Neo-Colonialism: American Foreign Policy and the First Liberian Civil War

By Klay Kieh, George, Jr. | Journal of Pan African Studies, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Neo-Colonialism: American Foreign Policy and the First Liberian Civil War


Klay Kieh, George, Jr., Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

Since the 1970s, Africa has become a caudillo of civil wars. For example, Angola and Mozambique degenerated into civil wars simultaneous with the gaining of independence from Portugal. In the 1980s, new civil wars erupted in various countries in Africa, including Liberia and Somalia. Furthermore, in the 1990s, Algeria, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone became infected as well. At the beginning of the first decade of the twenty-first century, war broke out in the Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Darfur region of Sudan. Some of these wars have ended in countries like Angola, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. However, the ones in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and the Darfur region of Sudan continue.

The emergent corpus of the scholarly literature has proffered various theoretical frameworks for explaining the causes of the various civil wars that have rocked the African region. For example, the ethno-communal theory blames antagonisms between and among various ethnic and other communal groups for the scourge (Horowitz, 1985; Kaufman, 2001; Haynes, 2007). The "greed and grievance theory" posits that civil wars on the continent are propelled by the greed of various rebel movements for the predatory accumulation of wealth through the control of natural resources (Collier and Hoeffler, 2000:3-4). The elite pathology Weltanschauung attributes the causes of civil war in the region to the "failure of governance" (Boas, 2001; Roessler, 2007). The anarchical or "new barbarism" theoretical animus pioneered by Robert Kaplan identifies a confluence of stresses--demographic, environmental, ethnic and governance--as the motor forces for civil wars on the continent(Kaplan, 1994; Kaplan, 2001).

Against this background, I contend in this article that one of the central collective weaknesses of the various theoretical frameworks is that they exclusively focus on domestic or internal factors as the causes of civil wars in Africa, and ignore the critical role of the overarching global tapestry--the world capitalist system--in contributing to the causes of civil wars on the continent. Ali and Matthews (1999:4) note the importance of global factors in the civil war matrix thus:

   Civil wars may result not only from the impact of domestic social
   forces and the failure of governing elite. They can also emerge
   from forces, events, and activities originating outside the
   country, from the surrounding region or the world at large.

Using Liberia as a case study, this article examines the role of American neocolonialism in the creation of the contradictions and crises that led to the first Liberian civil war. In other words, in what ways did American neocolonialism help to sow, nurture and germinate the seeds of civil conflict and war in Liberia? Furthermore, the study uses Nkrumah's (1965: xi) definition of neo-colonialism as its conceptual framework. According to Nkrumah,

   Neo-colonialism is ... the worst form of imperialism. For those who
   practice it, it means power without responsibility, and for those
   who suffer from it, it means exploitation without redress. In the
   days of old fashioned colonialism, the imperial power had at least
   to explain and justify at home the actions it was taking abroad. In
   the colony, those who served the ruling imperial power could at
   least look to its protection against any violent move by their
   opponents. With neo-colonialism, neither is the case.

Theoretical Issues

Nkrumah (1965) posits that neo-colonial states are nominally independent and sovereign. This is because they have all of the outward trappings of international sovereignty (Nkrumah, 1965:1). However, in reality, their economic systems and thus their political policies are directed from the outside (Nkrumah, 1965:1). This then has the net effect of the neo-colony doing the biddings of its imperial patron.

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