Liberia's Elections: Necessary but Not Sufficient
Liberia's Elections: Necessary but Not Sufficient
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Liberia: Reconciliation and Reform
Liberia: Reconciliation and Reform
Report 98 / Africa 3 minutes

Liberia's Elections: Necessary but Not Sufficient

Everything indicates that Liberia’s October 2005 presidential and legislative elections are likely to be transparent and fair. Many hope this will permit an exit strategy to be implemented that could see international actors leaving the country as soon as the end of 2006.

Executive Summary

Everything indicates that Liberia's October 2005 presidential and legislative elections are likely to be transparent and fair. Many hope this will permit an exit strategy to be implemented that could see international actors leaving the country as soon as the end of 2006. The probable result of such a scenario would be that, in the words of one ex-combatant, "the UN will be coming back in 2007 or 2008". Liberia has been crumbling for at least 25 years. Elections are but a small, early step in a lengthy reconstruction process that will be sabotaged if Liberian elites refuse some form of intrusive economic governance mechanism, or if international partners pull out before a sustainable security environment is achieved. If the international community does have to return in several years, it will be to mop up yet another war that will cost far more than remaining seriously engaged over the next decade or more.

The UN, the U.S., the European Commission and the World Bank must stay the course, working in conjunction with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) to rebuild Liberia's shattered institutions and infrastructure, and assuring Liberia's security first through maintenance of the UNMIL peacekeeping presence and eventually through the training and mentoring of new Liberian security forces. In a regional context in which UN peacekeeping forces are drawing down to zero in Sierra Leone, Guinea remains volatile, and violence in Côte d'Ivoire simmers just beneath the surface, anything less than full commitment to reintegration and reconstruction in Liberia will most likely contribute to a new, wider conflict.

Despite the fragility of the situation, there is much room for optimism in Liberia today. Preparations for elections are on track, though such areas as campaign finance will require continued and serious attention. Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are returning home, even if not under ideal circumstances. Life in both Monrovia and distant counties is taking on the rhythms, sounds and appearance of normality. Most importantly, issues of economic governance and high level corruption have become a central preoccupation of almost everyone in the country as a result of investigations conducted by ECOWAS and the European Commission. The intrusive Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP) that donors and diplomats have proposed is in the final stages of negotiation with the transitional government.

The discussions that have emerged out of this proposal are heartening. Liberians in Monrovia, the hinterland, and the diaspora are arguing its merits and demerits. Some are motivated by pure self-interest, but many are not. The liveliness of the debate, like the thoughtful planning going into the elections, augurs well for the future, provided the plan is not gutted on the disingenuous grounds of national sovereignty.

Beyond the three key elements necessary to move Liberia forward in the short to medium term -- clean elections, international involvement in revenue collection and economic governance generally, and the maintenance of security -- there are several important longer-term issues which will need to be addressed. They include citizenship (increasingly problematic across West Africa), reintegration of ex-combatants, decentralisation of government, transitional justice, judicial reform, and possibly also constitutional reform aimed at lessening executive power.

These issues should all be addressed as soon as possible after the elected government is inaugurated. An inclusive national conference might be a helpful way of determining the priorities among these and other issues and building public support for further change. The international presence, having assured credible elections and continuing to assure security and that monies due to the government arrive, will give space to the government to take on these other daunting tasks. The candidates for elected office, the Liberian people, and international partners should all begin to raise their sights toward these more ambitious goals at the same time that they continue to ensure the success of the three foundational elements of elections, economic governance and security. Liberia is quickly approaching the second stage of its recovery: a smooth, well-planned transition will be as important as the individual policies.

Liberia could surpass Sierra Leone in all major indicators within three to five years and within ten years stand (once again) solidly ahead of other countries in the region such as Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, and Niger. The country is rich, its population is small, and Liberians overseas send large remittances home. If these elements are multiplied by donor assistance and good management of resources, Liberia should make quick progress. However, another, gloomier scenario is also possible, even with the basic security provided by UN peacekeepers and a good election. If the theft and impunity that have characterised the transitional government are not corrected, Liberia will likely follow in Sierra Leone's footsteps, languishing at the bottom of the Human Development Index, failing to create jobs for young men, and probably sliding back into war by the end of the decade.

Dakar/Brussels, 7 September 2005

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