Now the hard work begins: passing the peace baton in Liberia


The end of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping does not mean the end of a peacebuilding process. By this time next year, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) will have withdrawn its peacekeeping operation after 10 years of deployment.

The government of Liberia will then assume complete responsibility for the country’s progress, according to the UN Security Council.

Liberia has made great strides towards peace but more needs to be done, particularly in light of the recent Ebola crisis.

What does this mean for the future of peacebuilding in the country? How should the government prioritise forthcoming activities, particularly given limited resources, such as its need to raise over US$100 million for the UNMIL transitional plan? And how should external actors assist while ensuring Liberia retains ownership of its peacebuilding processes?

Fighting in Liberia broke out in 1989 between government forces and fighters from the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), led by opposition leader Charles Taylor. In the subsequent years, nearly 150 000 civilians lost their lives and thousands of people were displaced, with 850 000 refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries.

Interventions by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) led to the brokering of a peace agreement in 1993. Shortly afterwards, the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) was authorised. Elections were held in July 1997 and Charles Taylor was elected as president.

Liberia has made great strides towards peace, but more needs to be done

The UN peacebuilding support office was set up in Liberia (UNOL) to assist in consolidating peace in the country, but in July 2003, fighting resumed and UNOL’S mandate was terminated. On 18 August 2003, the Liberian Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed and under that agreement, the UN was requested to provide a peacekeeping force, UNMIL.

Over the years, the UN’s multi-dimensional mission has focused on wide-ranging issues from criminal justice to gender. Despite some marked improvements in many areas of governance, the latest report of the UN Secretary-General on UNMIL notes that much more needs to be done to enhance sustained peace in the country. For example, the report states that ‘all stakeholders must sustain their focus on implementing the ambitious transition plan developed by the Government and also on the national reconciliation and continuing political reforms.’

Other issues include having to strengthen accountability in the security sector, developing anti-corruption strategies and implementing the recommendations released in the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s report. Another issue is managing the limited resources available to the Independent National Commission on Human Rights. Moreover, in March last year, progress in Liberia was set back by an outbreak of Ebola, causing challenges in areas such as economic growth, social-cultural divisions, governance and elections.

The Liberian government’s plan for transition is aligned with its Agenda for Transformation (AfT) and National Security Strategy of the Republic of Liberia. The government has stressed the importance of shifting from militaristic security to human security. It also noted the importance of a ‘Whole of Government’ approach and the link between security and socio-economic development.

Assisting Liberia will require more than money

Funding remains one of the biggest challenges in implementing the plan, which is estimated to require US$104 848 million. The government of Liberia has been given the primary responsibility of mobilising this amount, but aims to garner some support from UNMIL in implementing its Economic Stabilisation and Recovery Plan, and to seek increased assistance from the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), which already contributes to supporting the government in an number of areas.

In November 2010, the PBC agreed on three priority areas: strengthening the rule of law, security sector reform and promoting national reconciliation. These have since changed to draw more strongly on the AfT, the Ebola recovery plan and the plan for transition, in line with national priorities.

The government of Liberia also established a Strategic Roadmap for National Peacebuilding, Healing and Reconciliation (2012-2030). However, it has been noted that the roadmap faces challenges of implementation, including a lack of support and legitimacy, financial constraints and a difference between what Liberians want in reality and practice.

Building sustainable peace in Liberia will not be easy, but is already long overdue

The Liberian government has played a proactive role in defining priorities and strategies for the country, but how proactive will it be in terms of implementation? While UNMIL will be drawing down, various other UN agencies, including the United Nations Development Programme will remain in the country, as will a number of other NGOs.

To what extent should these agencies assume some of the responsibilities for the government plans? And how should the peacebuilding structures elsewhere, such as the UN Peacebuilding Support Office and the Department of Political Affairs in New York engage in supporting Liberia’s move towards long term sustainable peace, based on human security? Similar issues have been raised in other countries where the UN has drawn down, including Burundi and Sierra Leone.

Moving ahead, it is vital that the Liberian government assumes ownership of its peacebuilding processes, building on the strategies that it has developed, and does not rely too much on external actors to fill the void of the UN mission. Assisting the country will require more than money; it will require continued capacity development and structural support.

The government will have to work out how to coordinate all the different actors, how to sequence processes and ultimately, and most importantly, how to end its reliance on external actors. External actors too, will have to question their changing relevance and not dictate the agenda. Achieving sustainable peace will not be easy, but is already long overdue.

Amanda Lucey, Senior Researcher, Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division, ISS Pretoria

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