Liberia: A Survey of the General Situation
By Zemine wa Zuma
Senior Research Associate
Africa Analysis International
Field Service Service Network
January 22, 2003
After seven years of brutal, inhumane and bloody civil war (December 1989-1997), followed by the July 1997 bogus proportional elections which ushered in Charles Mac Arthur Taylor as president in August of the same year; the Country's population continues to face, experience and undergo degradation and acute poverty.
Throughout the country including the capital, Monrovia ; hunger, disease, fear and real pains-taking hardship and suffering are seen in the faces and life - style of the ordinary people, mainly women, children, students and rural inhabitants.
In essence, the West African state of Liberia has a very grave humanitarian crisis and economic collapse with short and long terms deadly effects.
In the wake of the current integral and compounded hopeless situation in Liberia, AAI has observed the following herein as the intervening responsible factors for the Country's continued nightmare:
1. That the Liberian war started by Taylor's NPFL in December 1989 and later polarized by other warring factions : ULIMO-K, LPC, ULIMO-J, and LDF, etc did not end in 1997 as was wrongly construed by the international representation in the Country, and indicators that reached the international community then. At no time there had been any genuine and total comprehensive disarmament, de-mobilization and re-integration. Even attempts pursued in those directions were never encouraged nor empowered ;
2. The entire Liberian Peace Process (From 1990-1997) was over shadowed by hypocrisy, deceit, greed and manipulation. As it is today, there was a rush for a diversified political solution which failed to predict advantages and constraints as well as capacities, and the ability to deliver ;
3. Consequential of fatigue and lack of fundamental interest in the Liberian palaver, the representation of the international community, particularly ECOWAS and the United Nations, in the country at the time erred in a number of areas including the then situation assessment, conflict resolution process, elections agenda and procedures, and governance subsequent;
4. There has been and is still a vacuum, a disastrous one too, in the so called civilian opposition. Agendas, programs and ideologies were treading in, at times mixed and other times different, directions. Platforms and purpose were not cohesive and solid. These vacuum and ideological diversities were exploited by the Warlords, particularly the most powerful ones and their external allies and principal beneficiaries ; and
5. Generally, the oversight of the just mentioned analytical observations summarize and point to the underlying and secondary causes and effects of the total situation in Liberia today the ongoing war, human rights abuses of mass nature, poor governance, dreadful economy, etc.
CURRENT SITUATION OUTLOOK
Liberia is in reality a country with very high security risks, economic uncertainties and social disorder at varying levels. The Country is at war in many sectors of national life. This war is causing death and destruction, refugee flow, internal displacement and economic distortion with devastating consequences.
The health situation in the country is indeed deplorable and treating. Most, if not all, of the medical facilities in the country are either destroyed, looted, or seriously non functional in some way. The Nation's principal public medical institutions including the John F. Kennedy Medical Centre in Monrovia, the J.J Dossen Hospital in Harper, Maryland County to name a few, are all mere physical infrastructures. No equipment, materials, drugs, and required services. This is so because there has been no confidence in and credibility for the current regime, both at national and international levels, and also due to the lack of qualified staff and supplies.
Other national health related programmes and services such as the AIDS, nutrition, sanitation, tuberculoses, leprosy, disease prevention, etc are only in name and on paper , not even theory.
As a result, and as per classified and credible medical information, the AIDS epidemic and other venereal diseases continue to increase rapidly throughout the Country. Thus, the number of such victims multiplies.
In addition, young children and babies die frequently from malnutrition, cholera, dierrhea, various types of coughs and skin diseases. On the other hand, high malaria, tuberculoses, leprosy, etc are disturbing and killing many rural inhabitants silently. Most women facing serious gynaecological defects/ problems hardly find assistance, or solution of medical nature.
Although the ongoing war in the Country and the decade of civil conflict, which expressed itself in organized and mass loot ; wrecked the Country's economy and national development initiatives, the current Liberian government did and still does not have any defined economic strategy and development plan. Neither is there any realistic financial policy non decent, or conventional procedures and practice necessary for accountability and transparency.
Every aspect of the Nation's resource and capital mobilization as well as expenditure has derivative approval from the personal will and determination of the Presidency. As such, financial gains and control are directed toward a selected, or internally connected few that include the President's long time allies, errand persons, blind loyalists and security guards assassins as well as his uncountable concubines, mainly in their teens.
During AAI's fact findings, it has been vehemently realized that most business / investment strategies and proposals brought in, and/or undertaken by the Government and its associates are about loot and self interest. To the point that the several ‘logging companies' carrying on widespread destruction of the Country's forest and environment apportioned some shares or big salaries for most of the key connections in the President's circle.
Also, some key opposition figures in the country whose loyalty and political wavering the President seeks dearly are prime beneficiaries.
One of such opposition political personalities in that ‘'glory'' is the veteran and crafty politician Gabriel Baccus Matthews, twice a foreign minister both under the dead Samuel K. Doe and the living Amos C. Sawyer. The former now holds a professorship at Indiana University in the US.
Agricultural - farming activities are rapidly declining to zero balance. General insecurity and financial weakness in the acquisition of farming tools and other materials remain a glaring problem for many, if not all, rural inhabitants, mainly farmers. This situation is vigorously climaxed by the ongoing conflict exploited by Taylor's ruthless soldiers and other stakeholders in the unfolding national mess.
Most average Liberian families, both in the urban and rural areas (on a serious note), can not afford a regular daily meal. AAI took realistic note and realized that a family of five or less, in most cases finds it extremely difficult in obtaining a single daily meal worth US$2.00 dollars, which when converted is about LIB$100.00 dollars.
Less than Twenty percent (20%) of the Country's population benefits from safe drinking and sewer system. Even in the capital Monrovia, many residents particularly those in communities such as Logan Town, Duala, Paynesville, Gardnersville, Caldwell, Clara Town, ELWA Road, Barnesville, New Georgia and other environments rely on well water, which in some instances is unsafe for drinking due to city congestion, poor drainage system, lack of treatment and purification as well as other sanitary short comings. As for the interior of the Country the situation is unimaginable and disturbing.
There are involuntary but widespread theft, prostitution and juvenile delinquency throughout the Country. These tenets are fostered by high unemployment rate, abandonment, sustained insecurity and frustration on the part of parents, friends, and loved ones. One major reason for all these is that the Government is basically incapable and has no ability to deliver. In addition, it bothers itself with unnecessary engagements, some of which are regional. Mass job scarcity, low or no salary, inflation and poverty permeate the whole Country.
The road condition throughout the Country is and continues to get from bad to worst. Apart from central Monrovia where at least one can see relatively good roads, the rest are just beyond description. The matter of considering leeward Counties is out of the equation. No maintenance nor rehabilitation of any kind, shape and nature.
Beside the capital Monrovia where some of the Liberian government's officials, business associates, security and concubines of President Taylor use generators to obtain electricity for their homes and business centers; the rest of the Country and population live in absolute darkness and unpleasing discomfort.
Many of the Country's educational institutions including the University of Liberia and the William V.S Tubman College of Technology are in very bad condition. No facilities, opportunities, staff and academic freedom.
For an example, the University of Liberia is virtually transformed into a security surveillance base for the Government intelligence network. To the point that the current President of the University, Dr. Ben Roberts, is more of a ‘watch dog' than a university administrator. This is also true of a number of students as well who are on the Government off and on assistance package. Public primary and secondary schools are all closed to being non- existent - a threat to the Nation's literacy future and development potentials.
POLITICAL /HUMAN RIGHTS ATMOSPHERE
From the perspective of Africa Analysis International, and this is also consequential of detached research conclusions, Liberia under the present Government is ungovernable, insecure and worst in every fundamental appreciation of democratic culture, human rights, political tolerance and civil liberties. Police brutality, thugs' gangsterism and organized banditary are state sponsored directly under the Presidency- meaning Taylor, his son Chunky and cousins. Press freedom and that of free speech are non-existent.
Journalists, activists, opposition figures and others who attempt are not only charged for treason, dissident collaboration, etc but received the hell of brute force, illegal and prolonged detention under harsh conditions without any iota of due legal process in keeping with the Law.
The Country's Judiciary is, in every categorical reflection, useless and absolutely subjugated to President Taylor's tactics of control and manipulation. So too is the National Legislature, which has in its membership bunch of irresponsible individuals such as ‘'Representative'' Sando Johnson to name a few. Hence, there is unbalanced power and authority in the Taylor led government. The regime is fundamentally Taylor, his son and closed allies. Something like a private corporation.
Obviously, there is more than a need for a radical change in Liberia. Said change should be political in nature with a democratic face and strong economic capacities to deliver and rebuild the Country, taking into consideration national reconciliation and re-socialization.
Going through a number of indicators, there still appears to be a vacuum for a post Taylor's era leadership in Liberia. Reasons being that the most available political order/class is in total disarray and unending confusion.
Surely, current international consideration disfavours military options as a means to state power, particularly in the wake of the democratic wave orbiting the African continent. So the issue of military take over, or acquisition of state power by way of the gun is beside the point. Needless advancing any concern on that.
Many Liberians are of the opinion that considering who the current ruler is, the sole option is force if peace, stability and progress are to be restored in the Country ; but that the actors of the very force must be credible, and people who will adhere to democratic provisions at all levels after Taylor is out. What this means is not clear. This makes the Liberian matter very complex and compounded indeed.
The question then, as we heard from many Liberians in the Country, is what is the way forward for Liberia's salvation? This is the gigantic question for Liberians, friends of the Country and the vast international community, more so when the focus of the West is unavailable on the Country and its people at the moment.
Considering the general situation of Liberia and its effects on the population and the Mano River Basin, if not the West African sub region, the following institutional recommendations are advanced:
1. That the international community directs some degree of focus on Liberia, urgently and practically engage, or intervene in the present situation in the Country in order to prevent a repeat of the past as was in the early and mid 90s;
2. That President Taylor be urged to resign in peace now, as well as disengage any upcoming electoral process/procedures in the Country; and that he and his family be assured of some international passage and protection upon adhering to the will Liberians and the mandate of the international community;
3. That Liberians begin to pursue national consultation, dialogue and political consensus at all levels. This efforts should be encouraged by the Country's ''known'' political order such as the registered political parties and interest groups as well emerging ones with new direction and focus ; and
4. That outstanding Liberian opposition figures try to address the problems of displaced persons and refugees' humanitarian needs instead of always engaging in their self seeking power ambition campaigns abroad.
Liberia is part of the international community and a founding member of the United Nations, OUA now Africa Union and other regional bodies. Like any other country and people in the world, the Country and its people need peace and security as the way to fulfilling their fundamental rights as enshrined within all conventional protocols.
There are over a million Liberians outside of their Country, not because they wish to, but because the whims and caprices of a few have forced them out in tears and pains. One way for Liberia to be accommodated and place on the path to international cooperation and global development is for an urgent and practical international policy to be set now and action taken that will restore real life in the Country once again.
Africa Analysis International, AAI is a US based research, communication and information resource group with focus on Africa. The initiative is a non-profit and non-governmental Organization with no political and religious affiliation. Support and join AAI's efforts for a transparent, accountable, democratic, socially advancing and economically sustainable Africa with justice, freedom and equality for all.