April 1996 was a new starting point for one of the bloodiest civil war in Africa, in Liberia, which is the first African nation to win independence in the world, and one that has long been considered as a relatively stable state. This break out of civil war comes after an eight-month truce that was signed between the fighting factions. The Abuja Treaty, signed in Nigeria in August 1995.[i] The treaty was sponsored by the US and a number of other nations. The collapse of the treaty led to a war outrage in the capital Monrovia where more than one million people had taken refuge. As a result, the city was destroyed in less than three weeks, and several thousand people were killed, in addition to those who became homeless. The real causes of the war are basically ethnic, but most of the fighting and disputes have been caused by more complicated causes, such as poor education of the population, lack of a solid state structure, lack of development plans, and many others. While the US fails to intervene for fear of losses, and while the European Community is satisfied sending food and supplies, the Liberians are in a deadly war against each other, with little pressure on their leaders to bring the war to an end.
Causes of War
The majority of the Liberian people are from the Krahn ethnic group which is divided into five factions. This ethnic group has a stronger grip on the state and its affairs before the war. In 1989, Charles Taylor led a united front made of the dissatisfied groups in the country in what was known as National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). These rebel forces entered Liberia from neighboring Ivory Coast and were responsible for the collapse of the Liberian government.[ii]
Immediately, the army split onto itself as the ethnic fighting started. The fractures of the army joined the different fighters here and there, depending on who paid more, or on which ethnic group the soldiers belonged to. President Doe was slaughtered, thus the last symbol of the old system was eliminated. Five years of ruthless but meaningless fighting continued much change in the political results.[iii] Charles Taylor was able to form a government by force, but he also had to reconcile with other groups in a heterogeneous government which was not fit but for a military rule. This government could not stand in the face of pressures and attacks from other groups, and eventually political unrest forced Charles Taylor and other leaders to the peace talks in Abuja in Nigeria in August 1995, where under the sponsorship of the US and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).[iv]
Intervention to End War
These ECOWAS forces were mainly Nigerian, since Nigeria considered itself to be the major regional force in the area. The aim of these forces was to eliminate Charles Taylor and to put an end to his forces, since Nigeria considered him to be a threat to its regional interests in Liberia. These peacekeeping forces were backed by the US, the UN and the European Community, all which considered that any government arriving by force to power will be illegal, and that they would fight it until it was replaced by a legal government that came from free and fair elections.[v]
The peacekeeping forces were able to impose peace only inside the capital, Monrovia, which became the refuge of more than one million people. However, eight months after the Treaty of Abuja, Taylor became Nigeria’s most favored warlord, and eventually, the peacekeeping forces became part of the support that he was able to mobilize. When the fighting broke out again, these peacekeeping forces were targeted by the Krahns who considered these forces as part of Taylor’s militia.[vi]
Consequently, more than 100 men of these forces were killed, and they were defeated even inside Monrovia which turned into a hell. Hundreds of American and European refugees were evacuated, in addition to more than 3000 Lebanese who were evacuated to other countries in the area or back to Beirut.[vii]
The US government has decided not to intervene despite the historical ties that the two countries have. American aide and airlift support are the largest contribution to relieve the civilians from the war, but effectively, nothing has been done to bring the Liberians to peace again after the collapse of the Abuja.
In 1992, the ECOWAS sent over 12,000 troops to patrol Monrovia. Most of these troops were Nigerian, and their major aim was to stop the manslaughter in Liberia and to bring the war to an end. The peacekeeping ECOWAS were morally supported by the US and the UN, but this support was not enough.[viii] The peacekeeping forces succeeded only in stopping the disasters in Monrovia whereas the rest of the country remained in turmoil.
Besides, the ECOWAS had another role to play. They had to stop Charles Taylor from advancing, and to try and eliminate him from the war. This was part of the Nigerian policy in Liberia, especially that Nigeria considers itself as the major regional force in West Africa, and as a result, it considers Charles Taylor a threat to its power. This situation, however, was turned all over after the Abuja Treaty during which Taylor met with the Nigerian leaders. This meeting turned Taylor into Nigeria’s most favored warlord in the country. This caused a moral blow to the ECOWAS forces which were from then on considered by the Krahns as hostile forces. Attacks on the peacekeeping forces resulted, and within three weeks of the renewed fights in April 1996, more than 100 peacekeeping troops were killed, in addition to their defeat against the Krahn fighters.[ix]
Renewal of Fights
The renewed fights were the result of a dispute between Taylor and General Roosevelt Johnson whom Taylor tried to eliminate by accusing him of murder. This renewal of fighting shows the political greed of warlords whose ultimate target is to reach power and eliminate their enemies by force.
More than 150,000 people have been killed, most of which were civilians. The backbone of the fighting forces are children, between the age of eight and fourteen. These are recruited successfully through attracting them to warfare. Older warriors are mobilized either by force or by frightening villagers with magic and death. In a country where illiteracy is predominant and where people are inclined to believe anything, it is not difficult for warlords to increase their forces.[x]
Analysis of Liberian Crisis
An analysis of the Liberian crisis will show that even though the crisis is originally ethnic, it lacks many aspects of continuity. For example, the majority of the population is against the war. This is clearly seen in the fact that young children between eight and fourteen are the main source of men in the fighting armies. Thus, if the population is unwilling to fight, then there are better chances that this war will come to an end more easily.
The main source of turmoil and warring in Liberia is mainly the militia leaders and their undisciplined and disorganized men. It is the political and personal differences and interests of these leaders that have restarted the war again, which shows that pressures on these few individuals could be of great help to bring the Liberian crisis to an end.[xi]
However, applying the solution is not as easy as finding it. First of all, there are several thousand undisciplined soldiers and children who are armed to their teeth, and who need to be disarmed before any serious peace talks start. There can be no peace with these left with their arms freely, because as they are so undisciplined and war-oriented, it is probable that they may undermine the peace process in the country at any moment.[xii] Not only should every leader be pressed to disarm his men, but checking points for disarmament will be needed across the country.
Once a peace treaty is made, an interim government must be formed, including all the fighting factions in the country. The role of this government is to arrange for free and fair elections under international supervision and follow up. It is true that after the Abuja Treaty, an interim government was formed, but lack of international supervision and follow up, gave the Liberian leaders the opportunity to quarrel again and to try and oust each other, which led to the outbreak of the war, but this time on a wider scale, and with more destruction.[xiii]
While the US believes that free and fair elections are the best framework to end the war, there may be a number of problems which are not quite apparent to the American administration. The Liberians are not capable of enjoying democracy because the majority of the population are illiterate. Even the former president, Samuel Doe, came from a military rank and was not educated. To hope that an illiterate and uneducated population can benefit much from free and fair elections is not practical. In fact, it would be a misleading solution that will lead to major disappointments just as it did when the Abuja Treaty collapsed.
Besides, even though the majority of the population is not involved in the fighting, the fact that ethnic differences exist and are overwhelming cannot be ignored. The Krahn majority in the country is more likely to win greater seats in the parliament, and have larger shares in the government, a reality which causes bitterness among other ethnic groups. However, the Krahn themselves are divided into four factions, most of which are at war with each other with rare exceptions. This makes the ethnic dispute more complicated.[xiv] Free and fair elections may not be able to resolve these problems alone, There need to be guarantees.
One important guarantee should be that the results of the free and fair elections will not turn against the Liberians themselves. In other words, no progress will take place if the Liberian government formed as a result of the free and fair elections, turned against the treaty that brought it to power. In fact, this is what happened with the Abuja government whose collapse was only consequential to the disputes among the leaders of disputing factions, and to the lack of international follow-up.
Development of Liberia after the war is doubted, and the real causes of the war will continue to exist even after a peace treaty has been reached. A population that is easily mobilized for warfare under the threats of black magic cannot be trusted to stay in peace for long, especially with the prevailing ignorance and illiteracy. It might be the responsibility of the United Nations, backed with international support from the US and the European Community to start basic development programs in the country.
Without this basic development, little or even no progress can be expected. The ethnic problems remain open in the country. During the rule of Samuel Doe, ethnic conflicts were repressed, but they were there all the time, and in the end, they lead to the civil war. To eliminate these conflicts, a new government that comes from free and fair elections should start a new policy in the country that targets the elimination of these differences. This would be through starting a number of projects all over the country, accompanied with educational and social programs that help develop the population in general. These prospects cannot be productive if the government does not gain assistance from international and regional forces.
The future of Liberia is difficult to predict as conflicts remain unresolved. The solutions are there, but they need ways of implementing them. Any peace treaty that does not take into consideration the real causes of the war, such as political greed, ethnic differences and illiteracy may be doomed. The civil war was not the result of one direct cause, and eventually, putting an end to it will require resolving these central problems.
Hammer, Jushwa. (June 10, 1996). Mamba Kings.
The New Republic, pp. 16-18.
Richardson, Eric. (1995). Politics in West African
Moose, George. (May 13, 1996). Pursuing peace
in Liberia. US Department of State Dispatch, pp. 244-245.
Morris, Nomi. (May 27, 1996). There is
nothing here but evil and death. Maclean’s, pp. 30-31.
Nyberg, Richard. (June 17, 1996). Hope in
short supply. Christianity Today, p.60.
Salinger, David. (April 13, 1996). Sharks &
alligators. The Economist, pp. 34-35.
[i] David Salinger. Sharks & alligators. The Economist, April 13, 1996, pp. 34-45.[ii] Eric Richardson. Politics of Developing West African Nations. New York: McGraw Hill, p. 167.[iii] Nomi Morris. There is nothing but evil and death. Maclean’s, May 27, 1996, p. 30-31.[iv] Ibid., p.30.[v] George Moose. Pursuing peace in Liberia. US Department of State Dispatch, May 13, 1996, pp. 224-245.[vi] Richard Nyberg. Hope in short supply. Christianity Today, June 17, 1996, p. 60.[vii] Ibid., p. 60.[viii] Nomi, p.31.[ix] Jushwa Hammer. Mamba Kings. The New Republic, June 10, 1996, p. 17.[x] Nyberg, p. 60.[xi] Salinger, p. 35.[xii] Hammer, p. 18.[xiii] Moose, p. 245.[xiv] Richardson, p.168.
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