Get access

A Political Economic History of the Liberian State, Forced Labour and Armed Mobilization


  • The author wishes to thank Finn Stepputat, Christian Højbjerg and Stine Jakobsen, as well as the anonymous reviewers and the editors of the Journal of Agrarian Change, for their helpful comments.

Jairo Munive, Danish Institute for International Studies, Strandgade 56, Copenhagen 1403, Denmark. E-mail:


The main argument in this article is that in order to understand the mobilization of youth during the Liberian civil war, it is imperative to investigate how manpower has been mobilized historically. The issue of soldiering can be understood partly as a result of the political history of the Liberian state; in particular, its territorialization. This paper explores how labour has been mobilized historically and details what determined labour-force participation before the outbreak of the civil war. During the twentieth century, labour in Liberia was organized to service the functions of a resource-extraction economy, a prominent place being given to the main resource-based export industry, namely rubber, and the role of international companies. The administrative practices of the state in recruiting labour to these industries are central to mobilization. Efforts to demobilize and reintegrate combatants should take account of these historical legacies.