There are several setbacks that mankind has suffered in the past and yet still more that mankind is prone and exposed to. Major of this is conflicts, genocides and wars. This may be confined to a country or a region. However, threat to peace somewhere is threat to peace everywhere. Because if this, the duty of building and maintaining peace over the years has become a global affair, with international organisations at the forefront of it. Notable among these international organisations are the United Nations(UN), European Union(EU), Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS), African Union(AU) and so on.
For this paper, I will focus on the United Nations and its role in peacebuilding, with focus on the Liberian civil wars. The UN came to be after the failure of the League of Nations to prevent the second world war. The primary reason for the establishment of the UN in 1945 right after the Second World War as set forth by the charter, is ‘To unite our strength to maintain International Peace and Security’ (‘Basic Facts about the UN’). The United Nations can therefore be described as the symbol for international peace and security that promotes global cooperation, dialogue, and collective responses to security threats. It is mandated to sustain international peace in all its dimensions. This is the noble goal encapsulated in the Charter’s determination to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…To reaffirm faith in Fundamental Human Rights… And to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.’ (UN Charter) The goal of sustaining peace is woven through inter-state and intra-state conflict prevention. Where violent conflicts break out, it implies taking rapid and resolute action to try to end them. Above all, the root causes of violent conflict must be addressed (Ghoniem 2003).
The term ‘Peacebuilding’ first entered the UN lexicon in Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s Agenda for Peace in 1992, where it was defined as ‘Action to identify and support structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict.’ (Boutros-Ghali, (1992).) The concept was initially defined in relation to a conflict cycle that passed from pre-conflict preventive diplomacy through peace-making and peacekeeping to post-conflict peacebuilding, although Boutros-Ghali’s (1995) Supplement to the Agenda for Peace later expanded this understanding to include preventive action as well. The 2000 Brahimi Report further refined the concept as ‘Activities undertaken on the far side of conflict to reassemble the foundations of peace and provide the tools for building on those foundations something that is more than just the absence of war,’ also stating that ‘Effective peacebuilding is, in effect, a hybrid of political and development activities targeted at the sources of conflict.'(Brahimi 2000) According to Michael W. Doyle and Nicholas Sambanis, Peacebuilding refers to a post conflict reconstruction, organized to foster economic and social cooperation with the purpose of building confidence among previously warring parties, developing the social, political, and economic infrastructure to prevent future violence, and laying the foundations for a durable peace. Peacebuilding, for me, is simply restoring peace to war torn societies. Since peace is restored usually after conflict has occurred, I prefer to call it Post conflict peacebuilding.
In the early 1990s, there was a great increase in the use of UN authorized peace operations (Doyle and Sambanis 2006). This reflected a new wave of interventionism and redefined a new generation of strategies in peacebuilding (ibid). According to Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations (from 1997-2006), those peace operations were intended to fill a ‘gaping hole’ in the Organization’s institutional and structural capacity to support countries in transition from violent conflict to sustainable peace. It is as part of this reason, that in September 2003, the United Nations Mission in Liberia, was established by the Security Council of the UN to create an environment that is free from further violence and destructive conflicts which would enable Liberia to get back on track in relation to its own political, economic and social development (Res. 1503; Finegan 2015).
Liberia is a relatively small country located on the west coast of Africa, with an estimated population of 3.5 million. Liberia was established as an independent country in 1820 by free African Americans and freed slaves from the United States and became the Republic of Liberia in 1847. The economy of Liberia was primarily dependent on extraction. This extraction benefitted the small Liberian elite of American descendants (known as the Americo-Liberians) who resided mainly in the capital, Monrovia (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD, 2011). The centralisation of power around these elites led to the exclusion of large sections of the population from political decision-making which created perceptions of significant injustices and inter-ethnic tensions, which have been a longstanding source of conflict in Liberia.
Consequently, this resulted in a military coup d’etat led by indigenous leader, Samuel K. Doe in 1980.
Under the rule of Samuel Doe, he increased investment in previously neglected areas and extended infrastructure beyond the capital. However, he also created a governmental system that benefited one ethnic group, Krahns, over others (OECD, 2011). The unrest which continued in the late 1980s fuelled an invasion led by Charles Taylor from Côte d’Ivoire in 1989 which led to a militia occupation which split into multiple competing factions. This led to Doe’s unprecedented overthrow in 1990. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) created an interim Government of National Unity and installed Dr Amos Sawyer who served as Interim President. In spite of the formal ceasefire that had occured, there still existed ‘shadows’ of conflict between warring factions, including those led by Charles Taylor, who was later on, through fair and foul means, elected president in 1997. What seemed like the end to violence and beginning of perpetual peace turned out to be a mirage. Another Civil war recurred in 1999, led by two rebel groups, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, in control of large territories of the country in 2003 (ICG, 2011). A Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was agreed on in Accra in 2003 after several attempts at peace agreement failed. Through the efforts of the CPA and the assistance of the United Nations Mission in Liberia(UNMIL), the 14-year civil Liberian war which had resulted in the deaths of more than a twenty-five million Liberians and the displacement of another million came to a peaceful end. McCandless bore witness to the then post conflict society of Liberia…’Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in August 2003, Liberia has moved from a state of tenuous post-conflict security to a steady but still fragile peace state, with a high degree of collaboration amongst all actors shaping a reconstruction- and development-oriented policy agenda’ (McCandless 2008).
Statement of purpose
The United Nations is tasked to attain and maintain international peace and security. In doing this, the United Nations, leads the charge on peacebuilding in post conflict societies. But a number of scholars have in recent times challenged the actual roles of peacekeeping missions in peacebuilding processes. Thus, from the early 1990s, activities of peacebuilding at the conceptual, theoretical and operative levels have suffered inaccuracy, and have also been bedevilled with ideological differences and competing organisational mandates (Smith 2004; McCandless ; Doe 2007; Barnett et al 2007; McCandless 2008). The lack of theoretical clarity, heightened by the inadequacy of resources, poor policies and institutional arrangements, continues to compromise the effectiveness of peacebuilding as a process (Call 2005; McCandless 2008). The major arguments that recurrently come up in the academia and at the UN levels is whether Peacebuilding only involves ‘measures aimed at lessening the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict’, to strengthen ‘national capacities at all levels for conflict management, and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development'(Capstone Doctrine), whether Peacebuilding applies to all phases of a conflict or only to post-conflict ones; whether the process is primarily political or economically developmental in nature; whether it should make addressing the root causes of the conflict its first priority or it should prioritize institution building and/or changing people’s attitudes and behaviours (Mccandless & Doe 2007:5–6; Mcandless 2008). To the many strategic limitations, peacebuilding operations are confronted with multiple political, institutional and operational challenges derived from built-in limitations, contradictions and shortcomings and failures of international policies and institutions (Tschirgi 2004). Again, UN agencies mandated to oversee humanitarian, human security and human development-oriented activities are faced with the problems of limited mandates, capacity, leverage, resources and duration. In view of this, many have argued that peacebuilding should be the primary task of national governments and their populations. Following from this, Hazen (2007:323), for example, argues that peacekeeping missions are a ‘poor choice for peacebuilding’ given peace consolidation. It is following from this that I intend to carry out this study to assess the main roles of the United Nations in peacebuilding and how efficiently those roles are performed in the face of the above challenges and the many others like the absence of an international standing military force.
Significance of the Study
The significance of the study lies in the fact that the mandate of the United Nations to address the issues of conflict as a source of threat to International Peace and Security is continuously relevant. Over the years, the United Nations has undertaken many projects to assess and to improve its peacekeeping operations. This study will contribute to the literature on the UN efforts in peacebuilding in general and also bring to light successes and failures of the United Nation peacekeeping experience in Liberia and the lesson thereof to guide efforts to improve peacekeeping experience of the United Nations.
My research paper will rely heavily on secondary sources of data and information including published academic journals, books, media reports, previous and ongoing researches on post conflict peacebuilding and the role of the United Nations.
Assessing the performance of the UN
I will base my assessment of the UN’s performance in Liberia largely on the four common standards of peacebuilding success of Call. These standards introduced by Charles T. Call are the Security (war recurrence), Social (Root cause), Economic and Political perspectives (Call 2008).
Security Perspective (War Recurrence)
War recurrence, according to Call, is ‘The chances that a country that has already experienced a civil war (internationalised or not) will experience another in a given time period’ (Call 2002). This is similar to an old French adage…’Qui a bu boira’…which translates into ‘he who has drank will drink again’. There are a number of authors (Paris, Downs and Stedman) who also emphasize Call’s security perspective as a measure of the success of peacebuilding process. Roland Paris emphasises on this method of measuring peacebuilding success or failure. To him, Peacebuilding includes ‘Creating conditions that will allow peace to endure long after peacekeepers have left’ (Paris 2004). Ban Ki-Moon reiterated that ‘Building peace is about much more than ending war. It is about putting in place the institutions and trust that will carry people forward into a peaceful future.’ This is affirmed by the goal of the Peacebuilding Architecture… to help countries build sustainable peace and prevent relapse into violent conflict.
The second and last Liberia war ended in 2003 following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in August 2003. Since then, Liberia has moved from a state of tenuous post-conflict security to a steady but still fragile peace state, with a high degree of collaboration amongst all actors shaping a reconstruction- and development-oriented policy agenda (Mccandless 2008). It has been observed that for over a decade, peacebuilding in Liberia has been progressively successful.
Social Perspective (Root Cause)
Image by PeacebuildingData.org
The table above outlines the major root causes of the Liberia conflicts. The research organised by PeacebuildingData in 2004 suggests that 63% of Liberian adults identify corruption as the major cause of the conflicts. In February 2014, as reported by Front Page Africa, an online news portal, the US ambassador to Liberia lamented about the negative impact that corruption was having in Liberia. According to him, corruption in Liberia was undermining people through ‘unnecessary costs to products and services that are already difficult for many Liberians to afford’
Though corruption in Liberia is chronic and hinders both human and national development, Liberia has taken steps to check the bane of widespread corruption since after the end of the second civil war, thereby reducing the corruption rate currently. Some of these steps, which became a reality under the rule of President Sirleaf, include the independence of the General Auditing Commission, supporting the establishment of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission, endorsing Transparent Financial Management (Financial disclosure), public procurement and budget processes (Transparency International).
Corruption, since the end of the war in Liberia has seen considerable improvement. This is possible because of the creation and efforts of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission(LACC) and the Ministry of Justice. These ofices are tasked to identify and sanction corrupt public officials.
According Call (2008, p. 186) the concept of economic recovery or reconstruction remains the highest order objective even when many scholars are not clear whether economic recovery constitutes successful, sustainable peace. Call further posit that, poverty and other economic indicators are correlated to the occurrence of civil war. As such, there appears to be an inverse relationship between economic indicators and civil occurrence as a dependent variable. In the case of Liberia, the challenge is unemployment, or, more broadly, livelihood opportunities for ex-combatants as well as for the general population. There is not particular focus on any economic indicator such as the (GDP, income levels, infrastructure or unemployment) but rather, any level of low economic performance may threaten the peace reconstruction process. With reference to the Liberian crisis, ex-combatant received training, counselling, and career advice but livelihood opportunities are scarce in a post-war economy, with a very precarious employment situation (85 percent do not earn enough to lift themselves and their families over the one-dollar-a-day poverty line with International Labour Organization (Tamagnini & Krafft, 2010). It would be sufficing to emphasize that, even though Liberia have grown out of their Civil War, crisis with consecutive elections proving to that, the economic indicators of the country are not very favourable and thus are not very supportive to the peacebuilding process.
‘Peacebuilding ‘failed’ … if sovereignty was divided, or if the independent ‘Polity’ dataset scored a regime as extremely authoritarian or repressive’ (Call 2008). Since after the conflict in 2003, Liberia has had three successful democratic elections. These elections made it possible for the citizens to participate in the electoral processes and elect their desirable leader. Mass participation in this democratic process helps ensure political and civil legitimacy conferred on the candidate and party that wins the election.
Lessons Learnt and Major challenges the UN faced in the Liberian Peacekeeping Mission
The joint peace keeping initiative of the United Nations Observer Mission Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) and the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMIG) was one of the missions that sought to build peace and to end the civil war in the country. According to Nowrojee (1995:130), International observers had praised it as a model for future joint peacekeeping efforts, yet, the situation in Liberia was far from resolved due to unaddressed problems in the peacekeeping operation. It is noteworthy to add that, many scholars have argued that, the breakdown of peace process in Liberia could largely be attributed to the case that, peacekeepers themselves rather played an accentuating role in the conflict.
An even-handed assessment of the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia would be malapropos if one fails to acknowledge the lessons learnt and the major challenges that were evident in the UN’s mission. The intervention of the UN mission in the Liberian civil wars was an indication that, the international community was still unilaterally concerned and responsible for protecting the rights of humans even in domestic conflicts. “The response by ECOWAS and the United Nations has contributed to the expanding duty of the international community to respond to internal conflicts where gross and systematic violations of human rights and humanitarian law occur” (Nowrojee, 1995, p. 137).
Nowrojee again opined that, UN mission invariably created a safe and stable situation in Liberia especially in the areas in and around Monrovia where through the ECOMOG protection, the country had witnessed a restored legal system, permitted free press and experienced some levels of freedom of movement within the city which had hitherto been unimaginable. The recent election of George Weah as President further buttresses the argument that, the UN peacekeeping mission left an indelible mark on the political setting and administration of the country. This was revealed in the successful elections of two presidents in the post-civil war era.
Nevertheless, the success of the UN peacekeeping mission have always been overshadowed by numerous flaws that obstructed effective creation of a peace order. In the Havard Human rights journal, Nowrojee identified five major challenges in the UN peace keeping mission in Liberia. They are; flawed conceptual framework, interference of regional politics, inadequate advance planning and coordination with the United Nations, undefined lines of Authority, and lack of a U.N Leadership Role as well as inadequate funding. In the following paragraphs, I would offer a critical analysis of the role played by the aforementioned flaws in the Liberian Crisis.
The advent of a conceptual weakness in the UN’s peace keeping mission in Liberia was very conspicuous. The joint peace mission between ECOWAS and the UN was aimed at attaining a cease fire and installing an interim government. The comprehensive policy of the mission did not take into account the complexity of reconstructing a war-torn society. (Ibid 138). While intervening to bring peace and to end the human right crisis in Liberia, the joint UN and ECOWAS mission never took vital steps to recognize that the rebuilding of Liberia required more than a cessation of hostilities and the return of refugees for an election (ibid). The more complex framework for reconstructing and establishing a long lasting society of peace required the respect for rule of law, strong human rights components and strengthening the economy in the long run and these were seemingly invisible in the UN’s earlier mission to ensure a cease fire between the warring factions. The use of a weak conceptual framework robbed the peace operation of any considerate success in Liberia. For instance, the intervention was justified by the need to establish peace and a respect for human rights in Liberia however, such goals are not attainable without ensuring that the operation itself creates an environment to foster accountability and respect for the rule of law. (Ibid, 139). The inability of the joint ECOWAS and UN operation to integrate the observation of human rights in its peace keeping approach was thus seen as a huge setback because respect for human rights in equal measure creates an easy path for reconstructing peace in every society. As such, the absence of such an approach in the policy framework used in Liberia was an immediate evidence of the flaws in the peace keeping mission in Liberia.
Mention must also be made of the fact that, the interference of regional politics often tend to overshadow the collective effort of peacekeeping missions. In the case of Liberia, the lack of both institutional capacity and conceptual clarity within ECOWAS had given room for member countries to manipulate and undermine the peacekeeping operation Ibid, 140. In the background to the Liberian conflict, ECOWAS which served as the regional interstate governing body assumed a weak position in limiting the nationalistic interests of other member states. As such, each member state of the ECOWAS community had different reasons for supporting one Liberian faction and this made it difficult to effectively collaborate in the peacekeeping mission. Regional politics dominated the operation in Liberia to the extent that, ethnic allegiance, regional power politics and economic interest of countries determined the intervention efforts of the operation.
It is sufficing to add that, “in countries in which the UN has become involved in peacekeeping because of a general breakdown of government, the organization and its leading members are deeply reluctant to take over responsibility for government”. (Roberts , 1994, p. 45). The peacekeeping operation in Liberia attracted missions from powerful national, regional and international players. Apparently, no one such body (UN, ECOWAS or any of the political factions in Liberia) could exercise commanding responsibility and assume a lead role in the peace building and intervention process. For the most part the UN role in building a government in Liberia was largely confined to only administrative assistance, training to monitor and hold elections and generally giving advice about the electoral and conflict situation in the country. In cases of joint peacekeeping operations, it is only apt for the UN to accept an active superintendence. But in the Liberian crisis, it was unclear the mandate and extend to which it could it could exercise its authority. In a report of the Secretary General on Liberia, United Nations (2008) posit that, “the UNOMIL mandate specifies that decisions affecting both UNOMIL and ECOMOG would be made through consultation; neither UNOMIL nor ECOMOG could direct the other in its actions”. The absence of a leading administrative role to temporarily control and direct operations (in the case of Liberia) created a chaos with many players exercising their authority in the crisis. This was major cause of the divided front that plagued the peacekeepers mission in Liberia.
Inadequate financial support is a regular occurrence on peace keeping missions and the Liberian operation was no different. According to Roberts (1994, p. 46) “setting up a UN peacekeeping operation has been aplty called a “financial bungee jump” and that peacekeeping is in a more or less continuous state of financial crisis”. Inadequae funding became a major setback to the success of the Peace keeping mission in Liberaia. The lack of funding from the UN and other regional bodies resulted in the composition of ECOMOG being determined by conrtibutions. This particularly expalined why ECOMOG was heavily dominated by Nigerian troops because other West African nations were unable to contribute more to support the cost of the operation (Nowrojee, 1995, p. 147). Another hedious episode that hit the Liberian crisis was the fact that some peacekeepers as a result of inaquate wages resorted to pety trading and looting from victims of the war to sustain themselves. This activity got some peacekeepers into doing business with combatants in some areas. (Nowrojee, 1995, p. 148)
One of the major challenges in peacekeeping missions lies in the lingua franca and this setback was well illustrated in the Liberian crisis. UN forces are often crippled by language problems, of two kinds. “First, different contingents in the same force may have great difficulty in communicating with each other and the secondly the contingents may not be able to communicate effectively with the local population” (Roberts , 1994, p. 46). Again, this was a reason for the division in the ECOMOG peacekeeping camp where we had the Anglophone and Francophone factions even within the Peacekeeping mission. Owing to that, it would be felicitous to organize language training camps for peace keepers before engaging them in the mission abroad. There must also be a high basic standard (multi lingua) which must be met by forces before they are engaged by the UN. This would in effect enable peacekeepers to effectively communicate and understand each other as well as equip them to better be of help to residents and civilians in war-torn countries.
Moreover, the diplomatic approach of impartiality may appear to gradaully fading in peacekeeping missions today. “In UN peacekeeping, impartiality is no longer in practice interpreted to mean in every case impartiality between the parties to a conflict. In some conflicts there may, and perhaps should, be more toughness with one party than with another, or more aid to one than another” (Roberts , 1994, p. 43). Even with that, impartiality should still be an overriding principles that the UN missions must uphold. The ideas, values and interests of the UN must not at any point in time be tilted towards a particular faction or based on Security Council decision.
Urquhart (1993) advanced the idea of a standing UN force comprised of professionals on a voluntary basis. Such a standing force would offer advantage to the Secretary-general and the Security Council to develop their capacity to be able to militarily response quickly and intervene in certain crises. Unlike the Liberia where ECOMOG had to step-in while awaiting that of a mission from the UN. A standing UN force would have provided a rapid response to the crises in Liberia.
Conclusion – did the UN succeed or fail in the Liberian Peace Keeping Mission
Peacebuilding ‘failed’ if war or significant violence occurred within two years, if sovereignty was divided, or if the independent ‘Polity’ dataset scored a regime as extremely authoritarian or repressive (Call 2008). The UN in Liberia did an impressive job. In this paper, I have assessed the UN’s performance based on Call’s 4 standards of measure. As regards the security perspective, Liberia has not experienced a relapse into war since 2003 when the war ended, on the social perspective, a considerable amount of root causes of the conflict has also been addressed. Judging by these four perspectives, as described above, it is an undisputed fact, in spite of the several challenges encountered, that the UN mission in Liberia have done a fantastic job.