Conflict analysis of Liberia

It is over ten years since Liberia’s final peace agreement was signed in 2003, putting an end to 14 years of violent civil wars. This paper finds that current levels of overt conflict in Liberia are relatively low, and there has been no large-scale violence since the end of the second war. However, it also finds that many of the root causes and grievances that led to the wars have not been addressed.

This rapid literature review examines recent research on conflict and peace dynamics in Liberia, focusing on: (1) principal domestic actors; (2) principal domestic dynamics; (3) principal regional actors and dynamics; (4) national and international conflict responses; and (5) sources and capacities for peace. It focuses principally on the period after the 2003 peace agreement – and particularly on literature published within the last five years, unless the literature is particularly well-cited, or contains information not available elsewhere. It grounds the analysis with a brief overview of the historical context.

The literature reviewed is broadly consistent in its selection of key conflict and peace actors and dynamics. However, there is varied emphasis on the dynamic considered most important. The literature is primarily qualitative single-country studies based on interviews or surveys. The key points that emerge are as follows.

  • There are few examples of recent conflict events in Liberia, however there are many incidences of violence between citizens.
  • A small number of individuals and groups dominate Liberian politics and economics. Power in Liberia revolves around political personalities and political groupings – principally the president and ruling political party, the government, individual politicians, and their businesses.
  • Unequal access to services, assets and justice are principal domestic conflict dynamics. These dynamics are rooted in the formation of the Liberian state, which was initiated in the early 1800s by a small group of freed slaves, who arrived in Liberia from the US and from captured slave ships. The ‘Americo-Liberian’ elite still dominate political, economic, social and cultural life.
  • Two key triggers for potential conflict are the planned (but delayed) withdrawal of UN troops, and undemocratic, non-inclusive elections.
  • Liberia is vulnerable to cross-border conflict and the spillover of violence, driven by the political alliances of elites. Liberia and its west-African neighbours – Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire – share common conflict dynamics. Since the end of the Liberian civil wars, levels of cross-border violence affecting Liberia have reduced significantly. Other regional conflict dynamics include: political alliances of elites across borders; remote borders where the state’s presence is limited; weak natural resource governance; and illicit trade in arms, drugs and minerals.
  • Liberia’s transition has been supported by national and international conflict responses, including: the 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord; national reconstruction and poverty reduction strategies; and peacekeeping and development programmes from the UN, the US and EU.
  • Social networks and community dispute settlement have been key sources for peace. Other sources and capacities for peace include: reconciliation activities, Liberian national identity, and interfaith dialogue.

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Suggested citation

Herbert, S. (2014). Conflict analysis of Liberia. Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham