Liberia: How Sustainable Is the Recovery?
Liberia: How Sustainable Is the Recovery?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Liberia: Reconciliation and Reform
Liberia: Reconciliation and Reform
Report 177 / Africa 4 minutes

Liberia: How Sustainable Is the Recovery?

Liberia’s October 2011 presidential elections are an opportunity to consolidate its fragile peace and nascent democracy.

Executive Summary

Liberia’s October 2011 general and presidential elections, the second since civil war ended in 2003, are an opportunity to consolidate its fragile peace and nascent democracy. Peaceful, free and fair elections depend on how well the National Elections Commission (NEC) handles the challenges of the 23 August referendum on constitutional amendments and opposition perceptions of bias toward the president’s Unity Party (UP). The NEC, the government, political parties, presidential candidates, civil society, media and international partners each have roles to play to strengthen trust in the electoral process. They should fight the temptation to treat the elections as not crucial for sustaining the progress made since the civil war. But even after good elections five factors will be critical to lasting peace: a more convincing fight against corruption; deeper commitment to transforming Liberia with a new breed of reform-minded political players; sustained international engagement in supporting this more ambitious transformation; economic development; and regional stability, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire.

The elections are being contested by many of the same political actors from the troubled past. Incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (72) seems to have an edge in the face of a divided opposition that features lawyer Charles Brumskine (60), former UN diplomat and legal expert Winston Tubman (70), businessman and diplomat Dew Mayson (62) and former warlord-turned-senator Prince Johnson (52). The former international football great, George Weah (44), who led the first round in the October 2005 presidential elections but lost the run-off, is Tubman’s vice presidential running mate. The political scene has been refigured by hastily concluded mergers and alliances between the numerous parties vying for a portion of power. They will have to campaign first for or against constitutional amendments at stake in the referendum. The most contentious of these would reactivate a residency requirement for public office candidates while reducing it from ten years to five. If adopted, the courts would probably have to interpret its possible effect on the fast approaching election.

During her 23-24 June 2011 official visit to the U.S., President Johnson Sirleaf’s message was that her country has made great progress, but that there is still much work to do before international support can be reduced. She confidently said that if high levels of support are maintained and good economic management pursued, Liberia would no longer require foreign aid in ten years. She acknowledged, however, that the situation in Côte d’Ivoire and the related refugee influx, as well as the challenge of a large pool of Liberian ex-combatants and other youths ready for recruitment as mercenaries posed a security threat. There is no doubt the country has made significant progress during her presidency, especially in security sector reform, social development, infrastructure rehabilitation and growth-stimulating foreign direct investment in the tiny economy. But the president’s popularity in the West contrasts markedly with many Liberians’ frustration – fed by failed or weak anti-corruption, decentralisation and national reconciliation campaigns – that democracy has benefited some more than others.

Since the end of the civil war, the focus has been on security, through the creation from the ground up of a new army and police force under the supervision of, respectively, the U.S. and UN. The international military and police presence embodied by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has been the main guarantor of peace. The national security sector is now able to cope with some threats, but continued international presence is imperative in view of the failings of the police and their very limited reach outside the capital, Monrovia. Better coordination between the police and judiciary and greater presence of both in rural communities are priorities. The government’s planned justice and security regional hubs – backed by the UN Peacebuilding Commission– should be supported by donors and established and adequately equipped in the next twelve months.

The most serious threats to security, however, are the persistence of mercenary activities and arms proliferation. The post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire from December 2010 to April 2011 has tragically revealed the extent of the problem for the entire region. Hundreds of young Liberian fighters were easily recruited for a minimum of $500. UNMIL and the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), in collaboration with the Liberian and Côte d’Ivoire governments, should use all available military, intelligence and financial means to conclusively eliminate the threat Liberian mercenaries pose. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has prematurely closed its diplomatic representation in Monrovia, should recognise that there are still dangers and contribute to initiatives to ensure security in eastern Liberia and western Côte d’Ivoire.

Any investment that seeks to protect the gains made over the last six years should have as its objective, beyond the current round of elections, a political transformation leading to the emergence of a new generation of leaders at local and national levels, removed from the culture of violence and corruption. This would involve providing incentives for the best-qualified youths to engage in political activity and training and educational opportunities for them to acquire the necessary governance skills. Western donors, ECOWAS, China and the UN should stay engaged after this year’s elections until Liberia is more firmly on its feet. However, their support to continuous, sustainable recovery will be meaningful only if they work simultaneously at stabilising still fragile Côte d’Ivoire.

Dakar/Brussels, 19 August 2011


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