Liberia and the Election

Liberia is war-weary but the potential for
former young mercenaries to return to battle is a haunting

A national election is only five days away in Liberia. It’s a momentous event in this war-weary nation. It holds the potential to set the country on a new, positive course. But it could also be the next step toward a return of armed mercenaries who brought this country to its knees in the recent past.

The Christian Science Monitor reports on the wild card these young men introduce. Unemployed and untrained, they remain a potential pool of fighters who, if enticed with cash wages and without hope for something better, could return to fighting. This isn’t the result of differing political ideologies. It’s more about cynical, greedy, power-hungry men who exploit their own people for personal gain, and those arms dealers who sell them weapons and exploit everyone for money.

A continuing story in Africa is the inability or refusal of peacekeepers to disarm former rebel groups and destroy the weapons. Guns move freely across porous borders. The Monitor writers say weapons from the armed groups in Liberia were moved across the border with Guinea and stashed just in case they might be used later. This is an old story. It happened in Mozambique and Somalia to mention only two African nations victimized by such conflict.

Today, Somalia remains in a state of anarchy. However, Mozambique has a responsive, well-run government that is making headway toward putting the country on solid economic and political footing.

The churches of Mozambique played a key role in getting warring parties to the negotiating table and eventually bringing the mindless violence to an end. At one point the churches initiated a “Swords into Plowshares” project. The churches encouraged former rebels to turn in weapons for garden tools, bicycles, sewing machines, and, in the case of large stashes, tractors. The guns were collected and cut into unusable pieces. Bombs were properly destroyed by munitions experts. The country’s borders were sealed and weapons and mercenaries from South Africa were shutdown.

This took a concerted effort by Mozambicans and its neighbors, with assistance from the U.N. and many nonprofit organizations.

But Mozambique has shown that peacemaking can work and that that peace is more productive and preferable than war. We can pray that Liberia follows this example. And we can also work for humanitarian assistance whose use is monitored for accountability. The church is a strong social support in Liberia today. We can also empower the church through financial and personal support. Liberians deserve better than a return to death and destruction.

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