The Success of Peacekeeping in Liberia
(New York, January 7, 2019) From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, a series of brutal civil wars and political crises tore through the Mano River Basin in West Africa. Starting in Liberia, and like wild fire, the violent conflict spread to Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire, tearing apart societies, killing thousands and displacing millions of people. The brutal civil wars led to the dissolution of State authorities, the collapse of governance institutions, and threatened West Africa with destabilization. Yielding to the cries of the people, the world engaged, and United Nations (UN) Peacekeepers were deployed. On March 30, 2018, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) ended its fifteen(15) years of peacekeeping Mission in Liberia. The mission was a success, and has become a model for UN Peacekeeping operations globally.
Liberia's Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative to the United Nations His Excellency Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr. lived in Liberia throughout the war, and contributed to the Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRR) process. He shared his experience and retraced the successful completion of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in the special feature below--a production of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) as part of a campaign to support the Mano River Basin and the United Nations Secretary General's Action for Peace (A4P) initiative.
The Success of Peacekeeping in Liberia
By Dee Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr.
UN peacekeepers on patrol around the Liberian port city of Buchanan (2009). UN Photo/Christopher Herwig
Earlier this year on 30 March, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) came to a successful end. This was a pivotal moment in history and the people and Government of Liberia welcomed the Mission’s conclusion after having achieved its mandate. The withdrawal of UNMIL signifies that Liberia is strongly positioned on the path of lasting stability, democracy and prosperity. Prior to UNMIL’s 15-year deployment, Liberia had gone through a long period of civil crises. The fighting that began in 1989 lasted until 2003. The country was torn apart by warring factions; leading to a complete breakdown in governance and rule of law. More than a quarter of million Liberians, mostly civilians, were killed. Thousands of others were displaced internally and beyond the borders, resulting in some 850,000 refugees in neighboring countries. For most Liberians, the war was senseless. It was a form of insanity.
UN peacekeepers provided hope for recovery
As the conflict wore on, the people of Liberia thought that they had been abandoned by the international community. So, the arrival of UNMIL in October 2003 with its mandate to ‘support and protect’ was, both, timely and necessary. The peacekeepers were perceived as providers of hope, because at the time they came to Liberia, every fabric of the Liberian society was destroyed. UNMIL’s contribution to Liberia has been immeasurable. It relentlessly supported every sector of my country’s recovery: disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (thousands of soldiers; including child soldiers were disarmed and rehabilitated into the society); police and judicial reform (UNMIL supported the recruitment and training of officers of the Liberia National Police and the Armed Forces of Liberia);and three successful elections (2005, 2011 and 2017) which saw the peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another, the first time in more than 70 years.
UNMIL helicopters helped transport electoral materials to remote areas of Liberia in support of the country’s national elections, Lofa County, Liberia (2011) UN Photo/Emmanuel Tobey
The conduct of the crucial 2005 elections, the first after the total breakdown of governance, perfectly illustrates the role played by UNMIL in Liberia’s recovery. It supported the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) and spearheaded the electoral process. Helicopters from UNMIL were used to move voting materials to remote areas which enabled thousands to exercise their franchise. The mission reconditioned local roads to ensure smooth travel of election workers. UNMIL’s role was, however, not just limited to logistical support. It hired and trained thousands working with the National Elections Commission (NEC), including to develop election messages and provided media development training to local journalists.
The successful conduct of the 2005 elections would not have been possible without the assistance of UNMIL and this endeavor on the part of the United Nations is worth noting.
Peacekeeping is a necessary imperative
Had it not been for peacekeepers, my country would have been further torn apart. I would like to express appreciation on behalf of His Excellency Dr. George Manneh Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia, the Government and people of the Republic of Liberia for the invaluable contributions made by the Blue Helmets to the peace Liberia enjoys today. The gallant men and women of UNMIL left an indelible mark and words alone cannot express our gratitude to peacekeepers who lost their lives. It is because of their sacrifice that today humanity is better in terms of peace.
As a country, we are cognizant of the fact that peace is invaluable, but expensive. While it is not easy to bring peace, sustaining it is even more difficult. That is why Liberia recently endorsed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ Action for Peacekeeping initiative (A4P) to strengthen peacekeeping. The A4P initiative endeavours to address the challenges that tend to undermine UN peacekeeping’s ability to deliver on its mandates; including lack of political solutions, and the lack of focus and clear priorities with peacekeeping missions.
In addition, multifaceted threats are causing a rise in fatalities and injuries of peacekeepers, and missions have sometimes lacked the personnel and equipment to meet these threats. Crucially, these are the issues that the A4P initiative addresses. It also brings in the political commitment from Member States who pledge their support to advancing political solutions to conflict and enhancing the political impact of peacekeeping, including engaging at the national and regional level.
Liberian soldiers serving with MINUSMA perform cold load drills with the Canadian Armed Forces in Timbuktu, Mali (2018) Photo: DND-MDN Canada/ Corporal Ken Beliwicz
Peacekeeping is a necessary imperative for maintaining peace. His Excellency Dr. George Manneh Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia, the Government and people of the Republic of Liberia continue to demonstrate an unflinching practical commitment to working assiduously towards achieving the primary mandate of the United Nations of promoting peace and security globally. Today, Liberia is contributing peacekeeping officers to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA). This would not have been possible without the hard work and sacrifice of peacekeepers of UNMIL. We see our effort as an obligation. We do not see it as a favour. Because, yesterday it was done for us and the best we can do is to reciprocate.
The author is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Permanent Representative of Liberia to the United Nations.