When Profit Becomes the Key Driver

Many groups engage in illicit activities to fund their activities. In many civil wars, illicit trafficking has been essential to get food, fuel and other supplies to civilians and provide arms to combatants. The wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone were rife with diamond and timber smuggling, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) have taxed coca producers to fund their activities.

But there is a risk that the revenue from illicit trafficking becomes more important than the ideological aims of armed groups. Alongside the necessity for goods and revenue, armed groups and combatants have also been enriched by illicit activities. In Sierra Leone, soldiers coordinated with rebels to minimise clashes and maximise profit through looting, diamond mining and selling arms to each other. These practices ensure that armed groups engage in profit making activities even when it undermines their military objectives.

The primacy of greed undermines the ideological aims of armed groups. They also lose the support of civilians as they are seen as a key threat. Armed groups are also less likely to be brought to the negotiating table as they are understood as criminal rather than political actors.

For the FARC, the role of profit has a deeper effect on their ideology as it is representative of a capitalist worldview that is in opposition with their revolutionary agenda.