17 April 2018

Liberia: Corruption, Division and Poverty Remain Challenges in Liberia

Tough-talking former UNMIL SRSG, Jacque Klein

-UNMIL's SRSGs Reveal in Separate Interviews

A book published about the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has synchronized views of the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General and concluded that corruption, tribal and sectional divide and poverty pose challenges to Liberia's stability.

The book, titled "Story of UNMIL," was published by Shpend Bërbatovci, Head of Strategic Communications and Outreach, and provides synopses of the five SRSGs who served Liberia from 2003 to 2018, highlighting each person's work in accordance with a specific objective.

The book also provides that each SRSG was tasked with certain responsibilities according to his/her expertise and the time of service.

Former UNMIL SRSG Alan Doss

Jacque Paul Klein, the first SRSG to serve as head of UNMIL, has a background in a military career. He was the first to serve as Representative of the Secretary-General at a time Liberia was undergoing a cessation of hostilities, following the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the departure of former and jailed President Charles Taylor to Nigeria.

Klein is remembered for his tough-talking and candid threats to warlords who attempted to continue the war that saw thousands of Liberians killed and the country's infrastructure destroyed.

"Liberia still has a long way to go," he said in January 2017. "The Liberian-American versus native Liberian population tensions, illiteracy and the lack of substantial foreign investment continue to undermine Liberia's future," Klein is quoted in the book.

Klein is also quoted as saying that though UNMIL has helped to restore peace in Liberia that was once considered a failed state, its people are yet to enjoy the dividends of peace as corruption, poverty, native and Americo-Liberian divide, coupled with tribal division, continue to confront their social lives.

Alan Doss succeeded Jacque Klein and was instrumental in setting up the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP). GEMAP was meant to tackle corruption in high places and to set the pace for good governance in financial management.

Although GEMAP did not resolve all of the most intractable governance problems facing the country, including corruption, it did aid Liberia to successfully complete the requirements for international debt relief.

Ambassador Margaret Loj, the third SRSG to serve with UNMIL, was realistic in admitting that the mere presence of UNMIL peacekeepers on the soil of Liberia helped to keep the peace.

Her advocacy was geared towards the implementation of peacebuilding and reconciliation with peacekeeping, considering that without reconciliation to allow war victims face perpetrators it will be difficult for genuine peace to be restored.

"If we don't urgently work on building the peace while we keep the peace, then we will not achieve our ultimate goal, namely sustainable peace and prosperity," she said.

Karen Landgren followed Ambassador Loj, and she met another confronting problem on the ground, in addition to the security problem that was facing the country. This was the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak.

Amid the health crisis, SRSG Landgren, who began UNMIL's drawdown process, noted that Liberia had the lowest concentration of doctors in the world, given statistics of 1.4 doctors being assigned to 100,000 people.

The SRSG noted that widespread poverty was not only the problem responsible for the health crisis, but also corruption was another factor. For example, Ebola funds destined for public health had been diverted.

She indicated that Liberia's "debilitating patronage network" contributed to the country's inability to confront the disease, as the concentration of political administration is in Monrovia.

Farid Zarif, the last SRSG for UNMIL in Liberia, led the mission to a close on March 31, 2018.

Ambassador Zarif, who managed the mission up to Liberia's own sponsored election, also named reconciliation, sectional and tribal divides, regional marginalization, gender bias, among others, as some problems still confronting the peace of the country.

"Another priority is national reconciliation. Liberia never got close to fully developing the concept of nationhood, because it always remained split across multiple divides; indigenous versus settlers, tribal versus regional marginalization, gender bias, inequitable sharing of national wealth and economic opportunities, monopoly of political space, impunity for war crimes and mass atrocities, etc. How can you overcome these divides and develop a concept of nationhood that brings everybody together around a common vision? That's certainly been a priority for me too," Ambassador Zarif said.

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