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

By Kieh, George Klay | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), March 2012 | Go to article overview

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


Kieh, George Klay, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


Abstract

The joy and high expectations that accompanied the decolonization process in Africa, beginning in the 1960s, were quickly dashed, as some of the emergent states were plunged into civil wars. Similarly, during the subsequent decades of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, other African states, saddled with the contradictions and crises of the neo-colonial state, descended into the abyss of civil wars as well. By the beginning of the 21st century, the African continent had experienced more than thirty civil wars and their associated adverse consequences, including deaths, injuries, and the refugee and internal displacement conundrum.

The scholarly literature has proffered several explanations for the eruption of civil wars in Africa-ethno-communal, elite pathology, "greed and grievance," and anarchical or the "new barbarism." The common thread that weaves together these theoretical frameworks is that all of them blame internal factors as the causes of civil war in Africa. Against this background, I contend in this article that the literature has not accorded attention to the importance of external factors in contributing to the occurrence of civil war on the African Continent. Accordingly, this article seeks to contribute to filing the gap in the scholarly literature by examining the role of American neocolonialism in helping to cause the first Liberian civil war

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. …

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