Peacekeeping in Africa

A vast majority of the conflicts raging in Africa are intra-state in nature. The root causes are multifaceted but often include the economic and political marginalization of one group, poor governance in form of the concentration of power in the hands of a small elite or a dictator, corruption and human rights abuses. In many instances, ethnic or religious tensions are manipulated by leaders to deepen social cleavages. Commercial motives have also propelled conflicts as warlords enrich themselves from the illegal exploitation of natural resources such as diamonds and timber. These conflicts have tended to spill over into neighbouring countries, creating regional instability. 
This is particularly true in West Africa where the borders are notoriously porous. Weapons, loot, combatants, natural resources, refugees, trafficked women and children all flow relatively unhindered in and out of unstable countries where impunity reigns and the state has little control. In a region where borders cross ethnic groups, cultures and economic ties, problems are contagious. Adding to the volatile situation, West African governments have often supported rebel movements in neighbouring countries. Examples include Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor’s support of the notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone and cross-border assistance to the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) to fight against Taylor in Liberia.
Liberia has for quite some time been at the centre of a regional vortex of instability reaching into the neighbouring countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire. Since civil war broke out in 1989, there has been a series of attempts by the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to resolve the Liberian conflict. In the latest of these efforts, Liberia currently hosts the largest UN peacekeeping operation in the world - the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
This article discusses the challenges to the Liberian peace process. After a brief background to the conflict and an outline of Liberia’s recent history, we will identify a series of challenges that have to be dealt with if Liberia is to finally emerge from over 14 years of civil war. We will then reflect on ways of managing these challenges. While the main focus remains on the work of UNMIL in cooperation with Liberian actors, the regional dimension of the peace process will be highlighted, including the partnership with ECOWAS as well as other UN peacekeeping operations in the region. It is clear that if peace in Liberia is to hold in the long-term, a regional approach is necessary.


Background to the Conflict and Brief History
The conflict in Liberia has its roots in poor governance and an economic and political marginalization of the indigenous population that goes back to the founding of the country by freed American slaves in the middle of the 19th Century.[2] The political and economic exclusion of a large part of the population by a small elite of Americo-Liberians has left a permanent mark on the country and has continuously given source to ethnic tensions and rivalries. Americo-Liberians ruled the country until Samuel Doe, a Master-Sergeant in the Liberian army, lead a coup against then president William Tolbert. Through a policy of assassinations and enforced exile, Doe was able to clear the way for the instalment of members of his Krahn ethnic group into leading positions in government institutions. Doe’s policies further entrenched ethnic divisions within the Liberian society.

Liberia’s civil war began in 1989 when the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Americo-Liberian Charles Taylor invaded the country. The NPFL easily won recruits among the Gio and Mano ethnic groups in Nimba County, who have suffered under Doe’s regime. The conflict took on a dangerous ethnic tone as NPFL forces attacked the Krahns and Mandingoes for their earlier support of President Doe. Avarice on the part of the warlords played a major role in prolonging the conflict and over the next several years, fighting intensified as the rebels splintered and fought each other and the Liberian army, killing over 200,000 people—mainly civilians—and displacing nearly one third of Liberia’s 3.2 million inhabitants.

From the outset of the conflict, ECOWAS, supported by the UN, undertook various initiatives aimed at a peaceful settlement. These efforts included establishing the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in 1990. The Security Council in 1992 imposed an arms embargo on Liberia, and the Secretary-General appointed a Special Representative to assist in talks between ECOWAS and the warring parties. The Security Council also established the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) to support ECOMOG in implementing the July 1993 Cotonou peace agreement.[3] UNOMIL was the first United Nations peacekeeping mission to be deployed alongside a peacekeeping operation already established by another organization.

After a resumption of fighting and a series of supplementary peace agreements, a ceasefire came into force, and the Abuja Peace Accord was signed in 1996. Disarmament was carried out and partial reintegration of combatants was implemented before elections were conducted in 1997. Charles Taylor won in a landslide victory. As Adekeye Adebajo put it, “Taylor calculated correctly that he had the financial resources, acquired through the control of much of Liberia’s territory during the war, to mount the most effective electoral campaign against a divided opposition. Most Liberian voters also concluded that a Taylor presidential victory was the best guarantee for preventing a return to war.”[4]

After the elections, UNOMIL was succeeded by the United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Liberia, (UNOL) with a mandate of promoting national reconciliation and good governance. From April 2003, its mandate also included addressing human rights issues and assisting the conduct of elections. The efforts of UNOL were seriously undermined by Taylor’s systematic human rights abuses, harassment of political opponents and conflicts between the government and opposition leaders. Civil war resumed. The rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) was formed in 2000, and in 2003 a LURD splinter group founded the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). By June 2003 they together held two thirds of Liberia. A ceasefire agreement was signed on 17 June which stated that a transitional government would take over within 30 days. Fighting however resumed and intensified, particularly in the capital Monrovia.

On 8 July 2003 the United Nations Secretary-General appointed Jacques Paul Klein as his Special Representative for Liberia to coordinate UN activities and support the emerging transitional arrangements. On 1 August, the Security Council authorized the establishment of a multinational force in Liberia and declared its readiness to establish a follow-on UN stabilization force.[5] The ECOWAS Mission in Liberia (ECOMIL) began to arrive on 4 August with logistics support and transportation provided by the United States and the UN. Pressured to resign, Charles Taylor left his post on 11 August, handing over the presidency to Vice President Moses Blah.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed on 18 August between the Government of Liberia (GOL), the rebel factions LURD and MODEL, as well as political parties. The agreement requests the UN to deploy a peacekeeping force in the country and creates a transitional government of the three warring parties, political parties, and civil society. It also sets up a transitional assembly and calls for a disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration (DDRR) programme, security sector reform, and the holding of elections by October 2005. The CPA also calls for the establishment of various committees (such as a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Governance Reform Commission) as well as mechanisms to ensure the implementation of the agreement.

On 21 August, Charles Gyude Bryant, a businessman and head of the Liberia Action Party, was appointed Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) and Wesley Johnson, an opposition politician and university lecturer, was appointed Vice Chairman. That same day, a multidisciplinary UN assessment team arrived in Monrovia to take stock of the situation and provide recommendations for an upcoming UN peacekeeping mission. Those recommendations laid the ground for a Report of the Secretary-General of 11 September[6] as well as the subsequent Security Council resolution 1509 (2003) of 19 September[7] authorizing the deployment of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). UNMIL came into existence on 1 October 2003 with the transfer of ECOMIL troops to UN command.

UNMIL has a mandate to support the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement of 17 June 2003 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 18 August 2003; provide assistance in the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants; facilitate humanitarian assistance; and support the transitional government in the formation and restructuring of the security sector. UNMIL also has a mandate to support the NTGL in the re-establishment of national authority throughout the country and in conducting national elections by October 2005.

Challenges in the Liberian Peace Process
Even though the Liberian peace process remains on track, there are several factors that have a potential to create hurdles. The very nature of a transitional government limits legitimacy and effectiveness. Since the NTGL is a coalition government of the three factions, cooperation is by definition difficult, especially since many members of the factions expect their representatives to answer to them rather than to the Liberian people. Another stumbling block for the peace process is divisions within the factions themselves that can not only lead to gridlocks in government, but also to flare-ups of violence. We have experienced the beginnings of such divisions within LURD, specifically between supporters of LURD Chairman Sekou Conneh and his estranged wife Aisha Conneh. Also causing instability is the presence of spoilers who have nothing to gain from the actual peace process and may instead have to face justice and even be charged with war crimes. In addition, there are concerns that if funds for the reintegration into society of disarmed combatants are not made available in a timely manner, reintegration programmes would stall, creating frustration among ex-combatants that could lead to instability.

A necessary component in the peace process—and this is also a precondition for UNMIL to carry out the remainder of its mandate—is the establishment of physical security and stability throughout the country. UNMIL has now deployed peacekeeping troops in all areas of Liberia and is in the middle of disarming and demobilizing combatants from all three factions. This process has considerably reduced the harassment of the civilian population, which was commonplace earlier this year.

Strategies for long-term physical security however, must include regional cooperation to limit the easy cross-border movement of combatants and weapons. Without a regional approach in this area, conflicts will continue to move from country to country.

Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration
One of the biggest challenges for the consolidation of peace in Liberia is without doubt the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of former combatants (DDRR). At the time of writing, UNMIL has disarmed and demobilized a majority of the combatants from the three factions the ex-government of Liberia, LURD, and MODEL. As mentioned above, Liberia’s porous borders and the ease with which combatants can move in and out of Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, will remain a challenge to the long-term success of the DDRR. Already we have seen combatants attempting to cross the border from Côte d’Ivoire in order to take advantage of the benefits the Liberian DDRR programme to then return to be part of the Ivorian programme. An additional challenge is posed by the fact that the Ivorian DDRR programme pays combatants a total of $900 in reinsertion benefits throughout the course of the programme. The corresponding figure for Liberia’s DDRR package is $300. This discrepancy may entice Liberian combatants, in particular from the MODEL faction, of whom many speak French and have cross-border contacts, to move into Côte d’Ivoire to “cash in”.

Economic Development
The rehabilitation and reintegration phase of the DDRR programme will constitute even more of a challenge than the disarmament and demobilization. The United Nations, in collaboration with donors, will provide schooling and vocational training to ex-combatants but the vexing question is how do you reintegrate former combatants if there is nothing to reintegrate into? Communities are still shattered and the unemployment rate stands at 75 percent. If former fighters are not provided with a livelihood, they are more likely to fall prey to the rhetoric of spoilers, including warlords who may promise wealth in return for taking up arms again. It is vital that Liberia’s economy is revitalized in order to create employment for the thousands of idle youth and former combatants.

Economic development can be supported by state actors on a domestic and bilateral basis and by regional actors such as ECOWAS and the Mano River Union integrating economies and coordinating activities. Another way of expanding the economy is through regional trade. Regional infrastructure development is crucial. This includes building cross-border roads and improving interstate communications and further integrating the economy by expanding trade networks and removing the numerous hampering roadblocks throughout the region.

Extension of state authority
The next necessary component of the peace process is the extension of state authority. To encourage economic development on a national level, non-corrupt government institutions need to be present throughout the country providing basic services. UNMIL is working with the National Transitional Government of Liberia to establish accountable government institutions.

This work includes the regulation of the timber, diamond mining, and shipping industries, which, properly governed, could be great sources of income for the Liberian government. Illegal activities of non-state actors in these sectors need to cease in order for the sanctions imposed by the Security Council to be removed. Indeed, until a modicum of good governance is introduced, sanctions will remain.[8] There needs to be a strong international support of Liberian endeavours to lift sanctions that have a negative impact on the economy such as on timber and other natural resources. In the meantime however, we need to see a stronger regional and international commitment in reinforcing sanctions, such as the travel ban and the cross-border trafficking of weapons.

Rule of Law
A successful peace process must also include the creation of functioning rule of law institutions. We used to think that by establishing physical security in post-conflict countries, we had solved the problem and could safely pull out. But we have learned the hard way—often by having to return and do the job all over again—that peace does not equal the absence of violence and war. In order for peace to be sustainable and democracy to take root, social and economic development, health and education are necessary. This requires basic institutions of government and the establishment of the rule of law.

As Liberia and other crisis countries have experienced, the disintegration of rule of law has led to a situation where violence, arbitrary killings and human rights abuses go unpunished, which in turn has led to mob violence and general lawlessness. When people’s lives and possessions can be randomly taken away, they become afraid to invest in the future, and without investments—whether it is planting for the next season, sending the children to school, buying equipment for a business, or joining a civil society group—there can be no development.

Not until there is public trust in the institutions of rule of law, will there be a foundation for peace and democracy. On a more theoretical level you can see this process as the gradual renewal of the social contract between the individual and society, which Jean Jacques Rousseau famously wrote about. This also includes a culture of lawfulness where codes of conduct are put into place throughout society, and importantly, where children are taught democratic values in school.

While building rule of law institutions, there must also be a focus on transitional justice. In a country like Liberia, emerging from a conflict that has included widespread human rights abuses, violations of humanitarian norms and generalized impunity, it is crucial to unearth the past through adequate investigation. Without this process, traumas and grievances will remain and become obstacles in building the foundations of rule of law. Liberia must here find a balance between the truth and reconciliation foreseen in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on the one hand, and the punishment of crimes under Liberian and international law on the other.

The final component in a strategy to consolidate peace is the conduct of credible elections. In accordance with the peace agreement signed by the Liberian parties in Accra, Liberia will hold elections in October of next year. UNMIL is working closely with UN agencies, ECOWAS, the International Contact Group on Liberia and NGOs to strengthen the capacity of the National Elections Commission to carry out the enormous task of developing a new electoral law, plan the demarcation of new constituencies, and conduct voter education and registration.

The Elections Commission, is in turn bringing together a broad spectrum of actors, including government representatives, private sector actors, women’s groups, NGOs, and other community based organizations for a national consultative process on how this work should be carried out. Implementation is especially hard in a country where a large part of the population has been displaced and where there are no birth certificates or other proof of citizenship or age and where elections have generally been fraudulent, violent, and undemocratic.

While elections have a great importance in the peace process, there is need for some caution: elections do not equal democracy. As we have seen before, not only in Liberia but also in places like Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Haiti, holding elections without the necessary peace-building activities I have outlined, can lead to old corrupt and autocratic leadership being reinstalled. The conduct of elections can therefore not by themselves provide an exit strategy for UNMIL or any other peacekeeping operation.

Managing the Challenges
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement outlines various mechanisms to aid in the implementation of the peace process. The most prominent of these is the Implementation Monitoring Committee (IMC), which will “ensure effective and faithful Implementation of the Peace Agreement by all the Parties”.[9] The IMC consists of ECOWAS, the ICGL (which was formed in 2002 and includes among others the United States and Nigeria), the UN, the African Union, and the European Union. This body is very useful in keeping a “big picture” perspective and has several times requested the NTGL, as well as UNMIL and UN agencies to present progress in several areas including allocation of donor funding, disarmament and demobilization and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons.

In addition to the work in the IMC, a Joint Monitoring Commission (JMC) has been set up under the peace agreement to supervise and monitor the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. The JMC has met on a biweekly basis since August and comprises of the three factions, the UN, ECOWAS, the AU, and ICGL. Through this forum, ceasefire violations have been discussed with the factions and the international and regional members have made it clear that ceasefire violations cannot be tolerated. This body has been very useful in maintaining regular contact with faction commanders, especially in sharing information about the disarmament and demobilization process.

In order to enhance coordination in the implementation of the peace agreement, a closer working relationship should also be fostered between the UN and ECOWAS as the two principal international actors. ECOWAS took an early lead role in the Liberian peace process, including in its role as co-chair of the ICGL. It also played a vital role in negotiating the peace agreement. In addition to its intimate knowledge of Liberia, ECOWAS has shown great commitment and timely action in sending peacekeeping troops to the country. The UN, on the other hand, demonstrates by its presence, a broader international commitment and carries an international legitimacy that a regional organization, by definition, lacks. This not only puts pressure on the parties to the peace agreement to live up to their promises, but also ensures that Liberia remains on the international agenda, thus facilitating donor commitments in the reconstruction efforts. And in spite of chronic under-funding, the UN has significantly greater logistics capacities than ECOWAS.

These two key actors not only complement each other well but also need each other’s backing in carrying out their respective mandates vis-à-vis their Liberian counterparts.

To ensure close collaboration between the NTGL, ECOWAS, and UNMIL, consultations are under way for the establishment of a coordination mechanism between these stakeholders. A similar modus operandi was very constructive in Sierra Leone. In Liberia it could be useful in the promotion of a regional approach and in mapping out a common strategy for supporting the peace process.

The United Nations currently has an unprecedented three peacekeeping operations in West Africa. In addition to UNMIL, there is the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), and the newly created United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI). The UN also has one peace-building office (the United Nations Peace-Building Office in Guinea Bissau, UNOGBIS), and one regional office (the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) which was created in 2002 to address the regional dimensions of UN activities in West Africa. This large UN presence provides West Africa with a great opportunity to resolve conflicts in the region.

The UN Secretary-General has presented recommendations and strategies in this area to the Security Council[10] and the three peacekeeping operations in the region are in the process of integrating their work further. However, if these strategies are to be successful, they require the full commitment, not only of the UN, but also of its member states in their capacity as troop contributing countries, of ECOWAS and its individual member states, and of the African Union.

Skrevet af Souren G. Seraydarian og Lotta Hagman. Souren G. Seraydarian is the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for Operations and Rule of Law, United Nations Mission in Liberia. Lotta Hagman is the Special Assistant to the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for Operations and Rule of Law. The authors would like to thank Raisedon Zenenga, Comfort Ero, Christine Kapalata, and Indiana Falaise-Sendyk for their suggestions and comments.

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[1] Souren G. Seraydarian is the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for Operations and Rule of Law, United Nations Mission in Liberia. Lotta Hagman is the Special Assistant to the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for Operations and Rule of Law. The authors would like to thank Raisedon Zenenga, Comfort Ero, Christine Kapalata, and Indiana Falaise-Sendyk for their suggestions and comments.

[2] See Amos Sawyer, The Emergence of Autocracy in Liberia: Tragedy and Challenge (San Francisco: ICS Press, 1992).

[3] For an in-depth analysis of the war and ECOMOG’s involvement see Adekeye Adebajo, Liberia’s Civil War: Nigeria, ECOMOG, and Regional Security in West Africa (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2002).

[4] Ibid. p. 201.

[5] Security Council Resolution 1497 (2003) 1 August 2003.

[6] Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on Liberia, 11 September 2003 (S/2003/875).

[7] Security Council Resolution 1509 (2003) 19 September 2003.

[8] The fact that greater government oversight of the diamond and timber industries would be required before the sanctions could be lifted was again confirmed by the Security Council on 10 June 2004. See Press Statement on Liberia by Security Council President, 10 June 2004 (SC 8119).

[9] Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Government of Liberia and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and Political Parties, Accra, 18 August 2003. Article XXIX.

[10] See for example Report of the Secretary-General on Ways to Combat Subregional and Cross-Border Problems in West Africa, 12 March 2004, S/2004/200.