P016 – Social and Political Transformations in Post-War Liberia: Exploring Narratives, Memory and Perspectives of Institutional Change
10 July, 16:00-17:30

Zanker Franzisca / GIGA Institute of African Affairs
Kaufmann Andrea / University of Basel


Bøås Morten

While Liberia is shown to be celebrating “a decade of peace” and the UN Mission is scaling down for eventual drawdown, many Liberians are skeptical about the sustainability of peace. The scars remain visible, as many of the perceived root causes of war are still prevalent. This begs the question of what has changed since the end of the war and how this has been articulated or obscured. Transformation concerns the relation between processes of global, national or local social change and the individual lives of different people. In studying political transformations, institutions are crucial, but they cannot be analyzed without the individual actors that (re)shape them. Hence, transformation has to be viewed from two perspectives, the top-down and the bottom up.  This panel explores the ways in which transformations – be it the social, cultural or political – are observable along the continuum of war and peace (cf. Richards 2005, Utas 2005) and also in relation to the historical context of Liberia. It investigates the role and use of images and narratives to frame a distance to the war and expectations about a peaceful future and social cohesion. The issue of debate in this panel is how institutional changes have been presented, perceived and challenged in the “decade of peace”, how they are enacted or perceived either from the top-down or bottom-up and how related discourses become politicized. The panel will entail analysis of the relation between transformation and continuity against the backdrop of a long continuum of war and peace.

Transformations sociales et politiques de l’après-guerre au Libéria: exploration des récits, de la mémoire et perspectives de changement institutionnel
Alors que le Libéria célébrait une décennie d’années de paix, de nombreux libériens demeurent sceptiques quant à la durabilité de la « paix ». La plupart des raisons de la violence persistent et les cicatrices de la guerre restent visibles. Ce qui revient à poser la question de la nature des transformations depuis la fin de la guerre, comment ont-elles été masquées ou énoncées ? Quelles transformations sociales et politiques ont-elles engendrées? La transformation est en lien avec les processus de modification sociale au niveau local, national ou mondial à l’œuvre et les itinéraires individuels. L’étude autour des transformations politiques, demande une réflexion sur les institutions, mais elles ne peuvent être analysés sans le recours aux acteurs individuels qui les façonnent et les transforment. Ainsi, la transformation doit être considérée selon une double dimension : « top-down » et « bottom-up ». Le panel s’intéressera à la manière dont les transformations sociales, culturelles et politiques sont observables sur le temps long entre périodes de guerre et de paix et selon une perspective historique. Ce panel portera une attention aux métaphores en usage qui créent de la distance par rapport à un passé violent et les attentes d’un avenir de paix et de cohésion sociale. De plus, on se demandera comment les changements institutionnels ont été présentés, compris et interpellés et de quelle manière les discours connexes se sont politisés. Le panel considèrera et analysera ces transformations, comment elles ont été adoptées, imaginées ou rendues visibles entre le temps de guerre et de paix.

Paper 1

Neajai Pailey Robtel / SOAS, University of London

Give Me Your Land or I’ll Shoot! How Conflict Has Configured and Reconfigured Liberian Citizenship

In this paper, I examine how four historical and contemporary conflict interfaces in Liberia and across transnational spaces have configured and reconfigured citizenship construction and practice. The paper unsettles theoretical debates around citizenship as territorially bounded or unbounded by highlighting a case study where the very idea of the nation-state—Liberia—remains violently contested. Employing the lived experiences of 202 Liberian respondents from five field sites—London, England; Washington, D.C.; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Accra, Ghana; and Monrovia, Liberia—the paper shows that conflict and civil war simultaneously ruptured and sealed state-citizen relations, thereby casting citizenship as a space of contestation. Here, I review some of the conflict literature, exploring how the manipulation of citizenship was a driver of Liberia’s civil wars and how it continues to be a driver of continued tensions amongst ‘homeland’, ‘diaspora’ and ‘returnee’ Liberians. I assert in this paper that a proposed dual citizenship bill was introduced in Liberia in 2008 in view of the recognition that some Liberians may have naturalised in other countries because they did not know when the intermittent armed conflicts would end. Conversely, however, I contend that the bill’s passage has been postponed because post-war governance challenges such as income inequality, land tenure, and transitional justice continuously pit transnational Liberians against those who are domestically rooted

Paper 2

Bedert Maarten / Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Exploring the integrative potential of “landlord/stranger reciprocity” in post-war Liberia

This paper analyses the continuing importance of the landlord/stranger reciprocity idiom that is characteristic of the political culture in much of Liberia. The analytical distinction between landlords and strangers has since long been adopted from an outspoken emic use of these terms. Based on the principle of matrilateral exchange, landlords and strangers have been classified as wife-givers and wife-receivers or as uncles and nephews. These categories have been invoked to illustrate the importance of patron-client relations that make up social and political hierarchies within society.In this paper, I stress the aspect of reciprocity that is implied in the landlord-stranger idiom. Based on the description of funeral rites and settlement narratives among the Dan of north-eastern Liberia, I argue that, more than a way to stress difference, this idiom serves also as way through which belonging is articulated. Despite the civil war(s) that affected the region for years, the landlord/stranger idiom continues to be important in organizing social relations in the aftermath of the conflict. Rather than focusing on crisis and conceptual change, I argue for an approach that focuses on institutional continuities. Taking landlord/stranger reciprocity as an example, I explore how these structural idioms can be refined rather than refuted. The analysis of the ritual use of this idiom throughout this paper explores the integrative potential of the landlord/stranger reciprocity.

Paper 3

Glucksam Noga / School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London

On Time and Responsibility: The impact of presentism in the Liberian civil-war and its aftermath

Past visibility and historical justice have been important elements of the Liberian reconstruction process. It is not surprising that the TRC mandate never limited the temporal scope of the commission. Civil conflicts are often deeply entrenched in local historical narratives, and post-conflict accountability processes are designed to recognize the impact of the past, and to prevent its recurrence by battling impunity. However, an examination of discourses and norms in Liberia during and after the conflict suggests a strong and widespread sense of presentism; a schism from the past, but more importantly, also from the future. This paper is based on extensive mixed method analysis of contemporary and past discourses, which point to an evasive and passive interpretation of historicity, justice and responsibility. The analysis shows that even though the end of hostilities did not create a ‘year-zero’ like many post-conflict arrangements do, it was used to perfectly encapsulate the war period as an extra-temporal event, devoid of past and future, devoid of implications. The paper further examines the impact of time perceptions, historicity and presentism on the construction of norms of guilt and responsibility, through the analysis of the role of agency in historical narratives.

Paper 4

Utas Mats / Dept. Cultural Anthrop, Uppsala University

Generals For Good – Not So Bad? Ex-Commanders as Reintegration Brokers in Post-War Liberia

In the aftermath of civil wars there is a general belief that old command structures of former rebel movements are a serious threat to the newfound and fragile stability. Indeed there is enough evidence around pointing out how easily remobilized former military networks are. There is however a tendency of viewing this mobilization as the very logic of the networks themselves – as if their very raison d’être is to create eternal conflict. In any DDR process a lot of effort is placed on dismantling chains of command etc., of armed groups, clearly also the case in Liberia. Despite this, more than ten years after the end of the second Liberian war contacts between commanders and their former soldiers still prevail, yet most commonly for non-military reasons. It appears that what the DDR process chiefly managed to do was to drive the networks underground and out of sight of the international community. With a focus on former Mid-Level Commanders (MiLCs) we aim to show that former military networks may not solely be a threat to stability in a post-war country but could quite the contrary be viewed as an asset. We show how some of the ex-MiLCs, who have integrated well, not only provide avenues into the informal economy but into formal trade and even the state. By highlighting these very ambiguities of post-war livelihoods for ex-MiLCs we argue that national and international DDR and SSR programs needs to readdress their policy positions in an effort to strengthen durable peace.

Paper 5

Weah Aaron / Search for Common Ground

Emerging Pattern: Constructive and Destructive Memory in Postwar Liberia

Studies on transitional justice—in particular, violent memory—suggest there are two schools of thought. The first school considers violent memory as a burden and embraces collective amnesia as a strategy to escape from the trappings of the past because the act of remembering is traumatic and can bring back moments of horror; stirring up anguish and pain. The second school admits that remembering is painful; though it brings back grief and great deal of distress, remembering provides lessons on how to avoid repeat of the past. Thus, the second school contends that the act of remembering carries a preventative value.
While the urge to ignore violent memory maybe compelling, studies have shown that it is impossible to forget. In light of this context, there is a general assumption that anyone expose to this scale of violence (as in civil war, authoritarian rule or period of genocide) carries a violent memory. How individuals or group response to this memory, can either promote or pose a risk to peace and security after period of violent conflict. This paper is concerned about delayed reconciliation in Liberia and the dynamics of postwar memory. Patterns of memory will be assessed both at the national and sub national levels. Constructive memory patterns will be assessed in light of how it enhances postwar reconciliation while tendencies of destructive memory will be assess in view of risk pose to postwar reconciliation.

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