Liberia: Challenges facing peace and reconciliation
October 24 2012: Liberia has begun the process of sustaining the peace that has been built in recent years. However difficult challenges lie ahead. Insight on Conflict's local correspondent for Liberia, Nat Walker, looks at Liberia's "Roadmap for National Healing, Peacebuilding and Reconciliation", which aims to give direction to the process.
The Government of Liberia and its partners, including the United Nations and heads of civil society organizations, are advancing rapidly on the implementation of the justice and rule of law and security sector reform of Liberia. Within Gbarnga city, Bong County, a regional Justice and Security Hub has been constructed with a remit to control any outburst of violence, while providing access to justice for the rural population. An additional four of these hubs will be constructed around the country at strategic locations.
A strategic roadmap for peace
One of the major issues that affects the effective development and implementation of peacebuilding and reconciliation processes and strategies within Liberia, is the lack of a unified definition of peacebuilding and reconciliation. Separating peacebuilding from ordinary development work is always a challenge that many peacebuilding and development practitioners face.
Within Liberia, the Roadmap defines reconciliation as “a multidimensional process of overcoming social, political, and religious cleavages; mending and transforming relationships; healing the physical and psychological wounds from the civil war, as well as confronting and addressing historical wrongs including the structural root causes of conflicts in Liberia”.
The Roadmap has also identified the presence of multiple reconciliation participants and programs across Liberia as another major challenge contributing to the delay in implementing the peacebuilding and reconciliation component of the Liberia Peacebuilding Program (LPP). This led to inconsistent efforts, a repetition of processes, waste and unnecessary competition.
The LPP is supported by the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission and funds many peacebuilding activities in Liberia. The funds are disbursed to recipient UN agencies in the hopee that they will include other organisations. However, in many cases the participating organisations were international NGOs, while few Liberian organisations took part.
Given the above, Liberians, through this new reconciliation initiative, seem more determined than ever before to strive for the sustainability of the relative peace the country now enjoys. It is hoped that the Reconciliation Roadmap will help ensure that the desires and aspirations of Liberians are met.
The document has been given an 18-year timeframe, with the strategic outcomes of sustaining reconciliation and peace by transforming mindsets, rebuilding relationships, and rebuilding social, political, and economic institutions.. This can ultimately be achieved by accounting for the past and committing to address challenges in the present, whilst collectively aspiring for a better and shared future.
Ensuring civil society input
The implementation of the various components of the roadmap is organised in six 3-year program cycles, with the first two program cycles consistent with the Liberia Peacebuilding Program (LPP) and the Liberia’s Medium Term Economic Growth and Development Strategy known as “Agenda for Transformation”.
Currently, civil society organisations are at the forefront ensuring that their input into the Roadmap is incorporated and that they have a part to play throughout the reconciliation process. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, through the Liberia Peacebuilding Office, is currently conducting a National stakeholder consultation and regional validation exercise to encourage all Liberians to provide input and feedback for the Roadmap.
Civil society representatives, university students, as well as traditional leaders will be travelling throughout the country to discuss the Roadmap and expectations of Liberians as it relates to the national healing and reconciliation process. At the same time, social networking sites such as Facebook are being used for discussion and to collect feedback from Liberians living abroad.
It is hoped they will discuss the twelve components and strategies outlined in the Roadmap. It is anticipated that feedback will be incorporated and a final version will be launched by the President of the Republic of Liberia before the end of November, 2012.
Difficult challenges ahead
For example, issues surrounding the implementation of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) remain unanswered. The Government of Liberia seems to be finding it extremely difficult to implement major recommendations for the Truth and Reconciliation commission, which was established following the end of the civil war, apparently because of their complex nature.
There was also a lack of full consensus among commissioners on all of the recommendations advanced, which made it easier for opponents of the recommendations to strengthen their case. Additionally, it is clear that not enough care was taken to look at constitutional issues that arose from the TRC. For instance, there is a recommendation to ban 49 individuals including the President from holding public office for thirty years. This recommendation led to the polarisation of public opinion and caused deep divisions, contrary to the objectives of establishing the commission itself. The Supreme Court further intensified the debate by declaring that the banning of the 49 individuals lacks constitutional basis and is in fact a violation of their human rights .
In spite of this, there have been attempts by the government institutions like the governance commission and the independent Human Rights Commission to implement some aspects of the TRC recommendations, such as work being done through the National visioning exercise covering issues of identity, nationalism and decentralisation as well as the “palava hut” forums by the Independent Human Rights Commission expected to commence shortly.
To conclude, no matter how many resources go into the current reconciliation efforts, and how determined the government and international community are, long-lasting positive results and outcomes remain threatened, unless the controversies surrounding the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations are put to rest through a national consultative and consensus building process. This needs to be done not later, but during this early stage of this highly ambitious, and much needed national peacebuilding, reconciliation and healing process.
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