Motorcycling as Peacebuilding

Jamie Locke-Jones
Monday 16 May 2022

Dr Jaremey McMullin, Senior Lecturer at the School of International Relations, has collaborated with the Platform for Dialogue and Peace (P4DP) in Liberia to convene 12 police-motorcyclist dialogue groups across nine sites nationwide where significant recent violence has occurred between motorcycle taxi drivers and police. 

Motorcycle taxi drivers are predominantly young men who were child soldiers and conflict-affected youth during the Liberian civil wars. As part of his multi-year project, ‘Motorcycling as Peacebuilding in Liberia’, Dr McMullin has previously worked to introduce cyclist-designed, participatory activities to reduce social inequality and support the economic livelihoods of young people, including through community and police dialogue and conflict resolution aimed at targeted violence reduction in urban and semi-urban areas.

Following continued unsolved murders of cyclists and recent mob violence in eastern Liberia blamed on motorcyclists, cyclist and police groups approached Dr McMullin and P4DP with an urgent request to convene additional police-cyclist dialogue groups to reduce violent tensions. The dialogue groups bring youth and the police together to settle grievances peacefully, reduce social stigma of marginalised youth, and support their livelihood activities.

Building on previous successful efforts to reduce stigma of conflict-affected youth in Liberia, the project aimed to combat police brutality and reduce violence between police and young Liberians engaged in the motorcycle taxi sector, which is the largest employer of young people in Liberia. Successful dialogue groups also convened in areas around the capital city of Monrovia that had also experienced recent police-cyclist violence. In total, the project convened five dialogue groups in Montserrado and Margibi counties, and a further seven in eastern Liberia. 

While they continue to earn their living through bike riding, violent street confrontations between cyclists and police have continually recurred since the war. This violence has followed increased armed police presence in communities to enforce new road restrictions that cyclists perceive as unfair and politically motivated. In addition, cyclists are often themselves the target of violence because of their perceived low social status, and this often goes unsolved. Initially peaceful protests objecting to police inaction then escalate to more violent action. A very similar pattern has occurred across most of the areas where the project decided to innovate this dialogue-based method.

Dr McMullin and P4DP partners, led by Executive Director Jams Suah Shilue, have structured the groups around conflict resolution training and guided dialogue, using expert facilitators from P4DP and other community partners to convene cyclist youth, police, and other community members in at-risk communities. The project has built community and institutional capacity through these dialogue groups, which has resolved ongoing disputes successfully and peacefully in target areas. The groups also build sustainable and supportive relationships between cyclists and police that help to peacefully manage new problems when they emerge. 

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