Can the New Liberian Transitional Government Succeed?

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 17, 2003

If everything goes as planned, on October 15th, 2003, Mr. Gyude Bryant, the Chairman of Liberian Action Party will be inaugurated as the 5th transitional leader of Liberia since 1990. Rather than a national electoral process, the new leadership came out of a consensus between warring factions and political parties. The warring parties - the NPP-NPFL, LURD and MODEL- do not represent the will of the Liberian people, nor do most of the political parties. The delegates at the conference in Accra on June 4, 2003 had no mandate from a particular constituency. The great majority of Liberians live either in exile, displaced centers or refugee camps.

Skepticisms about Mr. Gyude Bryant have nothing to do with his ability to provide leadership and healing to a traumatized nation. Liberians are skeptical because Bryant follows a long line of “leaders” who were imposed on Liberia by guns or through international manipulation and compromises. Since 1990, Liberians have had d to deal with “leaders” parachuted to power through peace agreements. And for one reason or another, each of these administrations failed to fulfill its promises of peace, reconstruction and healing.

The Gyude Bryant administration was borne out of a deep crisis. In Chinese alphabet, crisis is represented by two symbols, one relating to dangers and the other to opportunities and both abound in current Liberia.

The new transitional government has a few significant advantages over the previous arrangements:

1. The absence of any significant warlord
In previous transitional administrations, the omnipresence of “strong” and corrupt was the most dominant factor. Their greed for power rendered any transition to peace impossible. Currently, none of the warring factions – MODEL, LURD and NPP/NPFL – can claim such strong personalities in their rank. This should make the political transition and disarmament/demobilization much easier. Neither of them has the international connection the NPFL nor ULIMO had.

2. A different international community setting
The US supported Samuel Doe in the logics of Cold War politics. In the 1990s, while Charles Taylor received a strong support from Libya, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire, the US and the UN remained ambivalent and France worked through business contacts with Charles Taylor. In 1992, even after the NPFL took 500 ECOWAS peacekeepers as hostage, the international community failed to condemn it. Indicting Taylor in those days for any crime would have seemed unconceivable.

3. US/UN direct support and involvement
For the first time, since 1990, the US has taken a direct interest in the Liberian crisis. This direct involvement stems both from the US war on terrorism and pressure from the international community and has so far had a great impact on the peace process. Without the indictment by the UN War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone and the instance of US President George W. Bush for him to leave the scene, Taylor would still be president. Finally, the actions of US Ambassador in Monrovia, Mr. John Blaney, combined with those of Mr. Jacques Klein, UN Special representative in Monrovia have created an atmosphere of confidence in the process.

The question is therefore whether Mr. Bryant and his team would be able to turn this positive atmosphere into positive administrative achievements. There are few key issues to be tackled:

Restructuring Government Services
UN Special Representative to Liberia Jacques Klein said that he looks forward to working with a government of technocrats. This may be the only chance for Liberia to recover. However, because of the instable situation that prevailed since the 1980s, there are very few technocrats left in the country. Those who survived the Doe years of brutality and corruption had to run for their lives with the advent of the Taylor war and regime of terror.

Many Liberian technocrats in the Diaspora would be willing to go home and work for their country but they should not be expected to pack their bags over night and rush to Liberia, where they would have to struggle to survive or submit to corrupt practices.

Rather than creating a huge “aid” bureaucracy, the international community could adopt a system that would involve Liberian technocrats willing to return home. They know their country better and they would cost much less.

In the past 14 years, government jobs were used as rewards for partisans with no training or qualifications. Security services and ministries are filled with former fighters who still need to complete their high school education. Restructuring government would require that these people be replaced with competent people.

In the absence of decent salaries paid on time, people who serve the government revert to other means to survive. Corruption becomes inevitable as long as workers are not getting paid. For the past 14 years, no Liberian functionary has received a regular salary. Currently, at the rate of currency exchange, no government worker, even the highest paid Minister can afford a bag of rice on a monthly salary. One cannot fight corruption without providing the means of survival to workers.

Past peace accords failed to implement comprehensive disarmament. Disarmament is important not only for the combatants but also for farmers who have been on the run for years. Farmers cannot return to their villages while child soldiers prey on them everyday.

A comprehensive rehabilitation and social reinsertion programs must follow the removal of the guns from fighters.

Accountability has never been part of Liberian body politic. To get a fresh start, the transitional government must conduct an audit of every single government agencies. The Sawyer government had also written a code of conduct that was never passed into law. This may be the time to look into it.

Legislature & Judiciary
The weakness of the legislature and the judiciary and their total dependency on the executive made these institutions trivial in Liberian body politic. Taylor took this phenomenon at another level by filling the legislature with his former fighters allowing the security forces to disregard and humiliate the judiciary. This process must be reversed for democratic institutions to be viable.

A strong legislature rather than be a dysfunctional assembly of low-level partisans would be critical for the success of the transitional government. Along with the judiciary, it must become independent and a center of power in its own right.

Dealing with the Warring Factions
LURD, MODEL and NPFL are being rewarded with jobs and legitimacy after destabilizing and destroying the country. The logic is that in exchange for government jobs, warring factions would stop the warfare. However, since the 1990s, every peace accord has allowed warring factions to take share in the government while holding their guns. It was like allowing a criminal to keep control of both the hostage and the ransom money, to paraphrase a Liberian human rights lawyer.

Representatives of warring factions must not be allowed into the government as long as they have not submitted to a comprehensive and voluntary disarmament.

Dismantling the Taylor Economic Tentacles
Since 1990, with 90 percent of the national territory under his control for many years, Taylor created a web of business connections that it would take years to uncover and dismantle. According to recent reports from Monrovia, less than 10 percent of Liberian economy is outside of his control.

The Bryant administration would need to rely on the legislature and the justice system to undo this web of corruption. However, if members of the legislature and the justice system have to depend on kickbacks and hand-outs to survive as was the case in the past administration, there is little chance that they would stand up for anything.

How Can the UN and US Help?
The US/UN direct involvement can help the recovery process in Liberia in many ways. It can encourage investments in the private sector. It can help revitalize government services by adopting a creative approach to reconstruction. Creating the usual “aid” bureaucracy” does nothing but perpetuate the NGO mentality where nationals constantly depend on outside handouts. This is not what Liberia needs now. The UN/US can help deploy Liberians who want to return home and work to rebuild their country.

Deploying Liberian technocrats has a double advantage: it would cost less and it would also lead to investments in the social and economic infrastructures. A Liberian engineer, with a decent salary working on a UN project in Liberia would most likely invest in a house or a farm. This investment would create jobs and put money in the economy. This could have an impact on every aspect of life, from the child soldier rehabilitation to higher education. A Liberian doctor may volunteer his/her time to teach at the university or slowly make a transition into private sector and remain in the country.

A billion dollars spent wisely in Liberia, using Liberian technocrats with the backing of the international could turn that devastated country in a success story.

In the end, without serious financial investment, all the goodwill of the Bryant administration would fall victim to the ghosts of the past.