Rebuilding Liberia: Prospects and Perils
Rebuilding Liberia: Prospects and Perils
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Liberia: Reconciliation and Reform
Liberia: Reconciliation and Reform
Report / Africa 4 minutes

Rebuilding Liberia: Prospects and Perils

Liberia is a collapsed state that has become in effect a UN protectorate. Whether its political and economic reconstruction can begin depends on how quickly security spreads throughout the country.

Executive Summary

Liberia is a collapsed state that has become in effect a UN protectorate. Whether its political and economic reconstruction can begin depends on how quickly security spreads throughout the country. Squabbles over jobs by leaders of the armed factions have caused near-paralysis in the transitional government. Faction leaders tried to block disarmament until they received more jobs, boding ill for the peace process. The display of cynicism and greed by fighters and political leaders alike has undermined international confidence ahead of the donors’ conference that meets in New York, 5-6 February 2004.

There is also concern about the role the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) can play in restoring peace. While many hold that with a Chapter Seven mandate, 15,000 troops and 1,115 civilian police it can hardly fail, internal coordination and management problems have contributed to insecurity at least in the short term. “The honeymoon is over for the UN in Liberia”, a senior UNMIL official told ICG in late 2003 after the fiasco surrounding the start of disarmament on 7 December.

The decision to start that process so early was a dangerous miscalculation. UNMIL was not ready. It did not have enough troops on the ground, and coordination with UN agencies was poor. Failure to have all appropriate mechanisms in place led to days of chaos, the deaths of nine people (suspected members of armed factions) and the wounding of one peacekeeper. Fighters loyal to the former government (now officially one of three armed factions) and its ex-president, Charles Taylor, clashed with UNMIL peacekeepers. Disarmament is rescheduled to start in late February 2004, with more peacekeepers deployed and improved coordination.

Liberians still have high hopes that UNMIL will help to provide sustained peace but it will need to ensure that it does not continue to make costly mistakes. It needs no reminding that peace processes in the 1990s failed partly because of poor disarmament. Another failure would have grave consequences for an already troubled West African region as well as for future peacekeeping operations elsewhere. There are worrying signs that the leadership of the two main factions formerly opposed to Charles Taylor’s government, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), are trying to keep their fighting forces intact – not least in case their regional sponsors, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire respectively, need them to tackle internal dissent and participate in wars of their own.

The main spoilers are politicians associated with armed factions. Often, fighters appear more committed to peace than their political masters. No faction leader has any political vision for governing Liberia. It has become evident, five months into the peace process, that some politicians are prepared to jeopardise peace for the sake of jobs. The two years of UN-led transition are seen as a moment to grab whatever is worth having of a bankrupt state. Internal divisions, particularly within LURD, also may disrupt the peace process. UNMIL needs to use a solid reintegration package to peel the fighters away from the politicians, leaving the spoilers vulnerable and unable to threaten the peace. On the other hand, failure to deal with fighters’ expectations would undermine UNMIL efforts, leaving the chain of command between fighters and faction leaders in place.

UNMIL must also work harder at achieving local ownership. So far, it has been unwilling to devolve significant power or responsibility to Liberians. To a large extent, however, it has had little choice. The National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), which includes among others an unsavoury mixture of greedy, malicious and murderous characters, cannot be trusted to implement the peace accords. Its civilian chairman, Gyude Bryant, is hamstrung by the unscrupulous behaviour of politicians supported by the armed factions.

Nevertheless, Liberians will need to own and take responsibility for the process if UNMIL’s efforts are to bear fruit. Religious leaders, political leaders, and the remaining small band of civil society activists must be brought on board to play a greater role. At the same time UNMIL should be more subtle and discreet in getting Liberians, in particular the former warring factions, to pursue peace. Gaining the confidence of Liberians and ultimately winning the peace, depends not only on tough words and strong arm tactics, but also quiet diplomacy.

Even if the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Jacques Paul Klein, and his team can deliver a more sustainable disarmament process and security ahead of elections in October 2005, the international community cannot realistically assume that its job has been done. The donors conference is the moment to offer concrete international support that can mean security not only in Liberia but for neighbouring countries as well. Klein estimates that Liberia needs at least U.S.$200 million to repair basic infrastructure alone. The UN-led assessment of need defined in conjunction with the NTGL, World Bank and others has a U.S.$500 million price tag through December 2005. Donors must register the fact that Liberia’s reconstruction requires serious long-term commitments and a focus on hard issues. The immediate tasks involve ensuring security on the ground; putting in place a new government, extending its authority throughout the country, and establishing the rule of law; and continued humanitarian aid. But an early start is also required at rebuilding a devastated social and economic infrastructure to provide opportunities for successful return to productive society of ex-combatants, refugees and IDPs.

Along with technical work to reform the army and police and rebuild infrastructure, political and constitutional issues relating to the powers of the presidency must be addressed. Attention needs to be given to prising power from the hands of a political clique in Monrovia. A vastly improved civil administration is essential to promote better governance and proper management of revenue collection and expenditure and to avoid persistent corruption. Rebuilding Liberia’s interior and ensuring that its shattered communities have a major stake in development will be essential to improve lives. Donors must be cognizant of the fact that a stable and well governed Liberia is essential to a secure peace in the West African region.

Freetown/Brussels, 30 January 2004

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.