Extralegal groups in post-conflict Liberia
Christine Cheng (King's College London)
Paper short abstract:
This study shows how extralegal groups emerged in the aftermath of Liberian civil war as a product of livelihood strategies and the political economy of war. It systematically analyzes how they took control of natural resource enclaves in three sectors of the economy: rubber, diamonds, and timber.
Paper long abstract:
In the aftermath of the Liberian civil war, groups of ex-combatants took control of natural resource enclaves. These groups were widely viewed as the most significant threats to Liberia's hard-won peace. This study shows how extralegal groups emerged as a product of livelihood strategies and the political economy of war. It systematically analyzes their trajectory in three sectors of the Liberian economy: rubber, diamonds, and timber. This chapter introduces the concept of extralegal groups— how they emerge, develop, and become entrenched over time. It explores their dual nature as threats to the state and as local statebuilders. An extralegal group has a proven capacity for violence, works outside the law for profit and provides basic governance functions to sustain its business interests. This framing shows how political authority can develop as a by-product of the commercial environment, even where the state has little or no presence. In fact, the predatory nature and historical abuses in the name of the state means that government is not always more trusted or better able to look after the interests of local populations than an extralegal group.This sheds new light on violent non-state actors, allowing us to view them as part of an evolutionary process of state-making, rather than simply as national security threats. The findings offer a counterpoint to the prevailing narrative, arguing that extralegal groups have a dual nature and should be viewed as accidental statebuilders driven to provide basic governance goods in their bid to create a stable commercial environment.
Politics after war: armed actors in post-conflict societies [CRG African Politics and International Relations]