Informal Security Structures in the Mano River Region: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone

Researcher: Mats Utas (co-organized with Magnus Jörgel, FHS)
Project established in 2007

For the past 20 years the Mano River Basin (MRB) has been an area of violent upheavals and political instability. Although the area today enjoys peace in formal terms, life for many citizens of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea is one of immense and at times violent struggle in poverty for a decent livelihood. Despite ample emergency and development funds from Western donors, organizations and nations being dispensed into the region, surprisingly little real development for its citizens can be observed. This can have a real effect on long-term security and regional stability. Both Sierra Leone and Liberia are currently recovering from a decade of devastating civil strife that tore countries apart and caused massive death as well as destruction of private property and state structures, whilst Guinea awaits the death of its President, and with him the totalitarian ruling system.

The complexity and abundance of different strategy papers, development blueprints, comprehensive approaches, multidimensional Security Sector Reform (SSR) attempts and other donor-orchestrated and coordinated development efforts indicate a great deal of international interest in dealing with the post-conflict situation in the MRB region. Unfortunately, direct outcomes remain uncertain and results from donor investment and interest have not led to the social stability and security that have been wished for. This study describes the functions of the formal structures of the MRB states, the MRU, ECOWAS and the AU – both their paperwork and structures. It also looks into the informal networks that surround and enmesh this formality. The study discusses the tools and mechanisms for the implementation of different blueprints, and the informal reality in which these blueprints are to be put into action. The study discusses some of the mechanisms for preventing conflict and building peace and security that exist in the MRB area today.

The theoretical framework for discussing informality in this study is the fusing of the concepts of Big Man (patron) and networks. We argue that central to politics in the MRB region is the controlling of people rather than territory. The mutual relationship between the Big Man and his network is not only seen as a social group action but is rather at the heart of how the state functions. The way to manifest power is to “invest in people”. To achieve and maintain power is to control an extensive network, or networks, as broad as possible. This brings politics, economics and hard security such as the military together into one system. All socio-economic and social-political action is carried out within the realm of informal networks. The planning and implementation of decisions are thus far from transparent, and accountability is skewed and rather hard to see.

To the top