Liberia: How Sustainable Is the Recovery?
19 Aug 2011
Liberia’s October 2011 presidential elections are an opportunity to consolidate its fragile peace and nascent democracy.
Liberia: How Sustainable Is the Recovery?, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, warns that five factors are still critical to lasting peace: a more convincing fight against corruption; deeper commitment to transforming Liberia with a new breed of reform-minded political players; sustained international engagement in supporting this more ambitious transformation; economic development; and regional stability, particularly in its neighbour, Côte d’Ivoire.
“There is still much work to do before international support can be reduced. The post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire has tragically revealed the extent of the security threats facing the region and the particular fragility of Liberia”, says Titi Ajayi, Crisis Group’s West Africa Fellow. “Hundreds of young Liberian fighters were recruited to fight as mercenaries”.
Since the end of the civil war in Liberia, the focus has been on security, through the creation from the ground up of a new army and police force. The security sector is now able to cope with some threats, but continued international presence is imperative in view of the failings of the police and their very limited reach outside the capital, Monrovia. The promised fight against impunity, including implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has been tepid. There is no doubt that the country has made great progress under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf including in social development, infrastructure rehabilitation and growth-stimulating foreign direct investment in the tiny economy. But whether the next presidential elections are peaceful, free and fair will depend on how well the National Elections Commission (NEC) handles the challenges of the 23 August referendum on constitutional amendments and opposition perceptions of bias toward the president’s Unity Party. The NEC, the government, political parties, presidential candidates, civil society, media and international partners each have a role to play to strengthen trust in the electoral process.
Beyond the current round of elections, better coordination between the police and judiciary and increasing the presence of both in rural communities are priorities. The government’s planned justice and security regional hubs should be supported by donors, established and adequately equipped in the next twelve months. The mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) should also be extended for a further twelve months from 1 October 2011.
Any investment that seeks to protect the gains made so far should have as its objective a political transformation leading to the emergence of a new generation of leaders at local and national levels, removed from the culture of violence and corruption. This would involve providing incentives for the best-qualified youths to engage in political activity and training and educational opportunities for them to acquire the necessary governance skills. The United Nations Peacebuilding Commission should develop a more holistic strategy to support a transformative agenda.
“If the six years of President Sirleaf’s government have proven anything, it is that the best reform plans cannot work without national ownership”, says Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “Such ownership is contingent upon the presence of a critical number of actors who want systemic change. Only by carrying out a transformative plan, focused on the next generation of decision-makers and opinion leaders, will peace be sustainable”.