Liberia's Elections: Necessary But Not Sufficient

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 Côte 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.