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Rural youth in recent wars: an agrarian perspective on coastal West Africa

Abstract : The contribution aims at opening up the possibility of a more coherent regional analysis of recent West African conflicts. Civil wars broke out in several coastal Western African countries from the late 1980s. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire all fall within the Upper Guinean rainforest block and all three civil wars shared personnel. Whether they have common causes is more contentious. Here, we accept as a starting point that all three conflicts had their own internal and external dynamics. But we will also argue that there are some common elements of an agrarian nature which specially affect the involvement of young people in the conflicts. In Sierra Leone and Liberia, the fighting was mainly in rural areas and involved mainly rural youth. Tensions over land link the conflicts in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. The land issue seems at first sight more tenuous in Sierra Leone. Probing the social background and motivation of ex-combatants in Sierra Leone, however, reveals important but largely hidden tensions concerning labour utilization and land access, which when fully analysed suggest parallels with the other two recent civil wars in the region. The paper falls in two main parts. Part one presents a broad-brush, long duree, model of agrarian transformation within the Upper Guinean Forests of West Africa. In order to explain aspects of agrarian trajectories underpinning conflict in the region we differentiate between models of the so-called “lineage mode of production”. These different models are useful, we argue, in focusing attention on the different ways in which agrarian variables present themselves as factors in youth involvement in recent conflicts - armed groups in Liberia and Sierra Leone, patriotic vigilante groups and inter-community tensions in southern rural Côte d’Ivoire. Part two offers a more detailed analysis of two case-study regions – eastern Sierra Leone and central-western CI. Accounting for social breakdown leading to war in these instances requires us to address land issues as expressions of different kinds of implicit intergenerational social contracts, and also the different ways in which labour mobility has affected these inter-generational expectations. In this manner we bring into focus not only similarities but also significant differences in the way agrarian issues have tended to feed the involvement of young people in the conflicts in the two cases. Regarding the theme of the panel, we argue that differences in agrarian trajectories underpinning conflict can explain, among other factors, why the customary moral economy still retains the respect of the young in Côte d’Ivoire, with a political discourse of autochthoneity which ensues, seized upon by various national political interests for their own purposes – and why the outcast youth from the class-stratified variant of the “lineage mode of production”, in Sierra Leone, have a different response, which does not strongly emphasize autochthoneity.
Keywords : WAR
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Conference papers
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https://hal.inrae.fr/hal-02819816
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Submitted on : Saturday, June 6, 2020 - 5:26:04 PM
Last modification on : Friday, April 22, 2022 - 11:56:54 AM

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  • HAL Id : hal-02819816, version 1
  • PRODINRA : 22899

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Jean-Pierre Chauveau, Paul Richards, . Africa-Europe Group For Interdisciplinary Studies. Rural youth in recent wars: an agrarian perspective on coastal West Africa. European conference on African Studies, Jul 2007, Leiden, Netherlands. 13 p. ⟨hal-02819816⟩

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