"Disarmament is Key to Any Progress," says Minister Christian Herbert

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 8, 2003

The Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Mr. Christian Herbert was in Washington, DC last week to attend a preparatory meeting of a major donors conference scheduled for early February 2004 under the joint auspices of the US government and the United nations.

According to Minister Herbert, the two-day preparatory meeting was a great success because, he said, “it brought together policy makers from both the United States and many friends of Liberia, including Japan, the European Union and China, among others. If I may add, the representation was at ministerial level and that as very comforting.”

Minister Herbert said that now the government would put together a program and a cost to the major priorities for the government. He said that although the reconstruction process of Liberia calls for long term planning, the transitional government would put forward those priories dealing first with the restoration of basic services. “The needs are great but we need first of all is to jump-start what one would call ‘normal life’. We have long term, medium and short-term priorities. But as I speak, we are looking at the restoration of basic services and this would include water and sanitation, electricity not only in Monrovia but also in counties where most infrastructures have been destroyed or dormant for years.”

Asked to list the highest priorities of the transitional government in an order of importance, Mr. Herbert said that the first and most important priority is disarmament. “Disarmament is key to any type of progress in Liberia. We have to remove guns from our society. As long as we have guns, I don’t see how we would get any where.”

When asked what he thought about the warring factions walking out of the disarmament talks last week, the Minister did not mince his words: “It was a foolish move on their part and this type of behavior must stop. Imagine our situation, sitting in a room with dignitaries of other countries and asking them to help us rebuild our country and one them says: ‘you said the war is over in your and you need help, why are the warring factions refusing to disarm?’ ” Minister Herbert said this type of behavior helps nobody and those who walked out of the meeting must realize the disservice they are doing to Liberia, adding, :”I think the tempers have cooled down and the warring factions have realized their mistake and are ready to return to the table.”

The Minister of Planning Affairs said that besides disarmament, the other crucial issues facing the government include restoration of basic health and education services throughout the country, water and sanitation, housing and habitat. Already, the Minister said that some countries and agencies have already accepted to underwrite some projects that need urgent attention. “For example, the EU has been working to restore power to Monrovia, China is doing renovation work at the SKD Stadium and the Ministry of Health Building in Congotown. Japan is renovating the former public health building to be used by the Ministry of Education…”

Herbert said that the Liberian government sets priorities. “So far, we have had a great working relationships with the international community. From the start, we have told them that we know our needs and they have accepted to take a step back, allowing us to set our priorities and then bring the help we need to implement whatever project we deem urgent to be resolved.” In conclusion, he reiterated the need for a total commitment of all Liberians to the reconstruction process. “But and foremost, we have to remove guns from our society to get anything going.”

The Liberian delegation at the preparatory meeting headed by Mr. Christian Herbert also comprised Mr. Harry Greaves, Advisor to Chairman Bryant on Economic Affairs and Mr. Aaron Kollie, Chargé d’Affairs and Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Liberia in Washington, DC.