U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Africa Bureau

U.S. Department of State
95/09/21 Testimony: George Moose on Liberia
Bureau of African Affairs

September 21, 1995

Good afternoon. I am pleased to be here today to talk about recent, promising developments in Liberia and the response of the United States Government to them.

But before I address developments in Liberia, I would like to take a moment to discuss an even more immediate issue, one that threatens to undermine our nation's leadership in world affairs.

Both Houses of Congress are considering drastic cuts to the foreign affairs budget which would deny the U.S. the resources necessary to carry out essential foreign policy objectives. In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations last night, Secretary Christopher noted that the calls emanating from Congress for the U.S. to exercise leadership in world affairs cannot be answered if the Administration is denied the minimum resources necessary to get the job done.

For example, the Senate's Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations bill would slash the Department's basic operating budget by almost $300 million and force us to close some 50 embassies and consulates -- the equivalent of every post in Africa!

The Department has consistently sought to maintain a diplomatic mission in virtually every country around the world. This principle of universality in our diplomatic presence has been a key factor in achieving important foreign policy goals. In Africa, the patient and persistent diplomacy of our Foreign Service officers helped develop the widespread African support that was critical to the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty earlier this year. The active participation of American diplomats on the ground has been instrumental to the negotiated end to civil wars in Mozambique, Angola and Liberia. The quick reaction of American diplomats facilitated the deployment of American medical teams to contain the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Zaire.

Our ability to meet the daily challenges to our national interest depends upon our people in the field. The fax machine can never replace the handshake in the conduct of foreign policy.

The State Department has not been -- and should not be -- exempt from budget cuts. In fact, our international affairs spending has been reduced by 45 percent in real terms over the last decade. No Bureau has felt the pinch more than the Africa Bureau, which already operates at minimal staffing and resource levels.

The appropriations measures currently pending in the Senate would slash U.S. assessed contributions to international organizations by almost $400 million and would limit our contributions to peacekeeping to only $250 million. Such cuts would hurt international efforts to promote child survival and combat AIDS. They would cripple our ability to support vital peacekeeping operations in Angola and Rwanda and foreclose opportunities to restore peace in places like Liberia.

The Secretary has noted that, if the Senate accepts the budget levels approved by the Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations Subcommittee, he would have no choice but to ask the President to veto the bill. As you consider this and other legislation relating to the conduct of our foreign affairs, I ask you to consider the implications of our abdication from a leadership role that only the U.S. can play, in Africa, and throughout the world.

After nearly six years of civil war in Liberia and numerous efforts to encourage a peace agreement among the warring factions, dedicated persistence by Ghana's President, Jerry Rawlings, the current Chairman of ECOWAS, has paid off. On August 19, the leaders of Liberia's armed factions signed a peace accord that resolves issues outstanding for many months. A ceasefire which went into effect August 26, as called for in the agreement, is generally holding. The Council of State was sworn in as scheduled September 1, and is already making critical decisions about Liberia's future.

Sharing in this success are previous ECOWAS Chairmen, the U.N.'s Special Representative to Liberia; The OAU's Special negotiator for Liberia, the Government of Nigeria, which hosted the last two peace conferences; all the countries that have promoted negotiations and contributed troops to the West African peacekeeping force (ECOMOG); and the UN observer mission (UNOMIL). The diplomatic efforts of the President's Special Envoy to Liberia, Ambassador Dane Smith -- who unfortunately was not able to be with me today -- have also made a significant contribution.

An Accord with a Difference?

We recognize that this is one in a long series of Liberian peace accords which have attempted to resolve the civil conflict begun in 1989, number thirteen if I am not mistaken. And there have been more than fifty meetings among faction leaders and with delegations from neighboring countries to conclude these agreements. The failures of these past accords inevitably make us cautious about the chances for this one to bring long sought-after peace to Liberia.

Nevertheless, there are elements in the Abuja Accord which we believe make it an accord with a difference. The first is the accommodation that appears to have been reached between two of the key protagonists in Liberia, NPFL leader Charles Taylor and the Government of Nigeria, which in the past has been a backer of Taylor's principal rivals. Mr. Taylor met with Nigeria's Head of State, General Sani Abacha, on at least two occasions between the first Abuja conference in May and the second in August. The apparent consequence of these meetings is that Taylor now seems personally committed to making this accord work, and the Nigerians have staked their prestige on its success. Taylor, once fearful for his security in both Nigeria and Monrovia, now has visited both. Indeed, he has established a temporary headquarters in Monrovia only two blocks from the American Embassy compound. He now appears committed to seeking leadership in Liberia through political rather than military means. For their part, the Nigerians and their troops in ECOMOG appear to have accepted Taylor in this new political role.

With this critical piece of the puzzle in place, the leaders of Liberia's key armed factions quickly resolved lingering differences over composition of the Council of State. Charles Taylor agreed to give up his claim to Council leadership in favor of a neutral, non-political, non-military President, in the person of language professor, Wilton Sankowolo. Also critical, the leaders of the three main warring factions (the NPFL, ULIMO, and the LPC) agreed to sit on the council themselves, thus assuming direct responsibility for the critical initial phases of the implementation process, which involve disengagement and disarmament. The faction leaders also agreed to withdraw from the Council during the electoral phase of the transition if they become candidates.

Finally, differences among ECOWAS states over how best to resolve the Liberian conflict appear to be diminishing. The two Abuja conferences demonstrated greatly improved collaboration between Ghana and Nigeria, both of which have played key roles with respect to Liberia. Countries hosting Liberia's 725,000 refugees, principally Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea, are anxious to see their return to Liberia. Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire, where factional fighting has spilled across the borders with devastating effect, appear committed to ending the Liberian civil war. This harmonization of the positions of ECOWAS countries augurs well for the successful implementation of the Abuja Accord.

With both Mr. Taylor and the Nigerians now on board, the faction leaders beginning to work together on the Council of State to resolve the problems of implementation, and the ECOWAS countries committed to the peace process, this accord holds considerable promise. We believe it offers an unprecedented opportunity for bringing lasting peace to Liberia.

Challenges Ahead

Nevertheless, formidable challenges lie ahead:

1. Maintaining the ceasefire is essential. To assure this, the size and the capabilities of the ECOMOG and UNOMIL forces must be adequate. Logistical deficiencies and organizational and operational limitations could impede the ability of ECOMOG and UNOMIL, responsible among other things for ceasefire monitoring and investigation, from responding promptly to reports of ceasefire violations. Thus far, they have confirmed ceasefire violations in the northwest of the country between the Krahn and Mandingo factions of ULIMO, an armed faction; but otherwise, the ceasefire is generally holding.

2. Successful implementation of disengagement, disarmament and reintegration is critical to the peace process. An ambitious timetable calls for combatants to begin moving into assembly areas in November, to begin disarming by December 1, and to reintegrate into the civilian society thereafter. Despite agreement of faction leaders on this process, implementation plans are far from complete. There is also concern about the capacity of ECOMOG and UNOMIL, responsible for overseeing these critical steps, to provide effective supervision throughout the country.

3. Successful reintegration of faction fighters, many of them youths, as well as displaced persons and returning refugees, is also essential to restoring normality to Liberia. As of now, these steps, too, lack adequate planning.

4. Governance will be an immediate challenge. The Council of State has begun to take decisions regarding such critical issues as the reorganization of the national army, but it must continue to operate collaboratively if forward movement is to be maintained. Preparation begin soon if elections are to be held successfully next August.

5. The tasks associated with reconstruction, from restoring health and education infrastructure to reestablishing agricultural support systems are also daunting.

U.S. Next Steps

The challenge that confronts the United States and other friends and supporters of Liberia will be to respond quickly enough to give the peace process a chance to succeed. As an essential first step, we voted with others in the U.N. Security Council last week to extend the mandate of UNOMIL until January 31. The Administration has begun an interagency process to identify resources the United States can bring to bear on the various aspects of the implementation process. We are looking for funds to help support ECOMOG. In particular, we are examining how we might help ECOMOG address its mobility requirements. My colleague John Hicks can talk about the two-pronged assistance strategy that USAID is developing aimed at recovery and democratization.

We will also be discussing with the UN the appointment of a special humanitarian assistance coordinator who would be able to pull together a coordinated assistance strategy that donors can support. Despite Liberia's enormous existing debt, we will be looking for ways to involve the international financial institutions in the reconstruction and rehabilitation effort. We have already begun to consult with other donors to encourage them to assist in the implementation of the peace accord.

We also intend to continue our vigorous diplomatic support for the peace process. Special Presidential Envoy for Liberia, Dane Smith, will continue his direct involvement with the Liberian parties. We will continue to work with the neighboring ECOWAS states on their support for the process, to include their role in establishing an effective mechanism for controlling the flow of arms into Liberia. We have sought authority to support the establishment of a permanent ECOWAS representative in Monrovia, whose job it will be to help keep the implementation process on track. The Department will also accelerate naming a Chief of Mission for our Embassy in Monrovia. This hearing is an important step in sensitizing both the Congress and the public to the urgency of moving quickly to consolidate peace in Liberia.

Resource Constraints

In conclusion, Madam Chairman, I must stress once again that resource constraints could seriously undermine our ability to participate effectively in ensuring that this accord fulfills its promise of bringing lasting peace to Liberia. The outcome of Congressional action on the various pieces of the foreign affairs budget will make a significant difference in our ability to be helpful. We are grateful to you and to other members of the subcommittee for the role you have played in seeking to ensure that we have the means to support the expansion of peace and democracy, in Liberia and elsewhere in Africa.


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