U.S. and UN must help end Liberia's misery
U.S. and UN must help end Liberia's misery
Liberia: Reconciliation and Reform
Liberia: Reconciliation and Reform
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

U.S. and UN must help end Liberia's misery

This has been a trying month for Liberia's dictator, Charles Taylor.

First came the issuance by the Special Court for Sierra Leone of an international warrant for his arrest on charges of crimes against humanity, stemming from his role in Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war -- an overdue action that should be supported internationally.

A few days later, ragtag rebels who have been fighting his regime for several years launched an offensive against the capital, Monrovia, coming within a few miles of Taylor's executive mansion. Not for the first time, Taylor has his back to the wall.

But he is a proven survivor, and much more must happen if the Liberian people are to be given the chance to trade misery and violence for a chance at peace and security.

Taylor has perfected the Machiavellian maxim: "It is far better to be feared than loved.'' He and his militias are responsible for all manner of crimes, well documented by human rights groups, including killings, rapes and various forms of slavery. The inaction so far of the United States, historical godfather to the small West African nation, is remarkable in comparison with the strong action it has taken in other trouble spots outside Africa.

A visit to Monrovia, named after U.S. president James Monroe, reveals a city in ruins. Public buildings are riddled with bullet holes, bodies rot in the main streets, acute water shortages lead to fears of a cholera epidemic, hospitals lack basic drugs, and thousands of displaced people crowd the potholed streets. Two murky and ruthless rebel groups, MODEL and LURD, with support from Liberia's neighbours, control much of the countryside and are now fighting government troops in Monrovia's suburbs.

If the United States is not actively engaged in promoting peaceful, democratic change, a different kind of change will result in the form of more war and more chaos.

Liberia faces the imminent prospect of rule by gangs of armed youths -- LURD, MODEL and Taylor's militias -- with no coherent agenda other than self-enrichment and the settling of ethnic scores. As gunfire crackles through the city, the remaining humanitarian agencies and foreigners are being evacuated and U.S. troops are en route to help. Standing by and observing another bloody power struggle among men with guns cannot be acceptable U.S. policy.

Bold U.S. engagement in Liberia does not mean unilateralism. What it does require, though, is strong and reliable leadership. The United States is uniquely well suited to take on this lead role. The U.S. administration says Africa is a priority, and the U.S. has long-standing links with Liberia, as well as an influential Liberian exile population.

Four steps are essential. First, just as the United Kingdom led in Sierra Leone and France led in Ivory Coast, the United States must now assist the nation it helped establish, with means that include the deployment of troops. That means U.S. boots on the ground. America should take the lead in establishing a robust and clearly mandated multinational force to ensure a peaceful transition from Taylor's rule to that of a new, democratically elected government. As the situation stabilizes, the multinational force should make the transition to a traditional United Nations peacekeeping force.

Second, the Security Council should call on Taylor to step down from office immediately and arrange to appear before the Special Court. A strong message that he has finally lost international support will be the key to securing his peaceful departure from office and power.

The Security Council must explicitly grant authority to the court under Chapter VII of the UN charter and demand that all states deliver Taylor should he not voluntarily present himself. The Security Council should make clear to Taylor that should he depart power peacefully and contribute constructively to the peace process, he might gain relevant credit -- short of immunity -- with the court.

Third, the various rebel movements must be reined in and prevented from launching a final onslaught to take the city centre. The U.S. and France will have to work closely with LURD's and MODEL's patrons, including Guinea and Ivory Coast.

Fourth, a political dialogue must begin that includes representatives of all legitimate groups that can contribute to laying the foundation for a representative government.

To accomplish this, Taylor must leave and hand over power -- according to the Liberian constitution -- to his vice-president, who would finish Taylor's term until next January. In the meantime, an all-inclusive interim government must be established, negotiated under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States and the International Contact Group on Liberia, with strong U.S. and UN leadership. This interim government should have a high degree of international monitoring and involvement.

It's time to bring Liberia back into the community of nations. Seizing this opportunity will prevent the Liberian people from suffering many more years of violence, predation and misery. The thought of missing it is too awful to contemplate.


Former Program Co-Director, Africa
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Chris Hennemeyer
Regional Director, Africa & MENA, IFES

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