When President George W. Bush, in a speech delivered during the summer of 2003, asked Mr. Charles Taylor to leave Liberia for peace to take hold in the troubled country, he broke a more than decade-long US policy toward West African nation founded by freedmen. American slaves in the early 19th century. Since the beginning of the civil conflict in 1990, US administrations refused to get involved in any way possible in the war that raged in Liberia. This indifference was summed up in the words of a former State Department official who explained this position in a rather cold statement: The United States has no strategic interest in Liberia. ” As Liberia self-destructs, the United States paid little attention, aside from providing humanitarian aid and absorbing tens of thousands of refugees.
Since that summer and that speech, a lot has happened in Liberia and the country is on the road to recovery. The Bush administration worked with ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) to stabilize the nation not only by finding asylum for Mr. Taylor in Nigeria, but also by placing the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world in the country. The two-year transitional administration received much goodwill and support and was able to carry out its mandate to disarm warring factions and hold free and fair elections in October 2005. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated former civil servant with the UN, won the elections.
Three weeks ago, the Bush administration sent to the inauguration of President Sirleaf the highest-ranking American delegation to ever attend such a ceremony in the nation’s history, featuring First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of the United States. State Condolezza Rice making the trip to Monrovia.
Now, after much fanfare and pageantry, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her administration face the enormous difficulty of getting a nation that had hit rock bottom back on track. Liberia is devastated beyond description, and unless provided with the means to rise up, the fragile peace would crumble, despite all the goodwill and hard work of the new president and her team.
However, the country does not need handouts or charity channeled through international non-governmental organizations that, no matter how committed, can only provide emergency aid. Furthermore, this type of aid tends to impose a dependency mentality even more dangerous than “poverty”. Liberia now needs access to its vast natural resources and international capital, through private loans or investment. All of this is now hampered by the economic sanctions currently imposed on the nation.
The leadership of the United States is crucial in helping Liberia solve these problems that would hamper any recovery process and paralyze the country, making lasting peace impossible. The first and most crucial issue concerns the economic sanctions imposed on the Charles Taylor regime for its role in the deadly civil war in Sierra Leone. These sanctions cover the two income-generating commodities for Liberia’s most important exports: diamonds and timber. The exploitation of these two products employs tens of thousands and generates income for the state. The second no less important issue is that of the unbearable external debt that Liberia owes to international financial institutions, most of it owed to the United States and most of it incurred during the military regime of the 1980s, which received easy “loans.” to side with American positions during the 1980s. Cold War.
Unless these two problems are resolved now and quickly, the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration will face an insurmountable task and could fail to implement its economic and social recovery program, leading to massive discontent and a possible return of Instability. President Bush must also take the initiative to pressure the UN to lift sanctions and work with the promising new administration of Ms. Sirleaf to resolve the debt problem as soon as possible. This debt amounts to $ 3.3 billion and its service alone occupies more the government’s monthly payroll. The Sirleaf government’s ability to steer Liberia will depend on its ability to exploit natural resources and access foreign investment and loans. For the moment, all of this is impossible as long as the nation remains paralyzed by sanctions and debt.