the United Nations (UN) who have recognised gender mainstreaming processes. However, such gender guidelines are not always followed and often, male commanders would not allow women combatants to surrender their arms themselves, instead they are degraded to “passive refugees” (Schäfer 2009:6). This is done as a way of reiterating their dominant masculinities and for them to retain the identity of being a warrior, an attribute not normally associated with women in sub Saharan Africa. Therefore, the demobilisation process must take into account that the needs of female and male former combatants differ.

In addition to the above, the UN often assigns peace keeping soldiers to countries that are in the demobilisation process. In the DRC for example, such peace-keepers perpetuated hegemonic forms of masculinities by abusing children and behaving like sex tourists (Schäfer 2009), consequently going against the UN rules and regulations. Likewise, in Sierra Leone, peacekeepers were referred to as ‘beach keepers’, as they spent most of their time there drinking and exerting varying forms of dominant masculinities over the locals.

During the peace building process women are still excluded and the demobilisation process is also a male dominated arena as discussed above. The paper will now examine whether masculinities change once a nation’s civil conflict has ended. Hegemonic masculinities and hyper masculinity notions created during conflicts are difficult to undo in post conflict settings. As such, there is a need to examine how masculinities change and adapt in such settings. Handrahan (2004:433) states, post conflict environments are often about “male power systems and male identity”. Therefore although the actors may change, the forms of masculinities on display remain but are more subdued. Additionally, combatants from insurgent, militias and the state military lose power when conflicts end and many males that participated are thereby relegated to civilian status which poses many challenges (Barker and Ricardo 2005). Likewise, during the transition period, the male dominated areas that were occupied by militias and insurgents are replaced by other male identities in the form of peace keepers who then become the decision makers. The presence of peacekeepers creates new male power systems whereby local males are viewed as failures and new concepts of societal and gender norms are imposed (Handrahan 2004).

Moreover, it is difficult for men who took part in conflicts to create positive masculinities and that could be due to the lack of opportunities available to them post conflict (Cahn & Ni Aolain 2009). In Sierra Leone for instance, former child soldiers who could not fully reintegrate often turned to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms which increased the notion of a hyper masculinity and resulted in violence and petty crime (, n.d.). Additionally, some men struggled to adjust to their new marginalised status and found it difficult to return to family life. In addition, violence increased as men who returned to their families tried to usurp the decision making powers their wives have created in their absence (Handrahan, 2004). On the other hand, in Uganda for example, the stigma of the war meant that ex-combatants were feared in their local communities upon return as they were seen as violent and unpredictable (Barker & Ricardo, 2005). Likewise, ex combatants found it difficult to get married as their marginalised statuses meant that they could not afford the cost of marriage. Therefore, increasing the frustrations they experienced and as Dolan (2003 cited in Barker and Ricardo, 2005) states, the forms of masculinities they have been socialised with during conflicts decreases their abilities to attain educational achievements, thus making it difficult to gain financial sustenance.

In conclusion, men are heavily involved in every aspect of civil conflicts in sub Saharan Africa and often civil war conflicts are caused by the desire of men to gain power. Conflicts also lead to the creation of new male identities and different forms of masculinities emerge. The military for instance, has a huge contributory role in forming male identities based on stereotyped notions of manhood. Thus, the military socialises men in how to become violent and often view femininity and homosexuality as counterproductive to the idea of manliness. Similarly, during conflicts, hegemonic forms of masculinities emerge and power dynamics and the notion of dominance are exerted through killings and raping of females and at times males. Likewise, during peace negotiations and post conflict settings, it is also often about the reformation of male identities and how masculinities once dominant during conflicts change and are replaced by different forms of dominant masculinities such as new democratic leaders and peacekeepers. All of which supports Barker and Ricardo’s (2005) view that there are pluralities of masculinities and that they are subject to social change.

Arriving in Sierra Leone and finding my way to Freetown!

January 26, 2014

After we landed at Lungi and went through arrivals, as we were waiting for our luggage to come through on the carousel, it was amazing to see the camaraderie between Saloneans, Everyone was just helping each other to get their suitcases and it was really nice. I’ve always felt that Saloneans don’t like their ‘compin’ black salonean and at the airport that night my opinion changed.

I did have to pay sl10k leones for a trolley for my suitcases which I was not impressed with as I expected them to be free to use. As I was making my way to the exit, people started shouting at me asking whether I needed a taxi or a hand with my suitcases, or tickets for the sea coach. The quickest way to get to Freetown from Lungi is to cross the river that semi-separates the two. You could drive around but it is time consuming and the roads are bad. Other means of crossing are by ferry which we missed as our plane landed too late.

I declined the random men shouting at me and retreated back inside the arrivals lounge where I was met by my cousin. We then bought some sea coach tickets costing £60 for two. What a waste of money, it was robbery, it took 20 minutes to cross to Freetown and I felt ripped off. We were dropped off in Aberdeen, which is literally

on the other side of the capital to where my parents’ house was in Allen Town. I was so tired but again, the excitement of just being in Salone kept me going.

We couldn’t make it to my parents that night, so spent my first night at my cousin’s place which was closer to Aberdeen.

Salone travels December 2013

January 21, 2014

The Journey to Sierra Leone was LONG and arduous, however it was made more bearable as I made friends with a Liberian/American girl.

I left my house in the UK at 4.30am by taxi to the coach station in Reading town with two suitcases. I underestimated how difficult it will be to move around with two suitcases, a hand luggage and a laptop bag.   Boarded my coach to the airport at 5, got to terminal 5 at 5:45, realised I’ve got to get to terminal 4, struggled with my bags to another bus stop and waited in the cold for 15 minutes. Got my bags in the bus, none of the other fuckers traveling even helped. Pricks! probably because it was only 6am.

Got to Terminal 4, got a trolley and went to weigh my luggage and then joined a massively long queue to check in and get rid of my baggage. Got talking to a really nice Japanese lady travelling to Japan, she had 14 plus hours to travel with a transit in Brussels. Spent nearly an hour in that queue, good thing my parents always told me to get to the airport ridiculously early.

Got rid of my bags and went through security and then bought me some alcohol at duty free… I was very tempted to head to a bar and get drunk but decided to just take my malaria pills and force down a chocolate bar instead. Also it was the early morning.

After waiting about an hours-ish, we started to board the plane, I was sat next to a little French kid and an American girl, I was in the middle.  Luckily the flight was only 50 mins so didn’t mind.  The French kid did not speak English and I couldn’t speak French but we still chatted and played games all the way to France, mostly using mimes and a translate app on my phone. He showed me how to play some game on his game boy, he was an interesting child.

We landed and said ‘A Bientot’ and Au revoir’ then it was time to go through another security post to get to the gate. The American girl sat next to me walked past me and she mentioned she was travelling to Liberia to another passenger, so I made contact and we started to talk. We went through security together and spent the next 2 plus hours waiting at the airport. Most of it was spent speaking about our two countries, guessing who is Liberian or who is Sierra Leonean (fun game lol) and of course the war and Africa as a whole.  We also browsed the shops and duty free.

We boarded the plane, and we tried and successfully traded seats with people so we could sit next to each other. We chatted, debated, ate, watched films (Seriously LONG flight), eventually landed in Liberia and we said our goodbyes, we shared numbers and stuff, it’s so interesting meeting new people.

My plan was to make a Liberian friend through my journey and I succeeded lol.

At Liberian airport, we waited for more than an hour as there was a missing passenger who should have vacated the plane in Liberia, however they were still on. So they checked all our tickets and then allowed the new passengers on the plane.


We landed around 10pm. Got off the plane and a bus came to meet us to take us to the arrivals area. I shit you not; we could see the arrivals area from the plane and the bus was so unnecessary, we all could have walked. Another British passenger mentioned; “It’s for the Americans, they’re fat” ( Love Sierra Leoneans, so blunt and love their stereotyping……………..…..!)

Got to the arrivals area and the queue for the foreigners (all those using foreign passports) was so long, I had an ECOWAS passport and my queue was short, no waiting at all, although the airport worker asked for his “Christmas” (Bribe) I said I had no Leones, the cheeky shit then said, pounds, dollars is fine, I laughed it off and he let me through.

Picked up my suitcases after waiting for almost an hour for them, and met my cousin outside. I’ll make another post about arrivals in Sierra Leone and what you are met with. Crazy is an understatement.

I didn’t give a shit though; I was tired and excited to be in Sierra Leone.

To be continued…


December 21, 2013



Usage of this blog!

January 18, 2013

I have not posted on here in a while. Real life keeps getting in the way :)

I do intend on using this more though.

Hopefully a new adventure is on the horizon.



The Clubhouse

August 19, 2012
tags: ,

The Clubhouse bar in Makeni is run by the charity I volunteered with last year in SL. The motive is a good one as the majority of the profit goes back into the charity.  I had a love/ hate relationship with the place. Although the proceeds are for the charity and I whole heartedly support the charity as its great for the young beneficiaries, I really did not enjoy being at the bar/restaurant.

The place was well organised and it was always full of westerners, i.e. NGO workers, expats, Volunteers, Mining workers. At times it felt like I was in a pub in England on a hot day and that certainly was not why I wanted to go to Sierra Leone. One of the main things that really annoyed me about the place was the mining workers from the UK. They are paid a considerable amount to work in Salone, yet they degrade and speak so lowly of the country. Some white volunteers who were there around the same time as me told me how they would often tell them that they were wasting their time in Salone and that they won be able to make any sort of difference. I also hated that some of them went into the bar with ‘kolonkos’ (prostitutes). This sickened me and I just felt so sorry for the girls and the situations they must be in for them to degrade themselves like that. Poverty forces people to do drastic things and so many people in Makeni see these white people as a financial source even when they are just there for personal gain.

I went there (Makeni) to immerse myself in the work the charity does and I just did not enjoy the vibe at the clubhouse and I did not travel all the way to Sierra Leone to spend loads of time with other westerners, I could easily have done that at home in Reading town.

I know the charity does try to lure the locals in, however at the prices that they charge for food and drinks, only the wealthier locals could afford it on a regular basis.

What I really liked about the Clubhouse was that they had satellite TV; i went there a couple of times to watch the US Open tennis on ESPN. The Saloneans who work there like most other Sierra Leoneans love football and would watch any match in any league in the world (football was always on when i went there) i would casually ask them to change the TV over to the tennis. Tennis is not for everyone and i didn’t usually stay long as i could see people were getting frustrated. Football is much more fun to them and the majority of young people aspire to be footballers.

I basically did not like the vibe of the place at all, however some of the other volunteers loved it and even reading people’s blogs now it’s a popular place for ex-pats and volunteers.  In my honest opinion i believe it is because many white westerners feel more comfortable surrounded by other westerners, it’s understandable i suppose.

As a Sierra Leonean, i wanted to spend as much time as possible with the locals, I wanted to learn more about the culture, the people, improve my language skills, learn about the current state of the town.

I just had to write this as I’m following a blog on word press and the author is currently in Makeni, Sierra Leone and every other paragraph seems to have the club house in it.

Because i’m missing Makeni!!

April 29, 2012

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