Paul Collier’s Theory of Conflict Recurrence


---A case study of Sierra Leone

By Alpha Rashid Jalloh, Media & Political Analyst

In a previous article, I pointed out why Sierra Leone should avoid another “gbonbgoshoro” (catastrophe) and pointed out the warning signs that have emerged that we should watch out for based on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission guide.

But now I would briefly make use of Paul Collier’s theory of conflict recurrence in which he stated that a country that has once gone to war is likely to go to war again. Is it true in every case?  Paul Collier was former senior researcher at the World Bank. He looks at conflict from his economic background and thus shifts from the traditionalists who believe that conflicts in Africa or Third World emerge from issues like bad governance, marginalization, assertion of citizenship rights, etc .which actually is not always the case in many African countries. He used statistical data of different countries around the world to substantiate his assertions. He links conflicts to the political economy of a country. One glaring fact he pointed out was that countries that have gone to war once are likely to go to war again. We need to revisit history to see if we could embrace his assertion.  Countries that took part in the World War 1 were also at war in World War 11. Iraq went to war with Iran and was at war with America twice decades later. Those are international wars. Now we go to internal wars or civil strife as we sometimes euphemistically call them.  Liberia was at war at the time of Samuel Doe but when Charles Taylor, the main protagonist in the conflict took power, the country went to war again.  Nigeria was at war in the 60s and is at war again. DR. Congo was at war before and during the time of Kabila and went to war after Kabila. Somalia was at war at the time of Mengustu and continued to fragment long after he was ousted. Burundi and Rwanda are facing threats of war recurrence. There are litanies of cases. However, there exceptions to this assertion some of which I cannot discuss now.

But what can we say about Sierra Leone in which the war itself defied all typologies? It was a war without ideology or directing cause. It was fought without any known cause.  My findings were that it was a war in which vengeance and other social factors coupled with others that I called the “conglomerating factors” laid the foundation for the war. The coming of Foday Sankoh into the stage was just the climaxing event. Sierra Leone is a country full of malevolence which is sometimes manifested by what is called in local parlance Pull Him Down (PHD) Syndrome. Every Jack and Jill wishes the down fall of the other and therefore becomes very belligerent by nature. This belligerence instills impunity even into those who hold public positions and they manifest such tendencies by bringing down their weight on those they are heavier than. In doing so the malevolent elements would join them to achieve their objective.  This tendency has now become a characterization of even the media and the public service.  You are quick to lose your job or reputation in a scenario that looks like a melee. No wonder so much infighting is taking place in public offices currently across the country and sometimes investigating bodies are made use of to oust some big animals. Unfortunately some big men in these investigating bodies also become party to the fray. It leads to kangaroo investigations that implicate innocent souls whose future are destroyed in a twinkling of an eye. These are factors that have spill -over and multiplier effects. President Kabbah use to brand such manifestations as “bad hat” (evil mind). He took notice of such prevalent phenomena which are not common in the Western World, because over there, people are critically minded and the media is intellectually minded so much so that they are quick to go down deep into issues and bring out a buried snake that would have caused mischief.

(Late) Tejan Kabbah was a victim of an investigation in a Commission of inquiry in 1960s which to his death he was still describing as stage-managed event. He insisted on his innocence on to his death.  In Sierra Leone, some journalists have become “popular” in murk raking and do not see any evil in taking sides with those who provide fodder for feeding but wish to destroy innocent people.  I say popular because in the Western World a man becomes  notorious for engaging in unethical practices but in Sierra Leone he surprisingly becomes popular and gains admiration from so many. Here if you are to be murdered today, the first step in covering the truth is to hire a particular journalist who would tell the world that you were killed by armed robbers or you committed suicide. So, till the end of the world nobody would know the truth. There have been instances when interpretations of evidences have been twisted to suit the destroyers and the fulfilling of such objectives is through certain journalists. No wonder there have been cases in the past when people were executed and to date there are calls that the whole events itself that led to the execution was stage managed.  In other parts of Africa such phenomena may be found but not to be on a prevailing scale like in Sierra Leone where they are frequent.

Sierra Leoneans are so crafty that they are quick to stage-managed events that have a semblance of truth on the face but not necessarily true inside. By the time people know the truth, the innocent would have suffered especially when belligerent newspapers that claim to be exponents of anti-corruption are hired.

There have also been instances when land disputes land grabbing have been causes of disturbance in many communities and the lack of a robust and enlightened law enforcements system compounds the problems. The police usually use simplistic approaches that only aggravate situations. Those who feel not to get injustice would definitely be at the forefront of any agitation or commotion in the future.

Abuse of power is also another factor that may contribute to recurrence of war. It is common for big men (highly placed man) to call for the release of someone person detained either in the police or by a court order thus invoking anger and frustration on those who have been offended.  It is also common for big men and women to put pressure on investigating bodies to implicate people to satisfy their relatives who make certain demands. This is a stark manifestation of impunity and was a contributing factor to the war yesterday because many perceived Momoh’s government as unjust and oppressive. During the reign of Momoh a Lebanese house owner showed me an “ejectment order” prepared by a security officer at State House. The occupant of the premises at Garrison Street in Freetown did not move out on time as ordered by the landlady so State House security officers were consulted. The officer wrote and signed an “ejectment order” which was posted on the office of the occupant, a medical doctor.  He did not comply with the order so force was used by the security officers to break open his office and some of his properties were seized as “compensation for enforcing the order”. The question that would be asked is; when did State House became a court? It happened yesterday before the war. So, today can we say there is no interference in certain institutions by State House officials without the knowledge of the president? It is the duty of the press to expose them so that the president would take action.

There are litanies of cases that still prevail that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission warned about yesterday. In any situation, the media has a great role to play in sustaining peace, bringing divergent parties together and enhancing harmony. Many would say they would go to neighbouring countries to seek refuge or go to the West if the country exploded, but are they sure that the ferry would always be available or Foday Government could take everybody away? The signs are there let us not be hypocritical. The problem as I stated is not as the traditional analysts have pointed out; bad governance, embezzlement of state funds, marginalization etc. No! These are prevalent problems in Gambia, Guinea and other countries but they have not gone to war. Let us start to look at the social background, the legal system and other factors and how they affect the livelihood of the average human being. Let us see where those who have power have gone beyond bounds. Let us see where nepotism has become prevalent to the extent of affecting a larger percentage of people.

Let us see where justice and transparency have been used as smoke screens to fulfill tribalistic objectives. Let us see where justice has falsely been used as a smoke screen by belligerent people occupying certain offices to the extent of destroying a large percentage of people’s future. When you start looking at issues from that angle, then you can fathom why the Sierra Leone war defied all typologies yesterday and how you can identify the warning signs of recurrence that the TRC warned about. Someone wrote about interventionism. In one of my future articles, I would dilate on its weakness and current trends of paternalism or global politics. I still insist that it has come to a point when we should shift away from the traditionalists when analyzing African conflicts.

Alpha Rashid Jalloh is a media and political analyst and could be contacted on