The opening section of this publication looks at broad dynamics and trends of conflict and peacebuilding in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Caitriona Dowd and Clionadh Raleigh describe patterns of violence in Liberia and Sierra Leone from 1997 to 2011, using analysis, trends and data from the Armed Conflict Location and Events Dataset (ACLED). Data are derived from media reports, humanitarian agencies and research publications. Conflict and peace evolve over time and across space. Post-war violence has tended to peak around elections – local and national – and has persisted through cross-border and regional dynamics, notably mercenary activity. Data and analysis suggest that policymakers should pay more attention to the remobilisation of former fighters from both countries’ civil wars, to counter their involvement in various forms of post-conflict political, criminal and mercenary violence.
In an interview with Accord, Ambassador Prince Zeid of Jordan, Chair of the Liberia Configuration of the UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), highlights UN priorities for Liberia: security sector reform, rule of law and national reconciliation. Many legacies of violence have survived the official end of hostilities and there is work to be done to build functioning domestic capability. Local civil society and communities have much to offer. They understand the country and culture in a way that the international community never can. But there is still the need for a national frame of reference for reconciliation, as well as for external support: while local communities can identify challenges and contribute to solutions, there are important lessons from global experience to help countries deal with their past.
Emmanuel Bombande, in a second interview, describes how he co-founded the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding in 1998 in reaction to the prevalence of military responses to conflict in the 1990s, such as ECOWAS’ intervention in Liberia, and the absence of organisation to coordinate peacebuilding. Political exclusion, lack of opportunities for youth and cross-border conflict dynamics are among threats to peace today. Many conflict responses – such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions – failed to reach communities. WANEP concentrates on bringing people together to promote social cohesion through reconciliation. On a regional level, WANEP coordinates civil engagement with the ECOWAS Warning and Response Network. WANEP’s relationship with ECOWAS has helped it to incorporate a more bottom-up approach to peacebuilding.
Governance – democracy, decentralisation and natural resources
International policy uses ‘free and fair’ elections as a yardstick to measure peace. But in post-conflict contexts elections can do as much harm as good. Frances Fortune and Oscar Bloh describe relationships between elections, democratisation, violence and peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone – and their own experiences with Search for Common Ground to promote people’s participation. At a policy level, an over-emphasis on technical issues – such as observing and monitoring polling day – misses more fundamental priorities of promoting inclusion, trust, transparency and human security.
Paul Koroma looks at political decentralisation in Sierra Leone. Local government structures were destroyed in the 1970s as power and resources were concentrated in Freetown. A Local Government Act was introduced in March 2004 to help central government reach and connect beyond the capital, and to encourage development and political inclusion. But in reality, implementing decentralisation has been highly inconsistent and often inappropriate: undermining rather than complementing traditional governance structures, while allowing legacies of patronage to prevail.
Philippe le Billon describes initiatives to improve natural resource governance. Diamonds, timber, rubber and iron-ore played significant roles in wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, through ‘resource curse’ (resource mismanagement and weak governance), ‘conflict resources’ (which finance belligerents) and ‘resource conflicts’ (fighting over resources). Formalising extractive sectors can help reduce links with violence: providing that revenues are well managed and conflicts with local communities are prevented. Liberia and Sierra Leone have experienced some of the earliest and most direct forms of governance intervention, and both governments have committed to greater resource revenue transparency through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
Justice and security
How safe do Liberians feel today? Richard Reeve and Jackson Speare draw on consultations with local communities in Liberia, using a human security approach to reveal gaps between formal efforts to reform the country’s security sector and people’s perceptions of their own vulnerability. Police presence is especially weak in rural areas, and women remain wary of state security structures. The withdrawal of UN peacekeepers can only exacerbate gaps and deficiencies. Many Liberians are reliant on customary security arrangements, but these are diverse and can contradict international human rights and national constitutional standards.
Based on their experiences with the Carter Center to promote justice in post-war Liberia, Pewee Flomoku and Counsellor Lemuel Reeves review both traditional and formal justice systems, and in particular how to reconcile the two. Initiatives to improve formal justice structures – training judges, magistrates, prosecutors and public defenders, and renovating court buildings – have not reached citizens, especially outside Monrovia. Many rural Liberians necessarily pursue justice through traditional channels, including chiefs, elders or spiritual leaders.
Many Liberians returning to their lands after the war found them occupied. Multiple claims to ownership have contributed to cyclic displacement. Liberians tend to distrust the formal justice system or have little access to it as a means to resolve territorial disputes. Juliette Syn and colleagues describe their efforts with the Norwegian Refugee Council to address land disputes in Nimba County in Liberia, facilitating engagement with both traditional and nationa institutions, and offering mediation as an alternative.
Reconciliation and reintegration
The TRC in Sierra Leone was more a UN than a national initiative, while the TRC process struggled to access remote areas. Implementing TRC recommendations has been inconsistent and is now a low priority, nationally and internationally. Today victims and perpetrators are neighbours, but with no opportunity for reconciliation. Jon Caulker launched Fambul Tok (‘Family Talk’) in 2008 in Kailahun District, where the conflict began, to support locally led, community reconciliation. Village bonfire ceremonies provide a ‘sacred space’ for victims and perpetrators to share experiences, apologise and forgive. Fambul Tok is developing initiatives to make local reconciliation self-sustaining, and to expand the programme to the national level.
Excluded youth in Liberia and Sierra Leone remain prone to involvement in political and criminal violence, and mercenary activity. Weak demobilisation processes have failed to reintegrate young former combatants back into society or provide them with alternative livelihoods. Peacebuilding initiatives and political reforms to educate, employ and empower Liberian and Sierra Leonean youth have failed to match the scale of the problem. Ibrahim Bangura and Irma Specht use interviews with young Liberian and Sierra Leonean men and women to shed light on their life experiences – the challenges they face, what leads them back into violence, and their perceptions of national and international youth policy.