It is Time to Prepare a Liberian "Roadmap"

By Al-Hassan Conteh, Ph.D.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

May 1, 2003

As the international community is now fully engaged with the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it must be reminded about a similar urgent need for a roadmap for conflict transformation in West Africa. Israeli insecurity and Palestinian statehood are to the Middle East what regional instability and state collapse are to the Mano River sub-region of West Africa.

The end of the Iraqi conflict now presents a global opportunity for the United States, in concert with the international community, to end intractable conflicts everywhere, including Liberia’s, that threaten international security and peace. This has been possible because the Bush Doctrine apparently takes for granted that a state’s probability for U.S. military intervention is indirectly proportional to its connectedness in the global economy. Liberia epitomizes a prime of example of this gap, which has existed for past two decades and is now at the brink of destabilizing the entire West African region. How should this gap be shrunk?

The International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL), comprising representatives of Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, the African Union, the European Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Secretariat and the United Nations, should take the lead in preparing the Liberian roadmap in consultation with all stakeholders, including the Government of Liberia, Liberian political parties and civil society organizations (CSOs).

The ICGL should use the experiences of Liberia’s manifold peace accords and recent conferences, to restore democracy to Liberia in eight to twelve months. It should propose a conflict transformation budget for adoption by the U.N. Security council to be supported by the earnings from Liberian maritime and timber resources. An international donor round table conference should help to shore up this budget.

The specific issues of the roadmap should include how to transform the Liberian parties from an adversarial position to a position of joint partnership in progress. Mediation methods should include an understanding of Liberian political culture, which were lacking in pre-1997, Liberian peace agreements. How much key Liberian actors would be willing to sacrifice, based on their political beliefs, values and interests is critical to this process. Achieving a balance between their issues of collaboration and competition should be the goal.

This would entail a patient mapping of the strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats of critical actors as they operate in the relevant political space (the Mano River Sub-region of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea), and Cotê d’Ivoire, with the objective of integrating best practices, and the experiences of regional and international NGOs who have been actively working on the peace process. All positive agents in the peace process should be consulted on how to attain sub-regional security and lasting peace.

An opportunity has arisen in the horizon. The Government of Liberia is now willing to meet face-to-face with non-state actors, who are now also willing to negotiate. Growing Liberian political party mergers are apparently minimizing competition. And key political actors are now ready to speak in unison. This indicates that the evolution of the conflict has now reached a stage that is ripe for an amicable solution that can trigger sustainable peace.

It is now clear that Liberia’s slated elections of October 14 2003 is unachievable. The U.N. Secretary General has determined that 60% of Liberian territory is now in the hands of insurgents. Therefore, it is time to take the bold step: prevent a constitutional crisis come October by calling for a Sovereign National Conference to discuss and implement an internationally mediated Liberian roadmap.

The expected outcome is to set up a Special Transitional Government of Liberia (STGL). The government would be "Special" for legal and constitutional reasons. It would also be special because its tenure should be for a specific period (eight to 12 months) for the main purpose of paving the way for national and presidential elections. For comparative purposes, mediators should study the shortcomings of similar transitions in Sierra Leone (the Lomé Accord), the Marcoussis Accord of Cotê d’Ivoire, and the recent interim arrangements in the Great Lakes Region regarding the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

The STGL’s objective should be, by the end of its agreed tenure, to have overseen the seating of a democratically elected, majoritarian government as required by the Liberian Constitution, and based on an informed understanding and application of Liberia’s indigenous state building processes and institutions.

The STGL should also have the mandate of initiating an internal capacity for change and peace by working collaboratively with CSOs, political parties and the international community, to begin to address Liberia's current low status of human development.

Liberia currently holds the last but one position of human development in the world. To begin to remove the causes of this dismal situation, the STGL's agenda should include addressing issues of human rights and war crimes, consolidating peace and democracy; ensuring personal and national security; rehabilitating the social sector, particularly in support of resettlement and reintegration of displaced people and ex-combatants; promoting sustainable livelihoods; and strengthening local capacities.

About the author: Dr. Al-Hassan Conteh is research fellow at the Solomon Asch Center for Ethnopolitical Conflict of the University of Pennsylvania.