Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mali on the Edge: Transitioning one step at a time

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

My first engagement with the Malian crisis was in 2012, when I was in Western Europe and back then, I commented on the role of ECOWAS in the crisis. Recently in July 2013, sitting in Liberia, I published an opinion piece on the role of my own country (Liberia) as a troop contributor to the UN Mission in Mali. Fortunately, this time, I am writing from Bamako, Mali, experiencing the transition first-hand as a member of ECOWAS Election Observer Mission to the Legislative Election. It is this experience and my impression with the entire transition that I discuss in this piece as an activist following political and security developments in Mali.

The Malian state is at a critical stage of transition as it tries to reestablish its authority as the sole user of violence in its national territories. Tuareg insurgency has kept the country unstable and led the state to near collapse. Thanks to regional efforts led by the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) for joining in arms with the government and other international actors to defeat and weaken terrorist elements. The Malian State itself, since the military advancement of the Tuareg separatists and the infiltration of terrorists, has lost much of its legitimacy and become a shadow of its former self. The transition that began with the formation of an interim government to replace the juntas has been well on course and it is probably one of the fastest state reformation projects that have happened so rapidly in less than two years. This intervention facilitated the rapid defeat of terrorist groups and the recovery of territories through military means, and the holding of democratic elections for the reestablishment of state institutions under the constitution. This recovery would not have worked out so fast and progressively had the most immediate regional organization, ECOWAS, not mobilized and cooperatively supported the Malian people. This speaks to the fact that when local knowledge and benefits from proximity are fully exploited, intra-regional diplomacy and cooperation can work as good, and even more productively than superpower diplomacy imposed upon third world countries.

The state of Mali would have disintegrated completely had separatists and terrorists remained in control of the Northern areas. The intervention that constrained the military juntas in Bamako through isolation and sanctions, and the subsequent signing of an accord in Ouagadougou, set the country on the road of moving forward with huge possibilities. An interim government replaced the military juntas and paved the way for the return to civilian democratic rule setting the stage for sustained international engagement with the people of Mali to aid them in their process of recovery. This engagement led by ECOWAS saw the holding of a presidential election in August (2013) and this brought to the leadership of the country a mixed class of technocrats and politicians capable of leading the people through a process of reconciliation and national renewal.

The presidential elections rejuvenated the people and strengthened their courage and confidence in the rebirth of their country. It is this confidence that was taken to the legislative elections held in three months later (November). The success of the legislative elections has reinforced the fact that the state and Malian society are resilient. While isolated cases of pocket attacks and low-scale bombings took place in some Northern areas, the Malian people courageously came out to vote to elect a new Legislature as part of the transition. The third phase of the democratic transition will be the local government elections. What is impressive of the legislative election is that a new breed of politicians, mostly young people, were on parties and coalitions’ list as candidates. Women have not been left out. The participation of women in the process, particularly in the voting was clearly visible and this speaks of an emerging era of active civic participation of women in Mali. This is a remarkable development in West Africa, as evidence in the region speaks to the growing participation of women in political leadership and civic affairs.

The international community and the Malian people must be alerted to the fact that transition processes do not end with elections, and in some cases quick-fixed electoral processes could exacerbate crisis situations. The Malian people, led by the new government will have to chart out a cohesive course for sustainable peace and democracy. The most critical thing to do now is to engage the people in a national dialogue on reconciliation and the way forward to a peaceful society.

The process of reconciliation is an immediate priority, probably even more critical than electoral politics, which is often characterized by fierce exchanges. At this stage, international efforts on Mali will want to pay more attention to supporting not just the Malian government, but also the Malian people in cultivating and maximizing local traditional processes of reconciliation and governance, particularly in the North. Reconciliation is of course a difficult process, particularly when the grievances, like those of the Tuaregs, have historical and traditional roots. Nevertheless, a structural reform of government and governance arrangements in Mali could encourage disgruntled elements to disarm, and submit to the national dialogue. This means decentralizing political and economic powers in Mali and allowing for semi-autonomous governance system will go a long way in addressing the grievances of movements with separatist agendas, like the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA). Mali is a very big country, and the alienation of Northerners has been due to the inability of the central government to deliver basic services. Many, if not all of the African countries are gravely affected by the overly centralization of power. Decentralized arrangements in which local decision-making and service delivery authorities are vested in self-governing institutions closer to the people are the most appropriate ways of ensuring equity in service delivery and democratic development. Addressing the longstanding grievances and territorial claims of the Tuaregs could be done through constitutional and legal reform processes that allow for the creation of semi-autonomous local or provincial governments in Mali. Therefore, the national dialogue on reconciliation must strongly consider issues of decentralization and local self-governance as part of the national debates.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Liberia’s Land Reform: Perspective on a Historic Opportunity and Potential Challenges

Liberia’s most recent profound policy on social and property rights is the Land Rights Policy promulgated in May 2013. In this edition of the series, I bring to you excerpts and reedited version of a speech I delivered at a one-day Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on the Land Rights Policy held at the University of Liberia on July 30, 2013 by civil society organizations under the above topic, and with emphasis on local governments and land governance:

Fellow panelists, ladies and gentlemen. Let me first expressed my gratitude to the organizers for inviting me to this unique occasion. I believe that it is through these initiatives of dialogue and constructive engagements that we can collectively address our national social, economic and political challenges in well-coordinated and inclusive ways. I am particularly delighted that the focus of today’s forum is on land reforms and the new land rights policy.

The views expressed here are informed by my experiences as a student who has sought to understand the political and socio-economic dynamics of my country, and my role as an activist with a passion to act in ways that those dynamics are shifted in the interest of every Liberian. Finally, these views are greatly informed by my experiences as a policy practitioner who has been charged with professional responsibilities at the Governance Commission to investigate and make recommendations for the advancement of good governance practices in Liberia.

Land governance is a critical element that must complement governance arrangements in all sectors to have a vibrant economy and social stability. The results of poor governance in land and related issues, like resources have led to huge disparities in wealth and social status in many societies and consequently civil war or ethnic crisis.

Civil wars are mostly caused by some of the factors associated with land, like natural resource management, economic prosperity, and property ownership. While land issues do not feature prominently as part of the causes of the civil war in Liberia, opposing forces however exploited the civil war to settle scores associated with previous land disputes. This made the issue of land to come to the fore in the aftermath of the civil war. For example, in places like Nimba and Lofa Counties, land related crises that erupted during the civil war still prevail and having them resolved have become a major challenge to stability in those counties. Similar issues, but at lower scales are all over the country.

As public sector institutions and governance arrangements are reformed after civil war, so it is equally important to reform land laws, settle land disputes and rearrange the institutions of land governance and management so that they become responsive to addressing grievances associated with tenure security and ownership issues. Not only that, land reform is also critical after civil wars to reestablish inheritance rights, protect disadvantaged segments of the population and redistribute to empower agrarian communities. The above are equally applicable to the situation in Liberia. That is why we strongly believe that successful peace and economic development cannot take place in Liberia if the issues of land are not prioritized as major national issues with implications on social stability and economic development.

In 2006, the Governance Commission started a process of land reform which involved nation-wide consultations with citizens, local officials, and members of the civil society. The most profound outcome of those consultations was the respond to the popular consensus amongst the people that the issue of land be addressed holistically and through a special commission or agency. This was how the Governance Commission formulated and recommended the creation of what is today the Land Commission. Since its inception in 2009, the Land Commission has worked across this country engaging local citizens, officials and national stakeholders eliciting their views on land reforms and land governance matters.

Through these initiatives, we have today a comprehensive and well-articulated land policy called the Land Rights Policy. The question today is can the Land Rights Policy address all of our problems associated with land? That is do we have recourse through this policy for our various tribal claims, private and corporate claims, and also does the government retain its right to lease any portion of land for investment and what are the mediums through which disadvantaged people can seek redress related to land loss, forceful eviction, and so forth? It is my understanding that the Land Commission is working out policy and legal frameworks on issues pertaining to land rights, land use and management that will together answer some of the questions above.

In any case, the Land Rights Policy of May 2013 presents a remarkable opportunity for Liberians in all walks of life. The categorization of land rights in separate categories is novel to Liberia and for the first time make the government a landowner with specific rights like private citizens or groups. This novel categorization of all land in Liberia as either, Private, Customary, Government or Public, answers several questions. First it tells us the conditions under which a land is owned and the status of the owner or owners; second, it tells us the various rights we have as landowners; and finally it helps us all to know where and from whom to buy a piece of land.
The methodology of Land Reform in Liberia is also very impressive. Contrary to the methodology of radical, imposing and often contested reform programs in other countries, Liberia is using a human rights based and participatory approach in which the citizens are directing the program. The outcomes of such initiatives are usually generally acceptable and all-inclusive. This methodology and the broad-based participation the reforms are benefitting from are the first opportunities Liberia has for peaceful land reform programs once the policies get at the implementation stage.

A second opportunity that Liberia’s land reform program is to benefit from is the ongoing decentralization reform program. This reform is intended to decentralize political, fiscal, and administrative powers to local units of the state, such as the county, the district, and the chiefdom. The National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance has already been promulgated by the Government, and a Local Government Act intended to give legal effect to the policy is been drafted. The Local Government Act provides for several local administrative departments, among which is a department on land, environment and natural resources.

Local governments are the most effective institutions for land governance. The position of a local government authority as the most proximate authority to local people and their problems make a local government the most reliable authority to deal with land conflicts, distribution and tenure security, provided that the local government itself has the legal mandate, administrative will, and resources needed for such interventions. The draft Local Government Act is drafted to give local governments the authority and resources to provide good governance and accelerate socio-economic development in counties, districts and other sub-national units. This law is in full compliance with the political principle of subsidiarity, which propounds that every matter must be handled by the lowest competent authority, and that the central authority must continue to play a subsidiary role. As land governance is mostly a local issue, particularly that of private land and customary land rights as provided for in the Land Rights Policy, the most competent local authority will be those provided for in the draft Local Government Act.

Governance reform in Liberia has not gone through without challenges. In fact, they are the most critical and challenging aspects of postwar nation building programs. It is the same with land reform. There are challenges associated with it, and if not handled properly, land reforms can sometimes trigger new rounds of crisis.

The challenges associated with land reform in Liberia are not exclusive of the challenges associated with reforms in the security sector, economic sector and public management. Like all other sectors, the institutions of land governance and management in Liberia are weak, ineffective and corrupt, and the legal frameworks are divisive, and very ambiguous. Remaking the land laws, and building institutions to enforce the land laws in the national interest is a huge task, and the Land Commission can tell you how challenging it has been for them to even to reach at a point of promulgating a land rights policy. A second challenge is the multiple ownership problems in Liberia, and the most difficult ones amongst them is the multiple tribal claims, or claims from two to three communities over a single area. This challenge is compounded further by the perennial conflicts associated with concession agreements, which the Liberian government enters into with multinational investors. From the signing of the Firestone Agreement in 1926 to the signing of the Sime Darby Agreement in 2009, communities have continued to protest and in some cases, like the Liberia Agricultural Company plantation extension program in 2007, communities have resorted to violence.

These are pressing issues that Land reform in Liberia must address and in a timely manner. If these communities cannot reclaim what they are laying claims to, land reform programs must then include reparations as part of addressing long-standing grievances associated with land loss in Liberia. Through such reparation programs communities can rebuild their lives, and have sustainable assess to livelihood and other needs previously served by their lands. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you!

-In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry-

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Peace and Reconciliation are Blessings of the Month of Ramadan for Liberia

Over the last few days since the beginning of Ramadan in Liberia, most of my non-Muslim friends and workmates have continued to ask me about the significance of, and dos and don’ts of the Holy Month of Ramadan. I have most often in my own way (albeit limited) given them some information. Their inquiries are important because if they do not know, they will hold onto misconceptions, and actions influenced by misconceptions or limited information could be intolerant and/or offensive. Those who are trying to ask, or even listening to the popular radio Al-Fala are doing their best to get informed about Islam. This reemphasizes the maxim that you need to know your neighbor in order to relate to him/her better. So this edition of the series is to respond to the many queries of our friends in an open space like this one, and to make the case about how the Holy Month of Ramadan brings peace and reconciliation.

Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and like the Hajj, it is performed periodically, that is, once every year. While a Muslim is primarily required to perform Hajj once in his/her lifetime given the ability of resources, as for the Ramadan, a Muslim is under religious obligation to fast every year in the Holy Month of Ramadan. This is also very flexible under different circumstances, like health, travel and recognizable encumbrances.

Ramadan comes as a holy Month for us Muslims and we put nearly all efforts to ensure that we strengthen our faith with our Creator, the Almighty Allah. It is revealed that it was during the month of Ramadan, the ninth lunar month in the Islamic Calendar, that the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, (may the Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) providing guidance and teachings to the people. Muslims who witness this month must therefore fast, except those in special conditions. While fasting a Muslim refrains from eating and drinking and practices continence. It is a time of worship and contemplation, and to fulfill the commands of the Almighty God and grow one’s soul.

Ramadan is also very relevant in improving social relations because during this time, family and community ties are strengthened, and the individual displays the best behavior in the community. Social science tells us that good relations within communities promote inter-community relationships and promote peace. And from all indications Ramadan provides a good opportunity for doing just that amongst Muslims and with non-Muslims. It is this strong sense of community that comes during this Holy Month that I emphasize here in this edition.

Family and community ties are strengthened in that Muslims from different social, political, and economic backgrounds come together for once to share in the blessings of this Holy Month. This unity is seen everywhere, whether at the Mosque or at a community center during Iftar – the evening fast breaking dinner. I have seen this over the years, and currently, In our own club of friends and brothers we called “THE VILLAGE”, a central Monrovia gathering, we have seen how this month have brought together some brothers, and created a family-like relationship just in the first few days of the Ramadan. An amazing thing about THE VILLAGE is that we oftentimes have non-Muslim friends who come to have Iftar (dinner) with us. This is interesting and it brings a strong message that Liberia is socially improving on issues of religious tolerance, reconciliation and peace.

THE VILLAGE, located on the peak of Snapper Hill in Monrovia, has been a meeting center for young professionals in business, government, and the non-profit sectors for years. Even though it started with mostly Muslim brothers, the quality of conversation, the modesty, and feeling of goodwill in addition to jovial exchanges have drawn together many other young professionals making THE VILLAGE an exciting informal multicultural, multi-religious gathering of young professionals in Liberia. Relations amongst the brothers of THE VILLAGE, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike have grown stronger since the Ramadan.

THE VILLAGE could be just one example, but around the country, particularly in Monrovia one can see how families and communities come together during the Month of Ramadan to share in the blessings of unity and peace that come with this Holy Month. Sharing the blessing of unity is done through eating together, praying together, and sitting together having constructive dialogues. Non-Muslims are also fully acknowledging the levels at which to interact with their Muslim neighbors. In most of the instances today, you see non-Muslims seeking answers about things they have held misconceptions for over the years. For examples, many non-Muslims treat their Muslim neighbors in extremely cordial manners during the Holy Month. This only tells us that friends are becoming more sensitive of the needs and concerns of each other and are prepared to respect the various diversities that exist in their communities. Through this, we have seen mutual collaborations, and the rate of tolerance also grow in workplaces, schools and social organizations. Ramadan adds more to that, and with the lessons and experiences of this Holy Month, it is obvious that Liberia has a growing opportunity to advance reconciliation and peaceful co-existence amongst its people.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Liberia Must Respond to Malala’s Plea

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

Young Pakistani girls’ rights and education activist, Malala Yousafzai, has made a passionate plea for children’s education worldwide. Malala’s plea has come at a time when development programs on issues of poverty, girls’ education and women’s rights (the mDGs) are wrapping up, and the coveted High-Level Panel on the post-MDG is formulating new rounds of plans.

As Malala addressed the United Nations, millions of girls in her native Pakistan were still facing harsh conditions of life. Children, and mostly girls, in sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty and violence have become daily realities, also experience similar harsh realities of deprivation and abuse daily. Malala’s voice is therefore a strong message to heed in Africa, if the dream of a brighter future for Africa’s children must be realized. This plea from Malala for equal access to quality education for children all over the world in the closing years of the MDGs makes the case that much has not be done to address the goals articulated in 2000 even after billions of Dollars in development aid and cooperation, national budgets and charities have been spent. That a goal articulated in 2000 and still an issue of global emergency in 2013, signals a failure on the part of world leaders to address the pressing needs of their respective countries. This failure is conspicuous in the performance of sub-Saharan African countries.

Reports suggest that most Sub-Saharan African countries did not perform well in the seven MDGs, thus making it difficult if not impossible to engage in a global partnership for development with other industrialized or developing countries (Goal 8). In 2011 alone, 57 million children of primary school age were out of school, and more than half of that out-of school children were in sub-Saharan Africa according to the UNDP.

For most countries like Liberia and its neighbors, this failure resulted from state collapse and long time absence of social services. For children/girls, the issue of food, protection against violence and rape in the absence of the state was paramount to the families and communities than education. By the end of the civil war in Liberia, an alarming proportion of young people were uneducated, unskilled and another huge portion accustomed to armed violence. Turning this around has been a serious challenge. Robust national programs beyond political platitudes are needed to ensure access to primary education for children, mostly girls. This requires going beyond the building of infrastructures around the country to creating the environment that ensure increased and sustained girls’ enrollment and access to quality education services. The emphasis on girls’ education in this edition of the series is because traditionally in Liberia, like most of Africa, girls have been deprived basic empowerment opportunities like education and worldwide, 61 percent of the 123 million youth (aged 15 to 24) that lack basic reading and writing skills are young women according to the UNDP. Equally so, those campaigning for girls rights and education need to go a step further from behind the microphones and reach into the communities with programs in mentoring and training and engaging parents on the need for girls education.

Like many societies including Malala’s Pakistan, social and civil issues have a way of giving birth to movements and popular activists. In Liberia, the events of the civil war gave rise to women political and social movements. These movements represent a great opportunity for advocacy and popular demand for education in Liberia.

Girls’ education since the end of the civil war has been widely advocated for, and to the truth, there have been some modest efforts at ensuring increase in female enrollment, but the challenge has been sustaining such enrollment since most girls do not end secondary school. Another challenge is the quality of education provided. The recommendation for policy considering the unspeakable deprivation of girls in Liberia is the need for special national funds on girls’ education. The opportunity Liberia has to ensure this happens is the presence of a female President whose political candidature was sold and bought through a large solidarity campaign from Liberian women. What young Liberian women deserve too, is empathy and a secured future from this woman-led government. My assumption is that a good and remarkable legacy for this woman-led government would be a national program that ensures free education for every Liberian girl up to secondary level. This will be a good response to Malala’s plea.

If most developing countries will take affirmative action that incentivize education for girls, particularly an incentive that eliminates costs on girls and parents, and improves quality, illiteracy will be an issue of the past, and in the same vein, poverty will be defeated. This way, Malala’s pain and sacrifice will not be futile. She will win, and women all over will win.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Liberia’s New Land Rights Policy and the Opportunities for Local Communities

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

Recent policy reforms in Liberia are likely to lead to a viable democratic state that protects the property rights (constitutional rights) of the people, provided relevant portions are legislated, implemented and enforced. This edition of the series is focused on the new Land Rights Policy, which has come as a major national instrument to comprehensively address the issues of land ownership, and the protection of tenure security for land owners in Liberia. The ownership or distribution and governance of land and its related resources have been a major challenge for human societies from time immemorial, as it has been a great source for wealth and a source of conflict. Liberia’s major attempt at addressing problems associated with land since the end of the civil war is articulated in what the Land Commission has just promulgated, the Land Rights Policy.

The land Rights policy attempts for the first time to clarify land ownership in the country into various categories rather than retaining the vague classifications of land ownership that are in extant and controversial laws like the Aborigines Law of 1956, Public Lands Laws of 1973 and other laws related to forest ownership and management. In the new policy, there are four categories of land rights in Liberia. A land may be owned either by the Government (Government Land), a private citizen or group (Private Land), a community (Customary Land) or for every Liberian (Public Land). These four classifications are very important in determining tenure security, ownership and management, and the policy went further in proposing governance arrangements under each category. In the opinion of this patriot this new classification and recognition of specific rights brings an opportunity in protecting the historic inheritance and traditional rights of families, private individuals and vulnerable communities that have been the victims of peripheral capitalism and accumulation in Liberia.

Over the years, the Liberian state have expropriated lands belonging to communities and tribes and HAS given same to multinational companies under various forms of concessions including plantation agriculture and mineral extraction. Unfortunately, these concessions only supported the growth of an enclave economy in the capital with the presidency and state elites as the largest beneficiaries, leaving customary landowners landless, and poor. Promises of social development and employments have passed unfulfilled. This has not changed for the better even though some reform measures including the Community Rights Law of 2009 and the National Forestry Reform Law of 2006 have been promulgated and legislated since the end of the civil war. However, the reforms bring some levels of hopes for those communities in that once effective governing arrangements are put in place, they will gain their fair share from their inherited properties.

With the new land rights policy and the above mentioned laws, customary landowners have not only been recognized as legitimate owners, but have been given a status of equal participants in managing, and investing in their land as legal entities with the authority to enter into contracts and obtain equities. The novel thing about the Land Rights Policy is that it recognizes this category of customary land rights and calls for the recognition of such as private land rights and governed under both formal laws and customary laws based on the given area. This means a particular clan, chiefdom, or village that has historic claim over a land will be recognized as the private owner of the land with a titled deed in the name of the clan, chiefdom or tribe issued by the Republic of Liberia. The governance and management of customary land is left with the community that owns the land, and strong points are made in the policy for inclusive decision-making processes that are transparent and accountable. This provision of the policy in my view will protect vulnerable groups within the communities, such as women, young people and disabled against the manipulations of community-based elites. In a broader perspective, the policy seeks to protect the land rights of each citizen whether under private or community ownership.

The unfettered control of the Liberian presidency and some state elites over lands in rural Liberia for commercial purposes, particularly the loose authority of the President to grant concessions on lands under the Public Land Laws of 1973 is to come to an end with communities now having the rights to determine how investments are made on their lands. The policy gives the Government of Liberia the right (authority) to manage concessions on customary land in the interest of the people. This management function given to the government is to assert the sovereignty of the state in dealing with multinational companies and further protect the communities. This clause and other clauses related to land rental fees provided for in the Community Rights Law, and the National Forest Reform Law, and the international principles of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), have put local communities in a better position today as opposed to the past. If all of these are scrupulously implemented through a process of local self-governance empowered by Liberia’s National Policy on Decentralization and Local Governance, they will provide greater prospects for local economic transformation of Liberia’s rural poor , and will further reduce the problems of local resistance against concession companies in the country, like the case of the Liberia Agriculture Company and the people of Grand Bassa in 2007 and the ongoing crises between the people of Grand cape Mount and the Malaysian-owned Sime Darby Plantation.

Finally, while the policy provides for a brighter future for customary landowners, it also endorsed the past violations of customary rights by declaring that it will not be applied retroactively. This means communities that have lost lands and are still fighting against the government and concession companies are declared losers and will never recover their inherited properties. It is for these communities that progressive activists must demand adequate and sustainable reparations including satisfactory resettlement benefits.

-In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Friday, July 5, 2013

How can technology spur socio-economic growth in Africa?

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

I have chosen to delve into issues of technology and the relationship between governance and socioeconomic growth in this edition of the series because this has been my preoccupation over the last one week here in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. From June 28 – July 1, world leaders, young scientist, and development experts from mostly Africa and Asia have been discussing the possibilities of leveraging technology to enhance socioeconomic growth in Africa. This is very important because the pace of development today in many aspects of life is determined by the progress made towards improvements on technological innovations. It could be the mobile phone, the iPod, a medication, a transport facility or any kind of innovation that addresses some of humanity’s challenges.

Industrialized nations are making gains from technology particularly in issues of health and education, and are at the same time improving other aspects of life - making communication and transportation easier, and even breaking trade barriers between countries. These nations are mostly succeeding because of huge investments in research and development, institution building and support to capacity building programs particularly in education, and incentives for innovations. Africa can learn many more things from the industrialized world. Asian countries are making some gains in that direction, albeit modest. Nevertheless, the reality is that most Asian nations can now support their local economies and enhance better livelihood for their peoples due to recent investments in technology and its utilization in agriculture, mining and trade. This is in particular reference to countries like South Korea, China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

African nations, too, can follow in the rank of some these countries in stimulating socio-economic growth for their people. The application of modern technology that increases Africa’s mining and agricultural output is key to this strategy. Mining and agriculture have been central in Africa’s export, and mostly ‘rentier’ economies. The absence of effective or modern technology or the underutilization of local technology has made it difficult for the African peoples to make substantial gains from agriculture and mining. Local people do agriculture and mining mostly in low-scales; even though they have access to huge tracks of rich land. Like most African farmers do subsistence farming, miners also do not go beyond artisan equipments that involve intensive labor and time, and in most cases with very little financial returns. It is this limitation of African landowners that developing Asian nations and their Western competitors are exploiting through the infusion of huge foreign direct investments in mostly poor African countries with lax regulations and weak state institutions. One of such is postwar Liberia, were over 16 billion FDI agreements have been signed over the last five years in mostly the mining and agricultural sectors. This has thrown local miners out of business and reduced the sources of livelihood for most subsistence farmers. If local technologies were developed or if there were sufficient or even modest levels of capitals that support commercial activities, families and communities would not have lost their livelihoods to multinational companies. As local farmers have made substantial efforts over the years with the technologies available to feed themselves, they could have done more cultivations and harvests to feed other communities and improve their living standards.

The absence of technology is also affecting productivity in many other sectors including health and education. In today’s world education have been digitized and students learn even faster with new technological applications introduced through the computer and related machines. Millions of African students are yet to understand the application of computer and its significance to their career developments. This is a critical challenge, particularly for this generation of Africans, born during this growing age of computer technology. If African leaders do not make significant moves towards ensuring that the young generation of Africans get better education and access to affordable technology, it is highly unlikely that they will meet the challenges of today’s and tomorrow’s market. As markets are more electronic, and money now also electronic, consumers in Africa (mostly in the rural areas) will find it difficult and even expensive to participate, if a process of solid education that facilitates Africa’s integration into the emerging techno-market is not given national implementation priorities. This will also continue to make Africa inefficient in reaping shared benefits from international cooperation and trade.

Africa’s move towards socio-economic growth and sustained poverty reduction will require several steps, and in this piece, I advance the following as key to developing technology for socio-economic growth. First, we need institutions of governance responsive and efficient in regulating standards, enforcing contracts and advancing social services. Then we need institutions of training and research that emphasize on science and technology for training young Africans, investigating issues and arriving at innovative solutions. Second, African nations need to invest in energy generation – electricity. A sustainable power-base for electricity is a major stimulant for local economic growth and technological advancement. Local businesses and multinational companies are likely to grow and create more jobs once there is adequate source of power. On the reverse, a limited or no source of electricity cripples or even kills businesses, particularly small businesses that cannot stand the cost of managing private sources of electricity. Third is the need for improvement in transportation networks within national borders and across regions of Africa. Improved transportation networks, particularly ones that provide for easy and fast movement of people and goods is an indispensable requirement for accelerating trade and growth. Good transport network has improved trade and free movements across Western Europe and North America. Regions in Africa need to cooperate on intra-regional transport infrastructure projects as a means of increasing on trade outputs. For example, if the countries in the Mano River Basin area– Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory coast - can connect their national capitals and major commercial hubs through railways and roads, intra-regional trade will improve faster as local businesses will have access to alternative markets.

I conclude by saying that Africa’s greatest challenge in building strong economies and accelerating socio-economic development is the absence of technology and the knowledge base for its applications. I recognize that African nations do not have adequate capacities currently, but I also appreciate that the potentials are huge in tackling this challenge. National vision strategies must therefore consider the development of technology as an imperative in attaining poverty reduction goals. The need also to expand the utilization and improvements of local technologies and innovations cannot be overemphasized if we are to realize our national visions.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Liberia and the International Military Intervention in Mali

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

Since the destabilization of Northern Mali by Tuaregs and so-called Islamic movements in early 2012, there have been serious concerns over the stability of the entire West African region. Mali’s position in West Africa is geopolitically strategic as it plays a key role in Francophone West Africa and connects with North Africa. This means a full destabilization of Mali has the proclivity to destabilize a significant portion of Africa. This has particularly come at a time when there are troubles in Libya, Niger and Nigeria. The intensification of the perennial Tuaregs insurgency in Mali cannot be discussed without reference to the Arab Spring, and its further expansion could weigh heavily on poor West African countries, particularly those in the Mano River basin area that currently serves as a haven for mercenaries.

This is why it has become an imperative to join forces around West Africa to contain the advances of the dissidents and restore full civilian authorities. This intervention should mostly claim the attention of stable countries in the sub-region. International efforts at stabilizing Mali has been double-edged with the UN and ECOWAS striking from one end with a multidimensional peace mission under the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA), which includes military operations and several other aspects of postwar peacebuilding. On the other hand is Mali’s colonial master, France, who seized the moment with a military intervention that overran the rebels in just few weeks. France’s military intervention in January 2013 made headways in inflicting heavy casualties on the terrorist movements thereby paving ways for sustained international efforts at combating the dissidents and enforcing peace.

Can an African-led military mission make such gains in just few months? This has not been possible in Somalia and even Darfur, where there is a full UN Mission. Africa’s failure to make military gains during peace operations can possibly be linked to the lack of capacity both in trained military and in resources for such operations. In addition, the inability of regional organizations and even countries bordering war-affected states to contain mercenary activities corrosively undermines their collective peace missions. This has been experienced in the Mano River basin area for years. Therefore, increased coordination in political and military strategies by the countries can possibly lead to success in Mali. In addition, joint efforts by African nations to support each other during times of instability strengthen the confidence of the African peoples in the African Union and in regional organizations. This also heightens sense of internal security and builds confidence in the local population in states contributing to peace missions.

Liberia, a war-torn country still under UN peace operations has joined the ranks of other stable countries to send a platoon of its newly reformed army to form part of AFISMA. In the case of Liberia, it is obvious that the country is making all efforts to portray an image of post-conflict success and internal stability to the outside world, but the issue of confidence in internal security is still illusive considering the fact that Liberia’s security is still in the hands of the United Nations Mission in Liberia and its security institutions rely heavily on foreign aid. It is against this background that opponents of the deployment have described Liberia’s military involvement in Mali as premature. The most common argument against the involvement of Liberia is the proposition that the country is still struggling with internal security challenges and threats from porous borders. Proponents of this arguments believe that it makes no sense for such a nation to get involved with a foreign military operation.

On the other side, is the moral imperative argument that Liberia ‘must pay back’ the gains of the fragile peace it has now, because it was built on the blood and sweat of other peacekeepers. This has been the most popular argument even from top government officials. This argument has significant limitations in justifying such a costly military intervention. In issues of intervention, particularly in the case of containing terrorists, several key issues ought to be considered before moving in, and these issues are beyond the politics of international image building. One key issues to consider is the issue of capacity to sustain the mission, particularly when foreign aid has taken a downward trend in the last few years. Military operations need homegrown support to be sustained overtime. Second is the issue of internal assurance against retaliatory attacks, which are common in nations that are involved in counterterrorism warfare. Terrorists are stateless and anarchists fighting countless number of ‘enemies’ everywhere. Those involved in warfare against terrorists must have internal mechanisms that ensure adequate security particularly at border posts. The case of the July 2010 attack in Uganda by Al-Shabbab militants from Somalia is one such retaliatory attacks during which about 70 Ugandans sadly loss their lives. Al-Shabbab claimed then that the attack was a continuation of the fight against Uganda whose army is part of the AU mission in Somalia (AMESOM). The terrorist fighting in Mali are no different from Al-Shabbab. While there are greater hopes for the better, Liberia must not take its internal security and border issues lightly at this time.

Considering the current state of security affairs in Liberia, it is obvious that the country is not prepared at all for such a herculean task, which is largely concerned with image-building and ‘paying back’ rather than substantive considerations of the potential ramifications. In the April 2012 report of the UN Secretary General on the state of affairs in Liberia to the Security Council, the report described the current peace in Liberia as fragile and ‘vulnerable to disruption’. The report further stated that security agencies in Liberia (including the Armed Forces of Liberia) are incapable of containing instability without the support of UNMIL. The report further stated that the army is indiscipline, ‘does not have appropriate training or equipment’ even for border operations, and that attrition in the army stands at an alarming 10%. Many other analytical reports and newspaper articles have confirmed high attrition rate and lack of logistics for a functional army. The critical question now is how can such an army take up a major combat role in an international engagement? A short-term training for few in the same army just for a peace mission is more of a tinkering approach than an engagement of the larger process of post war army (re)formation and strengthening.

International affairs and security pundits had thought that stable countries in West Africa and elsewhere in Africa with considerable military might would have handled the military component of such a mission to contain the terrorists in Mali, while others like Liberia would make modest contributions in other dimensions of the mission. The current strength and capacity of the Liberian army, as discussed above is inadequate for such a mission. Besides, this army is still in training and expected to be operational only in 2014. This unpreparedness is technically and logically justified by the inclusion of the deployed AFL platoon into a Nigerian battalion.

Finally, this edition of the series fully supports the popular international intervention to return peace to Mali, and applauds the move towards greater solidarity and cooperation in African international and security affairs. At this time, Liberian authorities need to devise more strategies to ensure involvement in the non-military aspects of the intervention, which will be the peacekeeping stage. This could involve the deployment of civilian police as well as observers. Individual Liberian experts must also take the courage of seeking non-military or security related jobs in the AFISMA mission, for example, civic affairs and social services. All of these could add up to a modest and affordable contribution by both the state and its citizens.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Is Liberia’s education system in a mess? Then clean it up!

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

Liberia’s education system has come under the spotlight as substandard and poorly equipped as compared to education systems elsewhere in Africa. This underrating has been confirmed by the performance of Liberian students in international exams, particularly the local West African Examination Council exams over the last few years. Interestingly, key government officials have joined the chorus condemning the same education system that they have been given power and authority to fix. This is an irony. In 2011, the Planning & Economic Affairs Minister cried out that most of the university students and even graduates are undertrained to the extent that they are incapable of writing a standard letter of application. This pronouncement was made at a national conference on the education sector. Just this year, the President of Liberia has complained twice that the education system is in a ‘mess’. What the Liberian people hope to see is not the weeping and condemnation from the officials, but actions on their part as employees or representatives of the people to fix the system and make it affordable, accessible and of quality to the population.

The cries are enough, and actions are required to provide better education to the children of Liberia. The actions required in the opinion of this patriot is not the change of individuals from the Ministry of Education as many Liberians would suggest, but rather a remaking of the system and the capacitating of institutions to make the system work. The solutions therefore are above dismissals and appointments that tend largely to massage problems in the public sector rather than sustainably addressing them.

The key issue undermining standards in Liberia is the absence of efficient regulatory systems; and where they exist, then it’s the lack of compliance and enforcement mechanisms. If there should be any sector with rigid enforcement of rules and standards in every given society, it should be the education sector with its attendant status of nobility. No nation should compromise enforcing standards on basic services that are critical to the livelihoods of the people and the survival of the state itself. Education and health care are key priorities to sustain the development and growth of a nation. A poor education system eventually produces poor quality in every other sector – public service, private sector and even the religious sector that supposedly provides the moral compass. If in Liberia, the system suffers such a laxity, ultimately the outcomes and products will be of no greater quality than the process that produces it – substandard, inefficient, and sloppy.

At present one can easily understand that the Ministry of Education is overburdened and have no capacity for the huge tasks at its feet. The incapacity of the Ministry, coupled with corruption at all levels in the school systems, and the lack of support to enhance quality, collectively form the mess in the system. With just few qualified teachers in the classrooms and a huge number of unqualified with very little experience and credentials, and limited wages, the outcome will be low output from the end of the teachers. Also with limited resources including tuition financing, textbooks and laboratory equipments students will obviously not perform as expected. This is therefore a compound problem that needs to be solved with the government, school authorities and teachers and parents in a single network to clean the mess. Yet, it is the responsibility of the government to take the lead by providing decisive policy directions that decentralizes the governance of the education sector.

A robust reform is thus required in the education sector. This needs to be radical, and will involve first, devolving implementation authorities to the counties and leaving the Ministry of Education with only policy and regulatory functions. At the last education conference in 2011, a policy on decentralization in the education sector was promulgated, and this policy provided for the creation of an education board in each county. It is high time that the policy is implemented and the boards are established and institutionalized to function as relevant and credible local authorities on education sector governance. This is needed to reduce the loads on the Ministry since it has proven to have limited or no capacity to enforce standards and compliance at the local levels. Giving the education boards full support in logistics and other needed resources will facilitate the process of cleaning the mess in each county given the proximity of the authority (the board) in said county. Decentralizing local decision-making, implementation authorities and resources will enable local education boards to implement national education policies and to have sufficient controls over such things as teachers’ licensing, schools supervision and monitoring, school feeding and subsidies to schools.

The current system cannot provide for effective governance of the education sector and equally cannot provide for better education to the children of Liberia. With a core of political appointees seated at the Ministry and agents in the counties as education officers reporting to Monrovia, it is difficult to have hands-on solution to the problems creating the mess. Thus, the difficulty in cleaning the on-going mess is that the decision makers are far from the mess itself, so it hard for them to really smell the stench. Yes, they do hear and know that it exists. What to do next is to stop weeping that there is mess, and move on to clean the mess.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Review of Nvasekie Konneh’s “The Land of My Father’s Birth”

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

Nvasekie Konneh’s The Land of My Father’s Birth is a narrative of the tragedies and agonies of the Liberian civil war. The book narrates particularly the ordeals of the Mandingo ethnic group during the civil war and the attempts by the Mandingoes to resist what was becoming a genocide in the early 1990s. In his book, Nvasekie Konneh brought to us a true story of his own experiences during the war. This story, while centered on the encounters of a young man growing up in Liberia, reveals the ordeal of a nation infested with tribal hatred and its resulting tragedies; a nation confused with historical occurrences that had left it in a desolate situation with a people not knowing themselves, their origin and traditions. Thus, they fight amongst themselves for land, citizenship, class and status.

While thematically the book delves into politics, religion, ethnicity, and multicultural issues, I particularly capture the following as themes worth noting and revealing. First, it is the theme of ethnicity, race and citizenship. The book discusses how one ethnicity and race has lots to do with the perceptions of others on his citizenship. While the Mandingoes live in the territories of today Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone long before the arrival of the Americo-Liberian settlers in the 1800s, according to Nvasekie’s recollection of history, the Mandingoes still suffer tribal prejudices in Liberia, and this has come to affect them in economic and political activities in Liberia. They have potentials to advance in trade and commerce, but they are being weakened by encroachments on their properties, particularly in places like Nimba County where rival tribes benefitting from the spoils of the civil war have claimed ownership over strategic properties of economic values historically owned by Mandingo people. Based on the question of their ethnic identity, Mandingoes are being targeted by state security officers, mostly Immigration officers, and this action by state agents have portrayed Mandingoes as foreigners (Guineans) in the eyes of other tribes including rival ethnic groups, thus denying them the right to advance themselves politically, for example denials to vote during national elections. Like the Mandingoes’ quest for equal rights as citizens of Liberia, Nvasekie touched on the Black question in America, particularly during the times of slavery and segregation when blacks where denied most privileges in the US and treated as underclass citizens. Today black Americans are proud of their advances in all spheres of American life, from the academics to the economy and politics, all of which have been starred by the emergence of Barack Obama as the first black president of America.

The second theme that runs through Nvasekie’s book is that of perseverance and persistency of a young man determined to realize his life dreams. Nvasekie was born in Nimba County, Northern Liberia, a county divided among several ethnic groups with his ethnic group suffering prejudices that put his Liberian citizenship into questions by neighbors and rivals alike. He was born to a Mandingo father, who himself was a son of a Mandingo man and a Mano Woman. He did not cause it. He was born a Liberian by law, and a Mandingo by natural imposition. He was made to flee the land of his and his father’s birth when civil war broke out during which his ethnic group was targeted for discriminate killings. During the civil war, as a young man with no employable skills, he fled and lived as a refugee in Guineas and Ivory Coast, returned home and then travelled to the United States of America after winning the American Diversity Visa Lottery. In America, Nvasekie explained how he restarted life taking menial jobs against his wish just to make a living. Out of desperation to make a living and remit some income to his family back in Liberia, he would fall for anything legitimate that pays. Destiny put him in military service, something he never thought he would have ever done. He became a member of the US Navy and served for almost a decade traveling to over 15 countries on sea, and then left the navy to become a civilian again to pursue his life dream of becoming a writer and poet. The Land of My Father’s Birth has come as a product of a dream well nursed in a man for years, and has been manifested through courage, hard work, and determination in the midst of harsh situations – identity crisis, civil war, poverty, involuntary emigration.

While in the US Navy, Nvasekie applied for American citizenship, a status that would enable him access to so many privileges. His American citizenship was conferred at a ceremony graced and celebrated by Americans. The irony in getting his American citizenship was that while the Americans, both black and white, celebrated him as a citizen of their country, his fellow black Africans, all born in the same land (Liberia) continuously denounce him, chase him out, and grudgingly accept him today. On this irony, Nvasekie wrote:

“…as Mandingo, I am constantly reminded by my fellow Liberians that I am a foreigner, even though my father and mother were born there before I was even born. In America, it took a mere procedure for me to be a citizen and I am entitled to all the rights of American citizens, but in my native country, my birth record is not even enough for me to be considered a full fledge citizen. I have to constantly fight to prove my citizenship”(Pp. 206 – 207).

A third theme one can learn from Nvasekie’s memoir is the challenges of governance and development in Africa, and the consequences of the lack of effective leadership on the continent. One can tell from the story how colonialism separated African peoples of the same ethnicity and divided them among separate states, a division only shown by artificial boundaries. For example, the Mandingo nation that existed under kings in the Mano River Basin area is now divided amongst the states of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. So are the Manos, Krahns and Gios divided among Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast in different ways. Even in the aftermath of these colonial oddities, African leaders have not been able to provide good governance and better development to ameliorate the sufferings of their people, unite them and make them proud of Africa. As a result of poor governance in Africa, poverty and civil wars have been recurrent in most countries, particularly south of the Sahara. Nvasekie wrote that it is because of poor leadership and the lack of better incentives for the advancement of life, that the individual African citizen is challenging all odds and even taking risks to escape wars, poverty and political upheavals in Africa. In addressing the mass exodus of Africans, he recommends democracy and good governance as the best options that can provide the environments needed for the African citizen to achieve his life dreams:

“Some come to seek fortune, something they have found very difficult, if not totally illusive, to achieve. So until we have good governments that will create the environment for people to pursue their dream of success in Africa, these waves of Africans wanting to seek greener pastures abroad will continue to increase. So with all the talk of relieving Africa’s debts by the West, the other things that need to be done is to advocate for democracy, good governance, and eradication of corruption. That will require leadership that is guided morally”. (Pp. 182)

Finally, the fourth theme of the memoir is the acceptance and celebration of tribal and religious diversities. As a product of multicultural heritage, the author calls for the embrace of our cultural diversity instead of making it a source of conflicts as we have seen in recent years. As someone with family ties both Mandingo and Mano ethnic groups, and he is a Muslim, the story of his father’s birth to a Mandingo father and Mano mother speaks a lot about inter-marriages between the Mandingoes and Manos and the Gios in Nimba County. So many other children of Mandingo, Mano or Gio descents are products of such arrangements. One would think that a society of such interconnectivity among its different peoples would be peaceful and progressives building on the mutual relationships they form. In Nimba, the case has been different, and it turned brutish in the 1990s. It will take all Nimbains, particularly children of intermarriages, like Nvasekie, to bring their own peoples together. On a trip to his birthplace, Nvasekie wrote that his origin as a product of two rival ethnic groups could be used as a rallying point to resolve some of the conflicts that have undermined Mandingoes, Mano and Gio unity in Nimba County.

“Given my multi-ethnic heritage, I had in mind that my visit to Nimba County, particularly in Saclepea and Tengbenye, and my interaction with the Mano side of my family could in one way or the other help bring about a greater understanding among our people leading to the resolution of the land problem”. (Pp. 220)

Nvasiekie was right to believe that way. His grandmother’s people did not disappoint him. They received him warmly and they were proud of him. The lesson here is that people need to build on ethnic and religious diversities as building blocks for peace and development rather than as precipices of conflicts. In another instance of his numerous life encounters, Nvasekie explained how Americans are making use of, or ignoring religious and other cleavages and uniting around their common nationality to progress. The story of using a single chapel for all religious services – Islamic, Christian or Jewish – on a US Naval ship as told in this book is revealing of this lesson.

In Nvasekie’s memoir, there are many lessons to be learned from the themes identified above. First, as a young person with a life dream, you will learn that no matter what the situation in life is, and no matter the career path destiny places you on, you can achieve what you are passionate about. Escaping the terror of the civil war and the hatred against his ethnic group, and joining the US Navy did not stop Nvasekie from becoming a writer. Second, as a nation we can learn from the narration in this book that ethnic, religious and racial prejudices and hatred destroy a whole country, and until people can accept each other for the sake of their common humanity, societies will continue to be in violent crisis based on inevitable differences like ethnicity and race. Finally, leaders of a nation-state will have to follow good governance practices and moral standards to avoid upheavals and curb poverty among their people.

Readers of The Land of My Father’s Birth must put themselves in the circumstance that motivated the writing of this book, and in addition to understanding the literature and the tragedies narrated, readers must work to avert such situations in life - war, poverty, political crisis, and bad governance. With the lessons from this memoir we can be messengers of peace and development, and we must also be challenged to tell the truth of our own experiences in the world as Nvasekie has taken the time, courage and pain to do so. One can simply describe the book as a memoir of a single person, but tells the story of tribes haunted by legacies of colonialism and entrenched prejudice built from envy and ignorance.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Towards Constitutional Reform in Liberia

Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei

Liberia’s emergence from collapse to a fragile state status has been a marked achievement of the collective efforts of progressive forces in the country – the civil society, political actors, and the Government of Liberia. The local civil society has taken lead to advocate and monitor efforts at peacebuilding and democratic governance. While the present administration continues to engage international partners on the need for increase aid in security and reconstruction, local state-driven efforts towards good governance and democratization cannot be overemphasized in the process of sustaining the peace and stability in the aftermath of international presence and aid to Liberia. In the process of statebuilding, constitution making is a key issue that sets the foundation for democratic governance and the rule of law. If political uprisings and violent conflicts in Liberia were caused by poor governance and unaddressed popular grievances then constitutional interventions were needed immediately after the cessation of hostilities in 2003. Ten years after the the civil war and eight years after the reestablishment of constitutional order, a process of constitutional reform has been initiated by the current regime towards which a Constitution Review Committee has been appointed to lead a process of reviewing the 1986 Constitution, and drafting propositions for amendment. This article is an analysis of constitutional reform in Liberia and a contribution to the popular debate on the way forward. This article argues that a new Constitution that sets and sustains a foundation for democratic governance and provides for a balanced distribution of power is the solution to the governance and developmental challenges of the Liberian state.

Constitutional History of Liberia
The first constitution of Liberia dates back to 1847. This constitution essentially had several characteristics relevant to addressing the governance and security challenges of that era. It can be said that the constitution was highly protective against the wave of colonialism and imperialism in Africa, and was at the same time imposing a pattern of settler-colonialism on the local indigenous population. It also included from its originality a bill of rights that guaranteed the fundamental rights of the citizens of Liberia. In 1980, the Constitution was suspended after a military coup that toppled the over 100 years of Americo-Liberian rule. Before then, the 1847 Constitution had gone through several amendments addressing emerging issues that had required constitutional interventions.

After the suspension of the 1847 Constitution, the military ruled by decree and in 1984 a commission was set up to draft a new constitution for Liberia. The Constitution Commission’s strategy of public dialogue on key issues opened up the space for the Liberian people to make choices on the form and nature of governance they prefer. The greatest aspiration of the people was to have a broad based participatory governance that gives more power to the people and reduce imperial presidency. These aspirations were captured in the provisions drafted by the Commission. Unfortunately, most of those provisions - particularly those that sought to reduce the powers of the president - were eliminated or revised by another body setup by the Head of State called the Constitutional Advisory Assembly. In the end, the Liberian people went to a referendum to adopt a Constitution presented by the Assembly against no other alternative (See Sawyer 2005). A real opportunity of providing for a responsive and participatory democratic governance in Liberia was to avail itself in the transition years following the coup, and this could have been done through the establishment of viable constitutional order. However, this opportunity was missed. This was because the head of the military junta, had a personal interest in becoming President, thus he had to ensure that any new constitutional arrangement would protect him and his associates. It is therefore obvious that what Liberia has today is a Constitution with vague provisions and one that overly concentrates power in the hands of the President, including provisions that grants blanket Amnesty to members of the military junta that led the 1980 coup.

The failure or inability of the government emerging from the 1985 elections to establish constitutional order and the inherent limitations of the 1986 Constitution in providing for self-governance and democratic participation at all levels promoted and entrenched the culture of imperial presidency even after the fall of the True Whig Party hegemony. What followed was a catastrophic civil war during which the Constitution was suspended on several occasions to provide for a governing order that accommodates all actors in the conflict – transitional and factionalized arrangements. This was a means of ceasing or managing the wars, rather than solving the problems and resolving the conflicts afflicting Liberia.

Since the end of the conflict, there has been no substantial effort at addressing the constitutional crises facing Liberia. The referendum of 2011 was a minimalist and selfish effort of the sitting regime. It ignored the key issues that needed to be addressed to solve the governance challenges facing Liberia through a constitutional interventions. The referendum was focused on protecting the interests of officials to hold positions under certain circumstances not guaranteed under the 1986 Constitution. For example, the sitting president was deemed unfit for rerun under the requirement for residency; therefore, a fast tracked change in the residency requirement that favors the president and several members of the political elite was needed before the October 2011 elections. The intentions of the political leaders that railroaded the 2011 referendum was not too different from that of the PRC members during the drafting of the 1986 Constitution. Those intentions can obviously be analyzed as manipulating the constitution as a means of perpetuating themselves in power, and protecting themselves and wielding more powers in the presidency through the constitution. Other issues on the 2011 referendum were the election of members of the Legislature on simple majority, an increase in the retirement age for justices of the Supreme Court, and an adjustment in the time for presidential and general elections. These issues were logically inconsequential to the social and political crises facing the people of Liberia, thus they were denied by the people. What followed were series of machinations and a smothering of the 1986 Constitution revealing the kind of strongman/woman politics that have plagued Liberia and many other African countries for years.

Constitutional Reform: A leakage of the Accra Peace Agreement
The comprehensive peace agreement was another lost opportunity on constitutional reform in Liberia. Most nations that experience such civil and political breakdowns address constitutional issues before the return to civilian democratic rule and the restoration of viable constitutional order. In most cases, like Kenya and Zimbabwe, transitional arrangements lead the constitution reform process; the population votes on a new constitution and then elections for a new government are held. The new government is formed based on the approved constitution and governs through it principles and provisions.

Liberia’s political actors and the international community deliberately ignored, or fell short of considering constitutional reform as a critical element of transitional processes that facilitate state reconstruction. Several other interests topped the table at the peace conference. Warring factions were concerned with securing seats in a power-sharing deal, and a general amnesty among others. Political parties and civil society took on accountability issues, ceasefire, disarmament, elections and the restoration of order. The international community’s primary concern was a halt to violence and the return of peace, stability and humanitarian services. No party pushed constitutional reform as a key concern during the peace conference that made way for the transitional period of 2003 – 2005. Like other previous arrangements, the constitution was suspended to allow for a factionalized transitional government inclusive of warring factions, political parties and the civil society movement. The lesson Liberian political actors have not yet learned is that if a constitution is continuously suspended, then that constitution is the problem, and until it is remade or reformed, there will be crises. The 1986 Constitution of Liberia has proven to be the problem, and in addition to its weaknesses of providing for a broad based participatory governance, its provisions institutionalize predatory governance and power abuse. Provisions that promote good governance and democratic practices are even undermined by other provisions that support imbalance distribution of power and over-centralization.

Need to reform constitution
The 1986 Constitution is not a completely flawed or outdated constitution. It includes several provisions that are relevant and wanting in every democratic environment. Chapter Two and Three are outstanding sections of the 1986 constitution that every democratic society craves. Its fundamental weaknesses lie in the fact that it does not lay a foundation for state building and also did not provide for effective distribution of power that ensures checks and balances between the people and their elected leaders and/or representatives. This is why it has become problematic over the years. It also does not provide for strong institution building. It is institutions that enforce rules and once institutions are flawed in themselves, it becomes difficult to ensure proper interpretation and enforcement of rules. The need therefore to set rules and build institutions for their enforcement through a constitutional process has become imperative to state reconstruction in Liberia.

Key issues have emerged in post conflict Liberia and they can only be addressed through a constitutional reform process. For example, political and social discourses in Liberia have focused over the last few years on but not limited to the following (1) citizenship – who is a Liberian and who is not? Should a person with Liberian citizenship be allowed to carry citizenship of another or more countries? (2) Government Decentralization – there is a convincing case that Liberia needs a decentralized governance system to break the chain of imperial presidency and centrally-controlled national body-polity to provide for an effective participation of the people in local self governance and social economic development; (3) Property rights – land ownership, tenure security and distribution is a critical issue in post conflict Liberia and the Constitution will have to be clear on property rights, for example who owns the land, the trees on the land, and the resources beneath the land. This issue as addressed in the 1986 Constitution is perceived to be frequently abused by the state when expropriating land from the people.
The current political and social dynamics in Liberia have given compelling reasons for a thorough look at the current constitutional arrangement. The current constitution of Liberia does not sufficiently answer the looming political and social questions emerging in the new Liberia. In addition to these limitations, it is the key guarantor of the predatory and imperial nature of the Liberian presidency. Thus it has caused massive abuse of powers in all branches of government. Constitutional cases have emerged under the current administration, and the opinions of the Supreme Court have been greeted with rancor albeit grudgingly accepted. One particular Supreme Court opinion passed in 2007 allowing for the President of Liberia to appoint mayors of cities did not only undermine the popular aspiration of the people towards democratic local self-governance, but reinforced the imperial powers of the presidency on the local people.

Debates on Constitutional Reform
Sustainable constitutional reform needs to take place in consideration of the popular opinions of the Liberia people on range of issues and problems facing the individual citizen, the local communities and the state. A national debate therefore on the issues needs to gain traction and be framed in context to inform constitutional reforms. Over the years, there have been popular positions on reforming the Constitutions of 1986. While most of the debates have been limited to selected provisions, new arguments have emerged on the totality of the constitution. One school of thought believes that the entire Constitution needs to be remade. For this group of people, a referendum on selected provisions cannot address the range of constitutional problems facing the country, and that other issues on which the 1986 Constitution is silent need to be addressed clearly in a new constitution. Thus they propose that a new constitution be written and submitted for popular debate and referendum. On the other hand, a second group believes that the constitution must be held in its present originality and be submitted for a referendum on provisions considered inconsistent, outdated or impractical to the reality of today or provisions that do not move in cadence with emerging social and development issues. These two debates have merits and demerits in other ways, but the common consensus is that no matter what position is taken, there is a need to review the 1986 Constitution and set it on course with contemporary realities. This needs however, to be done in a way that it addresses the problems facing the people of Liberia and facilitates the realization of their collective national aspirations.

The Way forward
The way forward is to identify the key problems undermining democratic governance, socio-economic development and peace in Liberia, and open them up for public debates through which the views and aspirations of the Liberian people can be elicited. It is important to note from the start that the challenges of democratic governance and massive poverty and inequality in Liberia are underpinned by imbalance distribution of power, inefficient use of resources, corruption, weak protection of property rights, power abuse, and the lack of accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs. Other issues like citizenship, government decentralization, property rights, national identity and national symbols have risen to the public agenda sparkling controversial debates since the end of the civil war. These issues, in addition to ones mentioned above, cannot be addressed in the absence of a national endeavor to change the contents of the current Constitution and make it effective in the functioning of the state. Amendment of provisions will be a tinkering approach short of solving the problems facing the Liberian state and the people. A comprehensive process of reforming the Constitution is therefore needed to address these issues in their generic, and all other specific issues can follow through enabling legislations. This means a new Constitution, that includes essential principles and provisions of the current Constitution is needed for Liberia.

The opportunity Liberians have in this constitution remaking process is that there have been popular consensus from the citizenry and competing political actors that there is a need to review the current Constitution and find a way of solving the country’s problems through a functional constitutional arrangement. In addition to this, a strong will and support from political leaders will accelerate the process of constitutional reform. By the current Constitution, the current President of Liberia cannot run for a third term of office. The fact that this process has begun during her last tenure is an opportunity to have a new constitution free of manipulations and a flawed process that concentrates power at the presidency and give amnesty to individuals who violate humanitarian and human rights laws. Liberians therefore have an opportunity of leading themselves into a sound constitution making process upon which the pillars of local self-governance and democracy can be sustained.

In the Cause of Democracy and Social Justice the Pen Shall Never Run Dry