Let's Prepare for Rain While The Sun Shines


By: George-Daweh Yuoh



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 24, 2004

Every peace-loving Liberian has his fingers crossed, and is praying that the relative peace and tranquility we are enjoying today be the beginning of perpetual stability for Liberia in particular, and the West African sub-region as a whole. The unselfish and brave efforts of the leaders and citizens of West Africa, the immense support of the other members of the international community, and the unequaled fortitude of ordinary Liberians must continuously be lauded. To God be the glory first, and our unending gratitude to the international community for saving us from ourselves.

But as we continue to applaud these gallant efforts, it is necessary to take stock and examine where we were about 15 months ago, where we are today, and where we want to be in the future. For if we dare to take our eyes off the road, there is no telling how tragic our next crash will be. Right now, everyone is consumed with the passion of the coming elections, and we are all using our efforts and precious time to either condemn or extol expected candidates as the case may be. But there is a greater issue ahead of us, and politics aside, we need to draw some attention to its looming danger, lest we fall into a state of anarchy again.

The Signs?
No one can deny that Liberia has degenerated into a violent nation. From faculty members of the University of Liberia to street peddlers, everyone has jumped on the violence train. While we respect the rights of individuals to protest, the vicious undertone of recent protests in the country is particularly alarming and a cause for worry.

A culture of violence seemed to have been sowed and is now brewing, especially in our youths, so much so that every argument or disagreement is almost sure to be followed by violent abuses or fist fights. There is nothing like a peaceful protest in Liberia any more. Every time a group disagrees with the powers that be, they take to the streets and destroy private and personal properties. People have come to accept violence as a means of resolving differences. How far will this go?

Over the past few months in Monrovia, there have been more than just flashes of signs of our times, and we must recognize them for what they are. For instance, the violent acts of football hooligans on October 10, 2004 during and after Lone Star's 3-0 defeat to Senegal point to the growing menace confronting our society. Then there was the so-called religious violence that left scores dead, thousands of dollars worth of properties damaged, and the entire country shut down for almost a week. The recent strike actions by MCSS students were far from being peaceful either. The unrest in Buchanan following the sale of the stockpile of iron ore was not peaceful either. The University of Liberia faculty as well as students at various times added their own fuel to this potential "time bomb". We are indeed sitting on a potential landmine.

But the most dreadful part of all of this is that, there are plenty of able body men and women roaming the streets of Monrovia and other parts of the country, with nothing to do, and are therefore susceptible to join any violent action regardless of the cause and implications. This is very scary and it makes our relative stability seem even more volatile. For now, UNMIL peacekeepers are in place to quell some of these disturbances as they erupt, so there is some general contentment with the level of security in the country. But we need to look further, and beyond, and to the future and ask what happens after UNMIL departs? Are there areas of the DDRR program we must re-examine? In fact, have UNMIL and its partners done enough to ensure that the ex-combatants are fully rehabilitated and reintegrated?

UNMIL Must Act
All respect to the youths of Liberia, but arguably, almost all of the wandering legions of unfortunate youths are ex-combatants; ex-combatants who have been disarmed, given a few dollars, and let loose in the streets with no apparent ability and capacity to make an honest living; ex-combatants who have known nothing but violence for a better part of 14 years; ex-combatants who must be de-traumatized and retrained in order to be useful to society Hopelessness is growing, and in the absence of genuine hope, desperation can set in and depict the course of action. The effects of such begrudged actions, born out of despondency can be terminally fatal. We are all witnesses!

UNMIL has done a remarkable job of disarming the former combatants. The cash for weapon program, while not sustainable, was a necessary inducement to make the foot soldiers turn in the weapons, since the warlords could not be relied on to honestly catalogue and turn over their war machineries. But like we said then at the onset of the exercise, we say again that the reintegration and rehabilitation aspects of the DDRR are very crucial to sustainable peace and stability in Liberia, and all efforts must be made to see them through.

As reported by IRIN on December 20, 2004, "...bad feeling has broken out in Voinjama where an IRIN correspondent saw close to 50 ex-LURD fighters sitting idly just a few yards away from the main UN peacekeeping base in what they said was a protest to attract attention to their plight". And these ex-combatants are complaining about the lack of training and jobs as promised to them by the UN.

The IRIN report also mentioned that, "according to the International Crisis Group (ICG), bringing peace to Liberia ahead of elections in October 2005 will depend largely on getting these youngsters with little experience of life other than war into school or into jobs. The report also quoted the Brussels-based think-tank as stressing, "if reintegration goes wrong again, war is almost certain to break out sooner or later."

Concluding Comments
The clock is ticking, and even though UNMIL must be applauded for successfully completing the disarmament and demobilization aspects, it must be overly emphasized whenever necessary that failing to carry on reintegration and rehabilitation could reverse all the gains the international community has made in bringing relative tranquility to Liberia. This is a cost that the international community cannot bear again. And despite their unbelievable resilience, the Liberian people too may not be able to withstand any such level of intolerable cruelty as they endured over the years.

The rapid trickling of violent civil disobediences, often bordering on the horizon of criminality, and which are worrisomely springing up so often in Liberia, must not be treated as if they were isolated cases. In fact, these are symptoms of potential threats to our collective serenity, cloned out of the perception of these idle and growingly discontented youths, who more than often see authority as the source of their quandary and therefore tend to easily find solace in rebellion. We certainly do not want another Charles Taylor type of veterans loitering everywhere, and dangerously poised to spring havoc at the gentlest of prodding. We owe it to Liberia to make every effort to give these young people some opportunity.

To the UN, the international community has been generous to Liberia and has pledged over $500 million towards the country's reconstruction efforts. The UN must see and understand that reintegration and rehabilitation are pivotal towards the realization of sustainable peace in Liberia, and must therefore step up her negotiating efforts with the contributing nations on behalf of Liberia. A lot hinges on the availability of the funds to ensure that reconstruction truly gets underway in Liberia.

To UNMIL and other UN implementing partners, there is an urgent need to design intensive programs that will keep these young people off the streets and place them into communities so that they can see that they are indeed apart of the system and not outcasts. The concept of rehabilitation should include:

· Proper screening to determine their placement and training levels;
· Ensure that the training facilities are easily accessible, especially for those outside of Monrovia;
· The training must focus on providing them with easily marketable and sustainable skills, and should also focus on civil education so that they understand their rights, the rights of others, and their duty to authority and the country;
· The training should be for about a year, so that they can have enough time to step out of their quasi-military state of mind and into a different environment of opportunities sternly clothed in the dignity of labor;
· Opportunities must be available for those who show the capacity to do better, and they must be accordingly encouraged to matriculate into other higher educational areas.

With the acquiescence of the peace brokers, the warlords paid themselves handsomely for bringing terror to our people. And as they continue to milk the country dry, the kids they drugged, manipulated, and used to carry out their killings must not be forgotten. These kids are a significant and integral part of the Liberian population, and will be so for generations to come. If they are not prepared to be useful to society today, they will continue to be menace to society even in the future.

To the NTGL, instead of niggling the UN to lift sanctions on logging and diamond mining, you can do the country a lot of good if you instead work with the UN to ensure that funds are available to resettle our people from around West Africa, as well as those internally displaced and living in abject poverty right under your nose. Focus some of your energies and resources on the rehabilitation and reintegration of the ex-combatants so that when you leave, our country can be left in one piece.

It is an open secret that the reason why every little confusion in Monrovia nowadays escalates to surprising proportions, is because there are too many young people roaming the streets with absolutely nothing to do. "An idle mind is the devil's workshop". These young people are vulnerable and by direct linkage, they make the country exposed too. Lest we forget, there are enough wicked people around who are ready to exploit that vulnerability to the detriment of the country. While there is relative calm now, let's ensure that the current level of stability is planted firmly and cemented. The sun is shining now, let's prepare for the rain.

About The Author: George-Daweh Yuoh is a Liberian residing in Minnesota and can be reached at