Guest Editorial by Tennen B Dalieh Tehoungue
Liberia goes to the polls tomorrow for its general and presidential elections. This will be its fourth post-conflict general and presidential elections, with the last being the nation's first post-democratic transition (the transfer of political power from one democratically elected government to another). These elections are critically important — solidifying the national government and its partners’ post-democratic reconstruction efforts. The credibility of this process will equally be defining for regional post-conflict and fragile states. Liberia can distinguish itself by becoming a model for “consolidated peace"—lessons that can be emulated, learned, and adopted.
Conversely, with the ongoing tensions and political disintegration in West Africa and the Sahel region for emphasis, Liberia stands at a crossroads, with an opportunity to reposition and situate itself as a “stable state” rather than spiral into rounds of electoral disputes and physical tensions. Can Liberia be this beacon of hope and stability? The political climate and outcome of Tuesday’s elections have the propensity to sustain normalcy or disrupt the livelihood of its citizenry (many of whose source of income or next meal depends on a tranquil environment). This stability equally resonates and has far-reaching geo-political implications beyond its borders. This article explores the significance of Liberia’s stability amid the Sahel region’s challenges and why its successful democratic process/transition can serve as a beacon of hope for neighboring nations.
Liberia’s history is marred by conflict, civil wars, and political instability; the legacy of the fourteen years of conflict and impunity still looms. Nonetheless, as a post-conflict state, post-reconstruction efforts are ongoing, though scattered and slow-paced. Twenty years later, the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and subsequent democratic elections (2005, 2011 and 2017) continue to hold significance nationally and regionally, thus marking tenacious democratic consolidation for Liberia. These events continually demonstrate the Liberians’ resilience and commitment to building a stable and peaceful nation.
Framing the Regional Implications
The Sahel region, majorly situated in West Africa, is in turmoil. The region and primarily its citizens are threatened by political, economic and security challenges, which have lingered for years, and its threats have recondite consequences. Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Sudan (Nigeria), countries within this regional belt, have experienced coups, armed conflicts, extremist and insurgent activities. These issues consequently have led to displacement, economic instability, mass migration and humanitarian crises, affecting millions of lives.
Liberia’s stability is critical for the Sahel region for two reasons. Firstly, Liberia has the potential to situate itself as a conflict mediator (based on its past experiences), playing a neutral and balancing role for nations at war and through transition. One may argue Ghana is the best suited as they have been stable for nearly three decades. Nonetheless, the historical and geo-political relevance of Liberia topples Ghana. Secondly, the “gradual” success of Liberia’s transition from conflict to peace and democratic governance can be mirrored for these states, thus making Liberia a ‘contextual model’ for other nations grappling with similar or related challenges.
Impact on Migration and Humanitarian Crises
The instability in the Sahel region has significantly led to discontent amongst citizens, fueling mass migration patterns which have a spiralling impact on those nations and across their borders and territories. Citizens fleeing these conflict contexts, political instability, and economic hardship often seek refuge in neighbouring countries, leading to strain on economic and infrastructural resources, thus creating potential social tensions. Liberia’s stability can build a buffer against an influx of refugees, helping maintain the region’s social harmony and economic balance. Furthermore, Liberia's ability to maintain stability in the upcoming elections will reduce the risk of creating another humanitarian crisis. We cannot ignore the existential threats that loom around our borders (Guinea), many porous, nor the probability of becoming a ‘host’ for countries at war (the geographic positioning of Liberia to the Atlantic makes it a transit point for trade and transportation for insurgents/militant groups). By fostering peace and political order, Liberia ensures the well-being of its citizenry and prevents the emergence of scenarios that could escalate into larger humanitarian emergencies.
Promoting Regional Cooperation
Liberia’s stable political environment can foster political and regional cooperation, especially within the Mano River Basin, and economic integration. Filip Kaczmarek argues that economic good gestures may be insufficient to address “root causes” of conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa, with political will standing a better chance. I argue that the Liberian state can leverage this political will (opportunity), thus creating reliability, stability and nobility and forging a political voice (position) to broker peace within the region. Additionally, stable nations are more likely to engage in mutually beneficial partnerships, leading to economic growth and improved living standards for their citizens; this is Liberia’s advantage. By setting an example of political stability, Liberia can play a pivotal role in fostering collaborations among Sahel nations, encouraging dialogue, and promoting peacebuilding efforts.
The significance of the outcome of tomorrow’s elections cannot be overstated. The successful democratic process in Liberia secures its citizens’ future and offers hope to neighbouring nations struggling with similar challenges. Ultimately, this stability internally sets the tone for the government in waiting to adopt mechanisms to redress long-standing “root causes” of its 14 years of civil conflict. This approach can give confidence to Sahel nations and countries challenged by their own democratic instabilities, consequently constructing a roadmap for them to emulate. In the face of the Sahel region’s disintegration and political tension, Liberia is a testament to the transformative power of peace, democracy, and resilience.
Liberia’s stability is a reminder that peace and progress are attainable through determination, dialogue, and cooperation, even in the most challenging circumstances. By upholding democratic values and embracing stability, Liberia paves the way for a brighter, more secure future within its borders and across the Sahel region.
Tennen B Dalieh Tehoungue is a PhD candidate at Dublin City University (DCU), researching universal jurisdiction (extra-territorial prosecution of war and serious crimes), transitional justice, peacebuilding and reconciliation.