UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
Washington Office on Africa
Washington Notes on Africa Update
A new peace accord signed in late August has brought renewed hope for stability and the beginning of reconstruction in Liberia. The country is ravaged by almost six years of war that killed as many as 150,000 people out of a population of 2.6 million, forced 800,000 to flee the country as refugees, and displaced more than a million from their homes within the country. With the accord in place the prospects for recovery now depend on international support, as well as on the Liberian commitment to peace.
Current plans call for the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide some $65 million over the next year, almost all for direct humanitarian relief. But much more is needed: for demobilization of fighters from the different factional armies, for stationing international peacekeepers, and for rebuilding the civilian economy and society. Without substantially increased international help--in which the U.S. must play a leading role--the risk is great that this promising start to peace could collapse.
Budget cuts in virtually all sectors of foreign aid as well as for international agencies make finding the funds extremely difficult. But there is a growing awareness in Washington, across party lines, that the United States has a special responsibility in regard to Liberia. This is not only because of close historical ties, but also because U.S. policy in the 1980s helped create the conditions for war, and because U.S. policy makers neglected real opportunities to head off the devastating conflict in the early stages.
The historical link between the United States and Liberia dates back to Liberia's founding by African- Americans who returned to Africa as settlers in the early 19th century. Known as Americo-Liberians, they became Liberia's elite, ruling over a population that was 95% indigenous.
U.S. ties with the settler-ruled republic continued into the 20th century, with U.S. investment and military involvement especially high in the decades following World War Two under Liberian presidents William Tubman and William Tolbert. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Tennessee-sized country received the highest per capita level of U.S. aid of any country on the African continent.
In 1980, when young army officers overthrew the settler-dominated government, many Liberians hoped for reform in the elitist system and a shift of power to the indigenous majority. But military leader Samuel Doe bypassed the grass-roots opposition groups that had also opposed the settler regime. Instead he established arbitrary military rule, favoring his own ethnic group and setting the scene for factionalization of the country.
The U.S. government provided massive backing 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. One of the reasons for this largesse was unknown even to many Administration officials: the Doe regime had allowed Liberia to become a key staging post for a large-scale covert U.S. operation against Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.
While Washington strongly supported Doe's government, complaints were growing about human rights violations. Doe was "elected" in a 1985 poll widely seen as marked by fraud and repression.
In late 1989 insurgents led by Charles Taylor crossed into Liberia from the Ivory Coast and began a war against the Doe regime. The conflict was marked by high levels of atrocities against civilians by many parties: Taylor's forces, the remnants of Doe's army (Doe himself was killed by another rebel leader in September 1990), and as many as five other armed factions. Of the some 60,000 Liberian combatants engaged in the conflict over the next five years, as many as 6,000 were estimated to be boys under fifteen years old, many of whom joined one of the factions for survival or for revenge.
Close observers of the Liberian scene concur that the United States could have done much more to stop the carnage. James Bishop, U.S. ambassador to Liberia from 1987 to 1990, stated in recent congressional testimony that:
"U.S. diplomats were instructed to desist from their efforts at peacemaking, and the U.S. government stood aside both militarily and diplomatically as the country descended into barbarism. American government funds helped feed those victims of the conflict able to reach food distribution points. But the U.S. also used its influence to limit the United Nations' role to relief and to ineffective moral exhortation. Successive administrations were unwilling to put serious diplomatic pressure on those foreign states providing arms to the belligerents."
And in an extensive review of the U.S. response to the war, journalist Reed Kramer concluded that:
"No one can judge with hindsight whether the loss of an estimated 150,000 lives and the regional devastation spawned by the Liberian crisis could have been prevented without extended U.S. military engagement, but it is difficult to find a Liberian who doubts that firm U.S. leadership would have made a decisive difference. Many U.S. officials, too, now share [former Assistant Secretary of State] Cohen's assessment that more could have been achieved without creating a quagmire. What is certain is that failure to stop the fighting during 1990, before the entire country was demolished, erected barriers to a solution that still have not been overcome."
As the conflict continued, the United States supplied more than $425 million in humanitarian relief from 1990 through September 1995. But the initiative for peacekeeping and peace negotiations was left to the 16-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), with Nigeria playing a leading role.
Participating West African nations have spent more than $500 million on these efforts, with only limited support from the international community. The West African intervention force (ECOMOG) arrived in late 1990, after the conflict was well under way. Its intervention has not been without faults, but it is generally credited with saving lives.
West African governments have supported continuing mediation efforts. The most recent, spearheaded by Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings, led to the August accord. Although it is the thirteenth such agreement--the previous ones were all abandoned--most observers say this one has a real chance. It is the first accord involving all the faction leaders, and builds on profound war weariness among combatants as well as civilians.
Under the new agreement, a comprehensive cease-fire has gone into effect without major violations to date. And a new Council of Government was installed that includes leaders of all the factions. The Council also has the support of other political groups and civic organizations, such as the Women's Groups of Liberia, which helped coordinate talks leading to the agreement.
Before the United Nations established a small observer mission in late 1993, the only significant outside backing for the West African effort was about $30 million from the United States. Washington allocated another $30 million last year to help fund deployment of African troops from outside West Africa, and provided a token sum to assist Ghana's mediation effort. But West African governments expected a more active U.S. role in support of their initiatives. Even without direct involvement, critics say, the United States could have provided more material and diplomatic assistance earlier in the process.
What Is Needed Now
The critical first step in making the peace accord work will be demobilizing the 60,000 combatants. Merely establishing assembly points for quartering the fighters will cost an estimated $62 million over the next year. Another $90 million is requested to support additional troops for ECOMOG from other African countries to help oversee the process. Tanzanian and Ugandan troops present in 1994 have withdrawn, in part because of inadequate financial resources, and both Ghana and Nigeria have reduced their troop levels. Now ECOMOG estimates that force levels should be restored to some 12,000 from the present 7,000 in order to implement the peace agreement.
Continued human rights monitoring is also essential. If there are incidents of cease-fire violations and abuses, it is important to quickly identify the culprits and coordinate the international reaction. And while the recent record of ECOMOG forces has been fairly good, there were significant incidents of abuse earlier in the conflict. The United Nations Observer Mission has less than 100 observers, far less than are needed to monitor the process adequately.
As peace is consolidated, attention must turn to the task of reconstruction. Reestablishing government services, return of refugees and resettlement of the displaced, rehabilitation of child soldiers, and rebuilding of economic infrastructure pose daunting challenges. Unemployment is estimated at 80% to 90%. Production of rice, the principal crop, is only about 10% of its normal level. Liberia's debt arrears, perhaps as much as $1 billion, will require substantial concessions from donors and international financial agencies.
The United States cannot and should not take responsibility for solving all these problems. But without an active U.S. role, in diplomacy and in promoting bilateral and multilateral material assistance, international efforts are almost certain to fall short. There are many officials both in Congress and in the Administration who favor a more active U.S. role. But signals of public support will be one of the key factors in determining whether it really happens.
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.]
Sen. Nancy Kassebaum
Chair, African Affairs Subcommittee
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
302 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 224-3514
Thank Sen. Kassebaum for taking the lead in efforts to support the peace process in Liberia. Ask her to keep you informed about ongoing U.S. assistance for peace and reconstruction in that country. Tell her you agree that the United States has a special responsibility for Liberia, because of the historical connections and because U.S. policy helped create the conditions for the outbreak and continuation of the civil war. Urge Sen. Kassebaum to continue pressing fellow legislators and the Administration to free up adequate resources to help Liberians rebuild their country.
Send copies of your letter to:
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Chair, Foreign Operations Subcommittee
Senate Appropriations Committee
120 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 224-2499
Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.)
Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
403 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 224-7588
Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.)
Chair, House International Relations Comm.
2185 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
(Fax number not listed)
Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.)
Chair, Foreign Operations Subcommittee
House Appropriations Committee
2418 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-0562
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)
Chair, Africa Subcommittee
House International Relations Committee
2440 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-5620
Secretary of State Warren Christopher
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Fax: (202) 647-6434
Further Information on Liberia
For background see "Liberia: A Casualty of the Cold War's End," by Reed Kramer, managing editor of Africa News Service. The article appeared as the July 1995 issue of CSIS Africa Notes, and is available for $4.00 per copy from the African Studies Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1800 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20006 USA. Tel: (202) 775-3219. An abridged version can be viewed on line at: http://www.igc.apc.org/apic/index.shtml The full text will soon be available at: http://www.afnews.org/ans/
Contacts for current information on Liberia, including a visit to Washington by Liberian Council of State Wilton Sankawolo, scheduled for this week:
Africa Faith & Justice Network, P.O. Box 29378, Washington, DC 20017. Tel: (202) 832-3412. Fax: (202) 832-9051). Email: email@example.com.
Friends of Liberia, P.O. Box 28098, Washington, DC 20038. Tel: (703) 528-8345. Fax: (703) 528-7480. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From: "Washington Office on Africa" email@example.com
Date: Sun, 22 Oct 1995 15:57:57 +0000
Subject: Liberia: More U.S. Support Needed
Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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