Liberia: Reconciliation, Reconstruction And Rehabilitation (3R's)

By: Chinua Akukwe
Washington, DC

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 15, 2003

As the Gyude Bryant transitional national government takes office, Liberia is once again at the center of international attention. From the deployment of one of the largest United Nations peacekeeping operations in the world to the need to feed the hungry and minister to the sick, the transitional government faces immense challenges. However, with these challenges come unique opportunities for the transformation of Liberia. I briefly review these challenges and opportunities from the prism of 3R's: reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Reconciliation in Liberia must be total and without qualifications for the nation to move forward. To achieve a complete reconciliation, the transitional government should focus on the following issues:

1) Keep Charles Taylor out of Liberia and out of politics. For the past 14 years, Charles Taylor has been a recurring decimal in Liberia's misfortunes. For Taylor's political "movement" to become a part of the new order in Liberia, it should have a new, untainted leader and must recommit themselves to the country's renaissance.

2) Make Liberia a weapons-free zone. All individuals who are not members of a small regular army and a well-equipped police force should give up their arms in the interest of peace.

3) Building a Military and Police rank-and-file that represent all the ethnic and political tendencies in Liberia. These outfits must be free of the control of warlords and must never become an instrument of oppression by the transitional government.

4) Implement a credible, transparent transition program that will usher a freely elected political leadership in 2005. This transition program should have the ultimate objective of ensuring that the era of "big boss" or "warlord" is erased completely from the political lexicon of Liberia.

5) Set up a truth-and-reconciliation commission to investigate, shame or recommend other forms of penance for individuals and organizations that committed atrocities during the years of violence in Liberia. The commission should have the powers to mandate criminal and civil trials for egregious acts. The mantra should be to "forgive but never forget." All leaders who contributed to the sordid tale of Liberia in the last two decades should come before the commission before running for any political office.

6) Emphasize and practice the rule of law that guarantees respect for individual human rights. A major test of the transitional government intentions is the way and manner it protects the rights of individuals, including those in opposition to its policies.

7) Enforce fundamental rights and dignity for Liberian women. Gory details of rape, forced prostitution and role of concubines to militia leaders and their boys were rife in Liberia. The transitional government should set up systems and structures in Liberia that promote gender equity issues and provide legally enforceable protection to the women of Liberia.

8) Accelerate the return of Liberian refugees. The transitional government should ensure the return of Liberian refugees from various locations in West Africa. These refugees should be free to contribute to nation building. For Liberian refugees in the West, the transition government should enter into dialogue with them to refine their roles in nation building.

To reconstruct Liberia literally will take decades and clearly beyond the lifetime of the transitional government. However, the resolve of the international community, including the United States, to bring peace and stability to Liberia creates unique opportunities for Liberia's political leaders to change lives now and in the foreseeable future. Urgent reconstruction issues in Liberia include:

1) Providing portable water. Regular supply of clean water has wide implications for personal hygiene, disease prevention and adequate nutrition.

2) Providing regular electricity supply. In addition to accelerating individual and family reconstruction efforts, regular power supply can assist budding entrepreneurs and small-scale establishments to quickly reestablish their businesses. It can also jumpstart public utilities and services.

3) Reconstructing road networks, with special attention to feeder roads that lead to food producing areas of the country.

4) Revitalizing the agricultural sector. Liberia needs to urgently improve its local food production capacity since internationally directed food programs are at best, temporary. Return of Liberian refugees will also create the need for permanent food production strategies if they are to be reintegrated into the social fabric of their communities.

5) Redesigning and implementing a new health system in Liberia.
The destructive effects of the long years of violence creates a unique situation where Liberian leaders can reconfigure their health system with special attention to competent community-based health programs, HIV/AIDS remedial efforts, disease prevention and control, and international partnerships.

6) Revamping the hitherto famed educational system of Liberia. This may require reaching out to former students and leaders of these institutions for technical assistance. The initial focus may be to enroll all children and teenagers in Liberia into age-appropriate classes, including vocational training programs.

7) Calling on Liberians Abroad to come back home and contribute their quota to national development. There are Liberians in the UN system, local, state and national governments of Western nations, institutions of higher learning in the West, multinational organizations, and non-government institutions. Gyude Bryant should make the contributions of Liberians Abroad a fundamental priority of his transitional government.

8) Calling on nationals of other countries who worked in Liberia in the past. Most citizens of other nations who served as teachers, nurses, civil servants and other professions have kept close touch with their Liberian friends and shared in their tragedies. These individuals and the organization they represent are potentially powerful allies of Liberia in international diplomacy. A good example is the former Peace Corps volunteers of Liberia known as the Friends of Liberia. I am aware that they have remained very active on Liberian issues.

9) Creating a conducive atmosphere for private entrepreneurial activities in Liberia.
The transitional government and its international partners are unlikely to have enough resources to become Santa Claus to every Liberian embittered by the senseless war and destruction. As a successful entrepreneur, President Gyude Bryant understands that ultimately the role of his transitional government is to create a legal and economic environment that encourages Liberians to pursue their dreams. War situations often breed incredibly, ingenious survival instincts, including entrepreneurial endeavors. The transitional government should create stable macroeconomic conditions to encourage private enterprise. In addition, the government should break up all monopolies created during the Taylor's regime since these organizations failed to meet the needs of Liberians and were known cesspools of corruption.

10) Leapfrogging into the information technology age. The opportunity to reconstruct basic infrastructure in Liberia creates unique opportunities for a new sophisticated information and telecommunication backbone for Liberia. A seamless information and technology system in Liberia will make the country an attractive destination for financial, manufacturing and service oriented foreign industries. Enhanced technology will also be a shot in the arm for the famed shipping registration program of Liberia.

11) Coordinating international assistance programs. Liberia will soon play host to hundreds of experts working for many aid-for-development programs. A major responsibility of the transitional government on behalf of the Liberian people is to get a handle on aid-for-development programs, articulate priorities, and take steps to limit duplication and wastage of scarce resources.

12) Providing opportunities for Liberians to participate in reconstruction efforts. To create immediate employment, the transitional government should pursue a deliberate policy of providing skilled and unskilled Liberians with the opportunity to participate in reconstruction efforts at all levels. Liberians can never be bystanders in the reconstruction efforts of their country, from the design to the implementation and evaluation of reconstruction programs.

Liberia faces many years of political, economic, social, emotional, mental, and physical healing and rehabilitation. Nobody should underestimate the destructive effects of wanton violence, state-sponsored murders, bestiality visited on girls and women by teenage armed boys, and total, complete breakdown of family, community and societal structures. However, as noted in Sierra Leone, a genuine rehabilitation effort is possible with genuine reconciliation and reconstruction efforts. Rehabilitation issues in Liberia include:

1) Rehabilitating political leaders and their followers who failed Liberia in the past. This is going to be a tricky issue since leopards can hardly change their spots. However, the political process will be fragile and uncertain if former political gladiators do not show remorse for past actions and pledge to abide by new rules. A free, prosperous and stable Liberia cannot allow individuals who believe that Liberia "owes" them political authority to preside over their affairs again, at least in the near term.

2) Rehabilitating the economy. In the short term, the reconstruction efforts will help spur the local economy. However, in the long term, Liberia will benefit from sound macroeconomic policies that improve the lives of its citizens, provide room for creative entrepreneurial energies, and ensure the rule of law.

3) Rehabilitating social mores and structures. Again, the government will provide a conducive environment for families and communities to begin the process of recreating social mores and responsibilities. This rehabilitation process will occur over a number of years as the economy improves and the political situation stabilizes.

4) Rehabilitating emotional and mental scars. The long period of violence and organized destruction in Liberia requires attention to deep personal, familial and community scars and suffering. Non government agencies with expertise in rape counseling, domestic violence, body mutilation, and deliberate and cruel punishment should assist the government in creating and implementing a credible rehabilitation program.

5) Rehabilitating physically wounded Liberians.
The experience of Sierra Leone in the ongoing efforts to rehabilitate amputees and their families should be useful in Liberia. Partnerships with international organizations active in rehabilitating wounded victims of organized violence will also be useful. The government should consider community-based rehabilitation efforts that emphasizes artificially assisted return of bodily functions, training on vocations, enrolment in the regular school system, and employment opportunities for those that can work.

6) Rehabilitating the image of Liberia. For many years, Liberia assumed a pariah status in the international community because of the conduct of its leaders. With a transitional government and nationwide elections in two years, Liberia is on the way to rehabilitating its international image. However, this image will ultimately depend on how Liberian leaders and their people manage this transition period and take control of their country's destiny.

Liberia is the cradle of democracy in Africa. Liberia is emerging from two decades of political, economic and social nightmare. The last 14 years has been particularly brutal. Liberians now have the opportunity to create their own future and destiny. The can do so by seriously addressing reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation (3R's) issues.

Dr. Chinua Akukwe ( is a former Vice Chairman of the National Council for International Health (NCIH) now known as the Global Health Council, Washington, DC. Dr. Akukwe is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Constituency for Africa, Washington, DC and has written extensively in HIV/AIDS and development issues in Africa.