State-building Inteventions in post-conflct Liberia

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Why a state is perpetually fragile despite being subjected to extensive international state-building efforts is one of the most debated topics in contemporary international relations and development studies. In the literature the Liberian conflict presents an example of how natural resources can play a central role in civil wars. Post-conflict Liberia has been subjected to extensive international state-building, at some point hosting the largest and one of the longest UN peace keeping forces in the world, and inflow of aid that exceeds in multiples the GDP. In order to understand the international state-building efforts in Liberia, it is pertinent to reflect them against the extractive and predatory nature of the Liberian republic, and the central role natural resources exploitation and plantations have played in accommodating transnational interest in the country’s abundant natural resources and fertile land. Benefit sharing of rents from natural resources exploitation is inseparable from the internal legitimatization of the Liberian state. Excessive lending, reforms led by international experts, semi-sovereignty and weak internal legitimacy originate from the inception of the Liberian state. This thesis focuses on the political economy aspect of Liberian state-building, and in particular the question of the governance of natural resources. By combining a historical perspective and ethnographic knowledge the thesis seeks to answer a number of interrelated questions: How was access to the state distributed in Liberian state-building? How are those to be governed and their representation included in political economic decision making and more particularly in decisions over natural resources governance? The thesis describes the empirical state-building practices in Liberia during the first two terms of the post-conflict elected government. The analysis is theoretically grounded on the empirical definition of a state in terms of Mitchell (1991) and the underlying social rules of the Liberian governance systems. The thesis argues that securitisation, debt servicing and revenue collection from extractive industries, were prioritized to create an enabling environment to advance concessionary economic policy. While state-building is apparently technocratic, it is, in fact, inherently political. The identification of domestic actors suggests that access to state institutions, information and thus to decision making was unevenly distributed with preference being given to those proclaimed to be reformist partners in neoliberal state-building. This set of elites has appropriated state-building projects to shape institutional arrangements to its own advantage. Historically, Liberia has been characterized as a ‘quasi-apartheid’ state with a perpetual lack of social development. Through concession agreements the state outsources public service provision to concessionaires. The Liberian state has never extended its institutions, public service provision and rule of law to its entire territory, yet maintains a monopoly over the country’s natural resources. After a decade of international state-building, the constitutional reform process revealed that Liberians value economic rights over political rights. The thesis concludes that low confidence in the state’s authority, including in its right to resources, perpetuates the fragile security situation.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAbiodun Alao (Supervisor) & Funmi Olonisakin (Supervisor)

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