Africa Report N°177 19 Aug 2011
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Liberia’s October 2011 general and presidential elections, the second since civil war ended in 2003, are an opportunity to consolidate its fragile peace and nascent democracy. Peaceful, free and fair elections depend on how well the National Elections Commission (NEC) handles the challenges of the 23 August referendum on constitutional amendments and opposition perceptions of bias toward the president’s Unity Party (UP). The NEC, the government, political parties, presidential candidates, civil society, media and international partners each have roles to play to strengthen trust in the electoral process. They should fight the temptation to treat the elections as not crucial for sustaining the progress made since the civil war. But even after good elections five factors will be critical to lasting peace: a more convincing fight against corruption; deeper commitment to transforming Liberia with a new breed of reform-minded political players; sustained international engagement in supporting this more ambitious transformation; economic development; and regional stability, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire.
The elections are being contested by many of the same political actors from the troubled past. Incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (72) seems to have an edge in the face of a divided opposition that features lawyer Charles Brumskine (60), former UN diplomat and legal expert Winston Tubman (70), businessman and diplomat Dew Mayson (62) and former warlord-turned-senator Prince Johnson (52). The former international football great, George Weah (44), who led the first round in the October 2005 presidential elections but lost the run-off, is Tubman’s vice presidential running mate. The political scene has been refigured by hastily concluded mergers and alliances between the numerous parties vying for a portion of power. They will have to campaign first for or against constitutional amendments at stake in the referendum. The most contentious of these would reactivate a residency requirement for public office candidates while reducing it from ten years to five. If adopted, the courts would probably have to interpret its possible effect on the fast approaching election.
During her 23-24 June 2011 official visit to the U.S., President Johnson Sirleaf’s message was that her country has made great progress, but that there is still much work to do before international support can be reduced. She confidently said that if high levels of support are maintained and good economic management pursued, Liberia would no longer require foreign aid in ten years. She acknowledged, however, that the situation in Côte d’Ivoire and the related refugee influx, as well as the challenge of a large pool of Liberian ex-combatants and other youths ready for recruitment as mercenaries posed a security threat. There is no doubt the country has made significant progress during her presidency, especially in security sector reform, social development, infrastructure rehabilitation and growth-stimulating foreign direct investment in the tiny economy. But the president’s popularity in the West contrasts markedly with many Liberians’ frustration – fed by failed or weak anti-corruption, decentralisation and national reconciliation campaigns – that democracy has benefited some more than others.
Since the end of the civil war, the focus has been on security, through the creation from the ground up of a new army and police force under the supervision of, respectively, the U.S. and UN. The international military and police presence embodied by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has been the main guarantor of peace. The national security sector is now able to cope with some threats, but continued international presence is imperative in view of the failings of the police and their very limited reach outside the capital, Monrovia. Better coordination between the police and judiciary and greater presence of both in rural communities are priorities. The government’s planned justice and security regional hubs – backed by the UN Peacebuilding Commission– should be supported by donors and established and adequately equipped in the next twelve months.
The most serious threats to security, however, are the persistence of mercenary activities and arms proliferation. The post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire from December 2010 to April 2011 has tragically revealed the extent of the problem for the entire region. Hundreds of young Liberian fighters were easily recruited for a minimum of $500. UNMIL and the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), in collaboration with the Liberian and Côte d’Ivoire governments, should use all available military, intelligence and financial means to conclusively eliminate the threat Liberian mercenaries pose. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has prematurely closed its diplomatic representation in Monrovia, should recognise that there are still dangers and contribute to initiatives to ensure security in eastern Liberia and western Côte d’Ivoire.
Any investment that seeks to protect the gains made over the last six years should have as its objective, beyond the current round of elections, a political transformation leading to the emergence of a new generation of leaders at local and national levels, removed from the culture of violence and corruption. This would involve providing incentives for the best-qualified youths to engage in political activity and training and educational opportunities for them to acquire the necessary governance skills. Western donors, ECOWAS, China and the UN should stay engaged after this year’s elections until Liberia is more firmly on its feet. However, their support to continuous, sustainable recovery will be meaningful only if they work simultaneously at stabilising still fragile Côte d’Ivoire.
For successful conduct of the referendum and elections
To the National Elections Commission (NEC):
1. Provide citizens with all relevant information so that they can participate constructively in all stages of the electoral process, including by:
a) being more vocal about infringements of electoral law and process to avoid feeding perceptions of bias and responding collectively to all criticism through open communication and continuous dialogue;
b) making the mechanisms for expressing grievances clear and accessible in order to avoid misunderstandings and possibly violence; and
c) working with civil society and community-based organisations to ensure that information on the new demarcation of electoral districts reaches all Liberians and updating the NEC website.
2. Address allegations that people with Muslim names were not allowed to register on specious grounds that they are not Liberians and ensure all citizens’ rights to registration.
To Political Parties and Candidates:
3. Abide by the 2010 revised code of conduct for political parties and refrain from aggressive statements, particularly those exploiting the memory of the civil war and ethnic and religious differences.
To the Government of Liberia:
4. Enhance collaboration between the network of civil society organisations involved in early warning, police and other security agencies, through the Liberia Peacebuilding Office (LPO), to identify the areas most exposed to electoral and post-electoral disruptions and violence; and ensure that quick response mechanisms are in place.
To the United Nations Security Council:
5. Extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) at its current military and police strength for a further twelve months from 1 October 2011, and review UNMIL drawdown plans only after a post-election assessment of the readiness of Liberia’s security and rule of law institutions to provide security on their own.
To the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL):
6. Ensure strengthened response from UN agencies in addressing the needs of Ivorian refugees and preventing the humanitarian situation from disturbing the peaceful conduct of the elections.
For sustainable peace, security and national reconciliation post-elections
To the current and next government:
7. Address security issues, including by:
a) deploying more police outside of Monrovia and tackling the critical gaps in the provision of uniforms, communications equipment and mobility; and
b) installing the regional security and justice hubs and, with the assistance of external partners, ensure that financial provisions are made to sustain them.
8. Give the Land Reform Commission adequate resources so it can continue its work, which is crucial for the peaceful resolution of local conflicts.
9. Ensure that the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) has the necessary resources to do its work, especially to implement its plan to lead an open and inclusive national dialogue on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
10. Support development of independent media with nationwide coverage so there is no information vacuum when UNMIL Radio leaves.
To the UN Peacebuilding Commission and partners of Liberia, including the U.S., the EU and China:
11. Link the peacebuilding strategy with wider objectives of long-term political, economic and social transformation by giving special attention post-2011 to improved political party regulation, public sector reform and training and secondary and tertiary education.
12. Prioritise support to the government for establishing and equipping the regional security and justice hubs within the next twelve months.
To the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS):
13. Contribute to initiatives to ensure security, particularly in eastern Liberia and western Côte d’Ivoire, with a focus on strengthening security cooperation, especially with regard to the movement of mercenaries across the borders, and consider re-opening an office in Monrovia for better monitoring.
For long-term peacebuilding and conflict prevention strategies
To the post-elections political authorities of Liberia:
14. Fight firmly against corruption and for governance reform, starting by:
a) implementing the reports of the General Auditing Commission;
b) desisting from appointing to government persons indicted or under investigation for corruption; and
c) setting up fast track courts to handle corruption cases.
15. Commit to decentralisation by adopting legislation on and setting a date for municipal and local elections post-2011.
16. Prioritise public sector reform, including the training of ministry and public institution staff.
17. Establish and encourage graduate schools of administration and technical institutes tailored to emerging areas of economic activity, including agriculture, agro-industry and mining.
18. Put improved political party regulation on the agenda, including the introduction of requirements and incentives for transparency in the funding of political activities, civic education of militants and internal democracy.
To Liberian civil society:
19. Work with UN Women and the Women and Children’s Protection Unit (WCPU) of the Liberia National Police to continue rigorous sensitisation, particularly of traditional leaders and to change attitudes toward sexual and gender-based violence; and expand medical and counselling centres outside Monrovia to facilitate access.
Dakar/Brussels, 19 August 2011