It is nearly four years since she quitted the Liberian presidency, having smoothly turned over following a two-term period, and former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf remains virtually silent on the home front but is regularly loud and clear in the international corridors. Taking a severely dissipated nation following 14 years of a brutal armed conflict to the solid shores of democratic order is an exceptional trait of this first African female president on a continent where peaceful transition is a huge luxury. Thus, the International Community, which helped her successfully Shepard the troubled nation and people, celebrates and regards her not only as a heroine, but also an expert in past-conflict democratic transition for which they often summon her to share thoughts on the matter. Once again, and this time, the United Nations Security Council invited the former Liberian leader to an roundtable discussion to discuss transition in peacekeeping, and she was again at her best. The Analyst reports.
Travelling the world over to share how Liberia successfully transitioned from a once pariah state, ravaged by war, to a peaceful democratic nation, is the routine of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She’s credited as one of the, if not the only post-conflict, leaders to give the United Nation a successful transition from war to peace and democracy.
On Wednesday, September 8, 2021, she was at it again—this time at the United Nations headquarters—telling the Liberian story and providing lectures on how to go abound handling transitions from war to peace.
Sharing the platform with a plethora of topnotch international actors, the former Liberian president updated the United Nations Security Council on how Liberia made it.
She said in a statement: “You may recall that over a fifteen-year period, the United Nations Mission in Liberia was at some point classified amongst the largest deployments of peacekeepers in the world, consisting of up to 15,000 military personnel. At its peak 180,000 peacekeepers, 16,000 policemen and over 24,000 civilian shaft worked at various times over the period of war. UNMIL is viewed nationally, regionally and internationally as successful.”
Madam Sirleaf told the international audience that the success of the Liberian experience was due in large parts to the strong regional support and engagement with the 15-member ECOWAS states.
“You may recall it was the regional body which first constituted ECOMOG which transformed into ECOMIL that became the progenitor of UNMIL,” she said. “This was due to the strong support of Liberia’s international development partners such as United States, Sweden, India, Ireland and the European Union.”
She reported to the Security Council that more than three years since the final withdrawal of UNMIL from Liberia on March 30, 2018, “our country remains largely at peace with itself, and with its neighbors. Moreover, Liberia is proud to be a contributing nation to the UN Peace-keeping Mission in Mali, with a contingent.”
She commended the Security Council for the support extended to Liberia when the nation desperately needed it.
The WHO Ambassador stated further: “It is an imperative that the Security Council continuously re-examines and assesses opportunities for more successful models of peacekeeping operations, and how it meets its global responsibility to maintain international peace and security, not necessarily in a one-size fit all jackets, as the color and the helmet remain universal recognizably as blue helmets.”
The first democratically elected African president also acknowledged with deep appreciation contributions of the Government of India, for the inclusion and involvement of an Indian women contingent which had a positive impact on the Liberian Government’s efforts to attract women into the country’s security system.
“We commend efforts made during the period of the Mission’s Mandate for coherence, and cooperation across the UN system, and with regional and international partners,” Madam Sirleaf asserted, commending the Secretary-General for reforms at the United Nations.
She said: “I am pleased to report that today, the UN System in Liberia functions as he had envisioned, and operates more coherently ensuring more effective relationships, integrated support and productive partnerships with national stakeholders.”
Snags of UN Mission in Liberia
Former President Sirleaf used the occasion to draw attention of the Security Council to a number of challenges and snags that attended the United Nations’ peace mission to Liberia.
On the flipside of the mission, Madam Sirleaf asserted: “I would be less than honest if I say that the operations were fault-free. An UNMIL report says it squarely. ‘The challenges faced in the country was nothing short of daunting: to lead a country exhausted from three decades of civil strife, with destroyed infrastructure, a collapsed economy, a non-existent security sector and state institutions capable of providing basic services to its people.”
To add to these challenges, she posited that Liberia faced sharp decline in the economy from the effect of Ebola and the loss of significant financial support in the withdrawal of peacekeeping forces.
“This suggests the need for transition plans to recognize the specificities and special circumstances of countries particularly in post conflict situation and to have a flexibility in those plans to address these conditions, despite the fact that the prime responsibility is that of the government,” she noted further.
On behalf of the people of Liberia, she thanked all the Member States, and particularly the Security Council, for the support and understanding extended to Liberia when we desperately needed it.
How to Make Transition Work
The former Liberian president shared notes on what could help in ensuring successful peacekeeping missions around the world.
According to her, it is critical for successful transitions that the peacekeeping process is nationally owned, integrated, coherent and sustainable, adding, “A successful transition goes a long way to actually defining the Mission’s overall success.”
Madam Sirleaf stressed that one way the Security Council can support these important ingredients for success is to include same in the mission’s mandate and further require that they be considered in the regular briefings and update reports of the Mission to the Council.
She noted further: “Specific measurable activities, including with civil society organizations, as well as women and youth groups, ought to be developed, supported, monitored and reported on, as part of the UN Mission’s overall intervention report to the Council.”
As many have rightfully observed, restoring and sustaining peace is more than silencing the guns and disarming belligerents and or ex combatants, she told the Security Council. “It extends to enabling the conflicted society to deal successfully and sustainably with their drivers of conflict long after the Peacekeeping Mission is officially ended.”
To effectively do this, she said, “the Council may consider practical and measurable indicators which will witness deliberate engagement involving all the relevant stakeholders of a society, especially civil society, women, youth and minorities.”
She also suggested that one way the Security Council can support important inclusions is to include same in the mandates of Missions so that when Missions are in a transitioning phase, a culture of hardcore measurable activities drawn up by all relevant stakeholders in the peace keeping and peace building processes would be considered a normal and acceptable requirement as opposed to an exception.
Madam Sirleaf stressed: “The inclusion and involvement of minorities, too often abandoned to the margins of society, as well as civil society, women and youth, not only in the transition planning but also in the overall peacekeeping and peace-building processes, can ideally inspire a new national sense of ownership and inclusiveness which are crucial for sustaining more peaceful and democratic societies.”
She noted that the experience of active participation of women in the peacekeeping operations in Liberia offered Liberian women a needed sense of renewed hope for the Mission’s success, as well as the opportunity to exchange experiences leading to changes in attitudes and long-held perceptions about the values of women, including in peace and security.
“The inclusion of women in the case of Liberia in many areas of the security sector arguably brought a renewed appreciation even if that may not have necessarily transcended into complete trust, their presence inspired some measure of confidence especially when the blue helmets were around. Memories of those still linger on.”