Beyond Borders: The End of the Mano River War(s)?
IDS Evidence Report 188
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The Mano River sub-region, which includes Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire, has experienced decades of violent upheavals and political instability. This notably includes civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire. While these have generally been analysed as a series of discrete wars, some specialists have interpreted them as part of a regional conflict system; indeed, the World Bank has referred to a ‘Mano River Basin conflict system’.
There have been many analyses of regional conflict systems in other parts of the world. Several of these regional conflict studies highlight commonalities, including: the prominence of transnational political, economic, military and social networks; private entrepreneurs of violence; transborder kinship of identity groups; and massive refugee flows. Another commonality throughout these analyses is that private, local and transnational actors play a more important role in this type of conflict than in ‘traditional’ intra- and inter-state conflict. This Evidence Report aims to identify the ways in which militant violence diffuses in the Mano River region and to establish the conditions that characterise it as a regional conflict system.
Danny Hoffman (2011) coined the term ‘Mano River War’ as an umbrella term for the 15-year period of violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The Mano River War concept usefully captures the interconnectivity of the peoples and countries in the Mano River Basin and details how the Liberian, Sierra Leonean and Ivoirian civil wars relate. Despite the cessation of large-scale conflict in the region, there is nevertheless still some debate as to whether the Mano River War really has concluded. So while Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire have not experienced war in the past five years, one wonders whether this marks the end of the Mano River War.
The aim of this report is to consider the extent to which we can conclude that the Mano River War has indeed ended, and to reflect on the legacies, imaginaries and trajectories of this particular space over the past 25 years. This report therefore discusses the concept of a Mano River War through a series of questions. Should the concept use the singular or plural form? To what extent is the idea of a conflict system relevant to understanding the evolution of various armed conflicts in the region? What else might it contribute to a deeper understanding of the region that could promote more sustained peace and security? And have we now come to an end of the Mano River War, especially given successive cycles of peaceful post-conflict elections including, significantly, in Côte d’Ivoire in 2015?