Liberia and Sierra Leone- Rebuilding Failed States

The interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone are failing to produce states that will be stable and capable of exercising the full range of sovereign responsibilities on behalf of their long-suffering populations. This is essentially because they treat peacebuilding as implementing an operational checklist, involving fixes to various institutions and processes, without tackling underlying political dynamics. At best, Liberia is on the path Sierra Leone entered upon several years earlier. A fresh strategy is needed if both are not to remain shadow states, vulnerable to new fighting and state failure. The international community needs to make genuinely long-term commitments -- not two to five years, as at present, but on the order of fifteen to 25 years -- to enable new political forces to develop. In both countries the operational checklist includes deployment of peacekeepers; disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of fighters; repatriation of refugees; and judicial and security sector reform; with elections as virtually the final step. The time frame -- two to five years -- is too short. Individuals with criminal pasts are treated as viable political interlocutors. The judicial and law enforcement institutions never functioned effectively, and thus their repair without reform is no solution. New national militaries are untested, and their adherence to constitutional order uncertain. Voices from civil society who could catalyse real change tend to be marginalised, while the economy is left vulnerable to criminal capture. A more radical strategy is needed. After restoring security, the international community should more quickly give greater political responsibility, while simultaneously targeting its interventions to help build non-political and professional law enforcement and judicial institutions to establish the rule of law, protect civil rights and foster a public space within which citizens can hammer out their own solutions. In Liberia it should also assume responsibility for revenue collection from ports, airports, customs, the maritime registry and export of timber and diamonds: because the collection of revenues is presently obscured from the beginning, it is easy to engineer corruption. But once funds begin entering the treasury transparently, it should be up to Liberians to decide how to use them, though international monitors, as part of independent and public oversight of procurement, should still be available to help civil society prevent gross abuse. The same problem exists in Sierra Leone, but this prescription probably cannot be applied because its elected government is already in place and unlikely to give up so much control. Stop-gap measures there focus on trying to insert accounting mechanisms at the final stages of the revenue process, by which time much has already disappeared. However, the long-term security sector commitment has already been promised by the UK. Other steps needed are to protect freedom of press and expression better, to give the Anti-Corruption Commission prosecutorial powers, and to establish a public complaint mechanism applicable to newly-elected district governments. The proposed approaches can only have a chance of succeeding within a much longer time frame than the international community has hitherto been willing to envisage. Liberia and Sierra Leone took decades to decay, and it will take decades to restore sustainable security and political and economic structures. The new Peacebuilding Commission proposed by the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which reported to the UN Secretary-General on 2 December 2004, could be the institutional vehicle needed to implement the long-term commitments required in these countries, and many others around the world. RECOMMENDATIONS With Respect to Liberia: To International Donors: 1. Pay quickly outstanding pledges for reconstruction ($276 million), especially the $42 million UNMIL needs t