Global Policy Forum

Situation in Liberia Remains Precarious Despite Improvements


By Richard Lentz

Maxim News
November 30,2008

In December of this year, a brigade of United Nations troops from Jordan will arrive in Liberia to assist the nation in controlling internal security threats to its recent recovery. Special Representative to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ellen Margrethe Loj, stated that this action "represents the continued commitment of the UN to be unwavering and vigilant in maintaining peace and security in Liberia ." The Jordanian troops will be joined with the rest of the security forces of the UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia ) to consolidate the peace that has begun to take hold in Liberia since 2003.

The civil war that ended in that year claimed the lives of around 150,000 people and displaced almost a million refugees. Despite the termination of the civil war, internal security problems remain a threat to this new found peace in Liberia. Charlotte Abaka, the UN Independent Expert on the Situation for Human Rights in Liberia , stated recently that "serious concerns remain with regards to the rule of law." Abaka then stated that "the continued increase in armed robberies and rape cases in a serious issue."

The most recent report to the Secretary-General, the situation has been described as "generally stable, but fragile." The report described "random violence" and "mob justice" as being the two most serious threats to internal security in the country. The latter problem has even spread to UNMIL employees and UN facilities back in March of this year, when Liberian security forces were dispatched to various parts of Monrovia to prevent further damage to property and lives. Earlier this year in May, a "joint assessment team" made up of members of Liberian security and governmental agencies, along with UNMIL, conducted an analysis of the security situation in all of Liberia 's 15 counties.

Although the majority of the counties in Liberia saw little or no change in the security situation since the last assessment in 2007, a few did see deterioration in the security situation over the past year. Part of this problem lies with the fact that the UN counted 7,251 former participants in the civil war have not been assimilated back into Liberian society. Such former combatants are often engaged in illicit activities such as illegal mining or the cultivation of narcotics (especially marijuana).

However, the main cause of the violence in the country is the lack of economic opportunities that exist for the average Liberian to advance. According to the latest data from the World Bank, Liberia remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with its GNI (Gross National Income) of being only 150 US dollars.

This leaves us with over 60% of the Liberian population living below the poverty line 5 and 46% of the population undernourished, according to the most recent UN statistics. Also, UNESCO has been monitoring the educational system, which has been severely inadequate in educating the youth of Liberia . Among young Liberians (ages 15-24), one-third are illiterate and have not completed primary school. This is largely due to the fact that 61% of all children of age to be in elementary school, are not enrolled or attending any classes. This is especially alarming since 43% of the Liberian population is 14 years old or younger.

Such threats to internal stability in Liberia were a major factor in Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's decision to renew the UNMIL mission for another year back in September. Mr. Ban recently stated that "much still needs to be done, urgently, to strengthen the capacities of both the police and the army, and facilitate their effective presence in the country." Although the number of UN military personal is being reduced by 1,500 soldiers (to a total fewer than 11,000 soldiers), the number of UNMIL law enforcement officials will increase by 140 to a total of 845 police officers.

According to the UN Security Council, these officers will be added "to provide strategic advice and expertise in specialized fields, provide operational support to regular policing activities, and react to urgent security incidents." This is being carried out since UNMIL is concerned with the slow timing in the consolidation of a national police force and Emergency Response Unit to deal with the escalating violence in the country. This has prevented UNMIL officers from being sent to other areas of trouble outside of the capital city of Monrovia . 3 However, there remains much reason to optimist that peace will be consolidated permanently in Liberia .

So far, the economy under President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (elected in 2006) is recovering quite well under her administration. The GDP according to the World Bank, grew by 9.4% last year giving the country a 298 million dollar increase in this year's budget, an increase in over 40% compared to the year before.The latest Secretary-General report stated that this economic growth has been due to "the higher prices of natural resources and the expansion of the service sector." Also, the report credits the economic growth to the successful financial policies by the Sirleaf administration by ‘restrictive monetary control" that has keep inflation rates low.

This positive economist growth has also significantly reduced the possibility that "ex-combatants" from the civil war will take up arms again. In fact, a recent questionnaire showed us that 97% of all ex-combatants in the northern Lofa County "better off now than when they were fighting." Much of these improvements in the lives of the ex-combatants from the civil war are due to United Nations "rehabilitation programs" scattered in 28 different locations throughout the country.

Andrea Tamagnini, the director of the UNMIL rehabilitation programs recently stated that "The way forward is that the ex-combatants get back into their communities and they can get jobs through their communities." What this means is that the former combatants are being trained by UN officials in agriculture, construction, and other necessary jobs that will help rebuild the economy of Liberia .

Along with positive economic growth, there also has been some success in the rebuilding of the Liberian armed forces. The majority (1,631 soldiers) of the 2,000 member military has completed their training and is ready for serve. It is hoped that the Armed forces of Liberia will be able to conduct "joint training and exercises with UNMIL troops" by the end of 2009 according to the report. However, most importantly, the Secretary-General report claimed that there was "appreciable progress in the reform and restructuring of the National Police." The UNMIL has provided "basic training for 3,661 officers" along with "specialized training" for over 1,000 police officials within the Liberian National Police. However, with the continuing support of the United Nations and International Community, there is every reason to remain optimistic that peace will be fully consolidated in Liberia.

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on Liberia


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