Liberia Incorporated: military contracting, cohesion and inclusion in Charles Taylor’s Liberia

In the existing literature, compensation is often understood to be an inferior source of cohesion in military organisations. Through an investigation of the militias who fought for Charles Taylor’s government of Liberia, this paper makes three claims. Firstly, the organisation of these forces was looser than is often claimed in previous literature, which assumes tight and often coercive military patrimonialism. Consequently, the militias did not enjoy the interpersonal bonds of solidarity that have dominated recent cohesion literature. Secondly, since Taylor chose to suppress attempts to build cohesion around ethnicity, it played a subordinate role in unifying the militias. Thirdly, Taylor instead relied on military contracting and compensation, which allowed for the broad mobilisation of forces. The combination of militias’ hopes of inclusion into the state patrimony and insufficient resources to realise this left the cohesion of the militias fragile. Ultimately, this paper questions both whether Taylor had any choice but to resort to compensation in a context with a weak state and fragmented social organisation, and also whether the strategy is as inefficient as often thought.

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