In the aftermath of the Liberian civil war, groups of ex-combatants took control of natural resource enclaves. With some of them threatening a return to war, these groups were widely viewed as the most significant threats to Liberia’s hard-won peace. Building on fieldwork and socio-historical analysis, this study shows how extralegal groups emerge as a product of livelihood strategies and the political economy of war. It analyzes the trajectory of extralegal groups in three sectors of the Liberian economy: rubber, diamonds, and timber. The findings offer a counterpoint to the prevailing narrative, arguing that extralegal groups have a dual nature and should be viewed as accidental statebuilders driven to provide basic governance goods in order to create a stable commercial environment. These groups do not seek to rule; they provide governance because they need to trade—not as an end in itself. This leads to the book’s broader argument: it is trade, rather than war, that drives contemporary statebuilding. In areas where the state is weak and political authority is contested, where the rule of law is corrupt and government distrust runs deep, extralegal groups can provide order and dispute resolution, forming the basic kernel of the state. Extralegal groups also perform a series of hidden governance functions that establish public norms of compliance and cooperation with local populations. This sheds new light on how we understand violent nonstate actors, allowing us to view them as part of an evolutionary process of state-making, rather than simply as national security threats.

Christine Cheng Christine Cheng is Lecturer in War Studies at King’s College London. Her research on post-conflict transitions sits at the intersection of international relations and comparative politics (with a focus on the politics of West Africa). Dr Cheng is the co-editor of Corruption and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: Selling the Peace? (with Dominik Zaum). Her forthcoming book on Extralegal Groups (Oxford University Press) explores how ex-combatants affected statebuilding processes after the end of civil war in Liberia. It will be published by Oxford University Press. Christine is the Course Director for the MA in Conflict, Security, and Development (CSD), and she is affiliated with King’s Centre for Politics, Philosophy, and Law, and King’s Gender Studies.

Christine holds a DPhil from Oxford (Nuffield College) and an MPA from Princeton University (Woodrow Wilson School). Previously, she was the Bennett Boskey Fellow in Politics at Exeter College, University of Oxford. In 2009, she was the Cadieux-Léger Fellow at Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Christine has an undergraduate degree in systems design engineering (BASc) from the University of Waterloo. She has worked for the UN Commission on Human Security, the World Bank’s Gender Group, Environment Canada, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. She is a commentator on international affairs for a variety of media outlets including the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, al Jazeera, Radio France International, and Real Clear World.

Severine Autessere is an expert in war, peace, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, and African politics. She has written two award-winning books and a series of articles. Her latest book, Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention (Cambridge University Press, 2014), examines how everyday practices, habits, and narratives influence the effectiveness of peacebuilding interventions on the ground. Her previous book, The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding (Cambridge University Press, 2010), focuses on local violence and international intervention in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is currently researching a new project that examines successful international contributions to local and bottom-up peacebuilding. Before becoming an academic, Autesserre worked for humanitarian and development agencies in Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nicaragua and India. She holds a post-doctorate from Yale University (2007), a Ph.D. in political science from New York University (2006), and master’s degrees in international relations and political science from Columbia University (2000) and Sciences Po (France, 1999). Please see for more details..