US Leadership Essential To Liberia Recovery

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 7, 2006


President Bush
When President George W. Bush in a speech given during summer 2003 asked that Mr. Charles Taylor must leave Liberia for peace to take hold in the embattled country, he broke a more than a decade long US policy towards the West African nation founded by freed American slaves in the early 1800s. Since the beginning of the civil conflict in 1990, American administrations refused to get involved in any possible way in the war that ravaged Liberia. This indifference was summed up in the words of a former State Department official who explained this position in a rather cold statement: America has no strategic interest in Liberia.” While Liberia self-destruct, the US paid little attention, aside from providing humanitarian relief and absorbing tens of thousands refugees.

Since that summer and that speech, much has happened to Liberia and the country is on its way to recovery. The Bush administration worked with ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) to stabilize the nation by not only finding asylum for Mr. Taylor in Nigeria but also by stationing in the country the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world. The two-year transitional administration received much goodwill and support and was able to carry out its mandate of disarming the warring factions and conducting free and fair elections in October 2005. Harvard-educated and former UN official Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the elections.

Three weeks ago, the Bush administration dispatched to the Inauguration of President Sirleaf the highest-level American delegation ever to attend such a ceremony in the nation’s history, with First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condolezza Rice making the trip to Monrovia.

Now after the great fanfare and pageantry, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her government face the enormous difficulty of putting back on course a nation that had hit rock bottom. Liberia is a devastated beyond description and unless it is provided with the means to stand up, the fragile peace would crumble, notwithstanding all the goodwill and hard work of the new president and her team.

However, the country does not need handouts or charity funneled through international non-governmental organizations who, no matter how committed they may be, can only bring emergency relief. Furthermore, this type of help has the tendency to enforce a dependency mentality even more dangerous than “poverty.” Liberia now needs to have access to its tremendous natural resources and international capital, through loans or private investments. All of this is now hindered because of the economic sanctions currently imposed on the nation.

The leadership of the US is crucial in helping Liberia resolve these issues that would hamper any recovery process and cripple the country, therefore rendering any lasting peace impossible. The first and most crucial issue concerns the economic sanctions imposed on the regime of Charles Taylor for its involvement in the deadly civil war in Sierra Leone. These sanctions cover the two most important export-earning commodities in Liberia: diamond and timber. The exploitation of both of these commodities provides jobs to tens of thousands and is income earner for the state. The second issue not less important is that of the excruciating foreign debt Liberia owes international financial institutions, most of it to the US and most of it incurred during the military regime of the 1980s that received easy “loans” for siding with US positions during the Cold War.

Unless these two problems are resolved now and quickly, the government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will be faced with an insurmountable task and could fail in implementing its economic and social recovery program, leading to mass discontent and a possible return of instability. President Bush must also take the lead in nudging the UN to lift the sanctions and work with the new and promising administration of Mrs. Sirleaf to resolve the debt issue, as soon as possible. This debt amounts to $3,3 billion and its service alone takes up more the monthly payroll of the government. The capacity of the Sirleaf government to get Liberia on track will depend on its capacity to exploit natural resources and have access to foreign investments and loans. For the time being, all this is impossible as long as the nation remains crippled by sanctions and debt.