The recent extension of UNMIL’s mandate in Liberia by the U.N. Security Council is laudable and reflects the importance international actors place on the consolidation of peace as well as protecting the gains from the last fourteen years.
But beyond helping to build confidence, it re-assures a jittered population of their safety from imaginary and real threats, ie, Human Security. Among others, the new mandate lays emphasis on the security of Liberians while still recognizing the importance of the security of states and government.
The importance of the new mandate cannot be over emphasized because most of the sources of insecurity and factors that caused Liberia’s fourteen years civil war are still present yet the issues of Peacebuilding and national reconciliation have always been given secondary attention in our development planning.
Highlighting this critical omission, Liberia Peacebuilding and National Reconciliation document noted that while the government of Liberia and its partners advanced on the implementation of the justice and rule of law and security sector reform components, efforts on national peacebuilding and reconciliation are stalled due to the lack of coherent strategy and coordination framework to organize multiple government and civil society initiatives on peacebuilding and reconciliation.
Indeed, considering the level of social and ethnic polarization in the country, there is a need to prioritize Peacebuilding strategies that are not only inclusive but capable of influencing the sources of insecurity.
In extending the mandate of UNMIL in Liberia, the U.N. Security Council emphasized the need for expanded efforts by Liberian authorities to address the root causes of conflict, reinvigorate national and local reconciliation processes, promote land reform, advance constitutional and institutional reforms — especially of the rule of law and security sectors — and combat sexual and gender-based violence.
While there have been some improvements since the end of the war in 2003, deep divisions within various communities in Liberia show that social dynamics are still marked by mistrust and suspicion that are associated with the country’s protracted violent conflict.
Liberia remains fractured by divisions that often pre-date, and in some cases gave origin to, the armed conflicts, with roots in the exclusionary political structures and social practices established by the Americo - Liberian settlers as well as in those associated with the different cycles of violence in more recent years.
Although everybody is talking about decentralization and indeed there are mundane efforts in this direction, decentralization goes beyond the establishment of just few services in rural Liberia but involves building and restoring trust and social cohesion through ‘inclusive politics’ and participatory development processes at every level of society.
To a larger extent, various political leaderships in Liberia have not demonstrated commitment to decentralize authorities and change the status quo. Example, the President appoints county superintendents and officials of other sub-national units like districts and reserves the power to remove locally elected paramount chiefs.
The fact that such power and arrangements undermine the chances of the creation of self-governance and people-center development planning at the local level; they are sources of conflict and insecurity.
No wonder why despite enormous resources have been invested to reform and enhance the security sector since 2003 yet many Liberians still look to UN peacekeepers or informal security structures for their safety.
The general structure and notion of national security remains focused on physical security and the deployment of military and Police to ensure and enforce law and order. As a consequence, many Liberians and some international observers are concerned that the situation could return to business as usual, where the security of the state answers to the Presidency and few elites.
Prioritizing Human Security is about departing from elite centered practices but rather engaging in innovative arrangements that build trust and improve state-society relations. Today, our country is still confronted with several problems, including poor state-society relations, the usual politics of exclusion, weak civil society, cronyism, nepotism, youth and unemployment, land grabbing, corruption, sexual gender based violence, etc.- all of which undermine human security and serve as threats to genuine peace.
Now that we are giving another opportunity to put our acts together, we expect that the Liberian Government and its international partners will give attention to those activities that safeguard the vital core of all human lives from critical pervasive threats, in a way that is consistent with long-term human fulfillment, particularly social, economic security and access to justice for marginalized and vulnerable groups, including women and girls given that sexual and gender-based violence is still widespread.
In addition, it is equally important to prioritize and build the capacity of non-state actors (civil society) to enhance the quality and predictability of their intervention and services in the area of peacebuilding and conflict prevention.
But sadly, CSOs are excessively dependent on donor communities and under such circumstance it’s only when generous donors are willing to come forward with the necessary resources can civil society realize their goals. Thus, extending strategic support to CSOs will enable them to effectively collaborate with national security by working and supporting local communities, detect, analyze, and resolve different localized conflicts – to prevent them from spiraling out of control.
With UNDP financial support, the Liberian Peacebuilding Office is testing this strategy through few NGOs. Similarly, the government of Liberia has created a section at MofDP called non- state actors and presently experimenting number of interventions through new partnership with few CSOs. Although not rosy as usual given the mindset of some myopic state functionaries that continuously perceive CSOs as non- essential actors, this gesture deserve commendation.
Finally, in order for Liberia to enjoy sustainable peace after UNMI departs, it is critical that most interventions should not only seek to rebuild social infrastructures and rehabilitate the state but efforts must be made to reach out and collaborate with informal sector, including all security providers given the enormity of security challenges and limited resources to address all these problems. Informal security providers continue to play critical roles in filling important security gaps.
A clear instance is before the Ebola crisis and even after the epidemic, NGOs, CBOs, traditional leaders, council of chiefs and elders, community security groups and vigilante groups played and continue to carry out different interventions to protect their communities and ensure peace and security.
’Leaving no one behind’ is the prudent way to build peace and therefore government and donor communities should include and consider these informal actors in their interventions in Liberia.
Jimmy S. Shilue, Contributing Writer