Events

Liberia: An Update on Peacekeeping and Reconstruction

June 17, 2004 // 9:00am10:30am

Klein opened his presentation with a brief history of Liberia and an explanation of how the country developed its current fragmentation. The historical financers and supports of Liberia were slaveholders, Southerners who wanted a place for ex-slaves to go and Northern abolitionists. Free blacks, blacks who had fought as British Loyalist soldiers against the Americans, Jamaican soldiers, and ex-slaves all resettled in Liberia. These Liberian-Americans looked down on the native Liberian populations, their languages, customs and ethnic groups. In this way, a unified national identity was never allowed to develop and the country was sharply fragmented.

Klein then detailed events following the June 2003 collapse of peace in Liberia and leading up to the UNMIL intervention in September 2003. In July, thousands of refugees filled the streets of Monrovia. The UN took note and was able to pass Security Council Resolution 1497 authorizing a multinational force and a future UN stabilization force. ECOMIL vanguard forces from Ghana and Nigeria were deployed to Liberia on August 4th. By mid-August, after Taylor had handed over the presidency, a comprehensive peace agreement was signed in Accra, Ghana. UNMIL/ECOMIL troops were "rehatted" as UN peacekeepers.

Klein spoke at length of the various difficulties the UN has faced in its peacekeeping efforts, as well as the challenges he sees ahead. He spoke of a lack of peacekeepers, the expense involved in airlifting his men, the difficulty in differentiating Liberian generals and commanders from regular Liberian soldiers and the difficulty in controlling the boarders of Liberia. Authorized to employ 768 national workers, UNMIL could only fill 389 of the positions, due to a lack of trained and skilled Liberians- this, despite unemployment rates of 85%. Klein condemned Charles Taylor for criminalizing the country. He stated that by not paying schoolteachers, nurses, etc. for two years, Taylor turned Liberia into a nation of criminals.

Disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRR) also encountered initial difficulties. In December 2003 at Camp Schieffelin, disarmament workers expected to receive 650-700 ex-Government of Liberia combatants. Instead, Charles Taylor released 13,000 former soldiers at once. They arrived firing rounds of ammunition in the air, demanding food and money and forcing the camp to shut down within 10 days. Before the camp ran out of supplies 13,192 people were disarmed. DDRR resumed with fewer problems in April 2004. To date, 34,328 ex-combatants have been disarmed; over 15,000 weapons have been collected; and almost four million rounds of small army ammo have been destroyed.

Klein maintains that one of the largest problems facing the reconstruction of a peaceful Liberia will be the reintegration of combatants into society. With the help of USAID, he hopes to institute a program called the Liberia Community Infrastructure Program. The program would allow 10,000 ex-combatants along with 10,000 civilians to rebuild national infrastructure. Also with the help of USAID, Klein hopes to create a Women and Children Rehabilitation Program and a Youth Reintegration Training and Education for Peace Program (YRTEP) with vocational, apprenticeship, and education components.

While most combatants were between the ages of 19 and 39, many were children who spent 5-7 years living in the bush. DDRR money is not given directly to these children but rather it is given to an adult family member to be used on the child's behalf. However, DDRR workers have been unable to locate family members for roughly 25% of these children. Another challenge to the nation will be providing long-term care and orphanages for these parentless children.

Other concerns mentioned by Klein were the following: training civilian police, establishing a credible judiciary system and civil service, the creation of a humane, well-run penitentiary, encouraging an active civil society, improving the country's literacy rate currently at 37%, the provision of potable drinking water and improved sanitation systems, addressing the 85% unemployment rate, conducting a nationwide census, the protection of vulnerable groups, the inclusion of women in state politics and leadership and the successful execution of fair elections.

Elections are scheduled for October 2005. Klein emphatically advocated the need for elections, stating that many Liberians believe their interests are not well represented by those placed in Monrovia by the Ghana agreement. However, he expressed some reservation concerning viable candidates. Of the 18 political candidates who have thus far presented themselves, all are Liberian-American. Each claims a different political party and not one has a well-formed platform on which to run.

Throughout his presentation, Klein also highlighted several mission successes: the creation of a twenty-four hour FM radio station, increased production and circulation of newspapers and other print media, a major measles vaccination campaign, UNICEF's "Back To School" campaign, and 97 quick impact projects addressing emergency rehabilitation needs. Life in Liberia has regained to a certain level of normalcy. Children are attending newly opened schools. Hospitals and clinics are operating. Economic activity is resuming and electricity and basic water supplies have been restored to parts of Monrovia.

Concluding, Klein called for donors to address the humanitarian needs of Liberia before focusing on niche projects and causes. For UNMIL the main priorities are feeding people, providing potable drinking water, taking away weapons and building schools.

Following his presentation, Klein was asked what UNMIL is doing to restore a sense of national community, and to build a degree of cohesiveness among key players in the national government? In response, Klein spoke of plans for a Liberian defense force, which he believes will unify formerly opposed forces as one group- giving them a shared purpose and identity. Klein also conceded that there are some challenges UNMIL does not know how to overcome.

Asked about US involvement in the Liberian peace process, Klein indicated that the US Ambassador to Liberia lobbied hard for US involvement in the intervention and peace process. The US was hesitant to commit its troops, but has been the principal financial supporter for ECOMIL. The US is also a major donor to the reconstruction process.

Klein was queried about how the educational and other needs of former child combatants were being met. Klein reported that UNMIL has not been able to identify funds for university education. He warned that a volatile university population can create problems during an election. USAID and the European Commission are developing several job programs, but the question remains, "will someone who used to wield a gun and power be satisfied as an average citizen working at a gas station?"

When asked about sanctions and Charles Taylor's future, Klein stated that -- because of continued concerns about corruption and the absence of transparency -- sanctions are still in place. Klein observed that Liberia's lumber, diamond and maritime industries are suffering as a result. Sanctions against Charles Taylor are also in place; however, in his view, UNMIL has not yet been given a mandate to enforce these sanctions. Were Charles Taylor to come back to Liberia, UNMIL would have no power and no right to arrest Taylor. Klein's concern is that this would make the international community appear impotent. He has asked the UN for a stronger sanctions enforcement mandate.

Temple Cooley, Africa Program Assistant, (202) 691-4158

 
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