Liberia After Charles Taylor: Prospects for Peace and Security in the West African Sub-Region

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 3, 2003


Editor's Note: On October 6 - 7, 2003 - Dr. Levi B. Zangai, former Minister of Education presented a paper titled: "Liberia After Charles Taylor: Prospects for Peace and Security in the West African Sub-Region" at the NIIA-Friedrich Ebert Joint Workshop to the House of Representatives’ Foreign Relations Committee. The workshop was held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, Nigeria. Below is the full text of Dr. Zangai's paper:


I would like to first of all express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Professor Joy Ogwu, the management of the NIIA and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation for organizing this joint Workshop on Nigeria’s Foreign Relations. I also appreciate your invitation allowing me to participate in this workshop. Please allow me to also express, in this public manner, my gratitude to President Olusegun Obasanjo, former President Abdulsalami Abubakar, the government and people of Nigeria, for the proactive leadership and resources you continue to provide in the management and resolution of our chronic conflict in Liberia.

Liberia as you are well aware, continues to be ravaged by civil war for the past fourteen (14) years, starting December 24, 1989 to August 11, 2003, when its former President, Charles Taylor, departed Monrovia for exile in Nigeria.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, you are also aware that the Taylor-led civil war in Liberia has had, and continues to have, adverse spill-over impacts on the West African sub-region as a whole. It has, for example, contributed to the atrocities and devastation experienced in Sierra Leone, and the instability in Guinea and Cote d’ Ivoire. Not only have sub-regional economic development projects and programmes been undermined thereby, but ECOWAS’ efforts towards sub-regional integration, involving the Mano River Union countries, have been hindered by the diversion of limited material and human resources to conflict prevention, management and resolution. As a result, I agree with Akokpari (2000:9) that "ECOWAS, for example, is now best known for military intervention in regional conflicts than for the promotion of regional economic integration." That is why I like my topic for our discussion today, which is: "Liberia after Charles Taylor: Prospects for Peace and Security in the West African Sub-region."

Be that as it may, there are other conflict related issues with potential challenges facing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). These conflict-induced issues and challenges, like the Taylor-led war in Liberia, not only transcend national borders, they are also exacerbated by conflicts in the sub-region. These other conflict-related challenges include trafficking in small arms and light weapons, drugs and human beings, especially women, children and roaming mercenary militias of former combatants and child soldiers; international migration associated with refugees; international terrorism and HIV/AIDS. You will agree with me that the problems of instability and conflicts in the ECOWAS sub-region can be further exacerbated by the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. HIV/AIDS is not only a transnational public health problem that can spread rapidly as a result of conflicts, for example, by refugees and peacekeepers, it is also an economic development problem that can sap the energy and meager resources of even countries that could otherwise make sustainable economic progress. Clearly, HIV/AIDS coupled with conflicts and the lack of peace and security is a lethal combination militating against economic development and sub-regional integration in ECOWAS.

The civil war in Liberia was perceived and accepted initially by most Liberians as a legitimate and welcomed response to the then existing political and economic conditions in the country. Prior to the inception of the war, Liberia, like many African countries at that time, was mis-ruled by the dictatorship of the military regime of a semi-literate, Master Sergeant, Samuel K. Doe, from 1980 to 1990. On April 12, 1980, Doe and his co-conspirators staged a military coup d’ etat that overthrew the True Whig Party (TWP) government of President William R. Tolbert, Jr., who was assassinated in the coup. After carrying out the coup, Doe and his collaborators formed the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) and executed thirteen (13) senior members of Tolbert’s cabinet, almost all of whom were ethnic Americo-Liberians.

Doe and his fellow coup makers accused Tolbert’s True Whig Party Government of the following charges: rampant corruption, mismanagement of the economy, the exclusion of the majority of the Liberian people from participating in and benefiting from the economy and the government; nepotism, and the lack of accountability and transparency in managing the affairs of the Liberian people, among others. In short, the PRC accused Tolbert’s Government of lacking in good governance, which in their view, resulted in the underdevelopment of Liberia, in spite of abundant resources.

Pathetically, it is important here that we bear in mind these charges and the political and economic conditions that obtained respectively in Tolbert’s Liberia, Doe’s Liberia and Taylor’s Liberia. These charges and the prevailing conditions could help us determine what implications, if any, the departure of Charles Taylor could mean for Peace and Security specifically in Liberia and in the ECOWAS sub-region in general. Or, whether these charges and the political and economic conditions that obtained in the member states of ECOWAS provide the enabling environment that gives rise to the likes of Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor, Foday Sankoh or Robert Guei.

In sum, Doe and his collaborators justified their coup on the above charges and declared that their actions were intended to liberate the Liberian people from the corrupt and autocratic government of the True Whig Party. To govern the country Doe established the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) and later the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) to put right many of the wrongs for which the coup was supposedly staged.

Doe’s Liberia
Notwithstanding these charges, the outcome of the Doe regime was succinctly described as, Liberia: A Promise Betrayed, by the Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights in a report on Liberia published in 1986. The decade of Doe’s regime was often characterized as a repressive kleptocracy because in Doe’s policy and practice of governance, his regime shared many similarities with Mobutu’s regime in the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). For example, in Doe’s Liberia and prior to the civil war, the mode of governance and the economic conditions were principally characterized by unprecedented violations of human and constitutional rights, rampant corruption, economic mismanagement, detention without fair trials, intermittent closures of independent newspapers and radio stations; harassment, imprisonment and torture of journalists and opposition politicians; extra-judicial killings; attacks on students, university faculty and staff; the lack of diversity and inclusion in both government and the economy, the lack of an independent judiciary and due process of law, and the lack of freedom of press and expression, to name only a few.

Where have we heard similar charges before? And are they unique to Liberia? These charges of bad governance and resultant poverty are almost identical to the charges that Doe’s regime made against Tolbert’s True Whig Party government. Again, it is important to note here that Taylor will in turn repeat these same charges against Doe’s regime. In fact, all subsequent rebel factions have made almost identical charges against the government of the day which they were fighting. Starting with the Doe government, there is overwhelming evidence that all of Liberia’s rebel groups and the government they fight are simply two sides of the same coin.

Taylor’s Liberia
If the Doe regime can be classified as an oppressive Kleptocracy like that of Mobutu, then the Taylor regime seems to have institutionalized the criminalization and privatization of the Liberian State (I.F. Bayart, et al. 1999, W. Reno, 1995, 1997).

The conflict in Liberia was initiated under Taylor’s banner of a liberation war, given the prevailing political and economic conditions, including rampant corruption, gross human rights abuses; lack of accountability, transparency and popular participation in Doe’s Liberia.

In hindsight, and with 14 years of overwhelming evidence of atrocities and pillaging by all the warring factions, the Liberian conflict is now widely understood as being inspired and fueled not by any political ideology for socio-economic transformation as in the African National Congress’ (ANC) struggle to liberate South Africa. The war in Liberia was and still is inspired and fueled by naked greed for wealth, power and control over the Liberian State. Specifically, Taylor’s war has been a commercial war to acquire diamonds, timber, gold, agricultural products and other natural resources. (William Reno, 1995; 1996; 1997.)

Thus, the attack on Monrovia in April of 1996 was code-named, "Operation pay yourself." It provided the unpaid fighters with incentives to capture and loot Monrovia, as they had done previously in other less-endowed villages, towns and cities. This pattern is equally true for all the warring factions in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d’ Ivoire. They have waged this resource-based war with the collaboration and support of their international business patrons, arms merchants, local clients, job-seekers, child soldiers and even organizations like Al Qaeda, among others. (See Douglas Farah’s three articles in The Washington Post respectively on 4 June, 29 October and 29 December, 2002).

In short, the Taylor-led conflict in Liberia started under the pretext of a liberation war, given the prevailing political and economic conditions in Doe’s Liberia. Tribal and ethnic affiliation and alliances have been exploited and mis-used in prosecuting the Liberian war. However, at bottom, the Liberian conflict is a resource-based war for control of state power and wealth, and not one for socio-economic transformation. How else can one explain, for instance, the continuation of the war long after Samuel Doe died in 1990, and after Charles Taylor had departed from the scene on August 11, 2003?

Prospects for Peace and Security in the Sub-Region
A United Nations Inter-Agency Mission to the West African sub-region in March 2001 concluded, in part, as follows:

The problems associated with weak governance were identified as issues of major concern by interlocutors throughout the sub-region... Little progress has been made, however, on such issues as combating corruption, building institutional capacity, promoting inclusive political processes and popular participation, as well as decentralization and strengthening the judiciary and rule of law and respect for human rights. Considerable international assistance and support is needed to help improve governance practices.

This U.N. report succinctly provides an appreciation of the potential implications for Peace and Security in the West African sub-region after Taylor’s departure from Liberia. It specifically refers twice to "weak governance" and emphasizes the need to transform "governance practices" in the sub-region.

The point is, like Samuel K. Doe before him, Charles Taylor is just another individual manifestation of the prevailing political and economic conditions in Liberia. As we have seen, these conditions include rampant corruption, mismanagement of the economy, gross human rights abuses, lack of accountability and transparency in government transactions and management of public resources, centralization of power and lack of popular participation and inclusion, lack of independent judiciary, free press, and the rule of law, to name only a few. It is these and other related conditions of bad governance and resultant dehumanizing poverty that nurture and sustain the enabling environment which individuals like Doe or Taylor and their network of patrons, clients, supporters and beneficiaries exploit to their advantage. They thrive in crisis and poverty conditions. Therefore, Peace and Security in the sub-region after Taylor’s departure will depend largely on whether or not ECOWAS and/or member states can manage these political and economic conditions (where they exist) through transformed "governance practices." It is these "problems associated with weak governance" that give rise to the likes of Doe or Taylor. In sum, the departure of Taylor was a necessary condition, but not sufficient by itself to sustain Peace and Security in the sub-region. The Liberian conflict, I submit, is a microcosm of conflicts in the West African Sub-region, and certainly in the Mano River Union basin.

Lessons Learned and A Way Forward
What possible lessons are there for Liberia in particular and the Sub-Region in general, from the Taylor-led conflict in Liberia? And where do we in the sub-region go from here?

Human Security Needs
Among our first order of business must be to enlarge the definition of human security beyond law and order. It must include strengthening or creating the institutional capacities of the state to provide or facilitate the delivery of basic social services to the majority. This process is variously referred to as poverty reduction or poverty alleviation.

The Taylor-led conflict has demonstrated once again what has been known for quite some time now by scholars and practitioners of sustainable human development. It shows that unfulfilled human security needs such as food, safe drinking water, primary health care, housing, basic education and employment opportunities constitute the primary components of the threats to peace and security in a country like Liberia, if not the sub-region. These basic elements of human security must also be included in the global human rights agenda for advocacy.

Governance Practices
We must therefore endeavor to transform our "governance practices" in the sub-region to build the capacities of states to address the human security needs of all their citizens.

As defined by the World Bank (2000:48):

Governance is the institutional capability of public organizations to provide the public and other goods demanded by a country’s citizens or their representatives in an effective, transparent, impartial and accountable manner, subject to resource constraints. Conflict management refers to a society’s capacity to mediate the conflicting - though not necessarily violent - interests of different social groups through political processes.

Thus the Liberian experience suggests that the restricted inclusion and limited participation of all stakeholders in both public and private sector institutions in Liberia has been another major source of instability and a threat to peace and security. In sum, what President Olusegun Obasanjo and his colleagues wrote about Africa’s security in 1993 is equally true of Liberia, and perhaps the sub-region in general:

...the most potent source of the precarious state of Africa’s security has been the failure of governance in the continent. In particular, a conspicuous absence of popular participation and official accountability have resulted in widespread social injustice and gross inequalities in many African countries, thus breeding civil strife.

In this respect, the Liberian conflict has furthered confirmed what is being observed about conflicts elsewhere in Africa. The Liberian conflict was largely the result of struggle among competing warring factions for territories and the resources that come with them: diamonds, timber, gold and agricultural products. In the same vein, some observers suggest that the "underlying locomotive of all post-apartheid and post-cold war conflicts in Southern Africa is no longer ideological contestation, but rather, the fierce struggle over the sub-region’s resources" (Akokpari, 2000:4).

These observers also attribute such conflicts to the partisan and/or privatized nature of the African state. Like the Liberian state under Doe and Taylor, the African state tends not to allocate its limited political and economic resources equitably among its diverse, competing stakeholders; nor does the state prioritize popular participation and fair competition for these public resources. Instead of being transformed into an effective regulator and facilitator of competing, legitimate interests, the African state, like Liberia, is often a captive instrument for the advancement of partisan and private interests of dominant stakeholders like Tolbert’s True Whig Partisans, Doe’s NDPL partisans and Taylor’s National Patriotic Partisans. By so doing, the state institutionally marginalizes and alienates disadvantaged or weak minority groups in society. Thus the struggle among competing constituencies to fulfill human security needs, and their democratic aspiration for popular participation have been two of the major sources of instability and conflict. Hence the imperative of transforming governance practices for poverty reduction is a way forward to durable peace and security in the sub-region.

Accordingly, a critical lesson from the Taylor-led conflict is the need, indeed, the imperative to transform "governance practices" in ECOWAS member states like Liberia. For this transformation of governance practices to succeed, it must include the political will and commitment to institutionalize the following:

a) public accountability of government officials;
b) transparency in government transactions and in budgetary allocation and management of public resources;
c) protection of human rights and the rule of law;
d) decentralization, inclusion and popular participation in public affairs, including free & fair elections; and
e) maintaining the separation of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government (See also Adejumbobi 1998:23-24).

In summary, in almost all the conflict areas in the West African sub-region, ... the challenges are how to deepen democracy; to operate transparent and accountable governments in a way as to involve all constituencies in key decision-making processes; how to devolve political power to various sectors of the society to make every constituency feel a part of the political process (Akokpari, 2000:5).

ECOWAS Elections Management and Supervisory Commission
Many conflicts in the sub-region are based upon or at least aggravated in part, by inconclusive elections and/or unresolved electoral disputes. This was clearly the case both in Doe’s 1985 elections and in Taylor’s 1997 elections.

As such, the ECOWAS sub-region should establish an Elections Management and Supervisory Commission, as an integral part of ECOWAS’ "Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security."

Members of this sub-regional Elections Commission should be representatives of media institutions, private sector business groups, civil society organizations, human rights groups, women’s organizations, political parties, universities and other regional stakeholders. The functions of this proposed ECOWAS Elections Commission should include the following:

a) to partner or collaborate with each member state’s independent elections commission in managing presidential and/or parliamentary elections. Such collaboration should begin at least six months prior to the elections as a confidence-building measure, to help encourage and empower the electorates, and to provide sub-regional legitimacy and credibility to the results of elections;

b) to liaise and collaborate with international elections observers and monitors, for example, from the AU, EU, the Commonwealth, and from the US-based monitors such as the Carter Center, the National Democratic Institute and the National Republican Institute;

c) to mobilize sub-regional and international resources such as expertise, finance and equipment to help strengthen or build the capacities of independent election commissions in ECOWAS member states; and

d) to jointly certify all presidential and parliamentary elections in partnership with international elections monitors, observers and state election commissions.

The Prospects for Peace and Security in Liberia
The Prospects for Peace and Security specifically in Liberia look promising this time around because of some new variables in ECOWAS’ quest for peace in Liberia, including the departure of Charles Taylor.

When ECOWAS first deployed its peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, in Liberia in the 1990s, the late President Samuel Doe refused to leave and go into exile. Member states of ECOWAS were divided on the ECOMOG deployment decision along Francophone-Anglophone lines. Problems in US-Nigeria bilateral relations appeared to have undermined active U.S. cooperation and assistance initially to ECOMOG. More importantly, commercial and security interests seemed to have linked some sub-regional countries and/or their leaders to certain Liberian warring factions or their leaders. Houphuet-Boigny’s Cote d’ Ivoire and Blaise Campaore’s Burkina Faso readily come to mind as well known examples of Taylor’s collaborators, besides Kaddafi’s Libya.

As a result of the foregoing, ECOWAS member states’ political will and commitment to cooperate fully with ECOMOG, for example, in the areas of border control, arms embargo and rules of engagement were compromised and weak.

Unlike those previous conditions, this time around, the international community (ECOWAS, UN, etc.) is now fully engaged with the Accra Accord in peacekeeping operations to resolve the Liberian conflict. The UN Security Council has already taken over peacekeeping duties in Liberia from ECOWAS’ peacekeepers, ECOMIL; and has authorized up to 15,000 UN peacekeepers for Liberia. Moreover, the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNIMIL) will have the benefits of the UN peacekeeping and peace-building experience in neighboring Sierra Leone.

In short, the Liberian conflict is now recognized and treated by ECOWAS and the larger international community as the sub-regional conflict that it is. There now appears to be a consensus that the successful management and resolution of the Liberian conflict holds a major key to sustainable peace and security in the ECOWAS sub-region, certainly in Sierra Leone, Cote d’ Ivoire and Guinea.

For these and other reasons, I submit that the prospects for peace and security in Liberia look good.

I thank you for your attention.