In 2003, after 2 civil wars spanning 14 years, Liberia found itself at peace. The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) entered a country without any real economy, police force or functioning state institutions, and were tasked with reforming justice and security institutions and promoting human rights protection and public information. 15 years later, now confident in Liberia’s security, UNMIL has announced that its will begin moving out of the country from the end of March.
Achieving the peace Liberia enjoys today would have been beyond optimistic for the UNMIL team in 2003. The country had been engulfed by political violence for over a decade, resulting in the deaths of 250 000 people and the displacement of over a million. Over the next 15 years the UN deployed 126 thousand military officers, 16 thousand police and 23 thousand civilian staff as part of the UNMIL mission.
It’s rare that stories on this continent that begin in this way have such happy trajectories. On Friday the UN announced that “the mission created a security environment that enabled more than a million refugees and displaced persons return to their homes; supported the holding of three presidential elections, and helped the government establish its authority throughout the whole country following years of fighting and instability.”
Liberia’s 2018 transition of power is the most powerful symbol of the stability and security it has been able to achieve in 14 short years. After serving two terms, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, stepped down and peacefully ceded power to her political rival, George Weah. For a country with a history of intense political violence and little over a decade to rebuild state capacity and institutional integrity, a peaceful transition of power is a remarkable shift in the narrative of Liberia.
This peaceful transition has raised confidence in the country, setting up support for the continued recovery of Liberia’s domestic economy. This is good for Liberia, who may struggle when over 150 000 UNMIL employees – who gave the economy a significant boost by buying local goods – leave the country.
17 UN funds and agencies will remain in Liberia to focus on development. According to the UN, UNMIL Radio, which had been broadcasting since October 2003 to over 80 per cent of the country’s population, will also transfer to Radio ECOWAS, the radio station operated by the Economic Community of West African States.