The civil conflict in Liberia rocked this West African nation and its neighbors for 14 years, and its duration matched its destructive effects. Indeed, of proportionate magnitude is the destruction it wreaked. The Liberian civil war pitched brothers against brothers and ethnic groups against ethnic groups who fought with all their might and used all the resources at their disposal not only to subdue but destroy each other. It therefore comes as no surprise why the Liberian civil war was so bloody.
In fact, the civil war in Liberia has been described as the worst ever in a West African country, not only because of the huge number of casualties it gave rise to, but also because of the infrastructural and property damage it caused. The hostilities in Liberia which have been dubbed as the "First, Second and Third World Wars" fought between December 1989 and 2003, claimed an estimated 250,000 lives, equivalent to 10 percent of the country's population at the time.
The casualties of the war were so astronomical because each time an attack took place somewhere, it sent ripples to other parts of the country, giving rise to reprisal killings most times resulting in massacres in other parts of the country. The UN Compound, Carter Center, Lutheran Church and Bomi County massacres are cases in point.
Due to the destructive dimension the war assumed, many Liberians, including professionals, fled the country and sought refuge in the Diaspora. The war therefore gave rise to massive brain drain. This became a major reconstruction challenge after the conflict ended. From an estimated 2,000 medical practitioners before the conflict, Liberia was left with less than 100 doctors at the end of the conflict.
Other sectors were equally affected by the war. At the end of the war, the government was confronted with the task of hiring trained teachers to man schools across the country. West Africa's Big Brother, Nigeria, at some point intervened and dispatched teachers and doctors to Liberia.
There was also a deficit of trained personnel in mining, civil and electrical engineering, as well as other critical areas, and the government had to provide special incentives for students entering these professions to tackle the deficit. Like these professions, teachers were provided special incentives to attract people to the teaching profession.
Infrastructural damage during the Liberian conflict was huge because Liberian fighters conducted themselves as if they were not Liberians. Strangely, they shot at electrical poles, houses and other public and private properties which in no way challenged their quest to conquer territory. Fighters from all the myriad rebel groups that participated in the Liberian conflict had no respect for private or public property.
They burnt down anything that was contested, including houses, business centers and even banks. Most times, they burnt down houses they occupied when they were ready to advance to other territory. This is why high-end structures and whole villages were burnt down during the Liberian conflict.
Forces of Charles Taylor's NPFL are reported to have blown up the country's only Hydro Electric Power Plan in Mount Cuffee when they launched the "Operation Octopus" on October 15, 1992 to complete their conquest of Liberia and install their leader as president of Liberia. They blew up the hydro plant to prevent residents of the capital Monrovia from enjoying electricity, forgetting that they would one day return to Monrovia.
The rehabilitation of the Hydro Plant and restoration of electricity to Monrovia and other parts of Liberia have become a nightmare for the first elected post-war government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Indeed, due to the hike in the inflation rate and the attendant increase in the prices of commodities worldwide, it will cost the government more than 200 percent of what it spent in the 1960s to rehabilitate the hydro.
As a matter of fact, all public and private facilities, including houses were not left untouched. Vehicles that ventured into rebel territory were seized by fighters for 'operation'. In the same vein, vehicles found in any captured territory were seized and either sold or used for commercial purposes.
It became a norm for fighters to hunt for vehicles whenever they captured new territory. Banks were broken into and all monies found there looted. Indeed, the scale of destruction was so huge that it cannot be easily quantified in cents and dollars. Monrovia and other towns in Liberia were emptied of everything. Houses were either burnt down, or looted. War effected civilians who had no other source of livelihood joined the looting fray.
They looted the zinc on the roof-tops of private and public buildings and sold them. Tables, chairs and other household items were also not spared. Returnees everywhere had to rebuild houses before taking residence in them. No house was left untouched by rebel forces.
Liberia experienced one of the largest recorded economic collapses, with the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) falling by over 90 percent between 1987 and 1995. This left a legacy of extreme poverty, with almost two-thirds of Liberians living below the poverty line, severe capacity constraints, significant under-employment and a vast infrastructure deficit.
In fact the first elected post-war government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had to begin from scratch because all banking institutions, including the National Bank of Liberia, were massively looted and emptied of their contents. The destruction was so massive that many residents who owned properties before the war died of frustration and heartbreak upon seeing their properties in ruins. Even hospitals were looted, sometimes resulting in the destruction of doors and windows.
Erosion of Cultural Norms
Perhaps of even more magnitude is the erosion of cultural norms and values. Fighters targeted Poro and Sande or bush school shrines upon capturing an area. These shrines were eventually destroyed because fighters considered all Poro, Sande and other Zoes as witches or wizards. One cultural practice that was severely eroded during the conflict is 'Respect for the Elder'. Fighters were predominantly youth, and because they made the rules during the civil conflict, they never respected even their parents' peers.
The saying "Old man I respect you, but sit on the floor" became common. Youthful fighters, some of whom were actually child fighters, did not show any respect for elders. They shouted at them and even beat them up at the slightest provocation. Due to the way child fighters treated elders, respect for the elder was eroded. In fact it has become so deeply rooted that it has permeated every sector of Liberian society.
Whether in schools, communities, at home or the workplace, respect for the elder no longer exists. Even parents experience difficulty bringing up their children, because children nowadays do not give their parents the respect due them. In the same vein, students do not give their teachers the respect due them. Even at the workplace, it has become a Herculean task to control employees and get them to do what they have to do.
Positive Aspects of the Civil Conflict
Change of Mindset
Everything has its good and bad sides. Even though it caused the deaths of an estimated 250,000 persons, wreaked massive infrastructural damage and forced over a million persons into displaced and refugee camps, many people feel that that that the Liberian civil conflict had its positive side. Before the war, apart from travelling to America to further their education or join family members, which was the preserve of the upper class and therefore rare, Liberians hardly travelled abroad. This gave rise to the saying: "Ar was born here, Ar will die here.".
The war however changed this. Liberians travelled to almost all parts of the world, including the Biblical Holy land Israel and Asia in search of refuge. Thousands of others travelled to the United States, Australia, Canada or other western countries on resettlement. Indeed, tens of thousands of Liberians have been exposed not only to western values, but have been imbued with a lot of good things that will help to transform their country.
In fact, Liberians who travelled abroad are returning home with so much business acumen that Liberian stores now outnumber those operated by foreigners. For example, the Camp Johnson Road commercial district which used to be dominated by Indian and Lebanese stores, now boasts of scores of stores operated exclusively by Liberians. Also visit the Red Light and Waterside commercial districts, and you will see that these areas will be overtaken by Liberian businesses. Scores of stores found here are operated by Liberian business women who venture into faraway lands like China and Duibai to purchase good.
Generally, before the civil conflict, the average Liberian lacked ambition, motivation and business acumen. He was content sitting behind desks in government or company offices. However, due to exposure in foreign lands and even in Liberia during the civil conflict, he has grasped the importance of business. Liberia can now boast of self-made businessmen like Benoni Urey and others.
What eventually crystallized into physical warfare in December 1989 started as a protest over civil rights abuses in 1979. The 'Rice Riot' of April 14, 1979 which was master-minded by Bacchus Matthews and other Progressives was in fact a demonstration against the bad governance that Liberians lived with at the time. Consciousness about the need for regime change gave rise to the April 12 military coup that toppled the government of William R. Tolbert.
And because the Samuel Kanyon Doe regime which succeeded the Tolbert regime also failed to usher in the expected democratic governance, it fell. Charles Taylor used the unpopular policies of the Doe regime to drive a wedge between the government and governed and catapult himself to power. Even though Taylor who eventually succeeded Doe also fell short of democratic credentials, the war succeeded in imprinting in the minds of Liberians the need for democracy. All Liberians are of the view that the likes Bacchus Matthews had fought for the democracy they now enjoy and therefore deserve it.
Having experienced one of the most bloody civil conflicts in Africa, Liberians will resist any attempt to subject them to tyrannical rule in this age. This is why they voted into office Africa's first elected female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who stood up against human rights abuses and whose democratic credentials are unblemished. Indeed, the other positive side of the Liberian civil war is that it has succeeded in ushering in democratic tenets.
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