Global Policy Forum

SG Ban Ki-moon Bids Liberia,

March 19, 2007

Cause For Celebration Or Concern?

The United Nations Security Council, in September 2003, established United Nations Missions in Liberia (UNMIL) in order to affirm and safeguard gains made by stakeholders to the Liberian peace process. Resolution 1509 (2003) says the robust 63-nation, 15,000-strong military force was to [provide] support for humanitarian and human rights assistance, security reform, and the implementation of the peace process. Many Liberians, including presidential forerunners thought that extent of UN assistance would provide an on-the-job learning space for the winner of the 2005 presidential election. But the unspoken line of caution that runs through 13 consecutive reports of the UN Secretary General is that there is no such holiday and that the UN looks up to a Liberia that buckles down in partnership in the mending process of its own broken fences. The Analyst Staff Writer has been leafing through UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon March 2007 Progress Report on the United Nations Mission in Liberia.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has recommended the extension of UNMIL's operation time in Liberia by a year up to March 31, 2008. The recommendation, which was contained in the14th Secretary General Progress Report on the United Nations Mission in Liberia dated March 15, 2007, calls particular attention to how much more work has to be done, especially by the government of Liberia and the donor community, to meet set benchmarks for the consolidation, drawdown, and withdrawal of the Mission from Liberia. "Liberia still faces significant reconstruction and development challenges arising from 14 years of civil strife, including pervasive poverty, food insecurity, high unemployment, massive illiteracy..." the South Korean diplomat who took over from Dr. Kofi Annan barely three months ago noted. Other challenges that face Liberia, he said, were debilitated infrastructure and the inadequate delivery of basic services, including potable water, health services and education. "In addition, a number of tasks that are critical to the consolidation of peace in the country have yet to be completed, including the reintegration of ex-combatants, the resettlement of returnees, and the reform of the judiciary and the extension of the rule of law throughout the country," Secretary Ban said. These observations, he was quick to say, did not mean that there was no noticeable progress in the reporting period. "I'm pleased to note that the Government remains focused on the important priorities of ensuring economic recovery; fighting corruption; implementing the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program; reforming the security sector; regaining control and efficient management of its natural resources... " He said the government was also strengthening the capacity of its institutions, parastatals and agencies, and consolidating its authority. "In addition, the Government has implemented structural and fiscal reforms; drafted critical legislation; and transparently reviewed contracts and concessions entered into by the former National Transitional Government of Liberia," the former South Korean top Foreign Service official said. But he said these achievements on the part of the government would lose their salt unless the government buckled down to true partnership by accelerating the development of a national security strategy and framework, as well as the training and restructuring of the new army.

Experts say a major contribution to Liberia's long-term security interest is well-trained army and para-military units that will keep out the troubles that are fomenting outside Liberia's borders with Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire as well as perform civil works and ensure domestic security with respect for the rights of the civilian population. But the UN Secretary General's report suggests that while UN Resolution 1509(2003) and the CPA agree that the UN would be responsible for the restructuring of the security forces, UNMIL looks forward to the donor community and the government of Liberia to have inputs as partners. Secretary Ban: "While some progress has been made in restructuring and training the police, vehicles, communications equipment and accommodation are needed to sustain their deployment to the interior of the country. I trust that donors will contribute generously towards these pressing requirements, which will help the Government to strengthen the rule of law."

The UN Secretary General described as "potential threat to stability and a source of serious concern" the spiraling unemployment amongst Liberian youths, former combatants, and deactivated security personnel, but unlike the thinking of most Liberian government officials, politicians, and ordinary Liberians, he does not pray for Special Marshall Reconstruction Plan for Liberia. In his view, the solution to the threat lies in the provision by the government of Liberia of short-term labor-intensive employment opportunities while sustainable employment opportunities generated through a revitalized economy are created in the long term. In his proposed solution, the Secretary General said nothing about Liberia's terribly low annual budget that barely supports the claims of civil servants including the very deactivated soldiers he described as dangerous and the Liberian private sector that needs 5-10 years of national resuscitation plan under the supervision of the government of Liberia that is struggling to find its own bearings. He moreover said nothing about the workability, under the current fiscal constraints facing the nation, of the cash-intensiveness of the labor-intensive employment opportunities he proffered as a stopgap solution to potentially explosive situation. Observers say the question of ex-servicemen threatening national security came as a drawback of the mismanagement of the DDRR programme by UNMIL and its ICGL monitors, but that also did not claim the attention of Mr. Ban. But he appeals to the donor community to assist the Liberian government in generating these employment opportunities. He also urged international partners to intensify efforts to provide former combatants, who have not yet participated in reintegration programmes, with reintegration opportunities. "In the light of the challenges outlined above, and given the limited progress made in meeting the benchmarks for the consolidation and drawdown of the Mission, I recommend the extension of the mandate of UNMIL for a period of 12 months, until 31 March 2008," the Secretary General said.

Even though he gave no guarantees, there are general hopes amongst Liberians and friends of Liberia that by that date most of the Mission's 9-point benchmarks would be met. By the time UNMIL departs Liberia, the Secretary General says, the Mission expects to record significant achievements in the following areas designated as benchmarks: Training, Restructuring And Reform Of The Liberian National Police, the Training, Restructuring And Reform Of The Armed Forces Of Liberia, and Development Of A National Security Strategy And Architecture. Others areas are the Reintegration of Ex-combatants; the Consolidation of State Authority; the Management Of Natural Resources, and the Promotion of Human Rights And The Rule Of Law.

The remaining benchmarks are Economic Governance and National Recovery, Reconstruction and Development. The benchmarks were originally set for the two-year transitional period designed to prepare for civil rule by 2006. But many say the peace process is way beyond 2006, the civilian government that was born of it is one year in power, and many are afraid that Mr. Ban's one-year request without clear-cut solution to the donor lethargy may mean very little to the challenges that face Liberia.

According to Hne T.B. Harrison, an ex-combatant who is now professor of History at a local college in Monrovia, what could not be achieved in 96 months can certainly not be achieved in 12 months unless the UN and the donor community looked at the current government as facilitator rather than a partner with unfairly greater responsibility for the reconstruction of this country. "Sure it is the government's responsibility, but it is a long-term responsibility that will not follow any short-term benchmarks. So those who can help find short-term workable solutions may do so now if UNMIL must not leave here before any benchmark is fully realized.

If UNMIL continues to look up to the government while the government looks up to the international community, we will get up one day to the announcement that UNMIL will leave in six months," Harrison said. In light of the uncertainties associated with UNMIL's works, shifting timetable, and dwindling support, he said, it was important that the government of Liberia focus critically on the restructuring of the army and police more than anything else. "Yes, we need employment, social services, good roads, schools, hospitals, etc., but the question we need to ask ourselves now is. 'If UNMIL leaves today, what will be our most national concern and regret: that we did not build roads, clinics, build hydro plants, school buildings, or reliable security forces?' I think that we did not build reliable security forces will be our major regret and that is what the government must go for," he said. Analysts say Harrison's opinions may cut across those of many Liberians, but they do not necessarily speak to the core and truth of the matter with finality. With current efforts and increased collaboration amongst the government of Liberia, the donor community, and international financial institution, they say, the chances are good for the acceleration of the peace and reconstruction processes in the coming year. They however don't disagree with Harrison that the extension of UNMIL's operations in Liberia by one year calls for intensive strategizing by the Liberian government and people and critical stocktaking rather than it calls celebration. "There is no substitute for buckling down while UNMIL lasts lest we be caught pants down like naughty, hard of hearing kids," said one retired military general in Monrovia recently.

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