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26853: Hermantin(News)LIBERIA, HAITI SHARE MANY OF THE SAME WOES AND LESSONS (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
MPosted on Sun, Dec. 11, 2005
LIBERIA, HAITI SHARE MANY OF THE SAME WOES AND LESSONS
In their quests to achieve a working electoral process, Haiti and Liberia have
learned from each other. One result: the United Nations won't be leaving either
Haiti or Liberia anytime soon.
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
MONROVIA, Liberia - With its tropical winds and lush landscape, its rural
thatched roof mud-flat homes and crowded open-air Duala Market -- as congested
as the one in downtown Port-au-Prince -- this nation of 3.4 million strongly
Liberia, formed by freed American slaves, is more than 4,200 miles away from my
mother's homeland in Haiti, yet both nations stand as bookends in the
post-colonial era. They share a painful history that offers tough lessons about
the difficulties poor nations face in pursuing democracy when bad governance --
exacerbated by class differences that date back centuries to the era of slavery
-- shut doors of opportunity for generations.
Politically troubled and economically depressed, both nations have spent years
mired in conflict brought on by corruption at all levels and poor leadership.
The inevitable result?
The United Nations is playing a key role in trying to transform these
conflict-prone countries into true democracies. One thing is certain: U.N.
peacekeepers won't leave Liberia anytime soon. Nor Haiti, for that matter.
Haiti's failures have served as lessons for Liberia, which recently held
remarkably peaceful elections following 14 years of civil war. As
president-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf prepares for her January inauguration,
she can count on the United Nations to stick it out, to keep the promise of
democracy alive in this war-scarred nation.
''There is a real sense we need to stay the course,'' said Alan Doss, the
United Nations special representative overseeing the 15,000 blue-helmeted
peacekeepers here. ``If we've learned something over the years: Just like a
peace agreement doesn't necessarily make peace, an election doesn't necessarily
make a functioning democracy. It takes time.''
The United Nations' commitment to Liberia comes after its failure a decade ago
in Haiti. The United Nations, the United States and others in the international
community halfheartedly came in, offered a Band-Aid of reforms -- such as
police training that was short-lived -- and then left quickly. Now the blue
helmets are back in Haiti -- 7,600 U.N. peacekeepers led by Brazilians -- only
five years after the United Nations left the Caribbean island.
''The U.N. presence will be in Haiti for more than a decade,'' Juan Gabriel
Valdés, the U.N. chief in the Caribbean nation said, noting U.N. Secretary
General Kofi Annan's commitment.
Added Doss: ``Liberia and Haiti have a lot in common.''
As Haiti prepares to elect its first president in nearly two years since the
ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the outcome for peace and
economic stability is far from certain.
Whether Haitians can succeed this time in creating a lasting peace and a strong
democracy will depend as much on them as on the international community's
commitment to helping Haiti avoid past mistakes.
''Too often in the international community in the past, it's been a halfhearted
engagement,'' said Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the U.N. undersecretary-general for
peacekeeping operations. ``An election is always a moment of hope. What's
important is not to become too complacent. The great tragedy each time is the
international community becomes too complacent. One has to realize there is no
quick exit strategy.''
Liberia, too, offers lessons for Haiti, starting with how to avoid a civil war.
After a decade of political turmoil, Liberia collapsed into a civil war that
killed as many as 200,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
Finally, with warlord Charles Taylor's ouster in 2003, Liberia stood a chance
In Haiti, the international community believed that dismantling the military --
with Aristide's blessing -- and removing guns from the streets with buy-back
programs would lead to peace. It hasn't.
''While [Haiti] hasn't gone to civil war, there also is no closure to the
violence,'' said Desmond Molloy, who worked in Sierra Leone and Liberia before
becoming the head of the United Nations' disarmament program in Haiti.
Yet Liberia chose another way that might prove to strike the right balance: a
scaled-back and well-trained military and a gun-buying program that includes
job-training for ex-militia fighters, offering Liberians long-term income and
real hope for the future.
In 2003, U.N. peacekeepers arrived in a country where the military, along with
police and militias, were accused by human rights group of torture, rape and
There was mounting international pressure to disband Liberia's armed forces,
which had been used as pawns during the civil war. Instead, the United States
sought to help Liberia restructure and professionalize its army. It has been
reduced considerably -- from 12,000 soldiers to the current 2,000.
Should a reformed Liberian military prove to be successful, it could become a
model for Haiti where a reinstituted army seems almost inevitable.
Several of Haiti's 35 presidential candidates are calling for a return of the
army to deal with the wave of violence and kidnappings that have permeated the
streets of Port-au-Prince -- a leading issue in their campaigns. But the army's
role -- border patrol or police enforcer -- remains to be decided in Haiti,
just as it is still being debated in Liberia.
Reformers in Haiti and Liberia also have looked to gun buy-back programs as
part of a solution to achieving long-lasting stability.
The difference is Liberia is moving beyond simple cash programs, such as the
one that failed miserably in Haiti.
To help build the kind of secure environment that would lure expatriate
Liberians back home, the United Nations Development Programme embarked on an
ambitious plan to not just disarm ex-fighters like 29-year-old Jestin Steve,
but to provide job-training to reintegrate her into her community.
''I feel really good,'' said Steve, who after completing a course to become a
tailor, opened The Best Tailoring Shop with two other former combatants from
her class. ``I think my future is really bright.''
Haitians can't say that just yet. Despite talk of elections, there are few
prospects for infusing Haiti, a country of eight million, with the jobs it
needs to allow it to stop being a humanitarian case.
Without a secure Haiti, however, the economy can't improve. That's why
Liberia's gun buy-back program, although far more expensive than the one tried
in Haiti, will be cheaper in the long run, said Charles Achodo, the supervisor
of the U.N. mission's disarmament and reintegration program in Liberia. The
program has disarmed more than 100,000 Liberians.
''[Gun buy-back] doesn't work,'' said Achodo, who vehemently fought against a
proposal by a top-level U.N. official, who had worked in Haiti, to disarm
Liberians through a simple gun buy-back program. ``We kept telling him it
failed miserably in Haiti.''
The first step to disarmament in Liberia was a cease-fire among warring
factions. That has yet to occur in Haiti.
''This is my 13th mission in war or a postwar environment, and I have never
come up against anything as complex as Haiti,'' Molloy said. ''It would be
easier to disarm Texas,'' he said referring to Texans' high gun-ownership
Haiti, with its political land mines and gang wars, challenges even the most
experienced diplomatic hands at the United Nations.
''The expectations when we came in were very high. Everyone thought we would
disarm the chimeres [gangs] and we would have peace,'' said Molloy. ``Here we
have to negotiate with 30 to 40 groups. You don't have two different sides with
leadership. We are drowning in discussion and negotiations.''
Nevertheless, Molloy remains hopeful for Haiti, saying he believes it can
achieve progress but that it will be settled ``differently and over a longer
period of time.''
Whatever lessons are left to be learned in Haiti, there are signs that 4,200
miles away, Liberians remain hopeful for their own future stability, as fragile
as it is today.
During the first round of elections in October, voters from Tubmanburg to
Gbenga to Buchanan spoke of peace and progress for Liberia, one of Africa's
poorest nations despite its diamonds and rubber-rich plantations.
''We want justice, we want peace,'' Yatta Zoe, a 64-year-old singer who lived
in Holland for 15 years, said as she waited to vote at a roadside hut in
Tubmanburg. ``I want to come home. I don't want to live in a foreign country.''
Zoe's yearning for a homeland is no different for the millions of Haitians
worldwide who dare to hold out hope that perhaps this time the lessons of past
failures will finally lead to success. And they too can soon pack their bags
and come home.