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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
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Liberia: WOA Update/Alert
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Liberia: WOA Update/Alert
Date Distributed (ymd): 960729
Washington Office on Africa
After a resurgence of violence last spring, relative calm has
returned to parts of the Liberian capital, Monrovia, over the
past two months. The West African peacekeeping force has
regained control over the city and armed factions loyal to
different warlords have been separated.
However, the peace process which collapsed violently in April
is not back on track. The humanitarian situation remains
desperate. International involvement, whether from West
African states or the broader international community, still
falls far short of the measures necessary to curb the power of
the warlords and open up space for Liberian civilians to
reestablish a functioning society.
The United States and others are discussing the prospects of
holding elections in Liberia before the end of the year.
Liberian civic groups as well as outside observers, however,
warn that meaningful elections are impossible unless the power
of the warlords is effectively checked. They emphasize the
need for disarmament and demobilization of the factional
fighters, monitored by a more effective international military
Since the April explosion of violence in Monrovia, the United
States has kept open its embassy there and has taken a
higher-profile role in the peace process. Washington has
pledged an additional $30 million to the West African
peacekeeping force, known as ECOMOG, to enable it to maintain
minimum levels of stability so that longer-term peace efforts
and humanitarian relief can go forward. The U.S. government
has also stated strongly that the international community will
isolate anyone taking governmental power in Liberia by force.
Despite these steps, the current level of international
involvement remains insufficient. Without a higher level of
engagement by the United States in particular, renewed peace
efforts will be vulnerable to violent and repeated collapse.
To increase the chances of sustainable peace, diplomatic and
humanitarian assistance must be accompanied by support for:
* An adequate international peacekeeping presence, to ensure
disarmament of the factions. This may require an expanded
United Nations force if ECOMOG proves incapable of the task;
* Sanctions to deter and restrict the international trading
channels by which Liberian warlords exchange diamonds and
other Liberian resources for arms;
* A greater voice for Liberian civilians at home and outside
the country, such as by convening a broad national conference
with international sponsorship and support.
Six Years of War
Liberia was founded in the early 19th century by African
Americans who returned to Africa as settlers. Their
descendants, known as Americo-Liberians, dominated the
country's government for more than 150 years. Ties with the
United States were close, with continuing high levels of aid
and investment. In the 1960s and 1970s, Liberia received the
highest per capita level of U.S. aid of any country on the
In 1980 the settler-dominated government was overthrown. Many
Liberians hoped for reform and a shift of power to the
indigenous 95% of the population. But military leader Samuel
Doe bypassed grassroots opposition groups and ran a military
dictatorship, favoring his own small ethnic group.
The United States provided massive support 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. At
the time Liberia was a key staging post for a large-scale
covert U.S. operation against Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.
Washington continued its support for Doe despite documented
human rights violations and a 1985 election widely seen to be
marked by fraud and repression.
In late 1989 insurgents led by Charles Taylor crossed into
Liberia from the Ivory Coast, beginning a war against the Doe
regime. The conflict led to high levels of atrocities against
civilians by Taylor's forces, the remnants of Doe's army, and
as many as five other armed factions. Doe himself was killed
by another rebel leader in September 1990.
Washington provided humanitarian aid--more than $425 million
from 1990 through mid-1995. But former U.S. officials testify
that they were instructed not to take an active role in
peacemaking. The initiative for peacekeeping and peace
negotiations was left to the Economic Community of West
African States (ECOWAS), with Nigeria playing a leading role.
The West African peace-keeping force arrived in late 1990,
after the conflict was well under way. Its intervention has
been flawed, but is generally credited with saving lives.
West African governments meanwhile have supported continuing
mediation efforts. The most recent is the Abuja accord of
August 1995, which provided for an interim government
involving all the warlords, and for the disarming and
demobilization of their forces before elections this year.
The Abuja accord came after almost six years of war which
killed as many as 150,000 out of a population of 2.6 million.
Some 800,000 people fled the country as refugees, and more
than a million were displaced from their homes within the
Accord Breaks Down
Implementation of the Abuja agreement depended on either the
goodwill of the warlords or decisive international support for
their disarmament. Neither materialized. Liberian civilians
were kept out of the process, and the predictable breakdown
came in April when warlord Charles Taylor decided to launch an
attack in Monrovia against a rival force. Both sides had by
then infiltrated armed forces into the capital, previously a
relatively safe haven from the conflict in the countryside.
The fighting forced the evacuation of humanitarian relief
agencies. Their supplies were looted by the warlords, who
used the relief goods for military ends. In mid-June, 13
international agencies said they would not reestablish full
operations in Liberia until minimal security can be assured.
Fighting has recently recurred in several other parts of the
country. Despite the relative normalcy in the capital,
Liberians say that off the main streets there is no security.
Basic services, such as electricity and running water, are not
available, and food is scarce. During June over 1,500 bodies
were recovered by health workers from shallow graves.
The primary responsibility for the war over the last six
years--and for the latest violence in Monrovia--lies with the
leaders of the Liberian armed factions, who have put their
personal quests for power above the desire of Liberians for
peace. The record of the West African peacekeeping force,
which brought some stability to parts of Liberia, has been
mixed, and its failure to react when violence broke out in
April contributed to the high level of destruction.
But the international community must also shoulder a large
share of the blame. In the case of Liberia, with 150 years of
close U.S. ties, "international community" means above all the
United States. The U.S. failure to respond to the initial
outbreak of war in 1989-1990 cost the lives of thousands of
Liberians and close to $500 million in emergency aid.
When the latest peace agreement was signed, many observers
warned that it was doomed to collapse without adequate
international support for disarmament and demobilization of
the militias and for the peacekeeping efforts of ECOMOG. That
support did not come. This failure invited a costly
humanitarian disaster and set the scene for the evacuation of
U.S. citizens and many other foreign residents in April.
Giving Peace a Chance
The majority of Liberians want peace. But the chances of
achieving it are slim unless the capacity of the warlords to
make war is curbed.
Liberian civil leaders and traditional rulers, meeting with
ECOWAS leaders in mid-July, urged strong international
sanctions against faction leaders to enforce compliance with
peace agreements. They stressed that ECOMOG should be
empowered and provided with logistical support to enforce
peace by disarming combatants, as a precondition to free
The Liberian leaders also demanded that the international
community impose sanctions on the export of Liberian natural
resources by the warlords. "On no account should there be
elections without first complete disarmament, encampment and
integration of these combatants into the society," stated the
chair of the Liberian Bar Association, Frederick Cherue.
In sum, three basic steps are needed if Liberian civilians are
to have a chance to rebuild their society. The United States
must play an active role in providing high-level and
consistent diplomatic pressure and financial resources in
support of the entire process.
(1) The international peacekeeping force already on the ground
must be maintained and upgraded. West African states must
continue to play a central role in peacemaking and
peacekeeping, regardless of the shortcomings of their past
involvement and doubts about the future. (Leadership of West
African peacemaking efforts is shifting, as Ghana's President
Jerry Rawlings ended his term as chair of ECOWAS in late July.
His successor is General Sani Abacha, head of the Nigerian
But the West African states do not have the diplomatic clout,
the credibility, or the logistical resources to do the job
entirely on their own. The ECOMOG force needs adequate
logistical support. Its efforts also need to be supplemented
by consistent backup and monitoring from the wider
international community, including an expanded United Nations
peacekeeping presence which can balance the West African role.
(2) The peace process must be linked to plans for
disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of combatants.
Continued participation by faction leaders in the political
process should be contingent on their cooperation with
disarmament, as specified in the Abuja peace agreement. The
warlords likely will only comply with such demands if action
is taken to block the flow of arms. This includes strong and
effective pressure on neighboring countries, particularly
Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, to restrict the
supplies of arms to the factions.
At the same time, disarmament will not be possible without
simultaneous planning for demobilization. Successful
reintegration of former combatants into civilian life in turn
depends on the creation of economic opportunities within the
civilian economy. Delay in planning these elements was one of
the main reasons for the failure to disarm in the period since
last fall. Such a comprehensive plan will be costly. But it
is more practical--and, in the long term less expensive--than
responding to repeated humanitarian emergencies.
(3) Steps must be taken to guarantee a more active role for
civilian institutions in the transition. Last year's Abuja
accord was praised by some and criticized by others for making
the faction leaders the key players in the transitional
government leading to elections. This could only work if
prompt disarmament and international protection for civilians
were implemented simultaneously.
The peace process should provide political space for the vast
majority of unarmed Liberians and Liberian civic institutions.
It must not be held hostage by any of the armed faction
leaders. Unless new measures are taken to protect and
encourage vibrant civilian political activity, the peace
process will be again be doomed to fail.
What You Can Do
[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.]
1. CONTACT THE ADMINISTRATION
Write to National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and to
Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Urge that the United
States increase its active engagement in the search for peace
in Liberia. Talking points:
* The United States bears special responsibility for helping
to resolve the situation in Liberia because of its historical
ties to Liberia and U.S. aid to the Doe regime.
* Peace agreements cannot succeed without much more active
international support for disarmament and demobilization of
factional fighters, and for West African and international
peacekeeping efforts. This requires sanctions to block the
flow of arms to the warlords.
* Liberian civilian institutions must play a more active role
in the transition to a legitimate government. Elections will
only be meaningful if there is security and a real opportunity
for Liberian civilians, inside and outside of Liberia, to have
a greater voice.
Mr. Anthony Lake
National Security Council
Washington, DC 20500
Fax: (202) 456-2883
Secretary Warren Christopher
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Fax: (202) 647-6434
2. CONTACT CONGRESS
Send copies of your messages to the Africa subcommittees in
Congress and to the Congressional Black Caucus. Consider
enclosing a short note thanking these members of Congress for
their efforts to focus attention on the crisis in Liberia, and
asking them to continue to press the Administration for
Sen. Nancy Kassebaum
Chair, Africa Subcommittee
302 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 224-3514
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Chair, Africa Subcommittee
127 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-5620
Rep. Donald Payne
Chair, Congressional Black Caucus
417 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-4160
3. KEEP INFORMED
For updates on the situation in Liberia, contact Ezekiel
Pajibo, Africa Faith and Justice Network, 401 Michigan Ave.
NE, Washington, DC 20017. Tel. (202) 832-3412. Fax (202)
832-9051. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This material is produced and distributed by the Washington
Office on Africa (WOA), a not-for-profit church, trade union
and civil rights group supported organization that works with
Congress on Africa-related legislation. WOA's educational
affiliate is the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC).