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Research Report

The Role of Civil Society in National Reconciliation and Peacebuilding in Liberia

Augustine Toure
Copyright Date: Apr. 1, 2002
Pages: 36
OPEN ACCESS
https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep09531

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. [i]-[i])
  2. (pp. [ii]-[iii])
  3. (pp. 1-3)
  4. (pp. 4-5)

    The holding of elections in July 1997 marked the end of Liberia’s brutal seven-year long civil war.¹ The end of the war, it was thought, had settled the leadership question – the violent contestation for power among the leaders of Liberia’s warring factions. The hope was that peace would usher in a fresh start and a new democratic order and economic development, the absence of which were felt to have been among the main causes of the war. This post-war peace dividend however proved to be a mirage. President Charles Taylor’s regime, since its ascendancy to power after winning a...

  5. (pp. 6-7)

    In its current usage, civil society is generally understood to constitute the realm and range of voluntary and autonomous associations in the public sphere between the family and the state, which exist in relation to, but are independent of the state.⁸ Another important definition which points to perhaps its chief attribute, is civil society’s norm-setting role which is concerned with the nature and limits of state power and the rules that govern its functioning. The public realm in which these associations exist is populated by organizations such as ethnic, religious, professional, trade/labor unions, gender, environmental, human rights and pro-democracy groups,...

  6. (pp. 7-8)

    The outbreak of the Liberian civil war cannot be explained by a single dominant factor. The war grew out of the domestic, socio-economic and political environment of the 1980s.17 There were two major events principally associated with this period: the 1980 military coup and the 1985 parliamentary and presidential elections. There is general agreement among analysts of Liberia that the 1980 coup, which was led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe and ended over a century of Americo-Liberian rule, failed to address the fundamental questions of political and socio-economic exclusion of the majority of the population which had characterized settler rule....

  7. (pp. 8-9)

    An assessment of US/Liberia relations is crucial to understanding how American policies contributed to the outbreak of the civil war in Liberia. This relationship dates back to the 1820s, beginning with the activities of the American Colonization Society (ACS), and created a historical perception of the US as the “mother country.” But this has been a hopelessly unequal relationship between a major power and a near mini-state.23

    In the unequal power relations that evolved, Washington as a major power, has had tremendous influence over the domestic affairs of its economically weaker partner, Liberia. The US has wielded this influence through...

  8. (pp. 9-9)

    The antecedent to organized civil society in Liberia can be traced to a lone crusader for press freedom and other civil liberties – Albert Porte. A school teacher, social commentator and pamphleteer, Porte’s writings criticized the excessive authority of the presidency as well as government corruption.27 During the long years that spanned his career (1920-1986) the writings of Albert Porte came to epitomize the conscience of society. Porte’s crusade against government abuses raised the awareness and consciousness of Liberia’s citizenry. It also provided inspiration for civil society activism and a rallying point for Liberians to demand accountability of their government....

  9. (pp. 10-11)

    Adecade of repressive rule under Doe adversely affected organized civil society in Liberia, stunted its growth and created a vacuum. However, this vacuum was filled during the outbreak of the civil war in December 1989, and the enormity of human suffering and widespread atrocities which characterized the conflict was ironically to provide the impetus for civil society’s rejuvenation.

    Liberian civil society’s opposition to the warring factions during the civil war was not “uniformly progressive” neither was civil society homogenous. As a result of the war, civil society became polarized, mirroring the divisions of the various warring factions. It was common...

  10. (pp. 12-12)

    In explaining Charles Taylor’s spectacular electoral victory in 1997, many analysts have pointed to the fears of many Liberian voters that, had Charles Taylor lost the July 1997 elections, he would have returned to the bush and resumed the war he started.35 However, an equally important but often overlooked explanation, is the breakup of the alliance of political parties comprising seven civilian-based political parties which had been formed on the eve of the elections in a bid to deny Taylor an electoral victory. The breakup of the Alliance – as the coalition of parties was known in March 1997 -...

  11. (pp. 12-16)

    If civil society in Monrovia had operated freely and unfettered by government intervention during the civil war of 1989 to 1996 largely due to the favorable political climate under IGNU, the actions of the Taylor regime after the end of the civil war threatened the expansion and consolidation of that democratic space.

    Having viewed Monrovia as the stronghold of the civilian political opposition, once in power, the Taylor regime adopted a hostile attitude toward civil society groups, most of which were based in Monrovia and had earlier opposed Taylor during the war. The regime made no distinction between civil society...

  12. (pp. 17-18)

    Several institutions created by the Liberian government have also sought to impact on post-war peacebuilding in various ways. But these institutions have failed to make any real impact or contribution to national reconciliation and peacebuilding.

    The creation of the Liberia Human Rights Commission (LHRC) represents one of government’s earliest actions to address the human rights situation in post-1997 Liberia. This was in response to numerous calls made by civil society and backed by the international community as one of the measures required to promote a human rights regime and the rule of law in Liberia.

    The LHRC was created by...

  13. (pp. 18-20)

    The international community has also sought to support peacebuilding in Liberia through the activities of the various UN agencies. However, the flow and level of UN assistance to Liberia has been largely affected by Liberia’s involvement in the Sierra Leone civil war, which has led to the imposition of economic, military and travel sanctions on the regime of Charles Taylor in May 2001. But the international community has also come under criticism from many Liberians for insisting upon progress toward democracy before Liberia can qualify for any external assistance. According to such critics, if reconstruction aid had been provided immediately...

  14. (pp. 20-20)

    The Economic Community of West African States Cease-fire Monitoring Group’s (ECOMOG) peacekeeping activities in Liberia are well documented and have been the subject of much academic debate. Suffice it to say here that ECOMOG’s large presence in Monrovia and its environs for much of the civil war made it impossible for any of the warring factions to overrun the capital and seize power violently. This forced a negotiated settlement in Liberia, resulting in the holding of elections in July 1997 and contributing significantly to ending the seven-year war. However, the inability of the international community to support the restructuring process...

  15. (pp. 20-22)

    An ECOWAS peace plan signed in Abuja in 1996 provided for the comprehensive restructuring of Liberia’s security sector.46 The splintering of Liberia’s army and other security forces during the civil war into various armed factions made the restructuring of the country’s security sector critical to ensuring peace and stability after 1997. The restructuring exercise, which was expected to have taken place before the 1997 elections under ECOMOG’s supervision with international support, did not occur due mainly to the lack of resources and time constraints in preparing for the elections. Thus, the task of restructuring Liberia’s security sector was left to...

  16. (pp. 22-23)

    Three years after the end of the Liberian civil war, the government still finds itself grappling with the problem of the reintegration of ex-combatants into society. Though reintegration was expected to have taken place simultaneously with disarmament and demobilization of combatants, this was only partially achieved when donors halted support to the program. The reintegration of ex-combatants was initially managed by the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL), under the bridging project which provided training in different vocations and equipped ex-combatants with technical skills. The program was halted when the US government, the program’s major funder, withdrew its support....

  17. (pp. 24-24)

    The situation of women and children in Liberia remains a problem requiring urgent attention. Crimes perpetrated both by children and against children are on the rise; so is gender-based violence. There is an increase in the number of street children, the infant mortality rate and maternal morbidity are high, and more than half of the population of schoolage children are not in school.54 This dismal state of affairs can be traced to a variety of factors: failed national leadership; poverty and underdevelopment; social, cultural and traditional practices which keep women and children at the bottom of development priorities; and the...

  18. (pp. 24-25)

    The role of elections as a conflict resolution mechanism is undeniable. It provides an exit strategy from often violent crisis. However, in order for an election to fulfil its conflict resolution and peacebuilding role it must address the basic requirements of a level playing field. And because elections are in themselves a potential source of conflict, it is all the more important that they are held under conditions promotive of peace. A fundamental flaw of the 1997 election is that these prior requirements were not fulfilled. An analysis of the conditions on the ground for the holding of Liberia’s next...

  19. (pp. 25-26)

    This report has identified several factors that threaten peacebuilding and national reconciliation in Liberia. Six factors further considered as having direct implications for peacebuilding and national reconciliation are highlighted here: armed challenges to the regime, ethnicity, religious intolerance, reintegration of ex-combatants, security harassment, and economic stagnation.

    Armed challenges to the regime represent one of the most significant and real threats to peacebuilding in post-war Liberia. It perpetuates conflict through warfare and violence. To this end, armed opposition to the Taylor regime posed by dissidents operating from outside Liberia constitutes a significant proportion of this threat. There have been more than...

  20. (pp. 26-27)

    To be successful, strategies for peacebuilding and national reconciliation must involve as many sectors of the population as possible. Importantly, such strategies must seek to build consensus. Civil society groups can mediate the process between the government and its citizens and at the same time act as agents of change. We now turn our attention to a few strategies for peacebuilding including: civic education; dialogue between government and the opposition; broad consultations; reconciliation with Liberians in the Diaspora; and networking of civil society groups.

    Civic Education: A great deal of information and education of the public must take place if...

  21. (pp. 28-31)

    As long as the Liberian state remains undemocratic, with governance structures that are subject to and frequently compromised by political interference, it will be difficult to achieve the goals of peacebuilding and national reconciliation. Thus, the democratization of the Liberian state is central to achieving sustainable peace. Investing in civil society groups whose activities have found resonance with the population is one way to promote the democratization of Liberian politics and the full participation of the citizenry in public life. Given the repressive environment in which it operates, Liberian civil society must continue to employ a collective advocacy role to...

  22. (pp. 32-32)