Extralegal Groups in Post-Conflict Liberia: how trade makes the state

417 Muirhead Tower
Wednesday 23 October 2019 (15:00-17:00)
ChristineCheng photo

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Room 417, 4th Floor, Muirhead Tower

15:00 – 17:00

In the aftermath of the Liberian civil war, groups of ex-combatants seized control of key natural resource enclaves in the country. With some of them threatening a return to war, these groups were widely viewed as the most significant threats to Liberia’s hard-won peace. Building on fieldwork and socio-historical analysis, this study shows how extralegal groups were incentivized to provide basic governance goods in their bid to create a stable commercial environment during the country’s war-to-peace transition. By analysing the trajectory of extralegal groups in three sectors of the Liberian economy— rubber, diamonds, and timber— this book traces how livelihood strategies merged with the opportunities of Liberia’s post-war political economy. At the same time, this is also a context-specific story that is rooted in the country’s geography, its history of state-making, and its social and political practices.

Extralegal groups did not emerge in a vacuum. Where the state is weak and political authority is contested, where rule of law is corrupted and government distrust runs deep, extralegal groups can provide order and dispute resolution, forming the basic kernel of the state. Further, they can establish public norms of compliance and cooperation with local populations. This logic counters the prevailing “spoiler” narrative, forcing us to reimagine violent non-state actors as accidental statebuilders in an evolutionary state-making process, and not simply as national security threats. These are not groups who seek to rule; they provide governance because they need to trade— not as an end in itself. This leads to the book’s broader argument: it is trade, rather than war, that drives contemporary statebuilding. Along the way, this book poses some uncomfortable questions about what it means to be legitimately governed, whether our trust in states is misplaced, whether entrenched corruption is the most likely post-conflict outcome, and whether our expectations of international peacebuilding and statebuilding are unrealistic and self-defeating.

photo of Christine ChengAbout Christine Cheng

Christine Cheng is Senior Lecturer in War Studies at King’s College London. Dr Cheng is the author of Extralegal Groups in Post-Conflict Liberia- How Trade Makes the State (OUP), which won the 2019 Conflict Research Society’s Annual Book Prize. She co-edited Corruption and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: Selling the Peace? (Routledge) with Dominik Zaum. Working with the UK government’s Stabilisation Unit, she co-authored Securing and Sustaining Elite Bargains that Reduce Violent Conflict (with Jonathan Goodhand and Patrick Meehan), the final report of a two-year project on Elite Bargains and Political Deals in conflict-affected countries. Recently, she worked with Chatham House on a DFID-funded study of Conflict Economies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. At King’s, Dr Cheng teaches on the MA in Conflict, Security, and Development. Previously, she was the Boskey Fellow in Politics at Exeter College, Oxford, and the Cadieux-Léger Fellow at Global Affairs Canada. She has worked for the UN and the World Bank. Dr Cheng holds a DPhil from Oxford (Nuffield) and an MPA from Princeton (Woodrow Wilson School). Dr Cheng sits on the Advisory Board of Women in Foreign Policy.

Dr Christine Cheng
War Studies, King's College London


Twitter @cheng_christine

*New Book*
Extralegal Groups in Post-Conflict Liberia
Oxford University Press
Winner of the 2019 Conflict Research Society Book of the Year

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