Half of all Liberians think the country could plunge back into conflict more than a decade after civil war ended in 2013, “due to widespread corruption and rows over land,” Catholic Relief Services (CRS) said in a report released on Friday. “Systemic corruption in the public sector, disputes over landownership and high rates of youth unemployment,” were cited by Liberians as the three main factors that could incite violence, according to a survey carried out by the aid agency.
“Liberians are telling the world that the causes of the long civil wars are still visible and they have genuine fears of the country returning to violence,” Jennifer Overton, regional director for CRS in West Africa, said in a statement.
The survey was published as Liberia gears up for presidential and legislative elections to replace President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in October 2017.
The country is still recovering from two brutal civil wars which spanned 14 years before ending in 2003, and an Ebola outbreak which killed about 4,800 people between 2014 and 2016.
According to the report, political leaders were considered most likely to instigate renewed violence by 72 percent of respondents in the survey of more than 1,500 Liberians across the 15 counties.
Around 60 percent believe unemployed youths were most likely to spark violence. More than four in five of the respondents said they felt that victims of wartime violence did not receive justice through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was set up in 2005 to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“Both the Liberian government and the international community cannot afford to be complacent about peace in Liberia,” said Pilate Johnson, acting director for the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) in Liberia.
The UN peacekeeping mission that was sent to Liberia in 2003 to restore order after the conflict withdrew last June, beginning a new phase of self-reliance for the country.
Mr. Johnson told reporters that the study was conducted to understand the state of peace, reconciliation and conflict in the country with regards to the imminent pull out of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the upcoming elections.
According him, the Catholic Church in Liberia with support from the CRS last year commissioned the study in response to, among other things, deep concerns over the slow pace of postwar recovery in Liberia and the growing risk of renewed conflict.
The study, Mr. Johnson said, was carried out in March 2016, utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methods to document opinions, perceptions and experiences from over 1,500 respondents and nearly 50 key informants throughout the country.
The central aim of the report is to further meaningful recondition and citizen engagement within, between and among the country’s diverse communities.
Mr. Johnson: “Liberians believe that despite the 13 years of uninterrupted peace, the peace is still fragile and volatile as issues that led to war have not been adequately addressed.”
He said Liberians perceive the current peace as primarily “negative”. Although the horrors of war and extreme violence are in the past, the positive attributes of peace—social harmony, mutually beneficial inter-ethnic coexistence, trust in institutions, and productive citizen-state relations – are still not present.
With the gloomy results of the study, Mr. Johnson said about 90 percent of the respondents remain optimistic, pinning their hopes on conflict fatigue and disillusionment with the uneven outcomes of the war as reasons for not returning to armed conflict.
They therefore highlighted that powerful risk factors for renewed violence still persist, namely: systemic public sector corruption, disputes over land ownership and high rate of youth unemployment.
Meanwhile, the CJPC has recommended the conduct of free, fair and transparent elections by organizing and administering a nation-wide election observation mission, carrying out parallel vote tabulation at district and national level by developing and administering civic and voter education campaigns; and by organizing political exchanges between communities and politicians.
The Commission further recommended that the government foster meaningful and profound reconciliation across the country by creating safe spaces where healing and reconciliation can take place; by supporting the use of alternative healing and reconciliation approaches; and by creating opportunities to identify and employ suitable indigenous reconciliation mechanisms.
It advocates for the promotion of transparency, stewardship, and accountability in public resource management by supporting initiatives that increase transparency and accountability in public resource management, and by establishing and promoting social responsibility including the use of community-based accountability forums and tools.