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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Liberia: More U.S. Support Needed
Any links to other sites in this file from 1995 are not clickable,
given the difficulty in maintaining up-to-date links in old files.
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Liberia: More U.S. Support Needed
Date Distributed (ymd): 951022

Washington Office on Africa
Washington Notes on Africa Update

A new peace accord signed in late August has brought renewed
hope for stability and the beginning of reconstruction in
Liberia.  The country is ravaged by almost six years of war
that killed as many as 150,000 people out of a population of
2.6 million, forced 800,000 to flee the country as refugees,
and displaced more than a million from their homes within the
country.  With the accord in place the prospects for recovery
now depend on international support, as well as on the
Liberian commitment to peace.

Current plans call for the U.S. Agency for International
Development to provide some $65 million over the next year,
almost all for direct humanitarian relief.  But much more is
needed: for demobilization of fighters from the different
factional armies, for stationing international peacekeepers,
and for rebuilding the civilian economy and society.  Without
substantially increased international help--in which the U.S.
must play a leading role--the risk is great that this
promising start to peace could collapse.

Budget cuts in virtually all sectors of foreign aid as well as
for international agencies make finding the funds extremely
difficult.  But there is a growing awareness in Washington,
across party lines, that the United States has a special
responsibility in regard to Liberia.  This is not only because
of close historical ties, but also because U.S. policy in the
1980s helped create the conditions for war, and because U.S.
policy makers neglected real opportunities to head off the
devastating conflict in the early stages.

U.S.-Liberian Connection

The historical link between the United States and Liberia
dates back to Liberia's founding by African-Americans who
returned to Africa as settlers in the early 19th century.
Known as Americo-Liberians, they became Liberia's elite,
ruling over a population that was 95% indigenous.

U.S. ties with the settler-ruled republic continued into the
20th century, with U.S. investment and military involvement
especially high in the decades following World War Two under
Liberian presidents William Tubman and William Tolbert.  In
the 1960s and 1970s, the Tennessee-sized country received the
highest per capita level of U.S. aid of any country on the
African continent.

In 1980, when young army officers overthrew the
settler-dominated government, many Liberians hoped for reform
in the elitist system and a shift of power to the indigenous
majority.  But military leader Samuel Doe bypassed the
grass-roots opposition groups that had also opposed the
settler regime.  Instead he established arbitrary military
rule, favoring his own ethnic group and setting the scene for
factionalization of the country.

The U.S. government provided massive backing for the Doe
regime in the 1980s, with a total of $402 million in aid
between 1981 and 1985--more than during the entire previous
century.  One of the reasons for this largesse was unknown
even to many Administration officials:  the Doe regime had
allowed Liberia to become a key staging post for a large-scale
covert U.S. operation against Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.

Spiraling Violence

While Washington strongly supported Doe's government,
complaints were growing about human rights violations.  Doe
was "elected" in a 1985 poll widely seen as marked by fraud
and repression.

In late 1989 insurgents led by Charles Taylor crossed into
Liberia from the Ivory Coast and began a war against the Doe
regime.  The conflict was marked by high levels of atrocities
against civilians by many parties: Taylor's forces, the
remnants of Doe's army (Doe himself was killed by another
rebel leader in September 1990), and as many as five other
armed factions.  Of the some 60,000 Liberian combatants
engaged in the conflict over the next five years, as many as
6,000 were estimated to be boys under fifteen years old, many
of whom joined one of the factions for survival or for

Close observers of the Liberian scene concur that the United
States could have done much more to stop the carnage.  James
Bishop, U.S. ambassador to Liberia from 1987 to 1990, stated
in recent congressional testimony that:

"U.S. diplomats were instructed to desist from their efforts
at peacemaking, and the U.S. government stood aside both
militarily and diplomatically as the country descended into
barbarism.  American government funds helped feed those
victims of the conflict able to reach food distribution
points.  But the U.S. also used its influence to limit the
United Nations' role to relief and to ineffective moral
exhortation.  Successive administrations were unwilling to put
serious diplomatic pressure on those foreign states providing
arms to the belligerents."

And in an extensive review of the U.S. response to the war,
journalist Reed Kramer concluded that:

"No one can judge with hindsight whether the loss of an
estimated 150,000 lives and the regional devastation spawned
by the Liberian crisis could have been prevented without
extended U.S. military engagement, but it is difficult to find
a Liberian who doubts that firm U.S. leadership would have
made a decisive difference.  Many U.S. officials, too, now
share [former Assistant Secretary of State] Cohen's assessment
that more could have been achieved without creating a
quagmire.  What is certain is that failure to stop the
fighting during 1990, before the entire country was
demolished, erected barriers to a solution that still have not
been overcome."

Peacemaking Initiatives

As the conflict continued, the United States supplied more
than $425 million in humanitarian relief from 1990 through
September 1995.  But the initiative for peacekeeping and peace
negotiations was left to the 16-nation Economic Community of
West African States (ECOWAS), with Nigeria playing a leading

Participating West African nations have spent more than $500
million on these efforts, with only limited support from the
international community.  The West African intervention force
(ECOMOG) arrived in late 1990, after the conflict was well
under way.  Its intervention has not been without faults, but
it is generally credited with saving lives.

West African governments have supported continuing mediation
efforts.  The most recent, spearheaded by Ghanaian president
Jerry Rawlings, led to the August accord.  Although it is the
thirteenth such agreement--the previous ones were all
abandoned--most observers say this one has a real chance.  It
is the first accord involving all the faction leaders, and
builds on profound war weariness among combatants as well as

Under the new agreement, a comprehensive cease-fire has gone
into effect without major violations to date.  And a new
Council of Government was installed that includes leaders of
all the factions.  The Council also has the support of other
political groups and civic organizations, such as the Women's
Groups of Liberia, which helped coordinate talks leading to
the agreement.

Before the United Nations established a small observer mission
in late 1993, the only significant outside backing for the
West African effort was about $30 million from the United
States.  Washington allocated another $30 million last year to
help fund deployment of African troops from outside West
Africa, and provided a token sum to assist Ghana's mediation
effort.  But West African governments expected a more active
U.S. role in support of their initiatives.  Even without
direct involvement, critics say, the United States could have
provided more material and diplomatic assistance earlier in
the process.

What Is Needed Now

The critical first step in making the peace accord work will
be demobilizing the 60,000 combatants.  Merely establishing
assembly points for quartering the fighters will cost an
estimated $62 million over the next year.  Another $90 million
is requested to support additional troops for ECOMOG from
other African countries to help oversee the process.
Tanzanian and Ugandan troops present in 1994 have withdrawn,
in part because of inadequate financial resources, and both
Ghana and Nigeria have reduced their troop levels.  Now ECOMOG
estimates that force levels should be restored to some 12,000
from the present 7,000 in order to implement the peace

Continued human rights monitoring is also essential.  If there
are incidents of cease-fire violations and abuses, it is
important to quickly identify the culprits and coordinate the
international reaction.  And while the recent record of ECOMOG
forces has been fairly good, there were significant incidents
of abuse earlier in the conflict.  The United Nations Observer
Mission has less than 100 observers, far less than are needed
to monitor the process adequately.

As peace is consolidated, attention must turn to the task of
reconstruction.  Reestablishing government services, return of
refugees and resettlement of the displaced, rehabilitation of
child soldiers, and rebuilding of economic infrastructure pose
daunting challenges.  Unemployment is estimated at 80% to 90%.
Production of rice, the principal crop, is only about 10% of
its normal level.  Liberia's debt arrears, perhaps as much as
$1 billion, will require substantial concessions from donors
and international financial agencies.

The United States cannot and should not take responsibility
for solving all these problems.  But without an active U.S.
role, in diplomacy and in promoting bilateral and multilateral
material assistance, international efforts are almost certain
to fall short.  There are many officials both in Congress and
in the Administration who favor a more active U.S. role.  But
signals of public support will be one of the key factors in
determining whether it really happens.


[Note to non-U.S. readers: This posting is provided both
for your background information and for possible forwarding
to those of your U.S. contacts you think would be interested.]


Sen. Nancy Kassebaum
Chair, African Affairs Subcommittee
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
302 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 224-3514

Thank Sen. Kassebaum for taking the lead in efforts to support
the peace process in Liberia.  Ask her to keep you informed
about ongoing U.S. assistance for peace and reconstruction in
that country.  Tell her you agree that the United States has
a special responsibility for Liberia, because of the
historical connections and because U.S. policy helped create
the conditions for the outbreak and continuation of the civil
war.  Urge Sen. Kassebaum to continue pressing fellow
legislators and the Administration to free up adequate
resources to help Liberians rebuild their country.

Send copies of your letter to:

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Chair, Foreign Operations Subcommittee
Senate Appropriations Committee
120 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 224-2499

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.)
Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
403 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 224-7588

Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.)
Chair, House International Relations Comm.
2185 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
(Fax number not listed)

Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.)
Chair, Foreign Operations Subcommittee
House Appropriations Committee
2418 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-0562

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)
Chair, Africa Subcommittee
House International Relations Committee
2440 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-5620

Secretary of State Warren Christopher
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Fax: (202) 647-6434

Further Information on Liberia

For background see "Liberia: A Casualty of the Cold War's
End," by Reed Kramer, managing editor of Africa News Service.
The article appeared as the July 1995 issue of CSIS Africa
Notes, and is available for $4.00 per copy from the African
Studies Program of the Center for Strategic and International
Studies, 1800 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20006 USA.  Tel:
(202) 775-3219.  An abridged version can be viewed on line at:
The full text will soon be available at:

Contacts for current information on Liberia, including a visit
to Washington by Liberian Council of State Wilton Sankawolo,
scheduled for this week:

Africa Faith & Justice Network, P.O. Box 29378, Washington, DC
20017.  Tel: (202) 832-3412.  Fax: (202) 832-9051).  Email:

Friends of Liberia, P.O. Box 28098, Washington, DC 20038.
Tel: (703) 528-8345.  Fax: (703) 528-7480. Email:

This material is made available by the Washington
Office on Africa (WOA).  WOA is a not-for-profit
church, trade union and civil rights group supported
organization that works with Congress on Africa-related


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