ABSTRACT

During the period from 1980 to 2003 Liberia become synonymous with war, chaos and destruction. Fragmented by different militias that seemingly fought each other for no better reason than plunder and theft the country was presented as a primary example of a ‘new war’ of greed and banditry (see Kaldor 2001). There is little doubt that economic motives were important for the war and the establishment of many of the militias involved in the conflict. However, the reasons behind the formation of militias during the Liberian war are also deeply entrenched in history. The only way to understand this dimension of the war is therefore to come to terms with this history and the ramifications it holds for the formation of militias. The Liberian war was not a ‘new’ war, but a twenty-first-century manifestation of conflicts that had started much earlier; some of them even preceding the first settlers that arrived in the early eighteenth century (see also Bøås 2005). The ‘ghost’ of war was therefore not new to Liberia. Indeed, the argument could be made that Liberia has been at ‘war’ with itself from the very beginning of its existence as an independent state (Bøås 1997; see also Moran 2006): a ‘war’ concerning the questions of what it meant to be a Liberian, and how the polity of the country should be constituted and resources distributed. The Liberian civil war is hardly ever mentioned without reference to former

president Charles Taylor. Both media and international organisations (governmental and non-governmental) have contributed to a personalisation of the Liberian war through the emphasis they placed on Taylor, in fuelling the war as well as in the making of the Mano River Basin war zone. There is no doubt that Taylor murdered, plundered and treated the presidency as his personal bank account. However, this does not mean that we can assume that the Liberian conflict was the consequence of only one man’s criminal behaviour. Such an approach is a best misleading, and in this case clearly wrong. In order to illustrate the weakness of such an approach, this chapter will

therefore also offer a revisiting of the Liberian civil war through the lenses of autochthony, before it proceeds to analyse how people attempt to navigate the new post-conflict environment in the borderland of Lofa County. The argument made is that viewed in this manner, the warlords, the grand plans, the elites and the international connections become less important and what we are left

with is the intertwining of a series of local conflicts into a larger pattern. Awar zone that evolves and develops as local communities and their inhabitants – dazzled and confused by the events unfolding in their midst – try to protect what they believe belongs to them. This process is illustrated by the ethnogenesis in Lofa County between the Loma and the Mandingo that formally assigns firstcomer status and control of land rights to the Loma. The outcome has been an unstable system of political subordination that the Mandingo often could escape as they represented economic power through their trade networks. In essence this means that the Liberian civil war was just the most recent manifestation of a long history of cooperation but also prolonged spells of conflict between these two communities. The conflicting claims concerning citizenship and land rights is not a novelty created by a ‘new’ war, but an enduring part of the history of this area that is better understood along the lines of la longue durée than as a direct outcome of a crisis of modernity (see Braudel 1994). Thus, the Liberian civil war and its aftermath have a history that precedes the Liberian nation state and the making of the modern state system in West Africa. However, we must also recognise how the ‘rules of engagement’ changed with the imposition of statehood that depicted citizenship to a specific territorially defined politics of place.