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Governing natural resources for peace: lessons from Liberia and Sierra Leone.

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. Natural resource wealth can help alleviate poverty and trigger development gains that send a message to the population, and potential spoilers, that the benefits of peace outweigh the costs.

The peacebuilding literature has expanded, but to my knowledge few studies have examined the extent to which international intervention to govern natural resources shapes peacebuilding and helps establish the underlying conditions for peace. (10) This is surprising since the link between resources and conflict has been publicized widely and reforms targeting resources have become a customary part of peacebuilding. In this article, I examine efforts to govern forests in Liberia and diamonds and minerals in Sierra Leone over the past decade. Liberia and Sierra Leone are illustrative cases because both conflicts were widely perceived to be linked to natural resources and, consequently, were targets of substantial international intervention. I argue that, although there have been positive results, a decade of natural-resource governance has made peacebuilding more challenging because rather than foster cooperation and trust, the interventions have left unaddressed historical sources of tension and created new sources of instability. I suggest that international actors need to better understand how resources hasten conflicts so that interventions will work to build foundations for peace.

The Liberian and Sierra Leonean Conflicts in Context

The Liberian and Sierra Leonean conflicts each killed tens of thousands of people and vastly disturbed the lives and livelihoods of the entire population. The causes of both conflicts remain debated, but scholars, policymakers, journalists, and activists have focused mainly on natural resources. (11) The rebellion in Liberia (1989-2003) was fueled by the trade in diamonds, iron ore, rubber, and timber. Rebel leader Charles Taylor controlled 90 percent of Liberia's territory and worked with extractive companies to export hundreds of millions of dollars of resources annually, most of which went to buy weapons. After his election in 1997, resources were the means by which he consolidated power and assisted rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone. Taylor cut deals with mining and timber companies and changed laws to give his government full control over the country's resources. For example, the Liberian Resources Corporation was granted all of Liberia's remaining mineral rights and the Oriental Timber Company was granted the largest timber concession in the country. (12)

The conflict in Sierra Leone (1991-2002) was also linked to natural-resource exploitation, specifically alluvial diamonds. (13) The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) began the insurgency by taking over the country's eastern mines and, by smuggling diamonds through Liberia, was able to finance the rebellion. As the war continued, a system of collusion developed between rebel groups, rogue government officials, and other combatants to share an estimated $250 million in diamond revenue. (14) This virtually ensured a reluctance to stop fighting because that would mean cutting off the steady stream of diamond revenue. The government of Sierra Leone also relied on diamonds to fund the armed forces and what was left of government services, and hired mercenaries to reestablish government control of diamond mining areas.

The role of natural resources was obvious to those in Liberia and Sierra Leone, largely because the resource exploitation had always been a source of power and profit. Only in the late 1990s did international actors begin to take notice. Reports by Global Witness raised public awareness about the role of natural resources in financing conflict and Partnership Africa Canada linked Taylor to Sierra Leone's billion-dollar diamond trade. (15) Without a viable strategy to end the wars, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1306 in July 2000, which directed all countries to prohibit the direct or indirect import of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone to reduce the flow of revenue to rebel groups. (16) It also required the government to establish a certificate-of-origin provision to guarantee that exported diamonds did not originate in conflict areas. By 2002, a host of factors, including a reduction in diamond revenue, led to the end of the Sierra Leone conflict.

Deprived of Sierra Leone's diamonds, however, Taylor turned to Liberia's timber industry to fund conflict. (17) According to reports by activists, the timber industry was plundering the country's forests and leaving behind "sickness, hunger, poverty, and poor welfare." (18) The deteriorating security situation only increased calls to ensure that the resources were used for "legitimate, social, humanitarian and development purposes," which led the Security Council to pass Resolution 1478 in May 2003. (19) The resolution required countries to prevent the importation of logs and timber products from Liberia. By October 2003, Taylor had left the country, UN peacekeepers had been deployed, and a transitional government was in power.

The causes of the Liberian and Sierra Leonean conflicts are complex, but the idea that natural resources fueled both is ubiquitous. For international actors, the central problem that needed to be addressed was the ability of rebel groups or corrupt government officials to loot resources and finance conflict. This explanation, however, leaves out the complex sociopolitical and economic roots of each conflict, which are also deeply linked to natural resources. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, conflict was enabled by resentment toward dysfunctional and oppressive governments that locked in unfair land ownership and tenure rights. (20) These dynamics persisted as the countries opened up resource extraction to international markets and consolidated control over the most valuable land with the benefits accumulating to a small number of elites. Struggles between local communities, resource companies, and security forces over natural resources were commonplace. A practice in both countries was also to divert revenue from resource extraction into personal networks. Setting the stage for conflict in Sierra Leone, for instance, was President Siaka Stevens who instituted one-party rule and centralized control of natural resources to consolidate political power. (21) These actions exacerbated exploitative land relationships and made illegal the alluvial diamond mining that people relied on for their livelihoods. A similar dynamic persisted in Liberia where most revenues came from natural resources, and agreements and concessions were arranged with no transparency or accountability. (22) Revenues were used to maintain political power rather than build robust government institutions or fund development priorities.

From UN Sanctions to International Resource Governance

Casting a spotlight on conflict resources resulted in international interventions designed to limit the ability of combatants to use diamond and timber revenues to sustain conflict. In both countries, UN sanctions were employed to stem the flow of resource revenue to combatants and increase security by excluding Liberian timber and Sierra Leonean diamonds from international trade. The sanctions further sought to address the lack of government control over contested, resource-rich areas. UN sanctions were viewed as a short-term remedy to bring combatants to the negotiating table, if not end the insurgencies altogether. Certainly in the aftermath conflict, international actors understood that peace consolidation required improved governance to ensure that natural resources funded postconflict recovery and did not reignite conflict.

In Sierra Leone, international actors demanded "more supervision, more regulation and more education" in the diamond and mineral sectors, respectively. (23) The result was a barrage of laws, regulations, and policies intended to manage the trade in alluvial diamonds. Reforms included increased monitoring of mines by government officials and a police crackdown on illegal mining. But most attention focused on the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), an international framework to verify that diamonds did not originate in conflict areas. (24) These efforts were accompanied by less vigorous attempts to address the concerns of diamond miners and mining communities that were historically marginalized. Sierra Leone enacted a variety of mining laws, under the direct supervision of international actors, to restart an industrial mining sector. The Mines and Minerals Act was passed in 2009 to enhance government control of mineral resources, increase royalty rates, tighten reporting requirements, and address environmental protection and community benefits. The government also committed to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which requires the government and extractive companies to make financial transactions more transparent in order to reduce corruption and improve accountability.

In Liberia, international actors demanded comprehensive reform of the timber sector owing to the role forests played in fueling the conflict. In many respects, governance intervention in Liberia went deeper than in Sierra Leone. For a time, the forest sector was supervised by a financial comptroller through the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP). (25) GEMAP gave international experts the authority to manage revenue collection, government procurement, and the issuance of concessions. International actors further required the government to review all timber concessions to identify companies complicit in the conflict and enact comprehensive forest sector reform. Under the leadership of the US government, the Liberia Forest Initiative (LFI) was created to help the government develop a new legal and regulatory framework for governing forests. (26) In 2006, all timber concessions were ultimately cancelled. (27) The National Forestry Reform Law (NFRL) was also passed leading to the end of UN sanctions. (28) A number of other forest sector regulations and policies were also added, including Liberia's commitment to the Liberian EITI, which was the first time the initiative included timber. (29)

The NFRL addressed community and conservation values of Liberia's forests but, owing to the significance of the timber sector to Liberia's postwar recovery, the reforms were largely commercial centric. Liberia's Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) emphasized the importance of international trade and private sector investment in "traditional sources of economic growth," most obviously timber. (30) Projections estimated that timber could generate between $24 million and $36 million in revenue by 2010. (31) Likewise, Sierra Leone's PRS stressed an almost identical need to restart the country's industrial mining sector, which had been destroyed during the war. (32) Despite the role of alluvial diamonds in funding the conflict, and the literally hundreds of thousands of people dependent on diamonds for their livelihood, international actors quickly began to prioritize industrial mining because it was deemed more economically lucrative and less amenable to rebel exploitation. The World Bank estimated that, by 2015, industrial mining could generate $370 million and directly employ 36,000 people. (33) In both countries, the immediate goal of managing conflict resources shifted to general concern that, if resources were not rapidly exploited for economic recovery, stalled growth and a lack of jobs would lead to instability.

In Liberia, the lifting of UN sanctions and the emphasis on economic growth resulted in actions to restart commercial logging and award new timber contracts. The problem that arose was that all companies bidding on the first round of concessions in 2008 were unqualified and with no discernible capital to carry out timber operations. (34) Such shell companies would likely fail to pay royalties and increased the risk of corruption. The awarding of altered contracts and contracts to companies with a history of illegal activities in other countries further raised questions as to the government's commitment to transparency and accountability. (35) More recently, the timber sector has come under scrutiny for an explosion in public use permits (PUPs), which were mostly forged or approved illegally. (36) The use of PUPs increased because they are not subject to the NFRL's legal provisions. Despite extensive international intervention, problems awarding contracts and the illegal use of PUPs put a virtual halt to timber extraction, with no significant exports between 2008 and 2012.

Problems with awarding timber contracts in Liberia have been accompanied by rising tensions between local communities and timber companies. In some instances, local communities have acted to halt or postpone logging operations where the government issued prospective contracts. (37) The government has also been accused of ignoring local concerns, monopolizing the decisionmaking process, and issuing contracts on community land. (38) A perception among civil society groups and communities is that people's needs are made subordinate to that of timber companies and as a general matter the people will not benefit from logging operations.

Strained relations and growing distrust among the government, international actors, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have also increased. The UN Panel of Experts raised concerns about the government's capacity or willingness to implement the legal reforms and, likewise, the government has accused international actors of "economic sabotage," which is punishable by imprisonment. (39) The government blames NGOs for obstructing progress and has taken steps to limit civil society participation in the forest sector. (40) At the same time, NGOs insist the government lacks the political will to limit the influence of timber companies or insist on transparency, accountability, and the rule of law. (41)

Sierra Leone has started awarding industrial mining contracts, although in contrast to Liberia contracts dating from the conflict were revised but never cancelled. Regardless, a host of problems have surfaced. Contracts between mining companies and the government were repeatedly negotiated in secret and without input from civil society or the communities adjacent to mining areas. (42) Contracts regularly contained generous tax and royalty concessions that deprived the country and communities of revenue, and clauses that exempted companies from responsibility for social or environmental impacts. (43) Sierra Leone was temporarily suspended from the EITI because it did not report revenue payments from all mining companies and government entities, which has raised questions about the government's commitment to transparency. (44) The government responded to criticisms by renegotiating several contracts, launching a database that tracks mining revenue, and pledging to turn over all documents required by the EITI.

Disputes over mining contracts have been paralleled by disputes between miners, mining communities, and mining companies. The disputes concern working conditions, environmental impacts, loss of farmland, and issues with displacement, high unemployment, the cost of basic commodities, harassment by police, and a lack of services promised by companies. (45) On several occasions, disagreements have turned violent, and even deadly. In an illustrative case, demonstrating workers were shot by police, resulting in one death and dozens of injuries. (46) The police were condemned by Sierra Leone's Human Rights Commission for arbitrary arrests, destruction of property, and inhuman and degrading treatment, although no police were ever persecuted. (47) The fact that police arrived in vehicles provided by the mining company only advanced the perception that the government cares more about restarting the mining sector than the people that work in, or live near, the mines.

One consequence of the emphasis on industrial mining is the growing lack of attention to the alluvial diamond sector. Initiatives including the KPCS and EITI have arguably improved revenue transparency, reduced smuggling, and increased government revenue. Nevertheless, these interventions have done little to improve the conditions experienced by people working in alluvial mines. (48) In spite of modest efforts to restructure the alluvial sector and empower miners and mining communities, the sector remains deeply corrupt with a vast majority of the benefits accruing to a small group of sponsors, dealers, and foreign entities. So long as earnings are meager and irregular, opportunities for exploitation and diminished livelihoods of miners will only intensify. Making matters worse, crackdowns on illegal mines, higher prices for mining licenses, and mechanization of the sector are creating significant hardship for those that depend on alluvial diamonds for their livelihoods. Considering that those working in alluvial mines were easily recruited to fight during the war, this trend is disturbing.

The spotlight on Liberia and Sierra Leone has helped to underscore the role that timber, diamonds, and other resources can potentially play in fueling conflict. It also has provided a sound rationale for international actors to improve natural-resource governance and help build peace. There certainly have been many positives to international intervention, but a closer look reveals that any progress has been offset by mounting problems that are fundamentally analogous in both countries. First, the negotiating of contracts remains deeply problematic and the government's commitment to transparency and accountability remains open for debate. Second, disputes between local communities and resource companies are on the rise and relations between the major stakeholders have begun to deteriorate. Third, gains in human development have been modest in both countries and adequate water, food, shelter, and sanitation remain out of reach for most people. (49) Put simply, efforts to improve natural-resource governance have yet to result in improved livelihoods or appreciable development outcomes.

International Peacebuilding and the Challenge of Natural-resource Governance

After a decade and tens of millions of dollars, why have the substantial interventions in Sierra Leone's and Liberia's natural-resource sectors been problematic? What might explain, in part, why efforts to govern natural resources are producing destabilizing side effects? The answer frequently involves the lack of government capacity or inadequate coordination among stakeholders. (50) Or perhaps, a lack of political will on behalf of governments, or the influence of entrenched interests makes implementation messy. Improving capacity and coordination is important. Likewise, strong political will and the ability to reconcile competing interests are necessary in order for natural resources to fully support peacebuilding. I suggest, however, that the interventions promoted and compelled by international actors have made peacebuilding more challenging because they foster contention in at least three ways: re-creating historical governance arrangements, overlooking the environment and sustainable livelihoods, and creating unrealistic expectations.

Re-creating Historical Governance Arrangements

The dominant narrative applied to both conflicts, and the way that international actors generally understand the relationship between natural resources and conflict, centers on conflict resources. Interventions were designed to limit the ability of combatants to exploit natural resources and finance conflict. As a result, international actors attempted to endorse government control and surveillance over resource areas while also promoting interventions that kept opportunities for profiteering in check through improved transparency, accountability, and the rule of law.

In Liberia, the illegal timber operations that financed the conflict along with pervasive human rights abuses and environmental degradation were believed to be the result of a lack of government control and mismanagement. For example, UN sanctions were to remain in place until the Liberian government "established its full authority and control over timber producing areas." (51) Forests were to be secured and managed to avoid further exploitation, presumably by potential rebel groups. (52) There has been historical resistance on the part of forest communities to accept the government as the "master of the land," but the NFRL has required the government to oversee all matters related to forests. (53) This provision was enacted without first considering land ownership or tenure rights, which is significant because communities consider forests to be owned by the community, not the government.

In Liberia, the needs of local communities to access forest resources and global concerns about conservation were considered in the legal framework alongside the commercial potential of timber. International actors understood that Liberia's forests had to produce timber while simultaneously contributing to local livelihoods and the country's economic development. Regardless, the primary objective was to restart the timber extraction as quickly as possible to create jobs, generate revenue, and spur economic growth, all of which were perceived by international actors as a prerequisite to postconflict recovery. The emphasis on economic growth positioned the government and commercial interests as the principal actors in the forest sector. Communities were perceived, by and large, as the beneficiaries of timber exploitation.

Interventions in Liberia were fundamentally state and commercial centric. The perception among civil society groups, and echoed in numerous communities, was that local people were being excluded from decisionmaking. (54) This was reinforced by the government's lack of attention to overlapping land claims and the general absence of community and civil society participation in decisions about contracts and social agreements. For example, the decision about where to locate timber concessions, amounting to nearly 70 percent of Liberia's total forest area, was done without any deliberation, community consultation, or data. (55) Factors understood to have led to the conflict, including resentment over land ownership, access and user rights, benefit sharing, and inclusion, were not a priority in the rush to kick-start the timber sector. Power over Liberia's forests, much like in the past, remains concentrated in government hands. There is little confidence that the government or timber companies will do what is best for local communities. According to the leader of a Liberian NGO, the "timber first, ask questions later" approach has left communities with a "sense that [they] do not control [their] destiny," and this creates tension when expectations for a more inclusive and equitable forest sector are not met. (56)

In Sierra Leone, international actors similarly understood the conflict as linked to rebel groups that used alluvial diamonds to finance war. The solution, then, was twofold. First, the UN intervened to curtail the trade in alluvial diamonds vis-a-vis sanctions. Second, international oversight was enhanced by the KPCS. As a consequence of these interventions, it was compulsory that the government control alluvial mining through increased monitoring. The problem is that diamonds (and minerals) have long been exploited by colonial and government authorities. Claims of too much government control have been commonplace since the 1930s when community exclusion from diamond mining was seen as an "unwarranted extension of state power" and infringement on customary land. (57) Historically, violence in mining areas was an everyday occurrence as police and private security forces worked to control "illegal" mining that was depriving the government, or more accurately, political elites, from diamond rents. (58)

The legal framework governing alluvial diamonds has improved, but there remains a risk of reestablishing historic sources of conflict. The emphasis on consolidating government authority over diamond-rich areas is congruent with past arrangements. There is a need to ensure that diamond revenues do not fund conflict, but such interventions only marginally improve the conditions of miners and mining communities that live in debt and entrenched poverty. Moreover, a renewed effort to crack down on illegal mining and administer unaffordable mining licenses threatens to restrict access to mine-dependent livelihoods, and lock in arrangements that traditionally led to repression and violence and catalyzed rebel recruitment early in the conflict. Restarting the industrial mining sector has been justified on the grounds that miners and mining communities are a pervasive security risk. (59) But illegal mining is generally carried out by people with few other livelihood alternatives. There is surprisingly little discussion about how limited access or promoting industrial mining will change the fortunes of the estimated 300,000-400,000 people that depend on alluvial diamonds and possess no other livelihood options. Such "attempts to regulate ... illegal exploitation" in such cases "may severely disturb the economy, causing local populations to view such interference as destructive." (60)

Politics in Liberia and Sierra Leone have historically required elites to leverage the economic benefits of natural resources to maintain power. This has resulted in natural-resource sectors characterized by collusion between the government and resource companies. In both countries, this dynamic generated conflict because revenue was diverted into political networks and security forces, and away from national development priorities. International intervention and oversight in Liberia's forest sector is virtually unprecedented, but significant problems institutionalizing transparency and accountability has brought the sector to a standstill. In Sierra Leone, there has been considerable controversy regarding secret negotiations, odious contracts, and poor revenue transparency that harkens back to the past. Tensions between communities and mining companies are also on the rise, and this too is reminiscent of a checkered history. Efforts to revive industrial mining have helped re-create previous arrangements in which the government and mining companies are the main actors and local communities simply the beneficiaries. The perception in mining areas is that despite rhetoric of inclusion, the ability of communities to be involved in decisionmaking remains negligible. (61) There is a sense that the government is colluding with mining companies and little confidence that mineral extraction will make lives better. These perceptions are not without merit. Promises by mining companies are routinely not kept, land is seized, the environment is degraded, and police continue to use disproportionate force in mining disputes.

Governance interventions in both countries have emphasized securing natural resources through the consolidation of government authority without fully appreciating how this dynamic historically fostered resentment between communities and the government and pitted communities against resource companies. International actors came to understand postconflict recovery as being dependent on commercial mining and timber extraction, albeit under reformed legal guidelines emphasizing transparency and accountability. This was done, however, without full recognition of the complexities of awarding resource contracts in countries with little capacity and a culture of corruption in the management of natural resources. International actors pressed for the speedy resurgence of commercial exploitation without appreciating the underlying tensions related to land tenure, resource ownership, and the lack of community inclusion in decisionmaking.

Overlooking the Environment and Sustainable Livelihoods

I argued above that international interventions focused on governing conflict resources have increased tension because they do not fully recognize how government control and commercial exploitation historically resulted in violence and instability. This myopic focus has also rendered invisible the environment and sustainable livelihoods. Environmental challenges related to water, sanitation, shelter, food, and energy supplies in both countries have largely been overlooked. Governance interventions designed to restart Liberia's timber sector have not been matched by comparable efforts to rebuild local communities or ensure food and water security. In Sierra Leone, interventions have focused on alluvial diamonds and industrial mining without creating new opportunities for a growing population of youth that want to return to subsistence agriculture. (62) The emphasis on reviving commercial sectors has de-emphasized the ways in which natural-resource exploitation can lead to poor environmental outcomes. Mining and timber harvesting are not benign; they take a toll on the environment and resources that communities depend on for their livelihoods. A failure to respond to these problems deepens poverty and makes development more challenging.

In Liberia, forests are significant as a cultural and livelihood resource for a majority of the population. Continued tension revolves around the extent to which timber extraction impedes the ability of local communities to meet their day-to-day existence. Perverse land ownership and tenure rights, and environmental degradation, have been inadequately addressed and threaten to create instability as the issue of timber contracts moves forward. While not generally considered a culturally significant activity, there is little doubt that Sierra Leone's alluvial diamonds constitute a vital sustainable livelihood for hundreds of thousands of people. Attempts to crack down on illegal mining reduce livelihood opportunities and renew longheld resentment over the control of diamonds. International actors understand the concerns of local communities primarily as recipients of natural-resource exploitation, in which benefits trickle down either in the form of land fees or national development programs. There is a danger of overlooking sustainable livelihoods that are tied to the land and a fundamental component of local economies. Indeed, interviews that I conducted in both countries turned up a widely held perception that local communities and their livelihoods are being left behind in the peacebuilding process.

Finally, governance interventions that target conflict resources neglect other natural-resource sectors that deserve attention. An estimated 70 percent of Sierra Leone's population live in rural areas and rely on the interaction between agricultural production and forest resources for their livelihoods. (63) In addition, forests provide most construction materials and nearly all of the country's energy needs. (64) Sierra Leone's remaining forests, however, are under pressure from agriculture, mining, hunting, urban development, and timber harvesting. Despite the significance of forests to Sierra Leone's population, governance interventions have not been an international peacebuilding priority. (65) Likewise, the mining sector in Liberia, until recently, has remained overlooked in the peacebuilding process. (66)

Creating Unrealistic Expectations

Peacebuilding comes with high expectations. The end of conflict and international intervention represent a new beginning for the government and people despite the fragility of the peace and the desire of spoilers to undermine it. A range of factors determines the success or failure of peace consolidation, but natural-resource governance is viewed by international actors as important to peacebuilding. The concern is whether, once the country moves beyond the initial stabilization phase, expectations of the natural-resource sectors can be managed in ways that bolster the legitimacy of the government and international actors and create opportunities for peace consolidation. Credible estimates based on the reality of a "gradual recovery" can be useful at managing expectations and stabilizing postconflict recovery. (67)

Unfortunately, governance interventions in the natural-resource sectors of both countries have played a substantial role in creating an expectation gap. The emphasis on commercial extraction was expected to quickly produce development gains. Timber projections in Liberia have consistently been off the mark to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. In Sierra Leone, revenues from diamonds and minerals have increased markedly, but have yet to meet expectations. Moreover, history suggests that economic projections based on Sierra Leone's mineral sector are overly optimistic. (68)

The source of export and revenue projections remains controversial. Government and international experts have been accused of inflating revenue projections to justify resource extraction. (69) In Liberia, timber volumes were overestimated by at least half and in Sierra Leone projecting mineral reserves has been left to industry experts with an incentive to inflate numbers. (70) The emphasis on exports of timber, diamonds, and minerals also makes countries susceptible to price shocks related to global economic conditions, which impact projections. As an international expert notes, all the governance intervention in the world could not stop Sierra Leone from missing "the largest commodity boom in history" after mineral demand contracted in 2008. (71)

Expectations are comparatively greater due to the availability of extractible natural resources. Poverty reduction strategies track close to projections of natural-resource revenue. Better development outcomes based on these projections are often the clearest illustration to the population as to whether corruption is being curtailed and the benefits of natural resources are being shared. (72) When ordinary citizens do not feel appreciable changes, a lack of confidence in government institutions and international actors can prevail. Paul Collier notes that "people habituated, during conflict, to short-term perspective" can lead to a "sense of disillusion." (73) This reinforces perceptions that the benefits of natural resources accrue to elites or foreign investors. Not only are expectations dashed but, if the benefits go disproportionately to those outside communities that feel they rightly own resources, there is the potential for unrest and hostility. Rather than increase trust and confidence in the peacebuilding process, inflated expectations undermine it.

Unrealistic expectations also provide ammunition for spoilers trying to undermine peace. Overconfidence in the ability to quickly produce development gains provides an indication of political incompetence when expectations do not match reality. A lack of tangible benefits combined with accusations of corruption and mismanagement can aggravate existing grievances. When governance comes under criticism, or expectations go unfulfilled, there are bound to be discussions about why progress has stalled. The result can be tensions and grievances channeled into elections and other means of peaceful dispute resolution. Another plausible result, especially where institutions are ineffective at mediating disputes, is that governance of natural resources can be politicized in ways that amplify existing political, ethnic, or social tensions.


Well-governed natural resources can have long-term positive effects on human well-being, development, and the environment. (74) Extracting and managing resources successfully is difficult under ordinary circumstances. In war-torn societies where governance structures are weak and past management regimes based on mismanagement, corruption, and a lack of civil society engagement persist, the task is far greater. (75) Consolidating government power over natural resources may appear benign in many countries. However, in Liberia and Sierra Leone, state control of timber and diamond areas, issues of who owns the land, and the demarcation of what denotes legal or illegal access has been contested, sometimes violently, for nearly a century. International actors have urged commercial exploitation without understanding the underlying context in which postconflict resource management occurs. (76) The issuing of contracts to timber and mineral companies without community involvement is also problematic because it reinforces deep-seated perceptions that governments and companies collude and communities are not part of the decisionmaking process. In fact, engagement with local stakeholders is critical for building legitimacy and support for postwar institutions and heading off any negative side effects of extraction. (77) If resource extraction is perceived to be the highest priority of the government and international actors when a majority of the people lack food and clean water, there is bound to be resentment. (78) Most developing countries face similar challenges, but responding to poor environmental outcomes and sustainable livelihoods is vitally important in war-torn societies where the stakes are high. As Ken Conca and Jennifer Wallace note, "People struggle for clean water, sanitation, food, and fuel in the context of war-ravaged infrastructure, lost livelihoods, and disrupted institutions." (79) Finally, a failure to meet expectations, or manage them, increases perceptions of political incompetence and corruption that could trigger a popular backlash or be used by spoilers to stoke discontent. (80) The ability of natural resources to genuinely contribute to peace consolidation requires that past grievances be confronted, that people perceive themselves part of the decisionmaking process, and that tangible benefits of resource extraction are widely felt. (81)

The conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone placed the spotlight on conflict resources, and underscored the role timber and diamonds play in fueling conflicts. International interventions have reduced the likelihood that resource revenues will finance civil conflict. I suggest that the interventions promoted and compelled by international actors have made peacebuilding more challenging. This is not to argue that poor natural-resource governance, a lack of attention to the environment and livelihoods, or inflated expectations in Liberia and Sierra Leone alone will lead to a renewed conflict. The peacebuilding literature suggests that a host of factors determine whether a war-torn society will sustain a long-term peace. (82) Just as no single factor fuels war, no one factor guarantees peace. However, if peacebuilding is about establishing the underlying conditions for peace, which include institutionalizing cooperation and trust and presumably not aggravating past tensions or stoking new sources of instability, then understanding how resources are governed is essential.

International actors deserve some responsibility for the current state of affairs in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Paradoxically, they also play an indispensable role in guaranteeing that peace does not unravel. Trade-offs exist between the needs of local communities and the revenue needs of the country, between rapidly extracting resources and deliberately involving communities in decisionmaking, and between prioritizing the needs of industry at the expense of the less glamorous livelihoods of the people. The role of international actors is to ensure an open dialogue about these trade-offs. Establishing an ethos of transparency and accountability, resolving land disputes, and addressing environmental issues can also help reduce tension, and this too requires a commitment on the part of international actors. Revenue from diamonds and timber helped fuel the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia, but the roots of each conflict are deeply rooted in resentment and grievances linked to power and control of natural resources. Short- to medium-term concerns like sustainable livelihoods and land ownership need to be a focal point if natural resources are to foster peace and equitable development over the longer term. International actors need to understand these historical dynamics and how they ultimately shape the underlying conditions necessary for peace.


Michael D. Beevers is assistant professor of environmental and international studies at Dickinson College.

(1.) Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace: Preventive Diplomacy, Peacemaking and Peacekeeping (New York: UN, 1992).

(2.) UN Security Council, "Peacebuilding: Towards a Comprehensive Approach: Statement by the President of the Security Council," UN Doc. S/PRST2001/5 (20 February 2001), pp. 1-2.

(3.) Roland Paris and Timothy D. Sisk, eds., The Dilemmas of Statebuilding: Confronting the Contradictions of Postwar Peace Operations (New York: Routledge, 2009).

(4.) Thomas F. Homer-Dixon, "Environmental Scarcities and Violent Conflict: Evidence from Cases," International Security 19, no. 1 (Summer 1994): 5-40.

(5.) Michael Ross, "Flow Do Natural Resources Influence Civil War?" International Organization 58, no. 1 (Winter 2004): 35-67.

(6.) Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler, "Greed and Grievance in Civil Wars," Oxford Economic Papers 56, no. 4 (2004): 563-595.

(7.) Michael Ross, "The Natural Resource Curse: How Wealth Can Make You Poor," in Ian Bannon and Paul Collier, eds., Natural Resources and Violent Conflict (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2003), p. 18; UN Environment Programme, From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment (Nairobi: UNEP, 2009), p. 8.

(8.) Although the UN and its agencies have monopolized peace operations, the number of international actors involved in peacebuilding operations is vast. They include international financial institutions, foreign aid organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and business interests.

(9.) UN Environment Programme, From Conflict to Peacebuilding: Ken Conca and Jennifer Wallace, "Environment and Peacebuilding in War-torn Societies: Lessons from the UN Environment Programme's Experience with Postconflict Assessment," Global Governance 15, no. 4 (2009): 485-504.

(10.) Paivi Lujala and Siri Aas Rustad, High-value Natural Resources and Postconflict Peacebuilding (New York: Earthscan, 2012).

(11.) On Liberia, Amos Sawyer, The Emergence of Autocracy in Liberia: Tragedy and Challenge (San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1992); Stephen Ellis, The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War (New York: New York University Press, 1999). On Sierra Leone, William Reno, Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Lansana Gberie, The Dirty War in West Africa: The RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005); David Keen, Conflict and Collusion in Sierra Leone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

(12.) Global Witness, Logging Off: How the Liberian Timber Industry Fuels Liberia's Humanitarian Disaster and Threatens Sierra Leone (London: Global Witness, 2002).

(13.) Alluvial diamonds are found in river gravels and are mined by hand.

(14.) Keen, Conflict and Collusion.

(15.) Global Witness, A Rough Trade: The Role of Companies and Governments in the Angolan Conflict (London: Global Witness, 1998); Ian Smillie, Lansana Gberie, and Ralph Hazelton, The Heart of the Matter : Sierra Leone, Diamonds and Human Security (Ottawa, ON: Partnership Africa Canada, 2000).

(16.) UN Security Council, Res. S/RES/1306 (5 July 2000).

(17.) Global Witness, Logging Off; Greenpeace, Logs of War: The Relationship Between the Timber Sector, Arms Trafficking and the Destruction of the Forests of Liberia (Madrid: Greenpeace Spain, 2001).

(18.) Save My Future Foundation, Plunder: The Silent Destruction of Liberia's Rainforest (Monrovia: SAMFU, 2002), p. 7.

(19.) UN Security Council, Res. S/RES/1478 (6 May 2003), p. 4.

(20.) Sawyer, Autocracy in Liberia; Keen, Conflict and Collusion, pp. 8-9.

(21.) William Reno, Warlord Politics and African States (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1998), pp. 113-145.

(22.) Ibid., pp. 79-111.

(23.) International mining consultant, interviewed by the author, Freetown, 1 April 2009.

(24.) The KPCS was introduced in 2000, but officially launched in 2003. See J. Andrew Grant, "The Kimberley Process at Ten: Reflections on a Decade of Efforts to End the Trade in Conflict Diamonds," in Paivi Lujala and Siri Aas Rustad, eds., High-value Natural Resources and Post-conflict Peacebuilding (New York: Earthscan, 2012), pp. 159-179.

(25.) Renata Dwan and Laura Bailey, "Liberia's Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme (GEMAP)," Joint Review by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations' Peacekeeping Best Practices Section and the World Bank's Fragile States Group, Washington, DC: World Bank, May 2006.

(26.) Stephanie L. Altman, Sandra S. Nichols, and John T. Woods, "Leveraging High-value Natural Resources to Restore the Rule of Law: The Role of the Liberia Forest Initiative in Liberia's Transition to Stability," in Paivi Lujala and Siri Aas Rustad, eds., High-value Natural Resources and Post-conflict Peacebuilding (New York: Earthscan, 2012), pp. 337-365.

(27.) Forest Concession Review Committee, "Forest Concession Review: Phase III," Report of the Forest Concession Review Committee, Monrovia, 31 May 2005, pp. 34-37. The review found that 26 million acres of timber concessions had been granted in Liberia between 1985 and 2004, despite only 10 million acres of commercially available timber. It also found that only 14 percent of taxes owed by timber companies had actually been collected.

(28.) Government of Liberia, "An Act Adopting the National Forestry Reform Law" (Monrovia: Government of Liberia, September 2006).

(29.) Government of Liberia, "An Act Establishing the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI)" (Monrovia: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 10 July 2009).

(30.) International Monetary Fund, Liberia: Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (Washington, DC: IMF, 2008), p. 21.

(31.) Ibid., p. 64.

(32.) International Monetary Fund, Sierra Leone: Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (Washington, DC: IMF, 2005), p. 6.

(33.) World Bank, Sierra Leone: Tapping Mineral Wealth for Human Progress--A Break with the Past (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2005), pp. iv-v.

(34.) International consultant, interviewed by the author, Monrovia, 26 October 2008.

(35.) GEMAP comptrollers found that altered contracts would have amounted to a loss of $50 million in government revenue while benefiting the timber company.

(36.) Special Independent Investigating Body, "Report on the Issuance of Private Use Permits (PUPs)" (Monrovia: Special Independent Investigating Body, 19 December 2012).

(37.) Sustainable Development Institute, "The Hunter's Whistle: An Opportunity for the Liberian Legislature to Rescue Our Rural Communities from the Plunder of Our Forests: A Renewal of Illegal Logging, Failed Promises and Socioeconomic Development" (Monrovia: Sustainable Development Institute, 2009); Sustainable Development Institute, Liberia: A Promise Betrayed (Monrovia: Sustainable Development Institute, 2010).

(38.) Sustainable Development Institute, "The Hunter's Whistle"; Sustainable Development Institute, Liberia: A Promise Betrayed.

(39.) International consultant, interviewed by the author, Monrovia, 11 November 2009.

(40.) Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor, "Forest Governance and the Voluntary Partnership Agreement: Deepening Forest Sector Reform in Liberia" (Monrovia: Sustainable Development Institute and Friends of the Earth, June 2011), p. 23.

(41.) Sustainable Development Institute, Liberia: A Promise Betrayed.

(42.) Sarah Dieckmann, "Not Sharing the Loot: An Investigation of Tax Payments and Corporate Structures in the Mining Industry of Sierra Leone," Dan Watch Report (Kobenhavn: Dan Watch, 2011); National Advocacy Coalition on Extractives, "Sierra Leone at the Crossroads: Seizing the Chance to Benefit from Mining" (Freetown: National Advocacy Coalition on Extractives, March 2009).

(43.) National Advocacy Coalition on Extractives, "Sierra Leone at the Crossroads.

(44.) EITI, "Multi-stakeholder Group of the Sierra Leone Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Validation Report" (Oslo: Norway, December 2012).

(45.) UN Environment Programme, Sierra Leone: Environment, Conflict and Peacebuilding Assessment (Geneva: UNEP, 2010); Paige McClanahan, "Massive Iron Ore Project Brings Mining Tensions Back to Sierra Leone," Christian Science Monitor, 12 December 2010.

(46.) Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, "Bumbuna Inquiry Report 2012," Report of the Public Inquiry into Alleged Human Rights Violations in Bumbuna, Tonkolili District in Relation to Events of 16-18 April, 2012 (Freetown: Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, 24 September 2012).

(47.) Ibid., pp. 1-13.

(48.) UN Environment Programme, Sierra Leone, pp. 56-65.

(49.) In 2013, Liberia ranked 174 and Sierra Leone 177 out of 186 countries on the UN's Human Development Index.

(50.) UN Environment Programme, Sierra Leone; Forest Resource and Environmental Management Consultants of Liberia, "The Development of a Capacity Building Strategic Plan for the Forestry Sector of Liberia and the Mobilization of Resources of Its Implementation," Technical Report (Monrovia: Forest Resource and Environmental Management Consultants of Liberia, 2010).

(51.) UN Security Council, Res. S/RES/1521 (22 December 2003), p. 4.

(52.) UN Panel of Experts, "Report of the Panel of Experts Appointed Pursuant to Paragraph Two of Security Council Resolution 1549, Concerning Liberia," UN Doc. S/2004/955 (2008), p. 37.

(53.) Sawyer, The Emergence of Autocracy in Liberia, p. 242; Liz Alden Wily, Who Owns the Forest? An Investigation into Forest Ownership and Customary Land Rights in Liberia (Brussels: Sustainable Development Institute, 2007).

(54.) Representative of nongovernmental organization, interviewed by the author, Monrovia, 6 December 2009.

(55.) Tom Lomax, "Forest Governance in Liberia: An NGO Perspective," FERN Report, Brussels, 2008, p. 19, _governance_in_liberia.pdf.

(56.) Leader of nongovernmental organization, interviewed by the author, Monrovia, 26 November 2008.

(57.) William Reno, Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone, pp. 46-49.

(58.) Ibid.

(59.) Partnership Africa Canada and Network Movement for Justice and Development, "Diamond Industry Annual Review, Sierra Leone" (Ottawa, ON: Partnership Africa Canada, February 2005), p. 1.

(60.) Siri Aas Rustad, Paivi Lujala, and Philippe Le Billon, "Building or Spoiling Peace? Lessons from the Management of High-value Natural Resources," in Paivi Lujala and Siri Aas Rustad, eds., High-value Natural Resources and Post-conflict Peacebuilding (New York: Earthscan, 2012), p. 574.

(61.) Representative for mining communities, interviewed by the author, Koidutown, 9 May 2009; UN Environment Programme, Sierra Leone.

(62.) UN Environment Programme, Sierra Leone.

(63.) Ibid., p. 15.

(64.) UN Environment Programme, Desk Study on the Environment in Liberia (Nairobi: UN Environment Programme, 2004), pp. 32-33.

(65.) Michael D. Beevers, "Forest Resources and Peacebuilding: Preliminary Lessons from Liberia and Sierra Leone," in Paivi Lujala and Siri Aas Rustad, eds., High-value Natural Resources and Post-conflict Peacebuilding (New York: Earthscan, 2012), pp. 367-390.

(66.) Alfred Brownell, "Alluvial Mining in Liberia: The Case of Poor Regulations, Lack of Investment, Disorganization, Ignorance, Abused Labor and Resources," Green Scenery Report (Monrovia: Green Advocates, January 2009); UN Security Council, Res. S/RES/2079 (12 December 2012).

(67.) Paul Collier, "Post-conflict Economic Recovery" (New York: International Peace Academy, 2006), p. 4.

(68.) International Monetary Fund, "State at the Conclusion of an IMF Mission to Sierra Leone," press release, 22 May 2013.

(69.) Phil L. Shearman, "An Assessment of Liberian Forest Area, Dynamics, FDA Concession Plans, and Their Relevance to Revenue Projections," Rights and Resources Report (Washington, DC: Rights and Resources, 2009); UN Environment Programme, Sierra Leone.

(70.) Shearman, "An Assessment of Liberian Forest Area."

(71.) International mining consultant, interviewed by the author, Freetown, 1 April 2009.

(72.) Rustad, Lujala, and Le Billon, Building or Spoiling Peace, p. 573.

(73.) Paul Collier and Anthony J. Venables, Plundered Nations: Successes and Failures in Natural Resource Extraction (New York: Palgrave, 2011).

(74.) Ibid.

(75.) Rustad, Lujala, and Le Billon, Building or Spoiling Peace, p. 575.

(76.) Ibid., pp. 596-597.

(77.) Ibid., pp. 604-605.

(78.) David Jensen and Steve Lonergan, eds., Assessing and Restoring Natural Resources in Post-conflict Peacebuilding (New York: Earthscan, 2012); Helen Young and Lisa Goldman, eds., Livelihoods, Natural Resources and Post-conflict Peacebuilding (New York: Earthscan, 2014).

(79.) Conca and Wallace, "Environment and Peacebuilding in War-torn Societies," p. 484.

(80.) Rustad, Lujala, and Le Billon, Building or Spoiling Peace, p. 573.

(81.) Lujala and Rustad, High-value Natural Resources.

(82.) Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild, and Elizabeth Cousens, eds., Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2002); Virginia Page Fortna, "Scraps of Paper? Agreements and the Durability of Peace," International Organization 57, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 337-372; Caroline Hartzell, Matthew Hoddie, and Donald Rothchild, "Stabilizing the Peace After Civil War: An Investigation of Some Key Variables," International Organization 55, no. 1 (Winter 2001): 183-208; Michael W. Doyle and Nicholas Sambanis, Making War and Building Peace: United Nations Peace Operations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006); Roland Paris, At Wars End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Charles Call, ed., Building States to Build Peace (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2008).
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Author:Beevers, Michael D.
Publication:Global Governance
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Geographic Code:6SIER
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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