Academic journal article Global Governance

Governing Natural Resources for Peace: Lessons from Liberia and Sierra Leone

Academic journal article Global Governance

Governing Natural Resources for Peace: Lessons from Liberia and Sierra Leone

Article excerpt

Natural resources are central to peacebuilding. International actors authorize United Nations' sanctions to disrupt the trade in resources that fuel conflict. In the aftermath of conflict, international actors intervene to influence how natural resources are governed to ensure that resources contribute to postconflict recovery. This article examines international efforts to govern forests in Liberia and diamonds and minerals in Sierra Leone to better understand the extent to which natural resources have helped establish the underlying conditions for peace. It suggests that, despite reducing the likelihood that resource revenues will fuel conflict, a decade of natural-resource governance has made peacebuilding more challenging. Rather than foster cooperation and trust, governance interventions leave unaddressed historical sources of tension and create new sources of instability. Keywords: natural resources, peacebuilding, conflict, governance, Liberia, Sierra Leone.


International peacebuilding evolved in response to civil conflicts that occurred mostly in the developing world in the 1990s. Peacebuilding sought to address humanitarian emergencies and build peace by supporting cease-fires and peace agreements, organizing elections, and promoting economic growth. As it became clear that war-tom states frequently suffer conflict relapse, peacebuilding became defined as activities undertaken to establish the underlying conditions for a long-term peace not just the absence of war. (1) Operations expanded to include "sustainable development, the eradication of poverty and inequalities, transparent and accountable governance, the promotion of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law and the promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence." (2) International actors also emphasized the importance of state building and the idea that peace requires a strong state authority and robust government institutions. (3)

Natural resources became central to peacebuilding as evidence surfaced that resources can fuel civil conflict. Research found that competition for scarce renewable resources has triggered conflict. (4) Other research suggests that a state's relative abundance of natural resources was a "curse" because dependence undermines governance, intensifies poverty, creates economic distress, and increases conflict. (5) Related scholarship concludes that natural resources provide combatants such as government forces and rebel groups with the finances to buy weapons and wage war. (6) Since 1990, an estimated eighteen different conflicts were fueled by natural resources, and the UN Environment Programme contends that resource conflicts will increase in the decades ahead. (7)

International actors have intervened to govern natural resources in conflict areas. (8) International intervention is deemed critical because competition for natural resource revenues and resource-rich territory increases the likelihood of renewed conflict. Conflict produces a governance vacuum that allows opportunistic entrepreneurs and corrupt officials to extract resources in ways that destabilize peacebuilding. UN peacekeepers have largely avoided deployment to resource-rich areas, but peace settlements have used future resource spoils to lure combatants to the negotiating table. The UN has authorized sanctions to disrupt the trade in conflict resources. Voluntary mechanisms such as the Kimberley Process have been implemented to improve revenue transparency.

International actors frequently intervene directly in the aftermath of conflict to help establish new laws, institutions, and policies in the natural-resource sector. These interventions are designed to improve transparency, accountability, and management to assist in the difficult task of building confidence, reducing tension, and overcoming political cleavages that are detrimental to peace. (9) The interventions are also intended to support postconflict economic recovery. …

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