Vol 28 No 1 (2019): Nordic Journal of African Studies
Articles Social Studies

On Liberian secret societies and conflict resolution

Ilmari Käihkö
Department of Security, Strategy and Leadership, Swedish Defence University
Published June 20, 2019
  • conflict resolution,
  • legitimacy,
  • Liberia,
  • secret societies,
  • state-building


Recent times have witnessed a rising interest in micro-level conflict resolution mechanisms in the form of religious and traditional leaders due to their perceived legitimacy central to peace. Based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this article updates the decades old literature on Liberian secret societies to post-conflict realities, focusing especially on these leaders’ peacebuilding potential. While states remain the main instrument for upholding domestic order, the weak Liberian state continues to rely on societies for legitimacy in conflict resolution and governance alike. The article offers a contemporary look at the Liberian societies, and especially their uneasy relationship with the state: the two are so entwined that it is difficult to separate the two. Yet this also poses problems for the societies, as the proximity threatens their ultimately local legitimacy. While peacemakers and statebuilders alike are tempted to co-opt societies to gain legitimacy, the article questions whether this is always desirable or possible.


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