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Liberia and Sierra Leone: Rebuilding Failed States
Liberia and Sierra Leone: Rebuilding Failed States
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Liberia: Sirleaf Needs to Use Powers to the Fullest
Liberia: Sirleaf Needs to Use Powers to the Fullest
Report 87 / Africa

Liberia and Sierra Leone: Rebuilding Failed States

The interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone are failing to produce states that will be stable and capable of exercising the full range of sovereign responsibilities on behalf of their long-suffering populations.

Executive Summary

The interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone are failing to produce states that will be stable and capable of exercising the full range of sovereign responsibilities on behalf of their long-suffering populations. This is essentially because they treat peacebuilding as implementing an operational checklist, involving fixes to various institutions and processes, without tackling underlying political dynamics. At best, Liberia is on the path Sierra Leone entered upon several years earlier. A fresh strategy is needed if both are not to remain shadow states, vulnerable to new fighting and state failure. The international community needs to make genuinely long-term commitments -- not two to five years, as at present, but on the order of fifteen to 25 years -- to enable new political forces to develop.

In both countries the operational checklist includes deployment of peacekeepers; disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of fighters; repatriation of refugees; and judicial and security sector reform; with elections as virtually the final step. The time frame -- two to five years -- is too short. Individuals with criminal pasts are treated as viable political interlocutors. The judicial and law enforcement institutions never functioned effectively, and thus their repair without reform is no solution. New national militaries are untested, and their adherence to constitutional order uncertain. Voices from civil society who could catalyse real change tend to be marginalised, while the economy is left vulnerable to criminal capture.

A more radical strategy is needed. After restoring security, the international community should more quickly give greater political responsibility, while simultaneously targeting its interventions to help build non-political and professional law enforcement and judicial institutions to establish the rule of law, protect civil rights and foster a public space within which citizens can hammer out their own solutions. In Liberia it should also assume responsibility for revenue collection from ports, airports, customs, the maritime registry and export of timber and diamonds: because the collection of revenues is presently obscured from the beginning, it is easy to engineer corruption. But once funds begin entering the treasury transparently, it should be up to Liberians to decide how to use them, though international monitors, as part of independent and public oversight of procurement, should still be available to help civil society prevent gross abuse.

The same problem exists in Sierra Leone, but this prescription probably cannot be applied because its elected government is already in place and unlikely to give up so much control. Stop-gap measures there focus on trying to insert accounting mechanisms at the final stages of the revenue process, by which time much has already disappeared. However, the long-term security sector commitment has already been promised by the UK. Other steps needed are to protect freedom of press and expression better, to give the Anti-Corruption Commission prosecutorial powers, and to establish a public complaint mechanism applicable to newly-elected district governments.

The proposed approaches can only have a chance of succeeding within a much longer time frame than the international community has hitherto been willing to envisage. Liberia and Sierra Leone took decades to decay, and it will take decades to restore sustainable security and political and economic structures. The new Peacebuilding Commission proposed by the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which reported to the UN Secretary-General on 2 December 2004, could be the institutional vehicle needed to implement the long-term commitments required in these countries, and many others around the world.

Dakar/Brussels, 8 December 2004

Op-Ed / Africa

Liberia: Sirleaf Needs to Use Powers to the Fullest

Originally published in allAfrica

Liberia has come a long way from the bloody civil wars that raged from 1989 until former president Charles Taylor left office in 2003.

In less than a decade, two credible elections have been held, the last in November. But Taylor's imprisonment for war crimes in Sierra Leone has done little to help with reconciliation. Indeed, Liberians remain divided, and by some of the problems that plunged the country into conflict.

Corruption, nepotism linked to oil contracts, impunity; a security sector in disarray; high youth unemployment; and flaws in the election laws have polarised society and corroded politics. Unless President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf uses her limited powers to the fullest to reconcile the nation more insecurity beckons.

Even last year’s relatively-successful polls highlighted these divisions. Inflammatory rhetoric by some politicians and sporadic violence in the run-up to the elections, then opposition allegations of cheating after the vote, show how fragile things are.

Young people are increasingly resentful that they can’t find work, even as Liberia’s elite grow richer. Community relations are also tense, notably between the residents of Nimba in the north, and Grand Gedeh, to the east.

Security is a central issue. The recent conviction of Taylor was welcomed world wide, but Liberians are uneasy that others like him have not been prosecuted for crimes committed not next door but in their own country. Some say they will not feel safe until those responsible for the atrocities are behind bars.

A new campaign led by the Grand Bassa county representative for a law to establish a war crimes court in Liberia is encouraging news and the initiative should be supported by the government. Yet the numerous recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009 have yet to be implemented.

To address the problem, the government needs to clarify how the recommendations tie into the national peace and reconciliation initiative launched by President Johnson Sirleaf. It should also adopt a recommendation by the Special Independent Commission of Inquiry to pass a law against hate crimes. Civil society and donors must invest in strengthening the media, notably by building a media training centre and encouraging worker exchange programs with countries that have an established and vibrant press.

On top of that, people have little confidence in the police. The Liberian National Police was totally revamped in 2004, but its officers failed to control some of the election-linked violence, and they were accused of using excessive force against peaceful protestors. This has only undermined public confidence and cast doubts over the extent of police reform.

The United Nations, wary of the force’s abilities, has decided to keep its police contingent at current numbers even as it draws down its soldiers in the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) over the next three years. The government must urgently seek funds for further police training and to buy essential equipment.

Liberia’s next elections are not due until 2017, but the voting laws must be revised. The opposition claims of cheating were driven by the National Election Commission (NEC)’s inability, or unwillingness, to stop the ruling Unity Party from allegedly using state resources.

Parliament ought to debate and introduce new laws so that the NEC can control party funding and set tougher criteria for parties to stand in the polls. The criteria could include demands for financial transparency, significant representation in all regions and the respect of democratic standards in their internal structure.

A special fund could also be established for party reform, to strengthen their legitimacy and capacity. In addition, efforts should be made to educate voters and polling staff, some of whom were uncomfortable last year with the counting and tallying methods, according to observers.

Finally, national development must be bolstered. Young people, many of whom fought in the conflicts, must be given long-term economic opportunities so they don’t return to violence. Investment should be poured into neglected communities like Westpoint in the capital Monrovia, and unstable areas like Grand Gedeh near the Côte d’Ivoire border.

President Johnson Sirleaf is leading a divided country and is doing so with a limited mandate. But Liberia could easily be destabilised by disputes over natural resources, a weak police force and a frustrated younger generation with few prospects for the future.

So she must spur the government to boost the economy and do more to fight corruption, as well as encourage reconciliation – without encouraging impunity – and reforms, both electoral and in the security sector. Only then does Liberia stand a real chance to definitively turn its back on the conflicts of the past.