Building Peace in Liberia: Uphill Battle or a Lost Cause?

A Speech Delivered By S. Tiawan Gongloe

At A One Day Conference on Building Peace in Liberia
Held under the auspices of Humanitarian Affairs Program
The Institute of African Studies and the Center for the Study of Human Rights
School of International Public Affairs, Columbia University, New York
Friday, April 8, 2005


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 15, 2005

Panel on the Way Forward
The thematic question, “Building Peace in Liberia: Uphill Battle or Lost Cause?” is reflective of the emerging fatigue against the growing expectation for an immediate solution to the Liberian conflict by both the International Community and many war-affected Liberians. This fatigue is influenced by the length of time and the amount of human and financial resources that have been committed to the search for peace in Liberia since 1990 by the International Community, when the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened in the Liberian conflict. During the first phase of the intervention effort the Nigerian Government, for example, declared that it spent approximately US$4 Billion in Liberia.
Apart from large sums of money spent to maintain their troops, some of the troop contributing countries even paid the high price of military coup triggered by financial difficulties directly related to the Liberian civil conflict. In Sierra Leone, for example, the government of President Joseph Momoh was overthrown by a group of soldiers led by young Captain Valentine Strasser. This occurred shortly after he had returned from the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia. The non-payment of overdue salary arrears and the Sierra Leone Governments failure to supply the required logistics to combat the rebel incursion were among the complaints of the soldiers. Although Momoh’s government was impaired by massive corruption, its ability to sustain its troops was further weakened by its support for the peacekeeping mission in Liberia. What culminated into a military takeover started as a mere agitation for salary arrears and logistics by a few soldiers. The government of President Alhaji, Sir Duada Jawara of The Gambia was also removed by Captain Yaya Jammeh shortly upon his return from the ECOMOG Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia for non-payment of accrued salary arrears.
The Liberian conflict had further effects on the West African sub region on both troop contributing countries and non-troop contributing countries. First, because the conflict grew out of the lack democracy, it became a stimulant for change in many West African States. In other words the intervention by ECOWAS to stop the conflict in Liberia was itself of source of instability in other West African countries. Reflecting on this period, it is important to note that, except for The Gambia and Senegal that were considered, largely democratic, all other troop contributing countries were either under military or one party rule. The intervention of these countries in the Liberian conflict exposed their governments to greater internal scrutiny by their citizens. Many of these countries have since experienced change of government either through the democratic process or military coups. Even regimes that have survived, like those of Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso and General Lansana Conte of Guinea have had rough times, including attempted coups.
The recent tension in Togo, following the death of President Eyadema is part of the clamor for change in West Africa. It is interesting that while Togo for many years served as the venue of several meetings for peace in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire, its own conflict was brewing under its late leader, Eyadema, Africa’s longest serving military dictator. The second effect of the Liberian conflict was the extension of the war into the three countries bordering Liberia: Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. The third effect is that the Liberian conflict has exposed a greater number of West African soldiers and youths to violence thereby making the entire sub region more vulnerable. And fourth The Liberian conflict has also increased the humanitarian demands of the sub region by massive internal displacements and the spread of refugees to almost all ECOWAS countries. Substantial financial resources that should have been committed to development of the region have been used to address the humanitarian demands of the sub region as a direct result of the Liberian conflict.
The impatience of the International Community with the demonstration of negative attitude towards peace by some of the key actors in the Liberian conflict was first expressed by Jacques Klein, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Coordinator of United Nations Operations in Liberia. In appealing to the Liberian nation to cooperate with the United Nations in its efforts to bring peace to Liberia, he warned that the current intervention would be Liberia’s “last chance for peace”. The theme of this conference is consistent with this warning. It reflects that there are some discouraging signs emerging in the search for peace in Liberia and brings into question the entire intervention initiative of the international community. Yet it is important to note that some critical achievements have been made. The intervention effort has stopped active armed conflict in Liberia. The peace process has been put in an irreversible state by the substantial disarmament of combatants belonging to the various armed groups. Except for remote areas, were the presence of armed former combatants have been reported, there are indications that normal life is gradually returning to many parts of the country. Liberian refugees within many West African countries are returning to Liberia in large numbers. Although the disarmament process is viewed by many Liberians to be incomplete, most Liberians are grateful for the silencing of the guns by the UNMIL within a relatively short time, given past experiences in Liberia and elsewhere.

One aspect of the search for peace that needs greater attention is providing basic social services for the Liberian people and laying a solid foundation for governance. Here, the international community has apparently taken the position that these are matters that lie within the exclusive domain of the National Transitional Government of Liberia as a sovereign authority. Even in the face of massive corruption and a display of gross insensitivity to the basic needs of the people, the UN and other members of the international contact group have not gone beyond mere statements of the fact that these conditions exist. Perhaps this hands-off attitude of the international community is based on the fact that the NTGL is perceived as a sovereign authority and should therefore be treated as other sovereign authorities are treated. However, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that when the International Community intervenes in an internal conflict, and in the process a transitional government is established through its efforts, it bears the moral responsibility to make that government perform in a manner consistent with the need to transform the conditions that caused the collapse of the state.
The situation in Liberia is a clear demonstration of the fact that any governing authority of a failed state in the process of transformation from state collapse to a normal functioning state should not be considered strong enough to enjoy such sovereign status that its activities cannot be questioned by the intervening authority. It is not sufficient, for example, that in Liberia the United Nations is saying the government is corrupt without doing anything further. It must and should do something about it. The NTGL was established under the auspices of the international community and cannot survive for one minute without its protection. Yet the corrupt activities of the government are eroding the credibility of the good efforts of the international community.
It does not surprise me that there is massive corruption and that no effort is made on the part of the transitional administration to provide urgently needed social services and lay a foundation for reconstruction and good governance. From Liberia’s experience with transitional governments, many Liberians warned that the distribution of vital agencies of governments among the warring parties will not promote lasting peace, but create a potential for more conflicts. Take note: Liberia is at the point today where, if the United Nations troops were to withdraw today, there would be an immediate resumption of civil war. Any civil war following this last one would have a greater number of participants because the last group of Liberians who participated in civil war were rewarded with high government posts and US$300, while law abiding citizens and victims of the war were left to struggle for survival under continuing difficult circumstances created by the same perpetrators of violence for the past two decades. Thus far, the intervention efforts in Liberia have given credence to the maxim “might makes right”. It is a situation that is even more frustrating for the ordinary Liberians, than the interveners.
While most Liberians are happy that International intervention has stopped street fighting and the use of arms with impunity, many Liberians are not happy that this peace process has only transformed the relationship between the combatants and their victims from one of perpetrators of violence and their victims to perpetrators of economic crimes and their victims. With enormous wealth at their disposal, the war-makers in Liberia are still stronger and more powerful than the civilian population. The victims of violence have now become victims of a predatory transitional authority that can best be described as a heartless kleptocracy. Will elections alone against this background bring lasting peace to Liberia? I do not think so. An election overseen by a corrupt governing authority should not be expected to produce an acceptable result- a result that will change current conditions in Liberia for the better. Unless we want to leave the future of Liberia to divine intervention instead of finding concrete human solution for a man-made problem, I have no hope that an election conducted in Liberia, with things remaining as they are would produce a result that will bring lasting peace and progress to Liberia. I am praying very hard to be wrong on this one by unfolding events.

Therefore, what is the suggested way forward?
This is the question that everyone is asking. At a conference on April 14, 2005 in Columbia, (Maryland) Liberians in the U.S., Canada and Europe will meet to reflect on this very important question. The way forward is an issue that has both a national dimension and an international dimension. What is expected of the International Community is to assist in the creation of an enabling atmosphere for Liberians to freely make required decisions about the future of their country. The United Nations started this effort by deploying to Liberia the largest peacekeeping force it had anywhere in the world at the time it deployed and substantially disarming former combatants in the Liberian conflict. According to reports the International Community has embarked on the training of a new police and army. The International Community is also assisting the Elections Commission to conduct general and presidential elections in October 2005. This is the agenda and the workload that the International Community has defined for itself. However, there are other critical areas in which the International Community’s assistance is needed for durable peace in Liberia.
One, given the refusal of the transitional government to promote accountability, the United Nations should take steps to stop theft and misappropriation of government revenue. I find it difficult, for example, to believe that the United Nations allowed the government to purchase expensive vehicles and an unneeded custom-made bullet proof car for the Chairman, given the enormous United Nations protection provided him. The increase in the price of rice, fuel and other basic commodities due to corruption should not be permitted to continue. The idea of “operation-pay-yourself” which was how the entire country was looted during the war should be brought to an immediate halt. Those officials of government that the United Nations experts have found to be corrupt should be removed in descending order, starting from the top with the Chairman, if he is found to be corrupt and replaced in accordance with the constitution of Liberia without affecting the timetable for elections. Without credible fear that corrupt officials can be removed through the intervention of the International Community, theft in public offices will continue during the entire transitional process and after elections into the future. The extreme poverty created by this situation will definitely lead to a reversal of the peace process in Liberia. Powerlessness of the majority due to poverty is not a condition for lasting peace but a foundation for further civil conflict. It is not sufficient for the SRSG and the Western diplomats in Liberia to speak against corruption. They must act as part of the intervention effort in order to arrest the commission of economic crimes with impunity. Continuing corruption is causing more deaths due to hunger and easily curable illnesses in post war Liberia.
Two, the International Community should do everything to bring to justice Charles Taylor and others who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nigeria has been the first on two occasions to commit enormous financial and human resources to the search for peace in Liberia. But peace in Liberia cannot be durable if impunity is promoted by the shielding of those who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Taylor’s connection to the civil conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, amongst others, puts him at a level above all other warlords in the region and his acts should be sufficient to subject him to judicial scrutiny. The shielding of Taylor by Nigeria undermines the tremendous effort that Nigeria has made for peace in Liberia and other parts of Africa. Nigeria as a key player in the world community and a member of the International contact group on Liberia should act in the cause of international peace and security by delivering Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Three, for lasting peace in Liberia and other parts of Africa, members of the International Community should bring criminal charges against their own citizens connected to the Liberian conflict and various conflicts on the African continent. In this regard, the Government of The Netherlands must be commended for the arrest of one of its own citizens, Gus van Kowenhoven, whom it has charged with war crimes for supplying arms to combatants in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The recent denial of a visa to Mr. Mark Thatcher by the United States of America for his attempt to overthrow the Government of Equatorial Guinea should be a standard setting decision for peace in Africa.
Four, there cannot be lasting peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone, if the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire is allowed to continue. It is not far fetched to say that continuing civil conflict in Cote d’Ivoire could also undermine stability in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea. The Government of Cote d’Ivoire has accused Liberia and Burkina Faso of rebel support. It should be noted that the extension of war into Sierra Leone and Guinea was preceded by accusations from Charles Taylor that these two (2) countries were supporting war against his government.
Five, given the constant signs of conflict coming out of Guinea, there is need for the International Community to politically intervene to prevent any civil conflict in that country. There are reports that former combatants from Liberia are being trained in the forest region of Guinea. Such reports should be investigated and if true, those involved should be brought to justice. Any outbreak of conflict in Guinea will lead to a reversal of the peace processes in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast.
Six, following elections in Liberia scheduled for October 2005, the United Nations troops should remain in Liberia for at least five (5) years to monitor the peace and continue to assist in improving the professional skills of our security forces.
Seven, given that the conflict in Liberia was stimulated by bad government policies and certain institutional weaknesses, it is important for the United Nations to support a conference of Liberian stakeholders in Liberia to discuss the way forward for lasting peace and progress in Liberia prior to the October 2005 elections.
Eight, given the negative impact of illiteracy and ignorance on peace and stability in Liberia, a substantial portion of domestic and international financial resources should be allocated for the education and training of the Liberian youths.
Nine, the training of the police should be complemented with training programs without exception for members of the judiciary: judges, prosecutors, court reporters, clerk of courts, ministerial officers of the courts. One approach could be to arrange for Liberian judicial personnel to come to the United States as interns in US courts for at least three (3) months at a time for a period of five (5) years, particularly courts in New York, since Liberian legal system is based largely on the laws of the State of New York. They would become more adept and current with legal issues and how legal matters are professionally and expeditiously handled.
Ten, at the beginning of the current peace process the SRSG promised the Liberian people that electricity and water would be provided to the residents of Monrovia as part of the rebuilding process. That has not happened. Yet the revival of the Liberian economy which is necessary for reducing unemployment will be difficult without electricity. Pronouncements of representatives of the international community must always be backed by actions in order to protect the credibility of the intervention process.
These are the few suggestions that I can think of for the way forward. They are not by any means prescriptions as I am not an expert on peace. I just think that based on many failed attempts to find durable peace, some of these suggestions may be helpful.

Thank you.