But first, before one begins to talk about or highlight emerging conflict issues, one must understand the nature of conflict. Scholars say conflict is synonymous to dispute, quarrel, squabble, disagreement, dissension, clash. Conflict is a serious disagreement or argument; sometimes it can be protracted. Major dictionaries all point to conflict being strong disagreement.
Merriam-Webster: a struggle for power, property, etc.; strong disagreement between people, groups, etc., that results in often angry argument…
Cambridge dictionary: an active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles.
Experts in conflict analysis say though conflict is inevitable, it can be prevented. They also say, “Early warning is an essential first step for conflict prevention.”
Liberia’s root causes
In order to resolve any conflict, one must be able to identify the root causes of that conflict, which was done in Liberia’s case with the investigation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that completed its work in 2009 after tens of millions of US dollars were invested in few years of research.
The TRC was essentially set up to identify the root causes of Liberia’s long years of civil conflict dating back to 1979—the country’s first bloody street riot that preceded the first military coup in April 1980 with the assassination of one of Liberia’s most liberal and development-oriented presidents, Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr.
Root causes identified were: corruption, poverty, inequality, abuse of power, greed for power and wealth.
TRC recommendations to prevent another conflict
The TRC in its final report recommended that transitional justice mechanism be instituted. Other recommendations include:
- Sanctions for 30 years on certain figures-noninvolvement in politics for financial and other backers of armed factions (President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf et al)
- Prosecution for former warlords and those bearing the greatest responsibility for the 14 years of brutal civil war that claimed the lives of some 250,000 people
- Reparation of Liberia’s war victims
- Palava hut method with community involvement
- Perpetrators publically confess and ask for forgiveness
Have root causes been addressed at all?
NO is the answer of course. Where is rampant corruption today? Where is greed for wealth/abuse of power? Where is inequality? Where is injustice? Is the poverty level lower in Liberia lower than the advent of the civil conflict?
Today we stand as the eleventh poorest country in the world and the third poorest in Africa, ranking among Central African Republic (CAR) and Guinea Bissau.
Liberia’s HDI value for 2014 is 0.430— which put the country in the low human development category— positioning it at 177 out of 188 countries and territories.
Not even reparation for war victims
There are thousands of Liberia’s war victims, some of whom are confined to wheelchair. So far, the TRC report has been swept under the carpet, something many political observers see as being for selfish reasons.
But the cries of Liberia’s war victims are resounding and the blood of the 250,000 precious lives are also crying out for justice backed by the TRC findings and recommendations.
Media’s role early warning & calling attention
The media have a very crucial role to engage in good Journalism that would promote good governance, safety, peace-building, accountability and inspire positive change; by flagging those issues in the first place that brought about the civil crisis that the TRC mentioned.
By flagging those issues, people would be reminded of the need to learn from the bitter lessons from the past. Such would create the platform to highlight the early warning signs.
Are the media flagging the issues? Yes, but some critics say not as extensively within the context of establishing the link to root causes and triggers that preceded the conflict of all conflicts (14 years of fratricidal civil crisis).
To a large extent, Liberia has been enjoying some eleven years of peace since the guns went silent in 2003.
But the old adage says “peace is not just the absence of war.” Experts say long term peace cannot be sustained in the absence of addressing the root causes of the conflict; putting in place mechanisms to prevent resurgence or sparking of new conflict of similar nature. Wounds won’t be healed if honest efforts are not made to address the root causes.
Indeed, the media can serve as important tool to foster peace-building and national reconciliation.
A great Journalism scholar once said: “Journalists are here to warn and not to bite…to remind the public of impending danger.”
Experts in conflict analysis say “Early warning is an essential first step for conflict prevention”.
Peace-building and conflict resolution experts (including the UN) have done a lot of studies of conflict and early warning signs in post war Liberia, which the media should more vigorously play up and follow up on.
“In late 2010, the Liberia Peace-building Office, with support from Humanity United, led the formation of an organizational network now referred to in Liberia as the Early Warning and Early Response Working Group (EWER-WG).
EWER-WG, through a conflict analysis and forecasting process, identified four priority issues namely; land, borders, youth and drug use/abuse. “These issues stand out as major contributing factors to the possible outbreak of violence,” EWER-WG said.
Another study was done on the Patterns of Conflict and Cooperation in Liberia in February 2012. “Conflict early warning remains an important but elusive goal in Liberia. If outbreaks of violence could be predicted before they occur, early responders could focus their energies and scarce resources on the highest-risk communities,” the report said.
Taking cue, putting our house in order
Indeed, land, borders, youth and drug use/abuse are being compounded by the other issues listed in the TRC report (rampant corruption, abuse of power, etc) with the potential to plunge the nation in another civil crisis.
Not too long before the end of her tenure in Liberia, former UN SRSG Ms. Karin Landgren reminded the Liberian government and people that the fault lines that triggered the conflict have not disappeared and that they (we) should address “the root causes of fragility”.
In one of my newspaper pieces back in May 2015 I reminded Liberia of the urgent need to heed the UNMIL chief’s caution.
Some of the fundamentals are: how far have Liberians gone in addressing some of the root causes of the 14 years civil war that necessitated the deployment of UNMIL here in the first place? What’s the health of the relations between the Liberian security forces (police, LNP and Armed Forces of Liberia)? How much do Liberians trust the justice system today?
For example, some experts say more emphasis is being placed on “physical” security rather than human security, before and after the June 30 UNMIL drawdown, when authorities boasted of having over 2,000-strong AFL soldiers with some 4,000-strong LNP officers.
Here is the caution: In a May 1, 2015 press release issued by the UNMIL SRGS’s office:
“But numbers aren’t the whole story: the police and judiciary can be effective only if they earn and enjoy the trust and cooperation of communities,” the UNMIL chief said.
“It is incumbent on all Liberia’s leaders and people to use the remaining presence of peacekeepers to address, as far as possible, the root causes of Liberia’s fragility,” the UN envoy added.
The onus is on us (the Liberian media) to background our stories on peace-building and early warning signs with these kinds of cautions, as the culture of impunity thrives. Keep flagging and playing up emerging conflict issues and reminding both the government and the governed about the root causes of 14 years of brutal civil conflict here; put them in the right perspective.
In fact just a few weeks ago, a very senior international diplomat cautioned the Liberian nation about the urgent need to put in place a transitional justice arrangement to bring redress to victims of the civil war.
“Without justice, you cannot have security; you cannot have peace,” the diplomat cautioned.