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After the War: Transition and Challenges

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Transition to Peace

The transition to peace began on August 1, 2003, when the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution to support a ceasefire. West African peacekeepers were the first on the ground, eventually being subsumed within the overall UN Peacekeeping mission.[1] The Accra CPA of August 18, 2003, established the National Transitional Government of Liberia until national elections could be held in October 2005. The CPA also called for the United Nations to set up a peacekeeping operation in the territory. In October 2003 the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL)[2] became the largest such peacekeeping mission ever established. By 2005 the UN mission was fully deployed and began a demobilization process, as well as coordinating national elections. These elections were won by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, another Americo-Liberian who had previously been a minister in the Tolbert government.

During the past six years since the end of the war, Liberia has remained relatively stable, and President Sirleaf has presided over an influx of international aid and funds. The United Nations mission continues to be responsible for the country’s internal security but plans to reduce its presence following the upcoming elections.

To deal with the crimes and human rights violations committed during the wars, the CPA mandated a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to “provide a forum that will address issues of impunity […] to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation.”[3] The Commission was established in 2005 and conducted hundreds of hearings in Liberia and with the Liberian Diaspora in the U.S., including hearing admissions of guilt from perpetrators of enormous atrocities. In 2009 the TRC issued its final recommendations to the government.[4] One of its recommendations was to establish an “Extraordinary Criminal Court for Liberia” to try those accused of committing very serious crimes during the war.

Continuing Tensions

Despite progress, observers have pointed to ongoing tensions that may have the potential to spark renewed conflict, and some fear that civil war along ethnic lines will break out again once the UN peacekeepers leave. Former MODEL and LURD leaders still command a certain number of followers. Liberians were also implicated in violence that erupted in Guinea in 2007 and 2010. In addition, a number of Liberian mercenaries participated in the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire on both sides following the 2010 elections, and their return to Liberia is perceived as a threat to the elections there.[5] Sporadic violence has also flared up between ethnic groups, such as between the Mandingo and Loma tribes in February 2010.[6] Others also point to disputes over land ownership, which the International Crisis Group in 2009 called “the most explosive issue in Liberia today.[7] Systems for settling disputes are still predominantly local and informal, but capacity is limited to deal with the massive displacement from the wars and the expropriation of farmland and plantations. Finally, national identity, and the troubled relationship between the Americo-Liberian cultural elite and “native” Liberians, is also relevant to considerations of lasting peace.

The 2011 Elections

The next Liberian general election will be held late 2011. Liberians will have the opportunity to elect a new president, a new House of Representatives, and half of a new Senate, but most attention is on the presidential race. President Sirleaf is seeking a second term against several high-profile candidates.[8]


[1] Like earlier West African military support, the force was arranged by the regional economic bloc ECOWAS, led by the Anglophone West African states, and principally Nigeria. The new force would be known as ECOMIL and was directly incorporated into the UNMIL force as of October 1, 2003, when UNMIL was established by the arrival of the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Jacques Paul Klein.

[2] The initial Security Council Resolution 1497 of August 1, 2003, broadly authorized the use of force to support a ceasefire agreement that had been in place. Resolution 1509 was adopted on September 19, deciding that UNMIL would need to be established by October 1, 2003.

[3] Article XIII of the CPA. For the original text of the agreement, see

[4] Steinberg, Jonny (2010). A truth commission goes abroad: Liberian transitional justice in New York. African Affairs, 110, (438), 35-53.


[6] The initial trigger for the violence was said to be the discovery of the body of a young Loma woman, which was quickly blamed on the Mandingos, igniting protests against the predominantly Muslim group. It has been alleged that the woman was victim to a ritualistic killing, which has a longstanding tradition in Liberia, and which can have a direct impact on political events (cf. Ellis, 2007). It has also been said that the underlying conflict between Mandingo and Loma tribes is due to ongoing land disputes between the two groups. The Mandingos are alleged to have seized land from Lomas during the conflict.

[7] (see e.g. Unruh, 2008; Corriveau-Bourque, 2010) (ICG, 2009, p. 8).