Unemployment, corruption, nepotism and impunity threaten to entrench social and political divisions and jeopardise Liberia’s democracy unless the government addresses persisting historical enmities.
Liberia’s October 2011 presidential elections are an opportunity to consolidate its fragile peace and nascent democracy.
Since independence and for fourteen years of war, Liberia’s army, police and other security agencies have mostly been sources of insecurity and misery for a destitute people. The internationally driven attempt to radically reform the security sector since the war’s end in 2003 is a major chance to put this right and prevent new destabilisation.
Reform of the justice system needs to be a top priority for Liberia’s new government and donors alike. After fourteen years of civil war, the system is in shambles.
2006 is a decisive year for Liberia and with it West Africa. Just as Liberia once dragged its neighbours into a horrific war, it could now – with good policy and strong donor support – become an anchor for stability in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.
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 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.
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.
Whether Liberia takes advantage of its best chance for peace in years and West Africa regains stability depends on bold action by the UN, which needs to shape a comprehensive regional security strategy while rapidly building its peacekeeping force up to strength.
There is a critical need for further international action to end the civil war in Liberia – and to halt the spread of chaos beyond its borders that has both inflamed the Côte d'Ivoire crisis and threatens wider military conflict and humanitarian disaster in much of West Africa.