|17th April 2005 - By T. Q. Harris
....After more than 21 months of direct supervision and broad oversight by the international community, Liberia’s transition to date is in disarray. Those charged with transforming the tiny West African nation cannot identify a single meaningful task they have completed in its entirety. What’s more disturbing is how they have begun shifting responsibility for the mission’s success onto to the beleaguered citizens of Liberia...
Surprisingly, the biggest disappointment as it relates to Liberia’s current transition from war to peace is not the highly corrupt National Transitional Government (NTGL); rather, it is the manner in which the international players have bungled the process. The overall performance of the International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL), the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Mano River Union, collectively referred to as the international community, has been less than impressive when it comes to dealing with critical issues that have kept Liberia in a continuous state of war for more than a decade. Considering the human tragedy that has occurred in West Africa within the past decade, it is critical to foster deterrence in order to restore calm and reverse the damage. We firmly believe dealing with those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity will do more to alter the plight of the sub-region then rewarding impunity while advancing democracy as a panacea.
Regrettably, the international community has been slow in strengthening the Special Court in Sierra Leone and addressing egregious human rights abuses, which characterized the violence in both Sierra Leone and Liberia. Furthermore, there has been no action taken against those persons who have consistently sought to derail the peace efforts in violation of the Comprehensive Peace Accords (CPA) signed in Ghana. And although individuals accused of war crimes dating back to the 1940s are to this day being brought to justice; yet Charles Taylor, an indicted war criminal is given safe haven in Nigeria and no one seems offended by this major breach in civilized conduct. Indecisiveness may negate the good intentions of the international community and prolong the crisis in Liberia.
Feeling somewhat disappointed, particularly, as it relates to the role of the ECOWAS and the UN since assisting in the removal of Charles Taylor’s Government, and having hoped for an end to years of benign neglect, injustice, pain and suffering, Liberians are now asking: Where are our deliverers in whom we placed so much trust? What have become of the promises? It is disheartening to read stories in the local papers alleging Ambassador Jacques Paul Klein’s breach of professional ethics as well as the sanctions placed on Liberia. If it is true the UN Secretary General Special Representative to Liberia is connected with a diamond syndicate currently conducting mining activities in Liberia in contravention of the UN trade ban, and, if it is also true he has a concubine who is a staunch ally of the indicted war criminal Charles Taylor, what are the chances of the current peace efforts succeeding? As the “coalition of the unwilling” grow stronger with every passing day, we are forced to ask, where are the international partners?
After more than 21 months of direct supervision and broad oversight by the international community, Liberia’s transition to date is in disarray. Those charged with transforming the tiny West African nation cannot identify a single meaningful task they have completed in its entirety. What’s more disturbing is how they have begun shifting responsibility for the mission’s success onto to the beleaguered citizens of Liberia. Lately, it is being said that success of the mission depends on Liberians electing the best leaders; however, no one is admitting to lapses in fulfilling the mandate of the CPA. Suddenly, election has topped the recovery agenda replacing disarmament, rehabilitation and the reintegration of thousands of ex-combatants.
Now, there is an all out effort to convince the traumatized electorate that voting offers the last best chance of saving Liberia. And that regardless of how unprepared they are for the exercise, the voting must go on. This begs the question: If the casting of ballots is the sole remedy for Liberia’s woes, why almost immediately following the 1997 elections, which were declared free, fair and transparent by the international community, did the country collapse into another round of violence? And if all Liberia needs is an election, why does the UN at this very moment have its largest contingent of peacekeepers (UNMIL) deployed in the country? Let’s face it: By waffling, the international community may have hurt Liberia’s chances of a speedy recovery. And this could have far-reaching consequences for the future of West Africa.
Anyone who has followed developments in Liberia over the past two decades would agree that in the absence of a major international effort led by the United States, Liberians have absolutely no chance of halting their country’s disintegration. This is why there was universal optimism back in 2003 when the UN Special Court in Sierra Leone indicted Charles Taylor (an action long overdue) and ordered his arrest; clearing the way for the international community’s intervention in the prolonged crisis that paralyzed the entire sub-region. Though all the experts have agreed Liberia is the epicenter of West Africa instability; yet the problem is allowed to fester.
With glaring evidence of a collapsed state, mass trauma, and a bankrupt economy, no one familiar with past events in Liberia believed the international community would permit the very same divisive, unscrupulous, unpatriotic group of warlords and politicians (the “coalition of the unwilling”) to dominate the recovery efforts. Yet to the amazement of all, this is exactly what happened when an international peace conference was organized in Ghana without first formulating a definite plan for Liberia’s recovery. Even more bewildering, the very same troublemakers who had run Liberia into the ground were allowed to dictate the process; as expected, governance again fell to another highly incompetent and corrupt group. This obvious miscalculation has made the country less prepared for elections now than it was two years ago. Should the international community fail to take aggressive measures now, installing a credible post-conflict democratically government in Liberia by January 2006 may prove impossible.
Had the large robust UN force (UNMIL) not been present in Liberia, it’s very likely hostilities would have resumed since the seating of the current Transitional Government. The evidence supports this presumption: Just a few months ago, Monrovia was under siege for more than a week when elements of rival factions engaged in running battles which caused extensive property damage and left scores dead. Described as a religious conflict, the mayhem created concerns regarding personal safety and security within the country. Though the UNMIL troops were quick in curbing the violence, there was no doubt the disarmament and rehabilitation had not gone well. Shortly thereafter, soldiers demanding unpaid salaries placed roadblocks in the center of the City and even threatened to attack the UN peacekeepers if they intervened. And recently, had the UNMIL troops not rushed to secure the grounds of the Capitol, power struggles amongst the Legislators backed by their ex-fighters might have again plunged the nation into another deadly round of violence.
Unless the prevailing culture of violence is broken, lasting peace and stability for Liberia will remain elusive. Therefore, it is imperative the international partners provide the decisive leadership Liberians are craving. This demands a paradigm shift: The nation’s focus must be redirected away from politics and placed on rule of law, justice, and economic empowerment. To adequately prepare the population for the changes necessary to create a pluralistic democratic society where each person counts, confidence must be restored within the individual. Fear and intimidation brought on by dehumanization during the brutal civil war must be eradicated. And the international partners must assist in creating the right atmosphere where the ordinary citizen feels a sense of pride and personal freedom.
The volatile social and political climate currently existing in Liberia is not conducive to a peaceful coexistence under the leadership of any administration (elected or appointed) that does not integrate foreign expertise and has the full backing of the international community. A century of mistrust has created deep-seated hatred amongst Liberians. This has given rise to violence within the society, making it a challenge for the winners of any election to easily gain the confidence of the various ethnic groups. It will take time and meticulous planning in order to diffuse the root causes of the violence and establish an acceptable level of trust before stability can be fully restored. The international community must develop a long-term strategy to guide Liberians through the difficult process of healing and effective nation building. Liberia’s problems must not be underestimated; they date back to the early 1800s when the country was established as an American outpost.
As the transitional period mandated by the CPA approaches its conclusion, it is becoming increasingly clear that much needs to be done in order to ensure there is not a repeat of the lawlessness that ensued in the aftermath of the 1997 elections. Even now, there are some at the highest levels who have begun expressing concerns regarding the current recovery efforts and are doubtful of a smooth and successful transition to constitutional governance. Those sounding the warning alarm include Dr. Charlotte Abaka -- UN Independent Expert on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Liberia, Mr. John Blaney -- the American Ambassador to Liberia, amongst others.
In a speech delivered recently at the UNMIL Headquarters in Monrovia, Dr. Abaka made the following observations: “…lawlessness and other heinous crimes are still the order of the day, and impunity is rewarded for committing crimes…; …there are arms in the hands of fighters and their commanders…making it increasingly impossible to hold free and fair elections. …guns in Liberia will [undermine] the electoral environment…[and] set the pace for another round of bloodletting…”
Also, in his remarks at a Stakeholders’ Consultative Forum held in Monrovia recently, Ambassador John Blaney reminded the audience: “Liberia is still not yet a benign environment for holding these precious [presidential and legislative] elections.”
The concerns expressed by Dr. Abaka and Ambassador Blaney, coupled with the rising tension in Liberia, make a compelling case for the international community to redouble its efforts, or risk the possibility of yet another calamity. Evidently, Liberia needs an aggressive recovery strategy. It is our hope that the partnership forged with the international community through the Comprehensive Peace Accords will end 20 years of senseless violence. The vast majority of Liberians are prepared to cooperate in restoring peace and stability to the country. We, therefore, urge our international partners to deal decisively with those standing in the way of progress.
As the transitional process moves into the final stages, we would like to make the following recommendations:
- Charles Taylor must be turned over to the UN Special Court in Sierra Leone before the October 2005 elections; more than any other act, this will demonstrate the international community’s resolve to deal effectively with the problems in West Africa;
- The international community must state emphatically that persons bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Liberia will be brought to justice and begin taking action to make this possible;
- Liberians listed by the UN as having contributed to the chaos in the country and/or the region, including persons currently affected by the UN, US, or EU travel ban, must not be permitted to seek elected office in the 2005 elections; because, it is likely several of these individuals will have to face a war crimes court following the elections;
- The international partners must restore sanity to the political process and help reduce the number of parties taking part in the 2005 presidential and legislative elections by providing campaign funding for mergers or alliances that include not less than 6 registered political parties;
- The NEC in collaboration with the international partners must forbid candidates and their supporters from making direct or indirect cash or in kind donations to the individual voter and/or a constituency. The use of rice as a tool for acquiring votes must be prohibited; any violation of this rule must result in the candidate’s immediate disqualification, and/or 12 months incarceration of the guilty party plus a significant fine. This also must apply to all officials of the Transitional Government, including the Chairman. Persons affected by this decree who wish to give aid to needy Liberians between now and Election Day can do so by sending their donations to the UNDP or pre-approved NGOs;
- To further discourage the electorate from accepting handouts from the candidates, the international community through the UN and NGOs present in Liberia must substantially increase food aid throughout the country in the months leading up to the October elections;
- Special efforts must be made to account for, and provide needed assistance to all ex-combatants. And, ex-combatants must not be placed in a position where they can be easily influenced by persons seeking to disrupt the elections;
- To accommodate Liberians in the Diaspora who wish to vote in the upcoming elections, the National Elections Commission (NEC) in collaboration with the international partners must decree that effective immediately Liberians outside the country may initiate a special voter registration process by submitting through e-mail, regular mail, or courier a customized form (an Application of Intent or AOI). This form will confirm one’s intention to be physically present to vote on Election Day. AOIs may be accepted by the NEC up until the final week before the official start of campaigning, or by a reasonable deadline. To complete the registration process, persons submitting AOIs must arrive in the country on, or by the deadline to be photographed and receive their official voter’s ID card. A reasonable dollar amount may be charged for this service. We are prepared to work with the NEC in processing eligible voters residing in foreign countries;
- With the proper use of existing technologies, internally displaced persons at centers within greater Monrovia could register and vote in these locations for candidates from their respective constituencies without enduring forced resettlement in unsafe areas lacking adequate housing and other basic amenities. The NEC and the international partners must revisit this issue taking into account the fact it is the NTGL that has failed to adequately prepare the country for elections, not the displaced citizens; and,
- By signing the Comprehensive Peace Accords, Liberians willingly consented to forging a partnership with the international community for the purpose of restoring the country to normalcy. And since the international partners are bearing the larger share of the transitional cost, it is only proper that they have the final say in decisions leading to the restoration of full sovereignty for Liberia.
Honourable T. Q Harris is a candidate for president of Liberia. He is currently the standard bearer of the Liberian National Union Party (LINU) and is looking forward to leading the coalition of patriotic political parties (CPPP) in the 2005 elections. Hon. Harris in 1997 campaigned as an independent candidate for the presidency; later, he accepted the invitation to become the vice presidential nominee of LINU. Hon. Harris is currently the General Chairman of Liberia Contemporees United Patriotic and Strong (Contemp UPS). For more information, log on to the following Web sites: www.republicofliberia.com and www.tqharris.com. In Liberia call 524295. And in the US, call (562) 218-1151.