By Dr. Augustine Konneh
Liberia, the West African country founded by repatriated African American slaves over 153 years ago, emerged from an extremely bloody civil conflict in 2003. The conflict that engulfed Liberia devastated it’s population, institutions and infrastructures. It negatively impacted on the ethnic groups of the society and left behind ardous challenges (both existing and emerging) for nation builders. The Liberian crisis which broke out initially on Christmas eve of 1989 precipitated series of intercine warfare in the intervening years, each adding an index to the casualty of nation (Konneh 2008: 257).
However, Liberia emerged from the fourteen years of bloodbath of a protracted civil war through internationally brokered agreement in Accra, in 2003, known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (C PA) (Government of Liberia 2003). Since the signing of the (CPA) in August 2003, Liberia is gradually moving from the state of tenous post-conflict security to a steady peace that remain fragile. With the support of partners, the government of Liberia has put in place many long and short term programs to address peace-building efforts.
In January 2006, the government of Liberia headed by Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf which replaced the Interim government known as The National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), set out a four – pillar strategy of security, economic recovery, governance, and the rule of law; and infrastructure and basic services to build the nation (Government of Liberia Jan. 2006)
The United Nation Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has worked to support the first post – conflict government of Liberia (GOL) in realizing these aims and objectives. Since 2006, UNMIL and GOL have increasingly focused on identifying the sources and dynamics of conflict and have crafted strategies, policies, and programmed responses with conflict and peace – building in mind. In response to complex factor on the ground, thinking have evolved from best practices, emerging from countries especially African countries, and in increasing collaboration with the United Nations Peace building architecture, which includes the Peace Building Commission (PBC) and it’s support office PBSO, and the Peace Building Fund (PBF). A unique integrated and strategic process aimed at strengthening Liberia’s ability to sustain it’s peace is being created hence, Koffi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (KAICT) is part of the process.
Liberia’s 14 year civil conflict has left in its wake a panoply of challenges. Those include but are not limited to a large militarized youth population, entrenched inter-ethnic hostilities, massive displacement and vandalized communities, a persistent culture of impunity, vandalism, violence, and total breakdown of societal and state institutions. While there is a national consensus to stay clear of the path of self destruction, the alternative path to national recovery requires deliberative and critically reflective planning and concerted actions.
The government Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) sets out the emerging process and framework for recovery and reconstruction in the context of post-conflict Liberia. The objective of the government is to strengthen the rule of law and governance to ensure that Liberia does not witness conflict and gross violation of human rights again. Its aim is to lay the foundation for a new democratic culture, creating balanced development and promoting a culture of accountability (Government of Liberia Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Jan. 2006).
The government’s efforts to reforming the rule of law and governance are beginning to take effect. The Judiciary reforms now dictates that only individuals with degree in law can become judges of court unlike the past, when people who claim to be trained in the apprentice system perform such function. The rate of beabus corpus is more effective than ever before. People are no longer arbitrarily arrested and jailed. There has been a case when an individual was sent to jail by the legislature and the supreme court released the individual. Also, the case of Charles Julu and others that were charged for treason. They were tried and released because of no sufficient evidence to prosecute them unlike the past when they would have automatically been found guilty. There is a post graduate program at the Temple of Justice called The James A A Pierre legal institute designed to provide continue education for judges and other legal practitioners (UN Focus June-August 2009: 5-6).
In governance, during the start of President Sirleaf’s administration in 2006, the administration activated the Governance Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP) which made a significant contribution to the program of financial management, and which is in the process of being completed. Beyond this, the Governance Commission has looked in detail at opportunities to devolve power from the center to the counties (decentralization), and is now researching the constitutional changes that are needed to turn this reform into reality (Governance Commission October 2009; Weh-Dorliae 2004).
The government of Sirleaf has also improved the conditions of government workers. Compensation of the lowest paid Civil servants has been increased from US$15 to US$80 dollars, and payments to all public servants are made regularly and on time. A new performance-based salary structure has been concluded for implementation in the next fiscal year.
Furthermore, formally lowest paid teachers and security personnel now receive US$100 per month. The president has vowed to increase budget allocation for personnel services at the category of public servants. Civil Servants in Montserrado, Nimba, Grand Bassa and Margibi, are now being paid directly to their band accounts held at Commercial Banks and in February 2010 five additional counties have been added to the direct deposit scheme. A new biometric system is to be introduced in the next year that will ensure a clean list of civil servants, that will put to rest those ghost names of workers (President’s Annual Message Jan. 2010).
The government has encouraged competition by opening the markets for strategic commodities such as rice (the staple food of Liberia) and cement and thereby witnessed sharp reduction in prices. Rice sold at US$35 a year ago is now down to US$25, and the price of cement has been cut almost in half from US$16 to the current US$8.50. This has enabled more Liberians to afford the building of their own houses. The government and people of Liberia under the African Growth and Opportunity Program are now qualified to export Liberian products to the United States while expanding access to a significant increase in development aid.
A General Auditing mission capacitated by external support and an Anti-Corruption Commission are allowed to operate independently in the fight against corruption. The government have joined the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), extending coverage to the forestry sector and has become the first African country to be fully compliant under the scheme (Government Reform Commission 2006). These key initiatives demonstrate the Sirleaf’s administration unwavering commitment to fight corruption. Currently, public institutions in the country are audited and the findings published and made available to the public. The Justice Ministry, a little bit late, has already begun to review these reports to determine appropriate action including prosecution.
Freedom of the press reigns supreme, regrettably, sometimes without responsibility and concern for the good of the country.
There are no political prisoners and no repression against the exercise of political rights and expression. No political opposition has been forced into exile as has been the case in past regimes.
Peace and Security
Under the Peace and Security reforms, the government has trained an inclusive new Armed Forces of Liberia numbering more than 2,000. This includes an engineering company capable of complementary and emergency efforts, which will move to battalion strength to ensure that the new army contributes to national development.
Complimenting the reforms, several major barracks have been renovated such as the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia which now houses the Ministry of Defense, the Camp Tubman Military Barracks in Gbarnga, the Camp Edward Binyah Kesselly Barracks in Sheifflin, and the Camp Sando Ware in Careysburg. Commitments of continuing training support have been solicited from the United States and China and from sisterly Western African States of Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. The Africa Command of the United States has sent 64 U. S. Marine ‘mentors’ to build upon the training previously provided by U. S. Defense Contractors further increasing the stability of the nation, as the transition from the support that Liberia received many years from it’s partners and UNMIL (UN Focus June-August 2009: 8-9). The Liberian Coast Guard Unit has been strengthened with an initial 40 persons that have been trained in the United States. They now have a mandate to improve the security of the coastline and control smuggling and illegal fishing (UN Focus Dec. 2009-Feb. 2010: 6-7).
In addition, the police force has been significantly strengthened. The Government has trained 434 members of the Liberian National Police at the reactivated Police Academy and established a professionally trained Emergency Response Unit of 287, moving toward the target of 300, and a Police Special Unit (anti-riot team) of 148 moving toward the target of 600 by the end of year 2010. Also, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization is currently undergoing training and has established 10 border patrols to meet with the target of 13 in 6 countries (UN Focus Dec. 2009-Feb. 2010: 8-9). The government’s aim to train a new army, police, and border patrol officers is to ensure a trained security that can be depended upon after UNMIL departure.
The government has established the National Bureau of Veterans Affairs to serve the men and women who dedicated their lives to military service, and provision has been made to appoint the County Coordinators that will address the needs of veterans in the rural areas.
The Disarmament Demobilization Rehabilition and Reintegration (DDRR) program has been very successful. Many of the Child soldiers and other rebel fighters have been reintegrated to society. They have been trained and given tools for farming and small funds to start their own businesses. Many of those trained are engaged in farming, masonry, and business. Thus, the DDRR program has been successfully concluded (President’s Annual Message Jan. 2010).
In responding to the concerns of the AFL who were disbanded in 2005, the government paid them arrears of US$ 4.1 million, including US$ 228,000 to AFL widows. Any further assistance to widows will be directed at job and training opportunities as a means of ensuring sustainability in benefits (President’s Annual Message Jan. 2010).
Under economic reforms, the government has over the past four years achieved a growth rate averaging 7.4 percent thereby transforming the economy for the future. It has created jobs, attracted huge levels of investment, and built a platform for future prosperity – banks have reopened, resources are being put to work for the people of Liberia and construction is expanding rapidly. All of these have been achieved despite the impact of the 2008/2009 global economic recession which has impacted Liberia as well.
The government has reduced inherited external debt arrears which were unprecedented across the globe when compared to the national wealth from US$4.9 billion to US$1.7 billion and it is the expectation that the remaining amount will be forgiven. The budget of the country has increased from the US$80 million to US$370 million and the government has maintained the fiscal discipline of a cash-based expenditure regime. Budgets and fiscal reports and procurement contracts are made available for public review and discussion.
The net foreign reserves position of the Central Bank of Liberia at the end of December 2009 was US$266 million, compared with US$49.4 million at end of 2008, reflecting in part the allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDR) by the International Monetary Fund. When the Sirleaf’’s government came to power, the Central Bank’s reserves stood at around US$5 million. There are now banking services in 9 counties and inflation has been under control to an average annual 9.7 percent and exchange rate depreciation at 7.1 percent – a level comparable to regional neighbors (President’s Annual Message Jan. 2010).
The government of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has negotiated the lifting of long-standing sanctions on timber and diamond exports, allowing operations in these two sectors to resume. Food production, particularly rice, cassava, and other staples, have increased significantly all over the country. Although reliable data is still being collected; however, preliminary figures show rice production of 200,000 metric tons, a 30 percent increase over previous periods. For the first time, the World Food Programme is buying rice from Liberian farmers to support the school Lunch-feeding program. The policy goal in the sector is to revitalize operations and activities that contribute to sustainable growth and development, to provide food security and nutrition; and to increase farmers’ employment and income; thereby reducing measurably poverty (UN Focus June-August 2009: 14-15).
New investment in the amount of US$10 billion will provide the basis for operations mining, agriculture, and forestry. This includes reactivation of the Yekepa and Bong Mining operations in Nimba, Grand Bassa, and Bong Counties and the Guthrie and Cavalla agricultural operations in Bomi and Maryland Counties. Similar operations will touch every County within the next two years thereby providing job opportunities (President’s Annual Message Jan. 2010).
Oil exploration is well advanced with support from Norway for a regional program of collaboration with Sierra Leone, and an effort under way to extend the territorial waters from 200 to 350 miles thereby significantly increasing the scope of oil exploration.
The government is finding the means to address the issue in the delay of jobs that are from the Lebanese Cultural Union, the Indian community and from several public corporations totaling the amount of US$296.00 allowing for the creation of 8,000 jobs over the next 6 months. The main focus for these jobs are the youth. The Ministries of Labor, Public Works, Youth and Sports together with the Monrovia City Corporation are implementing this program, which focuses on the youth. The government expects that by the end of this fiscal period, Jobs will be available in Bassa, Bomi, Bong, Gbarpolu, Cape Mount, Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties are under the several concessions that are just getting started (President’s Annual Message Jan. 2010).
Infrastructure and Basic Services
In the areas of infrastructure and Basic services the government is rebuilding the nation. Destroyed infrastructure is being restored. There are now lights, water and basic sanitation services in most parts of the Capital City for the first time in 14 years and a small measure of these services are extended to three counties other than Montserrado.
Roads and bridges, hospitals, schools, playgrounds, and other public buildings are being constructed, renovated or repaired throughout the country. The road from ELWA junction to RIA is completed. The road from Cotton Tree to Bokay Town is under construction, and the government is moving toward full pavement to Buchanan in the next dry season. Monrovia streets are being paved, the Vai Town Bridge is under construction and a new Stockton Creek Bridge to Caldwell will start by the end of this year. The road from Red Light to Ganta and onward to the Guinea border is under design and soon construction will begin. The Medina to Robertsport, Jovahn to Todee, Zorzor to Yealla roads all permit smooth travel. Several neighborhood roads—SKD Boulevard, Rehab, Matadi, Jamaica, Old Road, A.B. Tolbert—have been rehabilitated from laterite to chip seal (President’s Annual Message Jan. 2010).
The government plan by 2011 is to rebuild, rehabilitate or maintain 1,187 miles of primary and secondary roads, 130 miles of feeder roads, 61 miles of neighborhood roads and install 27 bridges. This will include, some of those which have already started: Pleebo to Barclayville, Fishtown to Harper, Zwedru to Greenville, Gbarnga to Foya, to be added to the ongoing RiverCess to Greenville road.
In addition, administrative buildings have been constructed or renovated in all 15 counties and 10 peace huts constructed in 4 counties aiming at construction of a total 33 in all 15 counties. Citizens from communities along the path to Belleh Yalla now enjoy vehicle traffic for the first time in their lives as the government move to turn Belleh Yalla from a place of horror to a place of hope (Liberia First Jan. 2010: 4-5).
The government of Sirleaf has made education a priority at the primary, secondary and University as well as vocation school levels. The government announced free education in Primary education which has boosted enrollment. Primary schools enrollment is 605,000 compared to 540,000 in 2008, representing an increase of 11 percent. Secondary school enrollment is 183,000 compared to 158,000 in 2008, an increase of 14 percent. Private schools have for the first time been provided subsidy which have contributed to the strong enrollment performance. The government has provided over US$400,000 in subsidy to 20 private institutions (President’s Annual Message Jan. 2010).
In higher education, the university of Liberia is undergoing positive change and is preparing to move into the newly constructed facilities at the Fendell Campus before the end of 2010. The Tubman Technical College in Harper, renamed Tubman University, has reopened its doors for the first time in 15 years. It now has over 300 students in 4 Colleges.
Community colleges are under construction or renovation in Grand Bassa and others in Nimba are also expected to become operational this year. The unfinished structures at the Sinje Technical College are now under construction to be integratedas a teacher training institute like Kakata and Zorzor are functional with continuing support from an increased level of Peace Corps volunteers. These efforts in educational reforms are geared toward reducing the high level of illetracy.
In the health sector, the government has placed primary importance on the country’s health, because, without a healthy population, it will be difficult to do the work that needs to be done to “Lift Liberia.” The government has made significant progress in the health sector: the prevalence of malaria, cholera, and anemia have been reduced in children by 25 percent and 30 percent respectively. An unprecedented nationwide immunization program against yellow fever, in which 90 percent of the population participated (UN Focus Sept.-Nov. 2009: 14-15).
Health efforts have also been extended to the rural areas: the Telewoyan Hospital in Voinjama has been renovated and is operational. The referral hospital in Tappita is under construction and will be ready for operation this year.
In Monrovia, the John F. kennedy Hospital, with renovated facilities and new equipment is moving rapidly towards regaining its status as a quality referral medical center. Professional voluntary service rendered through the HEARTT program ensures the availability of well-trained professional doctors year round (Liberia First 2010: 2-3).
Another vital service delivery to the nation is evident in bringing electricity to most parts of the nation. A 10 mega watt (MW) is being installed that will bring electricity to most of Monrovia; along with solar lights and mini hydro power under the rural electrification program being put together to bring service to several of the counties. Plans are under way to mobilize resources for the rehabilitation of the Mount Coffee hydro electric plant which is the most cost efficient means of providing affordable electricity to the Liberian people.
Water supply to Monrovia has increased by 16 percent, and Voinjama, Robertsport, Sanniquellie will join Kakata, Gbarnga and Zwedru whose citizens now benefit from public water supply. However, Sanitation facilities are woefully lacking throughout the country including the Capital City.
Transportation continues to be a problem, although a public bus transport service (Monrovia Transit Authority) (MTA) is operating in Monrovia and beyond. In housing, a private housing boom is under way in all counties. Particularly Montserrado.
In the issue of transparency and accountability, the government declared corruption Public Enemy Number One. As result, some measures were enacted to set the country on the right course. Among the measures are: strengthening the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission, supporting and strengthening the Governance Commission and reorganizing and Strengthening the General Auditing Commission. In addition to these measures, the government established the Anti-Corruption Commission. A Code of conduct was drafted to govern the behavior and action of public servants, a Freedom of information Act, and a Corruption Offenses Act, all of which are still to be approved by the Legislature (Government Reform Commission 2006). Officials in the Executive have been asked to declare their assets and the Government has also issued an Executive Order to protect Whistleblowers. The government, in an effort to confront this evil, has allowed citizens the media, and the institutional pillars of integrity to expose, without restraint, violation of the public trust.
Conflict Prevention Measures/Institutions
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that began its work in 2007---has recently produced its report. While some will not agree with all of the findings and recommendations resulting from the report, there is no doubt that it dissects and analyzes the problems and makes meaningful recommendations for the healing, reconciliation, restoration, peace, prosperity and progress of the nation. It is therefore important for the report to be carefully digested by the legislature, the people, and the government and make a conscious national determination to move ahead cautiously and strategically in the implementation of the recommendations, so as to bring about healing and reconciliation to the nation.
To deal with recommendations that relate to criminal tribunal, criminal sanctions, public sanctions, economic crimes and investigations, the government has proposed amendments to the Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC) Act of 2005 which members shall be confirmed to enable that body to seize itself of those aspects of the TRC Report, and to work in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice to determine those recommendations that are implementable or enforceable under the Constitution and laws of Liberia (President’s Annual Message Jan. 2010).
The Kofi A. Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (KAICT) has been part of the process for peace building. The KAICT envisions a future where public dialogue and rigorous research and analysis are endemic to policymaking and implementation in Liberia. It is a future in which a new generation of Liberians, endowed with abilities for critical and innovative thinking will lead in the definition, reconstruction, and administration of the Liberian state.
KAICT sees itself as providing four functions in response to the national recovery agenda; a policy think-tank, a production house for manpower development, a standard setting institution for the study of conflict, peace, security, gender, and development in Liberia, and an accompaniment to ongoing post-conflict peace-building initiatives such as the TRC, the Governance Reform Commission (GRC), the Liberia Reconstruction and Development Committee (LDRC), and efforts of the UN Mission and agencies. As such, the KAICT is part of the University’s vision to meet the Millennium Development Goals as well as continue its core mandate. That mandate include seeing itself as the Center of Excellence for policy research and dialogue on peace, conflict, security, gender and development in Liberia. It is determined to develop the highest level of competencies in conflict, peace, security, gender, and development studies and to foster the deployment of such competencies and talents to all sectors of Liberia’s national recovery project. Toward this end, the Institute offer both short-term certificate, diploma, and Master degree curses, operate a policy watch, and set standards for studies in peace, conflict, security, gender and development in Liberia.
There is no doubt that Liberia has come a long way in its peace-building process. There has been a transformation from the decadence of war to economic reconstruction and national renewal. Several years ago, Liberia was a country little more than a shell, devastated by war, an economy in ruins, lacking any real physical infrastructure, an international pariah inhabited by a people worn down by decades of conflict. Through meetings and dialogue throughout the length and breadth of the nation, the government was able to develop a poverty Reduction Strategy that was bought by the partners for sustainable development. This strategy when fully implemented will lay a solid foundation to reduce the suffering of the people through rapid, sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
However, it must be noted that there is a dire need for serious reflection and action in terms of peace building initiatives.
Governance Commission/Civil Service Agency : The Way Forward, Decentralization, Public Sector & Civil Service Reform. October 16, 2009. PP. 1-8.
Government of Liberia, 150-Day Action Plan, January 2006.
Government of Liberia, Poverty Reduction Strategy: Breaking with the Past, From Conflict to Development, 2006.
Government of Liberia, Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, August 2003.
Governance Reform Commission, National Anti-Corruption Strategy of Liberia, 2006.
Konneh, A. “Civil Wars in Africa,” In Africa and the Third Millenium. Ed., George K. Kieh Jr., Trenton, NJ., Africa World Press, 2008.
Liberia First, Issue No. 3, January 2010, PP. 1-31.
President’s Annual Message to Fifth Session of the 52nd National Legislature of the Republic of Liberia, Delivered Monday, 25th January 2010.
UN Focus, December 2009 – February 2010. Vol. 6, No. 2, PP. 2-31.
UN Focus, September – November 2009. Vol. 6, No. 1, PP. 2-31.
UN Focus, June – August 2009. Vol. 5, No. 4, PP. 2-31.
Weh-Dorliae, Yarsuo. Proposition 12 for Decentralized Governance in Liberia: Power Sharing for Peace And Progress. Philadelphia, Bushfire Ventures, 2004.
Dr. Augustine Konneh is a former Professor and Chair of Morehouse College Department of History and now Heads the Foreign Service Institute at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Monrovia, Liberia.
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