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A Tortuous Road to Peace

Book Review

3 September 2005 at 23:37 | 456 views

Title: A Tortuous Road to Peace

Edited By: Festus Aboagye and Alhaji M.S. Bah
Publishers: Institute For Security Studies, Pretoria, South Africa, 2005

Price: US$ 15.99

PAGES: 323

Reviewer: Kofi Akosah-Sarpong

Before receiving "A Tortuous Road to Peace" from one of the editors, the Sierra Leonean Alhaji Dr. M.S. Bah, for review, I had read one of the contributors, Lansana Gberie’s engaging article "Liberia Journal: A Tortured Transition" in the prestigeous leftist on-line academic magazine Z-Net (July 11, 2005). Gberie had not only agreed with James Youboty, a noted Liberian journalist and author of "A Nation in Terror: The True Story of the Liberian Civil War" (2004), and his insightful observation that the Liberian implosion is due to the country’s long-running segregationist culture, which was for long ignored in national development and exploded into the collapse of Liberia, but also used his insight to analyze the Liberian crisis.

Writes Youboty, "The Liberia problem could be partly blamed on the segregational way in which the ex-slaves from America founded the country and kept the majority of the native population benighted for more than a hundred years. All these disparities in the society set the stage for Satan to take advantage in brutally turning brothers against brothers." Painful, but such enlightening insight informs interviews and analysis spanning observations, facts, policies and programmes such as Liberia’s transitional justice and her rotten political culture and their implications on the helpless Liberian population and how to correct them. Dr. Abdul Rahman Lamin, of South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, reveals in chapter ten that a paradigm of national impunity grounded in the Liberian past had exited long, long before the outbreak of Liberian civil war in 1989. "...an entrenched culture of political violence and systemic pattern of abuse against civilians was in place by the time the war broke out in 1989 is not in dispute."

Such long-running rot was worsened by the dynamics of post-Cold War era political activism that sparked violent conflicts, which, as Alhaji M.S. Bah, in chapter two, informs us, saw the unprecedented attacks against civilians by warring factions which contravened international law. In this sense, by both her dark entangling segrgation history and post-Cold War unhelpful activism, which rolled into the brutal Liberian civil war, there has occured intervention dilemma in Liberia in the sense of the dynamics of civilian protection. Writes Alhaji Bah,"The challenge now is not only to address the complex conflict situation but also to influence the manner in which the conflicts are prosecuted - within International Humanitarian and Human Right Law." This makes the Liberian peace process "tortuous."

Such historical, and by extension cultural, view is skillfully analysed by Gberie, a Sierra Leonean journalist-military-historian and an internationally respected researcher who has investigated extensively about West Africa’s diamond-induced conflicts, in "War and Peace process" (chapter three). Ever since the country exploded, Liberia’s history has not been in the forefront of resolving her collapse, and developing policies to solve her protracted prpblems in this regard. "A Tortuous Road To Peace," a holistic enterprise, more especially its solution-based write-ups, however, does that, paving the way about how to resolve the Liberian problem. In this regard, all the twelve chapters could be interpreted from the long-running historical wrongs that has entangled Liberia. Through the twelve chapters either in Fatoumata Aisha’s "Mainstreaming Gender in Peace Support Operations" or Chernor Jalloh and Alhaji Marong’s piece "Ending Impunity: The Case for War Crimes Trials in Liberia" or Abdul Rahman Lamin’s "Truth, Justice and Reconciliation: Analysis of the Prospects and Challenges of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Liberia" or "Enhancing post-Conflict Democratic Governance through effective Security Reform in Liberia" by Festus Aboagye and Martin R. Rupiya or Alhaji M.S. Bah’s "The Intervention Dilemma," the deep-seated historical wrongs run everywhere and the writers attempt to offer solution.

Perhaps unaware of how the deep-seated Liberian historical wrongs, badly handled, have eaten deep into the entire fabric of the Liberian society and eventual implosion, "after nearly 158 years of independence," as Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the executive secretary of Economioc Community of West African States (ECOWAS) writes in the first of two forewards (the other is by Ambassador Jacques Klein, the UN’s Special Representative and Coordinator in Liberia), "the 14-year Liberian conflict is testimony to how the capital that should have endowed its leaders to make Liberia the ’Promised Land’ that its founders aspired to be had been squandered." The capital squandering had occured for long time because Liberian leaders, down to the bureacrats and other policy makers, not only have shaky grasp of their country, despite what they will tell you, but also operated on policies not rooted in Liberian culture, history, and experiences.

As the contributors demonstrate, in addressing how the inexperiences of the handling of Liberia’s historical wrongs brought Liberia down, the imporatnce of the book is seen through the collection of enlightening and well-researched articles spanning the dilemma of the Liberian collapse and its impact ont only on the helpless Liberian citizens but also the West African sub-region to Liberia’s intervention by the international community to the mechanics and complications of rebuilding the failed Liberian state. Details of the dynamic regional, United Nations and international humanitarian interventions in Liberia, and how international humanitarian laws and collaborative efforts were worked around the complex ECOWAS intervention, in terms of its legality, after the Cold War (of which Liberia was one of the theatres in the African context and a victim), help broaden understanding of the complex Liberian crisis, and the difficult road in transiting Liberia to stability.

Photo: Charles Taylor, former Liberian warlord.

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