Follow us on Twitter

Root Causes of the Civil War

You are here

There are various explanations for the outbreak of war. Liberian scholars offer a range of explanations for the years of conflict including ethnic divisions, predatory elites who abused power, a corrupt political system, and economic disparities. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that underlying those proximate causes, the seeds of conflict were sown by the historical decision to establish Liberia as a state divided between natives and settlers, and the use of force to sustain the settlers’ hegemony (see “Background”).

Table 8: Root Causes of the War

Table 8 - Root Causes of the War

In this study, the surveyed adult Liberians identified greed and corruption most frequently as the causes of the conflict (63%). Another 40% mentioned identity and tribal divisions, while less than one in three adult Liberians mentioned poverty (30%), and inequalities (27%). Nearly one in five said they did not know what the root causes of the conflicts were, and few mentioned land issues (3%) or food issues (1%). The results on the direct causes of violence perceived by the population may not highlight structural deficiencies that allow greed, corruption or inequalities to exist and eventually lead to conflict, but nevertheless they suggest that conflict results partly from elites’ behavior.

Figure 9: Root Causes of Wars

 Root Causes of Wars

Respondents were also asked whom they considered responsible for the conflict or parts thereof. Three-quarters (76%) named groups or individuals, although opinions varied. The most frequently named were Charles Taylor (45%), Prince Johnson’s Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) (42%), ULIMO (40%), LURD (38%), NPFL (37%), and MODEL (29%). One in four respondents in Nimba County named former President Doe (24%), while only 5% in Doe’s home county Grand Gedeh listed him as sharing responsibility. Three ethnic groups were mentioned by at least 10% of respondents in some counties: the Krahn (9%), Gio (8%), and Mandingo (7%). Americo-Liberians (or “Congo”) were mentioned by only 4% of the respondents to be responsible. These results suggest that the often-multi-ethnic military factions receive far more blame for the violent conflicts than the major tribes backing them, which allows for some hope regarding the perceived feuds among ethnic groups.[1]


[1] Eight percent of adult Liberians in Nimba and 7% in Grand Gedeh identified the Krahn, whereas 11%  in Grand Gedeh and 4% in Nimba named the Gio as an ethnic group sharing responsibility for the war. Given the strong difference between both counties’ perception of President Doe as the root cause of the wars, it suggests that his government and rule is being considered as one of the fighting parties, rather than a representative of the ethnic Krahn group.