Ex-combatant and conflict-affected youth make up the vast majority of Liberia’s 175,000 motorcycle taxi drivers. Motorcycling emerged after Liberia’s civil war as a critical economic sector. It provides cyclists with economic livelihood opportunities and constitutes a space of socio-political youth mobilisation. Through motorcycling, young riders also establish themselves as active peacebuilding subjects, enacting their own ideas to counter the insecurity and marginalisation of post-war life. Motorcycling offers a unique vantage point to understand the long-term post-war challenges facing youth and the multiple roles that young people play after war.
This ongoing, multi-year project by Jaremey McMullin started in 2018 and draws from qualitative interviews, focus groups, and participant observation with young cyclists, union leaders, the motorcyclists’ security force (Task Force), and government and civil society stakeholders across multiple sites in Liberia, focused on parking stations (taxi ranks) in Monrovia, Weala Town, Ganta (Gompa City), and Tubmanburg (Bomi).
The project’s objectives are, first, to interpret the multiple meanings (economic, social, and political) that ex-combatant and conflict-affected youth attach to their participation and association in motorcycling; and second, to analyse how motorcycling is simultaneously a conflict-producing and conflict-mitigating site within post-war Liberia.
Research questions include: How do ex-combatants articulate the significance and meaning of livelihood activities, and in what ways do they articulate motorcycling as a site of post-war well-being? How do they relate labour mobilisation to broader post-war political reintegration? How do young people generate and contribute their own peacebuilding strategies after war? And, how can research approaches better collaborate with youth actors to counter ongoing forms of economic, social, and political marginalisation?
Successive grants from the SFC ODA GCRF have funded the project, under the heading ‘Motoring from War to Peace’. Grant details are:
- ‘Understanding Long-term Reintegration Trajectories of Ex-combatant Youth in Liberia’s Motorcycle Taxi Unions’: £28,113 (2017-2018) & £9,822 (2018-2019)
- ‘Combatting Social Marginalisation and Supporting Educational Attainment, Business Skills, and Safety & Security of Conflict-affected Youth in Liberia’: £8,057 (2018-2019)
- ‘Supporting Social Reintegration of Liberia’s Conflict-affected Youth through Nationwide Counter-stigma Efforts’: £23,074 (2019-2020)
The project has involved extensive public engagement with international organisations, national and donor agencies, and think tanks. UN-level engagement has promoted long-term measurement of ex-combatant reintegration trajectories and outcomes; encouraged adoption of youth-centred methodologies and implementation of youth-led peacebuilding strategies; and, contributed to re-thinking policies of international assistance based on analysis of past gender mainstreaming and sustainable livelihood interventions.
Key public engagement activities, funded by the University of St Andrews KE & Impact Fund (£2,600) have included:
- ‘Assessing and Conceptualizing Long-term Reintegration Outcomes,’ a presentation at the invitation of the United Nations Department of Peace Operations, Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Section, 24 July 2019;
- ‘Community-Motorcyclist-Police Tensions & Insecurity in Liberia: Violence Prevention & Reduction Strategies and Non-Formal/Formal Security Cooperation,’ a presentation at the invitation of the United Nations Department of Peace Operations, Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions, Security Sector Reform Section, Folke Bernadotte Academy Research-Policy Dialogue, ‘Security Sector Reform in Fragile and Conflict-affected States: Towards the Next Generation?’ 6 Sept 2019;
- ‘Youth-designed and -Led Support in Liberia,’ a presentation, panel discussion, and film screening at the invitation of the United Nations University, War Child, and UNICEF at UNICEF House, ‘Nothing About Us Without Us: Participatory Policy Research with Children and Youth Affected by Conflict,’ 25 Nov 2019;
- ‘Pink Panthers: Gender, Peacebuilding, and Motorcycling in Liberia,’ a presentation and film screening at the invitation of the British Permanent Mission to the United Nations, 6 Dec 2019.
Forthcoming publications arising from the project focus on:
- Spaces of reintegration (where reintegration takes place and how to ‘see’ and ‘site’ youth contributions to post-war reintegration);
- Impact of union politics on post-war reintegration of ex-combatants and conflict-affected youth;
- Gender mainstreaming, gendered identities, and the commercial motorcycling sector;
- Urbanisation and Liberian youth;
- Youth-centred peacebuilding strategies;
- Social marginalisation, belonging, and economic livelihood; and,
- Linkage between ex-combatant reintegration and security sector reform (SSR)
COUNTER-STIGMA AND SOCIAL REINTEGRATION
Young motorcycle taxi drivers also face critical challenges often unaddressed by development assistance: health and safety threats, police harassment, and ongoing, serious social stigmatisation. Social reintegration assistance has also been under-prioritised in DDR assistance for ex-combatant and conflict-affected youth after war. This project has worked with cyclists to identify the drivers of social stigmatisation and to analyse and support young people’s own strategies to counter it.
Several collaborative research activities have focused on redressing social stigmatisation in the sector. The project has convened police-cyclist dialogue groups in areas where violence has occurred. And, later in 2020, it will implement a nationwide bumper sticker campaign and series of radio broadcasts, designed to educate cyclists about road safety and violence prevention, and to educate communities about cyclists’ contributions to economic growth, peacebuilding, and reintegration. The stickers and broadcasts will also highlight the key role that cyclists played during the Ebola crisis from 2014-2016 and will reveal the active role cyclists are playing in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and managing its effects on vulnerable communities.
The project also produced a short film on community perceptions of commercial motorcyclists to use in counter-stigma dialogue between communities and cyclists and in the project’s focus group discussions.
Community Perceptions Film used in Cyclist-Community Dialogue Groups
Runtime: 15:44 mins
Director/Producer Jaremey McMullin
Camera Matthew Hyndman
Editor Tanja Schangin
Research Assistance Kennedy K. Berrian
The project has designed and implemented several additional impact-generation activities in Liberia, working closely with parking station managers, the commercial motorcyclists’ unions and national federation (FOMTUL), and Platform for Dialogue and Peace, a Liberian civil society organisation.
Key project impact activities and outcomes are:
- Policy report: ‘The Legacy of DDR in Liberia,’ commissioned by the United Nations Department of Peace Operations, Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Section (2020)
- Documentary short film series: Liberia: Legacies of Peace, profiling everyday peace contributions of grass-roots Liberian actors (2019)
- Community-cyclist dialogue groups: four groups convened to discuss peaceful dispute resolution and to gauge impact of community perceptions and stigma of cyclists (2019)
- Police-cyclist dialogue groups: 12 groups convened to discuss prevention of roadside accidents, COVID-19 prevention and management, and reduction of police-cyclist violence (2020)
- ‘“Put Down” But Not Out: Demobilized AFL Personnel in Liberia and Implications for DDR/SSR,’ Folke Bernadotte Academy and New York University, New York City, ‘Security Sector Reform in Fragile and Conflict-affected States: Towards the Next Generation?’ 4-5 Sept 2019;
- ‘Motorcycling as Relational Peace in Liberia,’ University of Uppsala, ‘Varieties of Peace: Relational Peace,’ 7-8 May 2019;
- ‘Livelihoods for Conflict-Affected and Ex-Combatant Youth: The Case of Commercial Motorcycling in Liberia,’ Folke Bernadotte Academy, Stockholm, ‘Recidivism, Recycling or Reintegration? Revisiting DDR,’ 3-4 Nov 2018.
- ‘Pink Panthers: Gender, Peacebuilding, and Motorcycling in Liberia,’ New York University, 4 Dec 2019;
- ‘Livelihoods for Conflict-affected and Ex-combatant Youth: The Case of Commercial Motorcycling in Liberia,’ Centre for Conflict Studies, Philipps-University Marburg, 10 Dec 2019;
- ‘Seeing Ex-combatants, Siting Reintegration within Liberia’s Motorbike Hustle,’ Centre for Peace Studies, University of Tromsø, 15 Nov 2019;
- ‘“Put Down” But Not Out: Demobilized AFL Personnel in Liberia and Implications for DDR/SSR,’ Folke Bernadotte Academy, Stockholm, 4 Apr 2019;
- ‘Livelihoods for Conflict-affected and Ex-combatant Youth: The Case of Liberia,’ Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, 30 May 2018;
- ‘Gender, Livelihood, and Conflict-affected Youth: The Case of Commercial Motorcycling in Liberia,’ Lund University, Gender Research Group, 28 May 2018.
All photographs by Matthew Hyndman
Research assistance and facilitation in Liberia provided by: Matthew Hyndman, Kennedy K. Berrian, Moses S. Sah, James S. Shilue, A. John F. Kenyor, Trokon G. Gray, Emmanuel A. A. Sarty, Alexander T. Devine, Emmanuel B. Morris, Lawrence S. Kromah, Maude V Yardamah, and Victor S. Malu.