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The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict:
The case of Liberia and West Africa

CDR Working Paper 97.4, June 1997
Emmanuel Kwesi Aning

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The essence of this paper is to analyse the Liberian crisis not only from the domestic dimension, but also from a regional perspective. In so doing, the essay questions the role, not only of contiguous states, but the extent of regional states' involvement in launching and sustaining this conflict. This multidimensional approach leads us towards appreciating not only the internal, but regional dimensions of the Liberian crisis. Our hope is to contribute to shifting the analyses of the Liberian conflict beyond the 'spillover', 'diffusion' and 'contagion' perspectives. Rather, we seek to present a systematic analysis of how internal conflict immerses and influences neighbouring states by questioning and differentiating between the impact of internal conflicts on neighbouring states and the strategies taken by these with respect to such conflicts. To better appreciate the Liberian crisis and discern between the diverse variety of endeavours undertaken by neighbouring states, this article will explore the disparate motivations for neighbouring states' involvement in this crisis.

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List of Abbreviations
ARB African Research Bulletin
AFL Armed Forces of Liberia
ECOWAS Economic Community of West African States
GSA General Services Agency
ICA International Coffee Agreement
INPFL Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia
NPFL National Patriotic Front of Liberia
OAU Organization of African Unity
PNDC Provisional National Defence Council
PRC People's Redemption Council
TWP True Whig Party
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1. Introduction

After the euphoric and popular reaction to the emergence of the military upon the Liberian political scene, the People's Redemption Council [PRC], headed by Samuel Kanyon Doe, failed to fulfil initial post-coup d'état promises of establishing a 'new society' (Givens, 1986:65). Instead of implementing policies of inclusion, political procedures were initiated which established patterns of ethnic seclusion (Horowitz, 1993:21 and 25). One result of this restrictive official strategy was the formation of a broad-based coalition of indigenous Liberians and foreign insurgents under the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) which aspired to depose Liberia's Second Republic. Subsequently, an invasion was launched on 24 December 1989. By April 1990, the NPFL, under the charismatic leadership of Charles Taylor, effectively controlled more than 90 per cent of Liberian territory with the exception of the capital, Monrovia and its environs. While the Liberian state, prior to the insurgency, was weak in all senses of the term, it is part of the challenge of this paper to explain the rapidity of state collapse as a consequence of the operations of these insurgents.

To understand the dynamics of this phenomenon, this paper seeks to analyse the organization of armed insurgency against the Second Republic. The analysis revolves around several factors among which are: (i) the immediate and remote causes of internal conflict; (ii) the character and composition of coalition forces under the NPFL; (iii) the role of neighbouring West African states in initial ventures towards organising, and securing support in terms of finance, training and equipment; (iv) the campaign in the northeastern county of Nimba, including the nature of government counter-insurgency strategies; and (v) the rationales given for the first in a series of factional splits.

The argument is that foreign subversion compounded the insecurity dilemmas (Job, 1986:17-19; Posen, 1993:103-105) generated by ethnic rivalry internal to Liberia, and was the immediate cause for the initial uprising. Appreciating the dynamics of support patterns extended by individual West African states for the armed struggle, facilitates an enhanced sensitivity to the rationales used by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to intervene, despite its original ambivalence to the engulfing crisis. Such an analysis also enables us to appreciate the character of later splits, and to situate in its proper context the escalation of the conflict and the way it defied solution.

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2. Background

Charles Taylor's role in shaping the disparate post-1985 opposition forces into an effective fighting organisation, willing and inclined to actively combat the Second Republic is not doubted. There is some contention, though, to the extent to which explicit support from certain ECOWAS member states was procured, and the processes through which such patronage was either extended or withdrawn. During his sojourn in West Africa after his 'escape' from the United States in 1984, Ghana, in consequence of its own declared 'democratic revolution', (Ninsin, 1987:18-19) granted him residence during the initial phase of recruitment and planning. Ghanaian support for Charles Taylor has never been officially confirmed. It is, however, known that Taylor's request was favourably received by Ghana, and subsequently, an approach was made to Libya for financial and material assistance and a pipeline for military hardware and finance was opened (Godwin, 1991:26). Burkina Faso similarly extended facilities for training, banking, armaments transfer and a detachment of troops to support Charles Taylor's uprising. Côte d'Ivoire, an otherwise conservative regional power, extended patronage in terms of political and diplomatic facilities, and facilitated the transportation of arms and the encampment of troops prior to the invasion. A non-regional actor, Libya, in consequence of its stated desire to get a foothold in West Africa, willingly extended training, finance and weapons to Charles Taylor (Gershoni, 1993:32). How do we explain this extensive patronage for a regional uprising?

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3. The Character of the Coalition Force - The Liberian Factor

There is some controversy as to when the NPFL was formed and who its original leaders were (Barret, 1994:1342). One school of thought locates the formation of the movement under the former Army Chief of Staff, Thomas Quiwonkpa in early 1985 (Ellis, 1995:180), and stresses that the few escapees among the motley group of dissidents who invaded Liberia in November 1985 formed the original clique around which the broader-based opposition movement, NPFL, coalesced. Yet another school of thought locates the formation wholly under Charles Taylor, as the primus motor in modelling the exiled Liberian opposition organisations into the required structure and transforming it into an efficient fighting force. Irrespective of which of the two schools of thought is correct, it can be asserted that the patronage system, at least, played a prominent role in the initial appointment of Charles Taylor as the Director General of the General Service Agency (GSA). There is an element of association, therefore, between Quiwonkpa's loss of power in 1983 and the subsequent repression and retrenchment of those associated or related to him (Ankomah, 1992:12). This led to Charles Taylor's eventual escape to the United States amid official accusations of embezzlement, a charge which was rescinded at the height of the civil war (Weller, 1994:56-57).

The nature of Samuel Doe's military interregnum and the Second Republic lead most Liberian political opponents into exile. Liberian politics is characterized by co-optation, clientelism and patronage systems which exploited the overlapping factors of family, colour, and wealth. Though this manipulative and discriminatory state strategy, it was anticipated, would be terminated with the emergence of the military on the Liberian political scene, it was rather embellished and entrenched, increasing disparities in political power, privilege and economic access. To this was added a particularly selective and manipulative method in which ethnicity was exploited in Liberian politics between 1980-1989 to advance political ambitions and economic goals. Ethnic consciousness and affiliation became associated with status, power, and access to wealth. In the ensuing milieu engendered by the 'politics of tribe' (Howard, 1995/6:28), specific ethnic groups became more persecuted than others. In a situation where loyalty to the state had been weakened not only by language and religion, but through preferential development schemes which left large rural areas untouched by modernization schemes, state incapacity to design a national image that was not simply that of the Krahn minority, compounded the new ethnopolitics practised by the Second Republic, and further eroded allegiance to the state.

Within this setting, the Gio and Mano groups of Nimba county were particularly singled out for persecution because of the perception that the 'most vigorous opposition (to the government) will come from Nimba county' (West Africa March 1983). In designing strategies towards curtailing escalating opposition, both the military regime and Second Republic exploited the underlying ethnic disparities and antagonisms which were found in Liberian society. These contributed to creating a mind-set among Liberian policy makers which led to the interpretation of all opposition as Nimba-originated. Thus, at the height of ethnic repressions which followed the failed coup d'état of November 1985, Gio and Manos became the targeted group as the coup d'état was perceived as having originated from and led by Nimbaians. As a consequence of subsequent government counter-insurgency measures, members of these two groups fled to Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea. A later surge of mixed groups escaped to Sierra Leone where they settled largely within existing communities along the borders. Ethnic targeting identified the peoples of Nimba as 'troublemakers who do not hesitate to organize themselves' (West Africa 22 March, 1983). Thus by the time Charles Taylor arrived in Côte d'Ivoire, there was a core of Liberian volunteers inclined to support the idea of a campaign against the Second Republic.

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4. Domestic Conflicts

It has been argued that the link between the two major personalities, Quiwonkpa and Taylor, should be primarily interpreted within the framework of clientelism and ethnicity. Harold Nelson (1984:31ff.), argues that, unable to re-establish patronage networks developed under the True Whig Party [TWP], leading political figures in the PRC who had ambitions of political leadership 'needed to build an ethnic base'. He thus attempts to analyse the establishment of the NPFL and its subsequent disintegration primarily along ethnic lines. Stephen Ellis, on the other hand, argues that, apart from the persecution of Gios and Manos by the military regime and Second Republic, other key factors played an important role in the ensuing struggle between these diverse groups. One was the degree of traditional rivalry between the Krahn on the one hand, and the Gio and Mano on the other, as a result of their earlier competition for land in the rural areas where both groups lived (1995:178). The nature of policies implemented during the period of Samuel Doe's stewardship contributed to creating a situation where the major patterns of social conflict cohered around ethnicity, and resulted in a situation where the dynamics of power were shaped by ethnic relations. Therefore, an individual's contacts to the circle of established political authority was conditional upon his/her ethnic affiliation. But such mono-causal interpretation of the character of opposition to the Monrovia government overlooks the widespread discontent with the regime, and does not have the explanatory potential to analyse the extent of patronage patterns for the NPFL. Monocausality also misconstrues an immensely intricate process of economic, social and political disintegration influencing an entire nation and compounding an already precarious insecurity dilemma.

Explaining the basis of support for the NPFL, Richards emphasizes that the NPFL 'sought to establish a mass base by recruiting large numbers of local youths under the flag of ethnic allegiance'. Richards also seeks to distinguish between ethnicity as a factor in organizing a general resistance, and posits that a central ethnic animus for beginning the conflict, firstly, was the factional rivalry among clientelist groups in the army and other state organisations, for example tensions between the Krahn clients of Doe and the Gio and Mano clients of Quiwonkpa. Fascinating as this argument is, it nevertheless overlooks recruitment patterns in the Liberian army. Under TWP direction, a carefully orchestrated strategy of ethnic stereotyping resulted in military officers being segregated and assigned units to perform tasks supposedly peculiar to each group. Additionally, a restructuring exercise undertaken by William Tolbert's administration also contributed to politicizing and increasing the numbers of specific ethnic groups within the forces (Liebenow, 1981:131-132). In the post-TWP PRC era, with its aura of suspicion and fear, it is arguable whether Quiwonkpa, during his short period of service between April 1980 and November 1983, could have decisively infiltrated enough clients into the state apparatus. This interpretation also disregards Joe Wylie's assertions that their organisation was initially 'above tribalism and partisanship' (West Africa, February, 1986). In the Liberian case, though differential patterns of economic development and ethnic stratification occurred in which a dominant minority group eventually subordinated the majority, ethnicity alone does not have the explanatory potential for the formation of the NPFL and later coalition splits. The initial rationale for the organisation and invasion of Liberia went beyond purely ethnic justifications.

Despite the fact that in the ensuing conflict, ethnicity came to play an influential role in the escalation of the conflict and splits among the diverse factions, we argue that the original organization of and support for the NPFL went beyond the narrow confines of ethnic interests. Rather, our contention is that the initial dynamics and subsequent splits and coalition formations, even along supposedly ethnic lines can be explained in terms of the ruthless ethnic profile being a symptom of the conflict, rather than the conflict itself. The rationales for conflict escalation should, therefore, rather be sought in the struggles among the Liberian elite for political and economic power. Diverse supportive groups encompassed socio-political forces cross-cutting the ethnic divide. Among them were students (the youth factor), the trade unions, women groups, and religious bodies.

Apart from the persecutions suffered by the Mano group between 1980-1989, there were other rationales dating much further back. These concerned the arrival and resistance by the Mano to Mandingo trader and ülama -priestly- incursion into their conventional commercial networks resulting in antipathies between these two groups. Mandingoes distinguished themselves through their superior literary and trading acumen and were later specifically supported and encouraged by the True Whig Party to settle in Liberia, enjoying special privileges that exempted them from forced tribal labour. They were at the same time not subjected to the jurisdiction of the local tribal courts' system. Though Mandingoes emerged as regional peacemakers, committed to muting conflicts between separate local interests and communities, these characteristics were not transposed onto their relations with the Mano. Within the emerging ethnic mosaic of Liberia, Mandingoes were more favoured both by the Krahn dominated military regime, and the Second Republic in terms of government contracts and the exploitation of their knowledge of alternative trading networks for unofficial transactions. Thus, the Mandingoes were generally seen, at least by the Mano, as their enemies for supporting and funding a repressive system. Upon the appearance of Charles Taylor on the scene, the Mano and Gio interpreted NPFL's campaigns in a much narrower perspective by perceiving the endeavour towards ousting Samuel Doe as a mode of settling traditional scores against the incompetent and anachronistic ethnic patronage of the Krahn and Mandingoes.

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5. Sources of Funding

Another important initial patronage factor whose role is regularly overlooked in the analysis of patronage patterns that affect the armed coalition is the role of Americo-Liberians. In the latter stages of the military interregnum, the PRC attempted to co-opt sections of influential Americo-Liberian groups into government, while others preferred to remain in exile, outside the reach of the PRC and the Second Republic. Charles Taylor, already well known in the United States as an effective and persuasive organiser, managed to win extensive support among exiled Americo-Liberians, who funded the coalition to an estimated tune of $1 million (Hubbard, 1991:27-30). This claim stands in sharp contradistinction to William Reno (1995:114), who claims that 'Taylor begun financing his operations with the plunder and sale of machinery from the abandoned German-operated Bong Iron Ore Company'. John Chipman's (1993:154) evaluation of NPFL economic policies contradicts Reno's pillage theory. To Chipman, NPFL's ability to manage the economic potentials of Greater Liberia can be explained as resulting from the credibility of management strategies of the areas under NPFL control, and as a consequence gained the confidence of foreign companies in dealing with the NPFL. Stephen Riley, on the other hand, asserts that, '[t]he NPFL fuels its war effort by continuing the export trade ... with timber still going to the European community' (1993:42). Appearing before the Subcommittee on Africa in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ambassador William Twaddell, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, stated that Charles Taylor had as much as USD 75 million a year from the sale of diamonds, timber products, iron ore and rubber to markets in Belgium, France and Malaysia. Analysing the extent to which Americo-Liberian support was possible for the NPFL, Ellis on the other hand contends that 'most Americo-Liberians valued their rights of entry to the USA too highly to risk dabbling with anti-American governments'. In attaching excessive relevance to Americo-Liberian relations with the United States, and thus hesitant to take on board a Libyan financed and trained NPFL, Ellis overlooks collective Americo-Liberian abhorrence with the Monrovia regime, and thus primed to underwrite movements aimed at bringing about societal transformation. Characteristic of embedded disparities in Liberian society, indigenous Africans provided the bulk of the fighting troops while the Americo-Liberians contributed financial and leadership support (Igwebueze, 1990:22).

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6. Character of the Regional Dimension

Most analyses of Liberia's continuing conflict have been presented within the framework of the state and ethnicity. In this analysis, however, we posit that any significant effort towards appreciating the dynamics of this crisis should not only analyse the internal but also the regional dimensions of this conflict. The following analysis will deal with the machinations and patterns of individual state support for an armed uprising in Liberia. In analysing the regional dimensions of internal conflict, most analysts have either seen such conflicts as 'spilling over' or having a 'contagion' or 'diffusion' effect. In this sub-section, our endeavour is to analyse the activities and actions of Liberia's neighbouring states who have extended critical patronage to the conflicting parties. This analysis will encompass the character and style of involvement of the following states: Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Libya.

Though several instances of externally funded armed invasions of African states have been recorded, the Liberian instance represents an entirely new dimension. For the first time, neighbouring states advanced patronage to a well-orchestrated act of insurrection with strong support among the states of the region. Extending training and financial patronage for the incursion of a member state, contravened the rules, norms and principles of ECOWAS' emerging security-regime (Aning, 1997), portrayed by Ajulo as 'the process of evolving ... tradition of war-free inter-governmental relationship within the framework established by ECOWAS' (1989:247; Sesay, 1995:212).

To Nwokedi, such significant and conscious extension of external support, was 'the first large-scale and sustained civilian campaign from an extra-territorial base against a government in West Africa. This in itself represents a risk of generalized destabilization or an example worthy of imitation by opposition groups contesting for power were it to go unchallenged' (1992:5). Incorporating external factors of support for the NPFL in our analysis is important for a fuller appreciation of the dynamics of the influence of such sources on internal conflicts (Osaghe, 1995:8). According to Donald Rothchild (1992), external support can be either deliberate or non-deliberate. In the case of Liberia, it is the more direct and deliberate external influences that were most consequential for the conflict. It is within this framework of differentiation between deliberate and non-deliberate sources of external sustenance to conflicts that we position the Burkinabe, Ghanaian, Ivorian and Libyan factors.

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7. The Ghanaian Dimension

The nature and character of Ghanaian patronage and later dissociation from Charles Taylor during his search for refuge and support, we argue, should be situated in the context of: (i) the internal political circumstances in Ghana; (ii) the nature of Ghana's relations with Liberia; and (iii) Ghana's search for regional allies (Aning, 1996; Agyeman-Duah, 1987; Chazan, 1984:95). In December 1981, the democratically elected government of Ghana was overthrown by a radical army group calling itself the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) under the leadership of Jerry Rawlings. In immediate post-1981 coup statements, the new government stated its desire to chart a radical revolutionary course, both internally and externally. The first major action undertaken by the PNDC (which has an interest for the present work) was to re-establish diplomatic relations with Libya which had been suspended by the previous government because of official anxiety concerning 'Libya'[s] international terrorist campaign[s]' (ARB, January 1992). Initial responses from ECOWAS leaders were cautious but varied as a result of the violent nature of Rawlings' earlier four-month rule in June-October 1979.

During the early 1980's, Liberia had consistently accused the Ghanaian government of subversion. Liberia's initial reaction to Ghana's declaration of a 'Holy war' was the immediate recall of its Ambassador from Accra in protest against the resumption of diplomatic ties with Libya (West Africa, 25 January, 1982). Ghana-Liberia relations continued to deteriorate until Ghana's chargé d'affaires was eventually declared persona non grata in November 1983. This resulted in his eventual expulsion for 'activities incompatible with his diplomatic status' (ARB, November 1983). Liberia subsequently accused Ghana of backing an external invasion of the country in November 1985 (Akpan, 1986:336). It is in this context of Ghanaian-Liberian relations between 1982-1985, that Ghana's extension of patronage of Taylor's uprising should be situated. However, despite the facts surrounding these relations, Clement Adibe asserts that:

'Ghana was one of the few supporters of the Doe coup in 1980. While it is probable that Rawlings was drawn to Doe because of their mutual alienation by other West African leaders, there is little doubt that their initial relationship benefitted from the revolutionary ideas which they both espoused. By the mid-1980's, however, a major ideological rift had occurred between both revolutionaries.' (1994:349).

There is a fundamental historical implausibility in Adibe's argument. Placing Ghana-Liberia relations in a historical context highlights the confusion surrounding the above point. Ghana's 'cautious optimism' (Liebenow, 1987:188), to changes in Liberia was modified after the execution of TWP leaders, to reflect the general trend of hostility shown by regional states towards the PRC government. This resulted in endorsing both ECOWAS and the Organization of African Unity - OAU - criticism of the brutality of the take-over, and the initiation of ECOWAS' punitive measures embracing three sets of interrelated gestures. First, the Foreign Minister, G. Baccus Matthews was prevented from participating in the Extraordinary OAU Economic Summit in Lagos, Nigeria, in April 1980 (ARB, April 1980). Subsequently, the new Defence Minister was not invited to a meeting of ECOWAS Defence Ministers in May 1980. The height of collective regional abhorrence towards the new regime was reserved for the President. Samuel Doe was refused participation in ECOWAS' Heads of States and Government summit in Lomé, Togo, in May 1980.

By the time Ghana's own revolution occurred on 31 December 1981, a conservative turn of events leading to major reorientations in foreign policy had occurred in Liberia. The Libyan People's Bureau was closed and the Soviet Union told to reduce its diplomatic staff. Liberia ultimately re-affirmed its traditional ties to the US. This led to an internal power struggle in the cabinet in which the radical faction of the PRC was purged (Tipoteh, 1985:90). Liberia was subsequently selected by the U.S. as one of twelve international bastions against the spread of communism and was to receive support from a special security assistance programme (Kramer, 1995:7).

Ghana's decision to support Charles Taylor, then, apart from the regime's stated democratic revolutionary credentials, can probably be inferred from the nature of relations between Ghana and Liberia. According to the influential weekly, West Africa, '... The present Ghana government has no love for ... Doe (August 1990). Tarr continues in this vein and states that '[d]uring the 1980's Doe perceived Ghana as unfriendly, frequently accusing Ghana of supporting 'dissidents' seeking to overthrow his regime' (1993:7). It can be argued that, though the initial Liberian responses to Ghanaian changes were much more severe than the general regional response, they reflected widespread regional indignation with events in Ghana.

Byron Tarr and Prince Acquaah assert that, though Charles Taylor's initial feelers to the Ghanaian government were positively received, this altered over time, resulting in Taylor being incarcerated twice in Ghana. Diverse explanations have been offered by several scholars (Ellis, 1995:181; Yankah and Maayang, 1990:39-41). Though at this point, the essence of these imprisonments was lost on all major actors in this fledging struggle to lead the exiled opposition movement to resist the Second Republic, it is crucial for our later arguments and the subsequent escalations in the Liberian conflict that we comprehend the dynamics of this seemingly unimportant episode. The incidents are also particularly important in several contexts. They reflect: (i) the nature of regional politics and alliances in addition to the initial introduction of the fledging Liberian opposition to Libya; and (ii) these incidents' influence on the character of ECOWAS' original response to the accelerating conflict.

With respect to Ghanaian rationales for breaking with Taylor: by 1987, Taylor had obviously become a political and security liability as a result of the increasingly attentive Ghanaian youth audience fascinated by the revolutionary charisma and romanticism of Charles Taylor's rhetoric. Situating such youthful political consciousness within the context of the internal political climate in Ghana in 1987, it can be argued that Taylor, in the eyes of the Ghanaian authorities, had become a political and security liability (Richards, 1995:135; Richards, 1994:91; Opala, 1994:197). According to a defected Ghanaian intelligence officer:

'there were a number of Ghanaian dissidents [willing to] fight alongside Taylor in Liberia. Rawlings was worried that if Taylor triumphed, Liberia would be used to launch armed attacks against Ghana.' (New African, April 1991)

There is the plausibility of yet a more substantive motivation for Ghana's change of strategy. Ghana's revolutionary rhetoric on the regional level and close alliance with Libya and Burkina Faso had led to consistent regional accusations against both Ghana and Burkina Faso for supporting regional destabilization efforts generally, and especially against Togo (West Africa, July 1987). Ghana's increasingly weak and isolated position in terms of regional criticism for harbouring dissidents and consistent condemnation had, by 1987, made her a regional pariah state. During an incident concerning alleged Ghanaian complicity in an invasion of Togo, Nigeria, Togo's close regional ally during this period condemned Ghana as the 'scourge of international terrorism' (West Africa, July 1987; Luckham, 1982:61-63). It can, therefore, not be denied that with increasing regional isolation, internal disturbances and an economy on the verge of bankruptcy, and in the middle of sensitive negotiations with international financial institutions, supporting an invasion of another regional state would have further isolated Ghana.

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8. The Burkinabe Factor

In explaining the initial divergences between Taylor and the Ghanaian government, and the former's introduction to Libya, Tarr asserts that:

'In 1987 Taylor approached the Embassy of Burkina Faso in Accra and requested assistance to overthrow Doe ... Madam Mamouna Quattara, a client of Captain Blaise Compoare, received Taylor's written proposal.' (1993:80)

Tarr affirms that Ghana chose to release Taylor into the custody of Blaise Compoare. Soon after these incidents, the Burkinabe Head of State, Thomas Sankara, was assassinated. Accordingly, 'Compoare, now leader of Burkina Faso, introduced Taylor to the Libyans' (Tarr, 1993:80). Another perspective provided by Acquaah relates to Taylor's Accra sojourn and search for international backing. Acquaah's version states that 'the late Thomas Sankara, leader of Burkina Faso ... secured Charles Taylor's release from Ghana. He was then deported and left for Burkina Faso where he stayed before going to Libya' (Godwin, 1991:26).

The close relations between Ghana and Burkina Faso can be situated in the post-1982 period when Burkinabe infatuation with Ghana and Libya increased. In an increasingly unstable West African region in the early 1980's, it is believed that the conservative leaders of Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, and Togo were incensed by the Burkinabe Prime Minister's revolutionary rhetoric and close contacts with Ghana and Libya. Thus, through their French and Ivorien contacts, it was ensured that the Prime Minster was removed from power (Martin, 1985:194; Wilkins, 1989:378).

A rapid change of fortune occurred when Sankarists took over power in August 1983. Thomas Sankara's government, characterized by pan-Africanist fervour and revolutionary rhetoric, alienated West African leaders who found Burkinabe and Ghanaian brands of radical pan-Africanism untimely. Most regional leaders believed that Ghana and Burkina Faso were instrumental in attempts to overthrow their governments (Momoh, 1986:1712). Other perspectives can explain the apparently hostile reaction of regional leaders to both Ghana and Burkina Faso. This was a period of increasing political consciousness among the youth in these two countries and of the spectre of its possible domino effect in the region, there was regional irritation over the politicization of the youth.

Any analysis of the nature of international support for the NPFL should also consider the role of two other West African countries, apart from Burkina Faso and Ghana, in the initial organizing stages - Côte d'Ivoire and Libya. In addition, there was a motley group of individual West African nationals who came primarily from Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea and Sierra Leone (Yeebo, 1991:273). In the ensuing controversy concerning individual West African national involvement with Taylor's insurgence, it has been asserted by Mark Hubbard, that it was

'the distrust between Taylor and his Gio and Mano fighters, who make up the bulk of the NPFL force (which) has led to his(Taylor) making extensive use of non-Liberians within the army, many of them dissidents from neighbouring countries'.

In our later arguments, we present a different interpretation for the inclusion of non-Liberians in the fighting force as having begun considerably earlier, and that it was rather the recruitment campaigns and Taylor's sojourn for support that popularized his cause and invariably created suspicion from some West African governments as to Taylor's real agenda.

It is our argument that understanding the rationales for Burkinabe patronage for the NPFL especially in the post-Sankara period is best understood through the prism of internal and regional politics. Apart from the earlier mentioned initial contact to the Libyans, the Burkinabes provided training facilities and troops estimated at 400 men, a position justified by Burkinabe leaders as 'moral duty' and 'moral support' (da Costa, 1990:2478) extended to the NPFL (Gbanabome, 1992:756). A conceivable logic behind dispensing political and military patronage to the NPFL, could be NPFL complicity in the power struggles between Sankara and Compoare and an active NPFL role in the subsequent death of Sankara (Tarr, 1993:80).

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9. The Libyan and Ivorian Elements

A critical analysis is also important for any appreciation of the dynamics of the unholy alliance comprising Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire and Libya for the NPFL insurgence. This has been characterized as 'a particularly strange alliance of forces' (ARB, February 1990). There has been controversy concerning the entré of Libya into this typical West African crisis. Stephen Ellis interprets the Libyan factor in the Liberian crisis by arguing that Blaise Campaore, who had close affiliation like his predecessor, Sankara, with the revolutionary government of Libya, influenced the Ghanaian authorities to release Taylor into his guardianship (1995:181). This stands in conspicuous contradiction to the explanations presented by Prince Eric Acquaah, who claims that the late Thomas Sankara, leader of Burkina Faso, was instrumental in securing the release of Charles Taylor from jail in Ghana.

Within the framework of revolutionary regional politics between 1982-1987, Ghana's Jerry Rawlings and Burkina Faso's Thomas Sankara shared the same pan-African and revolutionary ideas which in a sense isolated them in the region, especially due to their contacts with Libya. Based on these close personal and revolutionary relations, it is more likely that it was Thomas Sankara, and not Blaise Campoare, who initiated Charles Taylor's release from prison and subsequent introduction to the Libyans (Abo, 1993:1431).

In the subsequent power struggles between Thomas Sankara and Blaise Compoare, Sankara was assassinated and, three months later, the new government announced a rectification process of the revolution, and took credit for a relaxation of 'revolutionary measures'. It can thus be deduced that the eventual sanctuary extended to Taylor by the more conservative post-October 1987 Burkinabe regime was a politically-designed strategy to serve two purposes: (i) to contain the Sankarist youth factor; and (ii) to reassure the Ivorians of the conservative course of the new government.

In the immediate post-Sankarist period, Ghana and Burkina Faso had only minimal contacts with Libya. An argument supporting our assertion of the improbability of Blaise Compoare's role in the Libyan connection is that, despite initial agreements between Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Libya to strengthen their bilateral relations in the military, political and economic fields, the first meeting among Foreign Ministers of these countries in the post-Sankarist period ended in acrimonious accusations and mutual suspicion especially of Libyan efforts to control its partners (ARB, January 1988). By this time, however, the Burkinabe revolution had been 'rectified' (West Africa, February 1993; West Africa January 1988), and Ghana's democratic revolution was increasingly being seen as 'the lost revolution' (Ugochukwu, 1985:346; Jonah, 1984:26-30).

Apart from providing banking facilities to the NPFL in the Burkinabe capital, regionally, the Burkinabes were dependent on the Côte d'Ivoire for economic reimbursements by Burkinabe men employed on rural Ivorian coffee, cocoa, banana and palm plantations estimated to be 30 per cent of the Ivorian population (Wilkins, 1989:376-377). This point concerning the probable rationales for Burkinabé and Ivorian cooperation is particularly important in terms of the centrality of the transfer of resources by Burkinabé migrants to Burkina Faso, and their critical role in the Ivorian economy. The most recent census figure from both Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso indicates that as late as 1988, the numbers of Burkinabés in Côte d'Ivoire amounted to 1,565,000 (Amin, 1973:52; Cordell, Gregory and Piché, 1996:71ff.). By 1990, the World Bank estimated that 25 per cent of the total Ivorian population were Burkinabés (World Bank, 1990 II:9), making Côte d'Ivoire the sub-Saharan country with the largest number of immigrants.Under Sankara's radical regime, relations between these two countries had been strained to the extent that there had been discussion of deporting these immigrants to Burkina Faso.

The political foci of Ivorian motivation for supporting the NPFL is more varied and complex. Both Byron Tarr and Richards provide a rationale interpreting the essence of such extensive patronage as encompassing personal, economic, ideological and military factors. These elements were critical to the Ivorien decision to provide sanctuary, weapons, conduit, finance and diplomatic support for the NPFL. One of the most critical factors for Ivorian extension of patronage to the NPFL could have been the Ivorian economic crisis resulting from the fall in commodity prices. The net consequence of this, according to World Bank figures, was the drastic reduction in Côte d'Ivoire's annual economic growth rates. Per capita GNP decreased from 4.5 per cent in 1965-1973 to 1.1 per cent in 1973-1980 and -0.4 per cent from 1980 and afterwards (World Bank, 1989). By the early 1980's, a severe drop in commodity prices affecting especially cocoa and coffee created an urban crisis which contributed to the growth of nationalist perceptions critical of Burkinabé migrants (Chassudovsky, 1994; Pettifor, 1996; Barrat, 1995:161). To appreciate fully the dynamics of the effects of the collapse of commodity prices on the Ivorian economy will need a lengthier analysis than can be undertaken here. Nevertheless, by 1987, the system of quotas established under the International Coffee Agreement started to collapse. In June 1989, ICA negotiations reached a deadlock, and political pressure in both Washington and Florida resulted in an historic fall in prices by 50 per cent. Export earnings subsequently fell drastically, while outstanding national debts rose. International endeavours towards reviving the ICA failed, and by 1992, the price of coffee reached a rock-bottom low.

The collapse of coffee prices was particularly critical for the Ivorian economy and national psyche. The resultant aftermath was a financial crisis in which growers did not earn enough to cover labour costs. This indirectly led to the rise of xenophobia against Burkinabés. The combination of these two issues: the contemporaneous fall in commodity prices and the increasing sense of xenophobia generated conditions of apprehension for Burkinabe men. In a desperate act of survival and realpolitik, both states chose to support the NPFL in the hope of diverting domestic attention from the critical internal crises faced by both governments.

Another crucial factor which is normally overlooked in the analysis of Ivorien support for the NPFL is closely related to what has been described by Duignan and Gann as 'French appetite for African territory' resulting from Paris' willingness to exercise military power to procure land in the previous century (1984:198-204). French strategy for territorial possession resulted in the acquisition of parts of Maryland County in 1892, followed by more land around the Makona river in 1907 (Clegg, 1996:47-49). Thus, when Liberian indigens finally took over power in 1980, there were expectations for Liberia to pursue efforts at reclaiming territory lost in the previous century (Clapham, 1995:67-68). The PRC's initial response was an understandable reluctance to pursue a narrow irredentist policy of reclaiming lost indigenous territory. This position was to change, however, as the internal situation in Liberia worsened. In a Liberia where the Second Republic faced increasing internal and international criticism over the failed re-civilization programme, added to the worsening economic and human rights conditions, there was a desire among policy makers to find an excuse to divert public attention and arouse renewed sympathy and support for the PRC by appealing to nationalist sentiments. Desperate to arouse nationalist backing for government's policies, the cabinet met to discuss 'modalities of militarily recapturing territories lost to France. The focus was on the Ivory Coast' (Dunn and Tarr, 1987:187).

Thus, to reduce a possible incidence of fighting a protracted border war at a time when Ivorien commodity prices had crashed, in the political and geo-strategic calculations of the Côte d'Ivoire government, backing an insurgency sympathetic to Ivorian aspirations to maintain their colonially inherited boundaries (Herbst, 1989:675-677) was found a much more prudent approach than dealing with the machinations of an increasingly erratic Liberian Second Republic (West Africa, November 1988; West Africa, June 1988). Despite the above analysis, it has been argued that, 'Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire had no direct stakes in the outcome of the power struggle in Liberia' (Adisa, 1992:210).

Table 1

Regional Dimensions of Support Pattern to Liberia's Second Republic and the NPFL


Assess ment

of Role

Supported Group A


of Support

Extent of Polit ical and Diplo matic Support

Motives for Involve ment B


B. Faso








Côte d'Ivoire














Very limited

























(domestic, regional)

Sierra Leone









but reliable













a Represents the major actors in the Liberia crisis.

b Instrumental means strategic considerations, economic gain, political stake, domestic reasons and prestige, while affective represents such categories as humanitarian considerations, personal links with main allies, religion, identity, irredentism, ethnic identity.

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10. Incursion and Counter-Insurgency Measures

Having secured extensive support from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Libya, the NPFL launched its invasion of Liberia from the northeastern territory of Nimba. Diverse reasons have been abduced for the choice of this specific county. Several scholars claim that the invasion started here because of NPFL perception that support for the insurgence would be forthcoming due to: (i) the level of repression meted out to the inhabitants of this county; and (ii) the notion that the area had received less than its fair share of national resource allocation for development during the decade long rule of the Krahn dominated PRC and Second Republic. But Baffour Ankomah introduces a different interpretation for the choice of Nimba and Butuo as representing more than sheer coincidence or nostalgic symbolism. He situates the decision within the framework of Gio/Krahn struggles over land in the pre-colonization period, and posits that the root causes of Krahn/Gio animosities go much further back than the Doe period in Liberian politics. Butuo, where the original attack took place was, symbolically, the venue of the peace accord between the Gios and Krahns (1992:11).

A generally overlooked perspective concerns Nimbaian response to the NPFL. The general consensus has been that due to Nimba relations with leaders in Monrovia, their support was taken for granted. But the factors that would lead to extensive splits in the coalition force were already being configured as early as January 1990. It has been asserted that:

'the rebels had apparently assumed that the people of Nimba ... would rally to their side. But when Charles Taylor ... proclaimed himself leader of the NPFL, whatever local support the rebels enjoyed largely evaporated.' (ARB, February 1990)

Probably, the only means of appreciating this rather unexpected turn of events is within the framework of explanations provided by new splinter groups. Wippman asserts that the rebels involved no more than 'ill-trained recruits, many of them in their early teens' (1993:163). The character of government counter-insurgency measures turned the tide. Government troops, primarily Krahn, sent to Nimba essentially perceived the insurgence as a struggle between Nimbaians, especially the Gio and the Krahn. As the conflict escalated, it gradually begun to loose its broad-based nature and degenerated into reciprocal ethnocide, and a 'brutally vindictive war' (O'Neill, 1993:215; African Research Bulletin, February 1990). The ruthlessness of government counter-insurgency tactics led to massive flight - estimated at a third of the country's population - into the contiguous states of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire (Onwuka, 1986:382; Loescher, 1989:2-3; Shaw and Adibe, 1995/6:18). Concomitantly, these reprisals helped swell the ranks of the NPFL. Continuing inability to contain the rebel onslaught and the admission by captured insurgents that training and weaponry had been obtained in Libya, led the US to extend military aid to Liberia as a regional launch pad in US struggles against Libya's presumed hegemonic policies (Volman, 1993:9; Leys, 1994:46). Insurgent confessions also pinpointed Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Guinea as accomplices.

One would have expected Doe to secure regional backing first, through the organs of ECOWAS' emerging security regime. Rather, Liberia chose to contact first the US, the United Nations and two individual regional governments, Togo and Nigeria. An analysis of especially Nigeria-Liberia brings to light the rationale of this action. Comprehending the dynamics of the Samuel Doe-Ibrahim Babangida relationship, we argue, should be situated within a reciprocal search for regional allies by both military leaders. For Nigeria, cultivating such an alliance was part of its long term policy of using 'spray diplomacy' (Ojo, 1980:753) as a means of furthering its regional interests. Liberia, regionally and internationally isolated because of the brutality and failure of the Doe regime's re-civilization process, appreciated such advances. There is some controversy concerning Nigeria's response to Liberia's request for assistance. According to Jinmi Adisa, the Nigerian media was of the view that 'Doe had come to ask for military assistance ... [and] he was given some arms and ammunition' (1994:222). To Gani Yoroms, the frequency of Doe's visits to Nigeria between January-May 1990 were indicative of such urgent need for military assistance (1991:26-29). Understanding the rationale behind the invitation to Togo for assistance is more difficult to fathom, except as a result of the probable military esprit de corps between the two leaders.

As the nature of the conflict worsened, ethnic violence escalated and insurgents increasingly targeted the Krahn and also the Mandingo accused of having fingered members of the Gio and Mano groups after the last realistic attempt at toppling the PRC in 1985 (ARB, July 1990:9735).

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11. Factional Splits

Two months after the coalition/insurgent forces invaded Liberia, it achieved significant battlefield success, and stood on the threshold of capturing Monrovia. During this period, the first of a series of splits within the coalition emerged. By February 1990, the insurgence had degenerated into reciprocal ethnic violence. The explanations of NPFL splits go beyond ethnic rationalization. In February 1990, the original NPFL coalition splintered with the leading military commander, Prince Yormie Johnson, forming the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL). Explaining the rationale for the rift and formation of a second insurgent organisation, Prince Johnson asserted financial impropriety in the disbursement of Libyan finances for the NPFL, and an apparent resurgence of the indigen and repatriate dichotomy, amid indigen fears that 'gradually the congoes (Americo-Liberians) are going to use us again as pawns' (Igwebueze, 1990:22). Johnson also explained his breach with Taylor as ensuing from Taylor's alleged socialist affiliations and increasing Libyan endorsement (West Africa, January 1991). In the ensuing confrontation, a broad spectrum of indigenous Liberians - together with other West African nationals (Cleaver and May, 1995:492) - defected to form the INPFL. Thus, as at February 1990, there were three major actors on the Liberian political scene: the remnants of the Armed Forces of Liberia [AFL], NPFL and INPFL. Irrespective of the superficial manipulation of ethnicity to organize new factional groups, our argument is that the conscious exploitation of ethnicity was employed as a facade to camouflage political ambitions and aspirations to maintain power within a small circle of Liberia's elites.

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12. Factional Group Initiation of Hostage Policy

With the heightening of reciprocal atrocities, the conflict affected the large numbers of congoes who had re-established contacts with their original homelands and the subsequent migrants to Liberia, the majority of whom were Guineans, Ghanaians and Nigerians estimated at being almost about 2 per cent of the total population (Lowenkopf, 1976:23-27). According to one estimate, there were '250,000 Guineans, 200,000 Ghanaians and 5,000 Nigerians among the foreigners, in Liberia. How many were held hostage is unknown' (Agyenim-Boateng, 1992:134). By late January-1990, the war had generated massive refugee flows into Liberia's contiguous neighbour states. As the NPFL conquered more territory and Liberia slid into further anarchy (Helman and Ratner, 1992/3; Ayoob, 1995:81-86), there was growing regional concern about the nature of atrocities being committed by factional groups in the conflict. With the levels of refugee flows being generated by the conflict and the fate of entrapped foreign nationals, it had become obvious that the situation in Liberia has gone beyond the boundaries of that country and ceased to be an exclusive Liberian issue (Erskine, 1990:67).

Intensifying public demands in West African states for action in Liberia, and awareness on the part of regional leaders of the appropriateness for some sort of action in Liberia, aroused different responses from the major actors in the Liberian struggle for power. All factions subsequently initiated policies of seizing foreign nationals as hostages, but with diverging ulterior motives. To forestall any situation where an externally motivated force could deny the NPFL the results of its battlefield success, the NPFL initiated its hostage policy by selectively targeting and kidnapping Guineans, Ghanaians and Nigerians for use as human shields against any attack (Nwolise, 1993:58ff.). The INPFL's Prince Yormie Johnson, rationalized his hostage policy as having arisen from the hope of provoking an international intervention in the civil war. To that end, he selected American, British, Lebanese and Indian civilians for detention.

According to Adibe, large sections of the media begun to demand that their respective governments respond to factional group hostage policy. On 2 August 1990, Ghana intimated that 'the perpetuation of violence against nationals of other countries in the subregion resident in Liberia could no longer be tolerated'. An implicit threat was also included in this statement. Factional leaders were warned that 'failure to ensure their safe passage could provoke other responses from their respective governments' (Daily Graphic, August 1990). Against this backdrop, ECOWAS justified its eventual intervention in the Liberian crisis on the basis of four interrelated factors, namely:(i) humanitarianism; (ii) the provisions of the Defence Protocols; (iii) regional security; and (iv) on the grounds that it was responding to the request of the 'de jure' government in Liberia.

Table 2

The Regional Dimensions of Liberia's Internal Conflict

The Effects on Neighbouring States

The Actions of Neighbouring States

Refugees' problems

Humanitarian interventions

Economic problems

Defensive interventions

Military problems

Protective interventions

Instability problems

Opportunistic interventions

Inter-state war

Opportunistic invasions

Adapted from Michael E. Brown.'The Causes and Regional Dimensions of Internal Conflict' in Brown, M.E. The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict. (London: MIT Press, 1986), p. 592.

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13. Conclusion

Thus, by the time the 13th ECOWAS Summit meeting of Heads of State and Government took place in Banjul, the Gambia, in May 1990, and the Liberian crisis was inserted into the politico-military agenda of the organization, several regional states had become involved in the engulfing Liberian crisis to varying degrees. The conflict had escalated both vertically - increasing the levels of violence - and horizontally, involving the contiguous states. Among the more central states were, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Togo which had all become implicated in this supposedly internal Liberian conflict.

The dynamics of both the character and magnitude of state involvement in this conflict was to influence individual state response to ECOWAS' strategies in dealing with this conflict, and most especially the reactions of the major factional groups, the AFL, NPFL and INPFL to possible ECOWAS intervention. It cannot be overlooked that the extent of state involvement in the extending support either for the organization of the insurgency or to the discredited Second Republic was in a large measure to affect the response of factional groups to ECOWAS, and has similarly affected ECOWAS' credibility in its efforts to return Liberia to normality.

What we have managed to show here is an analysis of the different motivations and actions neighbouring West African states have played in the Liberian crisis. Most studies overlook the involvement of regional states in the internal dynamics of the conflict. This paper endeavours to enhance our knowledge of the regional dynamics of internal conflicts.

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