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Peace is crucial to sustainable societal development. Although some cynical students of history may sneer at this generalisation its veracity in the context of Liberia is unchallengeable.

Unfortunately, peace in Liberia is being built on the faulty premise that the physical extraction of one man (i.e. Charles Taylor) from the stage of conflict, a ceasefire, peacekeeping and a power sharing formula ‘acceptable’ (for the time being) to various factions and warlords will lead to a permanent and sustainable peace.

Some actors and observers will argue, that it was vital to first secure the peace and end the suffering and loss of life first at any cost, and then plan further later. No reasonable person will argue with this. But any reasonable person that has followed not just the history of conflict in Liberia, but the trajectory of many failed states will also know, that this formula has been applied to Liberia in the past and has failed tragically.

To recap summarily, the conflict in Liberia is 14 years old. (Thousands of combatant child soldiers have with the exception of brief intervals known no other life). ECOWAS has intervened in the past. Again Nigeria played a leading role. ECOWAS troops were sucked into the conflict. Eventually the country was stabilised – or so they thought. The financial cost of the last intervention to the Nigerian economy is estimated at roughly 12 billion US dollars (some of it ending up in the pockets of corrupt army generals). Other ECOWAS countries spent unknown sums estimated to be not less than several millions of dollars. Again leaders of key factions (Yormie Johnson and Roosevelt Johnson) were extracted from the stage of conflict, again to Nigeria. The part of the old script we have not yet reached is the planned elections, but this is currently being redrafted with new actors in mind. The new ‘agreements’ from the ‘peace talks’ suggest that elections will be held in 2004/2005. Once this happens, the old formula would have gone full circle. Elections will follow, a victory will be declared, at least one faction is virtually guaranteed to disagree with the election results. If the faction appears insignificant, the results will initially stand, but soon become wobbly as soon as the peacekeepers pull out. The faction may then begin to grow again, drawing on large pools of resentment from amongst those whose hopes of economic, political and social and human rights have been dashed.

No one pays twice to see a bad movie. No one would definitely pay to experience a nightmare let alone twice. But why is a failed formula being applied to the same problem? To answer this question, we need to look at what should have been done previously and in so doing answer some key questions.

Firstly, did the past military and electoral ‘victory’ of Charles Taylor and his forces resolve the social, economic and political inequalities and conflicts that triggered the first Liberian war? The answer is a no so resounding that it has swept him from the presidential villa.

Secondly, did the agreement that led to the withdrawal of ECOWAS forces from Liberia after the previous intervention include and ensure the implementation of provisions that would guarantee genuine rehabilitation and reconstruction, respect for fundamental rights and in particular freedom of expression, press freedom, and the rights to association, assembly and political participation. The answer again is a no so resounding that a continuous hail of gunfire, wailing and sorrow has followed it. Despite the reluctance of Nigeria and other ECOWAS countries the calls from the Liberian people (a captive audience caught in the crossfire on the stage of conflict) have dragged ECOWAS forces back to the stage for a repeat intervention.


The approach of the governments of the West African Sub-region and the African Union leadership displays a lack of holistic understanding of the dynamics of resolving war and conflict through development. All armed conflicts or wars, especially those that last for several years and spread in concentric circles, usually leave behind seriously, if not completely devastated societies especially at the epicentre of the conflict. (Although most wars differ in their scale, intensity and nature of prosecution.) This was largely the case in Japan and Germany following the Second World War (and to a lesser degree other European countries and the Soviet Union), South East Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia), Afghanistan (USSR invasion of 79-89), The Balkans, Iraq from the first gulf war to the second, and is certainly the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia/Sierra Leone etc.

War is a massive destroyer of society and its productive forces. The specific consequences and aftermath of war or conflict in a country or region depends on: the causes and roots of a conflict (economic, political, religious, ethnic etc); the size and population of a country/region; its homogeneity or diversity; contending parties and the size of their social base; their fire power; the nature of victory or stalemate; the forces waiting in the wings to capitalise; available natural resources; previous levels of industrialisation; the extent of the destruction of human and other resources; and very importantly, the amount of planning and resources put into reconstructing the society, rehabilitation of combatants and victims etc. Where the conflict or war has been caused or exacerbated by inequalities and exclusion, repression or mass murder of significant social formations, issues of rights and political participation become even more crucial to rebuilding those societies.

In the case of Liberia, the attitude of the regional governments, at least those not involved in the conflict, has merely been to ensure some sort of peace which amounts to scarcely more than a continuation of the conflict by less violent means, and then hope that the problem goes away. ‘It’ did not go away in Cambodia, Afghanistan, The Balkans or Sierra Leone where conflicts were left half resolved and simmering. Instead ‘it’ paved the way in those theatres of conflict, for more extreme forces waiting in the wings to inflict even more pain on already mortally wounded societies. If the problems caused by the consequences of the devastation of war were resolved in Japan, Germany and much of Europe (to the extent that large scale armed conflict has been so far neutralised), it is because there was a Marshall Plan that absorbed the forces of conflict, paved the way for their rehabilitation and funded the reconstruction of society. This is what not just Liberia, but all the conflict zones of Africa need. The billion-dollar question, literally speaking, is who will pay for this? Following World War Two, morbid fear of the potential spread of communism propelled America to underwrite the reconstruction of Europe and Japan.

In the case of Africa, this writer argues that morbid fear of a steady concentric spread of conflict should act as the propellant for the African countries, especially the bigger and richer ones, to act. The funds spent on potentially endless cycles of peacekeeping are better spent on peace building. African countries are not very rich - but they are rich enough for Nigeria to have spent 12 billion US dollars in its first peace keeping intervention in Liberia. How much will a Marshall Plan cost? No one knows unless it is actually costed. Prioritisation can then be effected.

What will the Marshall Plan do? For one, the physical reconstruction of schools, hospitals, homes, roads and vital infrastructure such as water, electricity and communications. It will facilitate: the re-emergence of the educational system; the healthcare system; a financial system; rehabilitation and skills training centres for soldiers and militia especially child combatants; rehabilitation of internally displaced persons and refugees; reconstitution of the judicial and justice system, institutionalisation of rights and an end to impunity. These will constitute a start.


But who will preside over planning and the allocation of resources. Should this once again be the exclusive preserve of warlords and factions whose hunger for power is driven by the desire for control of the state apparatus and the countries resources? Certainly not. While political realities cannot be ignored, the reconstitution of civil society, the professional associations and trade unions for medical personnel, teachers and other key sections of society and economy must be a priority. Will it really be possible to successfully rebuild Liberia’s healthcare system for example without the organised and democratic participation of its health workers in the process? Will it be possible to rebuild the justice and judicial system without the democratic participation of what is left of Liberia’s Bar Association? What of the role of journalists in rebuilding the media which was at once marginalised and appropriated by the Taylor regime? Only by involving civil society in the policy shaping and decision making process can democracy be institutionalised. The warlords and factions will not like this. But either ECOWAS ensures this, or more armed conflict and regional instability is only round the corner. More importantly, the myth that armed conflicts in neighbouring countries are of no concern to other governments has been punctured. At the last count, the major regional conflicts in Africa have each spread to or drawn in at least three or four other countries.

And to ask the cynical question. What is in it for the more industrially advanced nations? The events of the past few years provide a self-evident answer. Failed states are a threat, and not just to their immediate neighbours. The capture of failed states by extremist forces as in Cambodia, Afghanistan, and as almost happened in Sierra Leone also lead to massive refugee issues and potential destabilisation of regions.

To be sure, many governments both non-African and African may not be enthusiastic to support the emergence of a society which may question the nature of their own rule. Massive public spending and entrenchment of democratic values to end marginalisation, lift the standard of housing, healthcare, education, ensure political participation, access to justice and defence of rights have been caught up in the quagmire of politics. This is the case even in more advanced countries. But there is no other choice in the long run. Failure to implement these will in the long run, create again and again the social, political and economic conditions that have led to continuous cycles of conflict. To put it crudely, bands of armed and jobless, uneducated, unskilled, homeless, hungry and angry young men will at the very least be drawn into crime sooner or later. At worst they are ready armies for potential warlords prepared to subvert peace and stability in a bid to control states and resources.

It is also not politically or economically viable to plan for peacekeeping without planning for peace- building. The lack of a clear development based exit plan will either lead to indefinite peacekeeping with the peacekeepers being seen sooner or later as an occupying force, or the establishment of a ‘peace’ similar to a fragile sheet of glass soon shattered into pieces by the slightest pressure. DRC, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, almost Cote D’Ivoire and many more. How many years, how many countries and how many lives will it take for African governments to realise that ceasefires, peacekeeping and power sharing will never be enough.

* Rotimi Sankore is Coordinator of CREDO for Freedom of Expression and Associated Rights an international NGO focussing on rights issues in Africa. CREDO can be reached at [email][email protected]

* Please send comments on this editorial to [email protected]