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Liberia: Elections Necessary, Not Enough

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Oct 10, 2005 (051010)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

With frontrunners including soccer star George Weah and experienced international official and banker Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberians are set to choose among 22 candidates for president as well as new legislators. "This country has to finish with war," a shopkeeper in Monrovia told a New York Times reporter as the election approached. Despite hopes for a new start, however, both Liberians and international observers are well aware that much more is needed beyond elections.

A report released by the International Crisis Group in September spells out the background and some of the steps needed to ensure stability and recovery, including continued international support, civil society involvement in fighting corruption, and dealing with the issue of exiled warlord Charles Taylor and other factors which could lead to renewed war.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the press release, the executive summary, and excerpts from the full report "Liberia's Elections: Necessary but Not Sufficient" from the International Crisis Group (ICG). For the full ICG report visit

For earlier AfricaFocus Bulletins on Liberia and additional links for background and news, see

A recent analysis by Reed Kramer of, focusing on the candidates and on opinions from Washington policymakers, is available at

The website of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Liberia's Elections: Necessary but Not Sufficient

International Crisis Group

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601

Dakar/Brussels, 7 September 2005: Liberia's approaching elections represent welcome progress, but it would court disaster to consider them the end of the country's transformation.

Liberia's Elections: Necessary but Not Sufficient, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the key elements of the country's reconstruction and argues legitimate presidential and legislative elections in October are just one small step on a long road to recovery. The process can still easily fail if Liberians refuse to implement an intrusive economic governance mechanism or if international partners pull out early.

"If the international community tries to make an exit strategy out of the Liberian elections, it would almost certainly have to return to end another bloody war there within a year or two", says Mike McGovern, Crisis Group's West Africa Project Director. "And any such return would cost far more than just staying put in the first place".

Liberia has been crumbling for at least 25 years, but there is some room for optimism as elections approach. Economic governance and rooting out high level corruption are the subject of active public debate. The intrusive Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP) that donors and diplomats have proposed is in the final stages of negotiations with the transitional government.

The UN, the U.S., the EU and the World Bank need to stay the course. Working in conjunction with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, they must rebuild the country's shattered institutions and infrastructure and ensure Liberia's security through maintenance of the UN peacekeeping mission and the gradual training of new Liberian security forces.

Beyond the short- to medium-term goals of clean elections, international involvement in economic governance, and security, several important long-term issues will need to be addressed. They include citizenship, reintegration of ex-combatants, decentralisation of government, transitional justice, judicial reform and possibly constitutional reform aimed at lessening executive power.

"In the fast approaching second stage of Liberia's recovery, addressing all these areas in a comprehensive way will be crucial", says Suliman Baldo, Crisis Group's Africa Program Director. "The international community must remain engaged throughout the long process to ensure that Liberia does not descend again into violence and pillage that engulfs the region".

Liberia's Elections: Necessary but Not Sufficient

7 September 2005

Executive Summary

Everything indicates that Liberia's October 2005 presidential and legislative elections are likely to be transparent and fair. Many hope this will permit an exit strategy to be implemented that could see international actors leaving the country as soon as the end of 2006. The probable result of such a scenario would be that, in the words of one ex-combatant, "the UN will be coming back in 2007 or 2008". Liberia has been crumbling for at least 25 years. Elections are but a small, early step in a lengthy reconstruction process that will be sabotaged if Liberian elites refuse some form of intrusive economic governance mechanism, or if international partners pull out before a sustainable security environment is achieved. If the international community does have to return in several years, it will be to mop up yet another war that will cost far more than remaining seriously engaged over the next decade or more.

The UN, the U.S., the European Commission and the World Bank must stay the course, working in conjunction with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) to rebuild Liberia's shattered institutions and infrastructure, and assuring Liberia's security first through maintenance of the UNMIL peacekeeping presence and eventually through the training and mentoring of new Liberian security forces. In a regional context in which UN peacekeeping forces are drawing down to zero in Sierra Leone, Guinea remains volatile, and violence in C“te d'Ivoire simmers just beneath the surface, anything less than full commitment to reintegration and reconstruction in Liberia will most likely contribute to a new, wider conflict.

Despite the fragility of the situation, there is much room for optimism in Liberia today. Preparations for elections are on track, though such areas as campaign finance will require continued and serious attention. Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are returning home, even if not under ideal circumstances. Life in both Monrovia and distant counties is taking on the rhythms, sounds and appearance of normality. Most importantly, issues of economic governance and high level corruption have become a central preoccupation of almost everyone in the country as a result of investigations conducted by ECOWAS and the European Commission. The intrusive Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP) that donors and diplomats have proposed is in the final stages of negotiation with the transitional government.

The discussions that have emerged out of this proposal are heartening. Liberians in Monrovia, the hinterland, and the diaspora are arguing its merits and demerits. Some are motivated by pure self-interest, but many are not. The liveliness of the debate, like the thoughtful planning going into the elections, augurs well for the future, provided the plan is not gutted on the disingenuous grounds of national sovereignty.

Beyond the three key elements necessary to move Liberia forward in the short to medium term -- clean elections, international involvement in revenue collection and economic governance generally, and the maintenance of security -- there are several important longer-term issues which will need to be addressed. They include citizenship (increasingly problematic across West Africa), reintegration of ex-combatants, decentralisation of government, transitional justice, judicial reform, and possibly also constitutional reform aimed at lessening executive power.

These issues should all be addressed as soon as possible after the elected government is inaugurated. An inclusive national conference might be a helpful way of determining the priorities among these and other issues and building public support for further change. The international presence, having assured credible elections and continuing to assure security and that monies due to the government arrive, will give space to the government to take on these other daunting tasks. The candidates for elected office, the Liberian people, and international partners should all begin to raise their sights toward these more ambitious goals at the same time that they continue to ensure the success of the three foundational elements of elections, economic governance and security. Liberia is quickly approaching the second stage of its recovery: a smooth, well-planned transition will be as important as the individual policies.

Liberia could surpass Sierra Leone in all major indicators within three to five years and within ten years stand (once again) solidly ahead of other countries in the region such as Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, and Niger. The country is rich, its population is small, and Liberians overseas send large remittances home. If these elements are multiplied by donor assistance and good management of resources, Liberia should make quick progress. However, another, gloomier scenario is also possible, even with the basic security provided by UN peacekeepers and a good election. If the theft and impunity that have characterised the transitional government are not corrected, Liberia will likely follow in Sierra Leone's footsteps, languishing at the bottom of the Human Development Index, failing to create jobs for young men, and probably sliding back into war by the end of the decade.

Excerpts from full report

I. Introduction

In August 2003, the series of battles for Monrovia that Liberians called World Wars I, II, and III had just ended, and a deal brokered by the U.S., the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Nigeria sent a sanctimonious and unrepentant Charles Taylor off to Nigeria. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) then hammered out in Accra created a transitional government with businessman Gyude Bryant at its head and a two-year mandate. Simultaneously, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was setting up its operation with a mandate to restore security, assist the transitional government, and prepare for elections in October 2005.

On the surface, there have been several setbacks, most notably a premature start to the disarmament process that allowed spoilers to capitalise on UNMIL's lack of preparation and launch an uprising that led to nine deaths, as well as another explosion of violence in October-November 2004, also exacerbated by spoilers, that led to sixteen deaths and significant destruction of property. Overall, the progression from radical insecurity to reasonably good security for most people most of the time has been consistent and encouraging. ...

Few Liberians had any illusions about the transitional government assembled in Accra. It was the product of an arrangement that was 99 per cent realpolitik and 1 per cent principle. The three warring factions got to carve up the national cake, each taking its piece in the form of ministerial positions and legislative seats -- in short, two more years of looting rights. This was a continuation of the predatory logic that had decimated the country, and it was difficult to see how it would reorganise itself according to a new set of rules. The erstwhile warlords and their proxies in the national transitional government (NTGL) could not be counted on to do it, and UNMIL insisted that its mandate was not sufficiently strong. Somewhere along the way, the dynamic shifted, largely thanks to an active civil society, including a press that has proliferated and begun to professionalise; human rights, women's rights and environmental activists who came up for air after six years of Taylor repression; and others working with the UN and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). These actors were provoked into action by members of the transitional government who showed themselves to be monumentally corrupt, rapacious, and unconcerned by the plight of ordinary Liberians. By February 2005, the press and civil society organisations began to level accusations of financial malfeasance at individuals within the NTGL for granting contracts negotiated in secret and being unable to account for government funds. Speaker George Dweh and Deputy Speaker Eddington Varmah were suspended indefinitely on 14 March for alleged misappropriation of some $90,0004 in allowances. ,,,

By mid-year, an anti-corruption sweep unleashed by civil society, ECOWAS and the European Commission (EC) was closing in on an increasing number of officials, ,,,The donor and diplomatic communities decided they had had enough and proposed the intrusive measures now known as the Liberian Governance and Economic Management Assistance Plan (GEMAP). Those measures, described in Section III below, have raised the possibility that an end to impunity and new accountability to the electorate may be introduced into the Liberian political equation.

Liberia has a newly-appointed Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) and a new U.S. ambassador. In several months it will have a new elected president and legislature. The two-year interim since Charles Taylor's forced departure has seen success in three vital areas: improved security; the setting of conditions for legitimate elections; and the raising of key issues of governance and impunity that were root causes of the disaster that was Liberia for two decades.

With this solid base and a fresh roster of key actors, Liberia is poised to begin tackling its enduring, structural problems. It must be emphasised that *Liberia* is poised, and *Liberia* must tackle them. International partnership might do one of four things in the country. First, it could help restore a fragile peace, begin to raise core problems, and then walk away, risking a new collapse. This is what happened in 1997, and the result was a quick resumption of the war. Secondly, it could pour in enough money to alleviate some of the immediate symptoms of the root problems that caused the wars but do little to address the problems themselves. This is the route donors have taken in Sierra Leone, and in the long term it is certainly a very debilitating approach. A third approach would involve a high level of intrusiveness, specifically intended not to repeat some of the mistakes of Sierra Leone; international partners would manage most of Liberia's finances and other affairs, but eventually disengage. This would risk creating little more than a hiatus between two periods of bad governance, exactly as the first scenario risks inserting a hiatus between two chapters of war.

The final and only desirable option would be for intrusive economic governance measures to be accompanied by the good faith participation of the newly-elected government, with civil society, a political opposition and the press all playing vital watchdog functions with respect to the activities not only of the elected officials, but also of the international actors in-country to help. Liberians will successfully take over the functions that non-Liberians temporarily fill only if their critical institutions blossom, which requires a good deal of serious exercise during the "capacity building" phase. ...

D. The Taylor Factor

One of the names that came up several times in interviews with Liberian politicians, members of civil society, and diplomats as allegedly participating in attempts to influence the elections financially was former President Charles Taylor's.32 The role, if any, that he is playing continues to be a matter of speculation but several of those claiming he has tried to influence the elections come from within his own party. During its May convention, NPP insiders contend, Taylor made frequent phone calls from Nigeria insisting that his former minister, Dr Roland Massaquoi, be nominated for president rather than Francis Galawolo, the other main contender.33 This came on the heels of claims that Taylor was involved in a 19 January 2005 armed attack against President Lansana Cont‚ of Guinea, a television interview he gave that led the Nigerian authorities to rebuke him for having broken the terms of his stay, and visits by former associates like David Kortie, who publicly stated that he had met with Taylor in Calabar and alleged having received $10,000 and a cell phone from him.34 Diplomatic sources have said that Taylor was continuing to make phone calls to the highest levels of the NTGL as recently as July 2005.

The calls for Taylor's extradition to Freetown to be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity that began with the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone have been echoed by the European Parliament, the U.S. Congress, and many human rights organisations in Africa and elsewhere. More importantly, in a joint communiqu‚ published 28 July 2005, Chairman Gyude Bryant of Liberia, President Kabbah of Sierra Leone, and Prime Minister Diallo of Guinea, speaking for the Mano River Union, noted that:

While the Heads of State appreciate the decision of ECOWAS and the gesture of His Excellency President Obasanjo and other Heads of State in the African Union to grant temporary stay to Charles Taylor in Nigeria, they believe that some of his alleged activities may be in breach of his terms of stay in Nigeria .In light of the views exchanged, the Summit agreed to suggest to the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that there may now be need for a review of the terms of the temporary stay granted to Charles Taylor or a referral by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of the matter to ECOWAS Heads of State for further consideration.

The three leaders asked Nigeria either to turn Taylor over for trial or tighten its controls over his activities. Their use of the terminology "temporary stay" rather than "asylum" and the suggestion that the matter be brought before ECOWAS suggested increased pressure on Nigeria. Because the initial safe haven offer was made to save many lives, and negotiators in West Africa or elsewhere may need to make similar good faith and credible offers in the future, if Taylor is to be turned over to a court it is vitally important to demonstrate that he has broken the terms of his agreement, which focus on his noninterference in Liberian and regional politics.36 Such evidence as there is suggests that he has done so, but probably not at a really significant level. His NPP party increasingly appears impoverished and relatively weak. That said, Taylor himself appears committed to exercising as much influence as he can, and there is little reason to imagine that he will desist.

It is difficult to confirm accusations of Taylor's continued involvement in wider West African politics. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that such infractions have occurred but again are most likely of modest significance. Crisis Group's view is that shortly after inauguration, the new Liberian president should call for a meeting of ECOWAS heads of state to take a collective decision as to whether Taylor has breached the terms of his stay in Nigeria sufficiently significantly to justify terminating his asylum. The question at hand should then be Taylor's extradition to Sierra Leone, where he has been charged, and not to Liberia.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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