Liberia: a potential model for success

Now that Charles Taylor has left Monrovia to President Moses Blah, reducing warfare in Liberia is a present possibility - especially if Nigerian peacekeepers prove responsible. Conceivably, too, Mr. Blah could cut a deal with the rebels, and a sustainable peace could follow. But world order's tougher challenge is how to restore Liberia's ability to govern and its sense of nationhood, as well as critical social services, such as education and medical care.

Letting Liberians do this on their own is an unsatisfactory solution. Mr. Taylor, his associates, and their ill-educated predecessors defaced the institutions of government, hollowed out the security and other goods on which their citizens had previously relied, and eviscerated every sense of national belonging. Liberia is a shell of a state that has not known governance, much less good governance, for more than two decades.

Although the United Nations is poised to oversee reconstruction of the Liberian state, and to attempt to emulate the UN's accomplishments in next-door Sierra Leone, Liberia's condition is dire. There is widespread hunger, a total breakdown in authority and law, and economic catastrophe.

Moreover, the Security Council, tugged by a miserly United States, thinks it has a peacekeeping job to do, when the real effort must fall under peace enforcement. In failed states like Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Somalia, the Solomon Islands, and Sudan, there is no peace to be kept. Nor are there good foundations on which to rebuild. States like these should temporarily and informally be decertified by the Security Council as sovereign states and their UN memberships suspended. And the UN should be in charge of a massive reconstruction effort.

Tiny Liberia could, if arranged well, prove the poster child for postconflict restoration in Africa. But for this to happen, the UN, with US support and financial backing, would have to commit and recruit troops, for security; police, for the next level of security; experienced administrators, to train their successors; judges, to reintroduce the rule of law and to train their successors; educators, physicians, and technicians. The UN would have to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate the combatants. It would have to jump-start the economy and put an end to the plundering of Liberia's forests.

Essentially, Jacques Paul Klein, the American special representative of the UN secretary-general, would have to play Gen. Douglas MacArthur in post-World War II Japan and preside over constitutionmaking and a root-and-branch reorganization of Liberian society and government.

Afghanistan and Iraq need the same kind of attention, but Liberia is small enough that the UN can build there on the basis of knowledge gained from partial successes in Sierra Leone, East Timor, and Cambodia. But it must also acknowledge - from the trials and tribulations of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo - that very little can be accomplished quickly or on the cheap.

Proper reconstruction of a place like Liberia will take no less than five years, and perhaps $1 billion of contributed money. As a model example, in the Solomon Islands, Australian government and military officials, who are in charge of a massive state reconstruction effort, say they are committed for "as long as it takes."

Why should the rich nations of the world contribute to rebuilding, almost from scratch, a functioning Liberia? Why should the US contribute one-fourth of what, over five years, would seem to Africa a vast financial outpouring, but not much compared with the yearly costs of the effort in Iraq? Why is it in our interest to attempt to make Liberia a success?

Giving Liberia a robust foundation for growth and governance, and handing the restored state back to Liberians after five years' tutelage, will eliminate the costs of future relief and peacekeeping operations in Liberia. It ought to at least reduce the swirling rebellions that engulf Liberia's neighbors and shift across West African frontiers, thus not only saving lives but also reducing external peacekeeping expenses in the region.

Peace in Africa needs a demonstration case. Without war and with good governance, a country and its people can prosper. That is surely the message that the international community wants to transmit to future potential despots and rebels in order to prevent abuse of office and the desecration of democracy. The Bush administration conceivably may want to show what it can do - through the UN - in Africa.

Liberia is small and pliable enough to be a success for the UN, but only if the major powers understand that halfhearted efforts will only breed more nasty wars in Africa, produce more thuggish autocrats like Taylor, and impoverish continued generations of desperate Africans.

Robert I. Rotberg is president of the World Peace Foundation and director of Harvard University's Kennedy School Program on Intrastate Conflict. He is the author of 'State Failure and State Weakness in a Time of Terror.'

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