International Relations
Online ISSN : 1883-9916
Print ISSN : 0454-2215
ISSN-L : 0454-2215
Africa at a Crossroads
The “Mandingo Question” in Liberia: Before, During and After Conflict
Takehiko OCHIAI
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2023 Volume 2023 Issue 210 Pages 210_17-210_32


Between 1989 and 2003, Liberia underwent a devastating civil war. The aim of this article is to provide a panoramic analysis of how the ethnic rivalry known as the “Mandingo Question” in Liberia has historically transformed before, during and after conflict. There are approximately 16 ethnic groups in Liberia, excluding the settlers such as the Americo-Liberians and foreigners such as the Lebanese. Mandingo people are mainly a Muslim ethnic group that played an important role in trans-Saharan trade and remain one of major ethnic groups in Mali and Guinea. However, they are the latest group to have migrated to present-day Liberia in the 18th century and are an ethnoreligious minority in the country. The Mandingo in Liberia have been frequently subjected to hatred and discrimination, being widely perceived as “foreigners from Guinea”. Prior to the civil war, the Americo-Liberian and Samuel Doe regimes developed close cooperative ties with the Mandingo to take advantage of their economic power and support. Despite this, which may be summed up in a single phrase as “cooperation with those in power”, the fact that the Mandingo formed close ties with the Doe administration in the 1980s, which blatantly engaged in the political use of ethnic identity, mired the “Mandingo Question” with deeper antagonism than ever before. During the conflict, the “Mandingo Question” was more intensified. A number of armed groups were formed on the basis of ethnic identity, and combatants of the Mandingo and other ethnic groups such as the Gio/Mano fought against each other. The Liberian civil war was not a so-called “ethnic conflict”, but the ethnic tensions which had been strongly politicised by the Doe administration prior to the outbreak of the conflict functioned powerfully as a “logic of war”. After the conflict, many land-related disputes occurred in Nimba County, particularly at Ganta, a city in the north-western region of the county. The Mandingo were not always victims but sometimes perpetrators in the land disputes that occurred in the post-conflict Ganta. The land disputes that the Mandingo are involved there are no longer conflicts simply involving the land rights of individuals or families, it is rather caught in the larger context of the “Mandingo Question”, which has been historically constructed and deeply politicised. Although the conflict in Liberia came to an end in 2003, the “Mandingo Question” involving the land disputes in Ganta, Nimba County, can be seen as one of the most difficult problems to resolve in post-war Liberian society.

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