Rebuilding Liberia: Prospects and Perils

(A Press Release Issued by the International Crisis Group)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 4, 2004

Freetown/Brussels, 30 January 2004: Failure to achieve security and stability in Liberia would have a violent spill-over effect in the rest of West Africa. Long-term strategies, real money and hard thinking are required if Liberia is to pull out of crisis. The 5-6 February donors conference at UN Headquarters in New York provides an opportunity to address these issues.

ICG’s latest report, Rebuilding Liberia: Prospects and Perils,* examines the problems and challenges in Liberia’s efforts to break out of a cycle of violence that has resulted in up to 250,000 deaths since 1989, destabilising West Africa in the process. It spells out the long-term assistance needed to keep Liberia from returning to chaos and to rebuild it.

“There is no quick solution here”, says Comfort Ero, ICG’s West Africa Project Director. “Donors need to realise that Liberia’s reconstruction requires serious lasting commitments. Liberia is a collapsed state that has effectively become a UN protectorate, so the international community will have to be here for the long haul”.

The February donors conference is the key moment to galvanise support to help Liberians develop a civil administration that can handle reconstruction. Two factors are critical: delivering aid and addressing tough issues aimed at creating a more efficient state that betters the lives of ordinary Liberians. At the outset, this means improving the security situation by concentrating efforts on disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of armed fighters (DR).

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) launched a disarmament program in December 2003, but a lack of troops and preparation led to days of chaos and bloodshed. As of mid-January 2004, only some 9,000 UNMIL troops, out of the expected 15,000 were on the ground. UN member states need to provide promised troops to avoid future DR failures.

And the sooner, the better, as there are worrying signs that the leadership of the two main factions formerly opposed to Charles Taylor’s government, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), are trying to keep their fighting forces intact – not least in case their regional sponsors, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire respectively, need them to tackle internal dissent and participate in wars of their own. A solid DR package, thus not only aids peace in Liberia, it also helps stabilise all West Africa.

Liberians have a key role to play, and Liberians from all communities must be included in and take responsibility for the peace process. The National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) cannot be trusted to implement the peace accords. The country needs new political leaders who can prepare the ground for a better Liberia and who are genuinely committed to achieving peace.

“Solutions to short- and medium-term problems such as security still leave Liberia with the vast challenge of reforming its governance to avoid sliding back into anarchy”, says Stephen Ellis, Director of the Africa Program at ICG. “Liberia has to evolve a new political class to replace those who have failed so woefully”.


Liberia is a collapsed state that has become in effect a UN protectorate. Whether its political and economic reconstruction can begin depends on how quickly security spreads throughout the country. Squabbles over jobs by leaders of the armed factions have caused near-paralysis in the transitional government. Faction leaders tried to block disarmament until they received more jobs, boding ill for the peace process. The display of cynicism and greed by fighters and political leaders alike has undermined international confidence ahead of the donors’ conference that meets in New York, 5-6 February 2004.

There is also concern about the role the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) can play in restoring peace. While many hold that with a Chapter Seven mandate, 15,000 troops and 1,115 civilian police it can hardly fail, internal coordination and management problems have contributed to insecurity at least in the short term. “The honeymoon is over for the UN in Liberia”, a senior UNMIL official told ICG in late 2003 after the fiasco surrounding the start of disarmament on 7 December.

The decision to start that process so early was a dangerous miscalculation. UNMIL was not ready. It did not have enough troops on the ground, and coordination with UN agencies was poor. Failure to have all appropriate mechanisms in place led to days of chaos, the deaths of nine people (suspected members of armed factions) and the wounding of one peacekeeper. Fighters loyal to the former government (now officially one of three armed factions) and its ex-president, Charles Taylor, clashed with UNMIL peacekeepers. Disarmament is rescheduled to start in late February 2004, with more peacekeepers deployed and improved coordination.

Liberians still have high hopes that UNMIL will help to provide sustained peace but it will need to ensure that it does not continue to make costly mistakes. It needs no reminding that peace processes in the 1990s failed partly because of poor disarmament. Another failure would have grave consequences for an already troubled West African region as well as for future peacekeeping operations elsewhere. There are worrying signs that the leadership of the two main factions formerly opposed to Charles Taylor’s government, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), are trying to keep their fighting forces intact – not least in case their regional sponsors, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire respectively, need them to tackle internal dissent and participate in wars of their own.

The main spoilers are politicians associated with armed factions. Often, fighters appear more committed to peace than their political masters. No faction leader has any political vision for governing Liberia. It has become evident, five months into the peace process, that some politicians are prepared to jeopardise peace for the sake of jobs. The two years of UN-led transition are seen as a moment to grab whatever is worth having of a bankrupt state. Internal divisions, particularly within LURD, also may disrupt the peace process. UNMIL needs to use a solid reintegration package to peel the fighters away from the politicians, leaving the spoilers vulnerable and unable to threaten the peace. On the other hand, failure to deal with fighters’ expectations would undermine UNMIL efforts, leaving the chain of command between fighters and faction leaders in place.

UNMIL must also work harder at achieving local ownership. So far, it has been unwilling to devolve significant power or responsibility to Liberians. To a large extent, however, it has had little choice. The National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), which includes among others an unsavoury mixture of greedy, malicious and murderous characters, cannot be trusted to implement the peace accords. Its civilian chairman, Gyude Bryant, is hamstrung by the unscrupulous behaviour of politicians supported by the armed factions.

Nevertheless, Liberians will need to own and take responsibility for the process if UNMIL’s efforts are to bear fruit. Religious leaders, political leaders, and the remaining small band of civil society activists must be brought on board to play a greater role. At the same time UNMIL should be more subtle and discreet in getting Liberians, in particular the former warring factions, to pursue peace. Gaining the confidence of Liberians and ultimately winning the peace, depends not only on tough words and strong arm tactics, but also quiet diplomacy.

Even if the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Jacques Paul Klein, and his team can deliver a more sustainable disarmament process and security ahead of elections in October 2005, the international community cannot realistically assume that its job has been done. The donors conference is the moment to offer concrete international support that can mean security not only in Liberia but for neighbouring countries as well. Klein estimates that Liberia needs at least U.S.$200 million to repair basic infrastructure alone. The UN-led assessment of need defined in conjunction with the NTGL, World Bank and others has a U.S.$500 million price tag through December 2005. Donors must register the fact that Liberia’s reconstruction requires serious long-term commitments and a focus on hard issues. The immediate tasks involve ensuring security on the ground; putting in place a new government, extending its authority throughout the country, and establishing the rule of law; and continued humanitarian aid. But an early start is also required at rebuilding a devastated social and economic infrastructure to provide opportunities for successful return to productive society of ex-combatants, refugees and IDPs.

Along with technical work to reform the army and police and rebuild infrastructure, political and constitutional issues relating to the powers of the presidency must be addressed. Attention needs to be given to prising power from the hands of a political clique in Monrovia. A vastly improved civil administration is essential to promote better governance and proper management of revenue collection and expenditure and to avoid persistent corruption. Rebuilding Liberia’s interior and ensuring that its shattered communities have a major stake in development will be essential to improve lives. Donors must be cognizant of the fact that a stable and well governed Liberia is essential to a secure peace in the West African region.


To the United Nations Security Council:

1. Encourage member states to deploy troops to the UN Mission in Liberia in a timely fashion.

2. Condemn attempts by armed groups or other parties to reinterpret the Accra Peace Agreement and deliver a clear message to leaders of armed factions that they will be held accountable, through the International Criminal Court or other appropriate institutions, if they continue to violate its terms.

To the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL):

3. Ensure better monitoring of checkpoints, especially in Monrovia, to prevent weapons from entering the capital.

4. Drive a wedge between rank-and-file fighters and faction leaders by offering the former a solid reintegration package and taking every available opportunity to explain how UNMIL offers ex-combatants more reliable and legitimate peace benefits than the warlords turned politicians.

5. Involve a wide cross-section of Liberian society in the disarmament and reintegration process.

6. Improve the level of cohesion and information between the civilian and military components of the mission and coordinate better with UN agencies and international non-governmental organisations on disarmament programs.

7. Coordinate border patrols with the United Nations Mission to Côte d’Ivoire (MINUCI) and the French Opération Licorne in that country in order to slow the cross-border flow of combatants and arms, and encourage MINUCI and Opération Licorne forces to extend the demilitarised zone of confidence in the west of Côte d’Ivoire to the Liberian border.

To International Financial Institutions and Donor Countries:

8. Commission an audit of government funds diverted by Charles Taylor and his entourage and demand that assets frozen in various overseas bank accounts be returned to the country.

9. Provide as a matter of urgency funds to finance the reintegration of Liberia’s ex-combatants, including programs for vocational training, access to education and jobs.

10. Expand assistance beyond humanitarian aid and finance programs that lead to concerted economic and political change, as contemplated in the UN-led draft assessment, including by targeting assistance at:

(a) security sector reform, notably the complete disbanding of militias, paramilitary police units and private armies, and training emphasis on respect for human rights in the new national army and police;

(b) political reform, notably strengthening weak governmental structures and establishing a transparent and accountable system of governance;

(c) economic reform, notably a centralised system of revenue collection, review of all contracts and monopolies, reform of the taxation system, and better management of the budget and natural resources;

(d) judicial and human rights reform, notably monitoring and gathering of evidence of abuses, and developing legal rights, better legal practices and penal reform;

(e) education, beginning with paying teachers and funding aimed at getting young people back to school; and

(f) civil society reform, notably supporting and consolidating alternative institutions that could counterbalance the lack of legitimacy of the National Transitional Government of Liberia.

11. Think beyond Monrovia and encourage devolution by channeling aid directly to the devastated interior to support local structures and grassroots political and economic life.

12. Endorse a national consultative conference aimed at promoting dialogue on constitutional reform, especially on how to limit the power of the president, establish better separation of powers, and change the restrictions on nationality and citizenship.

13. Begin to examine regional approaches to development that can impact on the forces of instability in neighbouring countries that affect Liberia.

14. The European Union should continue to condition delivery of its aid on fulfilment by the National Transitional Government of the human rights benchmarks set pursuant to Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement.

To the U.S. Government:

15. Offer airlift and equipment assistance to troop donor countries to ensure that the remaining 6,000 of UNMIL’s envisaged 15,000 force can be deployed fully by the end of February.

To the Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia:

16. Continue to warn the warring factions that the country will lose crucial donor support if they do not fulfil their obligations to reform the state.

17. Work toward building and galvanising support from civil society as a way of legitimising his position with the population and gearing attention to reconstruction efforts.

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Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 485 555 946
Jennifer Leonard (Washington) +1-202-785 1601
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The International Crisis Group (ICG) is an independent, non-profit, multinational organisation, with over 90 staff members on five continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.