Civil War and
The Political Economy of War and Peace in Liberia
A comprehensive analysis of the civil wars and the post-war stabilization in Liberia, showing extent and limits of structural change. The study notably features an meticulous investigation of politics under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Liberia was the scene of two devastating civil wars since late 1989 and became widely considered a failed state. By contrast, the country is frequently described as a success story since the international professional Ellen Johnson Sirleaf assumed the presidency following democratic elections in 2005. This study investigates the developments that have taken place over this period, focusing on patterns of legitimacy and the finances of political authority. The first part investigates legitimacy and political economy of the important actors of the first civil war. Contradicting influential analyses, it argues that legitimacy was a key factor for the victory of Charles Taylor’s faction. The second part shows how Taylor’s power eroded and rival actors rose. It focuses on the political careers of warring party elites in the post-war order on the one hand and the accumulation of power by President Johnson Sirleaf on the other. It argues that Liberia has indeed made significant progress in developing towards a more democratic and peaceful society. Notably, positions of power are now distributed more broadly to integrate all politically important forces. Yet there are significant continuities with the past. A lack of resources needed for bureaucratic government, wide-spread resistance against reform by elites, and elite factionalism militate against effective reform. Liberia’s post-war regime can be characterized as a neo-patrimonial democracy: votes are a major power resource, increasing the political influence of the populace, but the exercise of state powers is largely determined by private interests of office holders.