Liberia: Launch of ethnic reconciliation in Nimba County to support government of Liberia and the UN

December 30, 2007

From 1989 to 2003, Liberia experienced recurring violent civil conflict on a grand scale. Nimba County, located in the North Eastern region of the country, served throughout this period as a locus for the collaboration and mobilization of rebel groups.

Today, tensions in Nimba County between three of the ethnic groups most embroiled in Liberia’s civil war continue to undermine the consolidation of peace. This has resulted in delays in the repatriation and reintegration process of thousands of Liberian refugees stranded in neighbouring Guinea, and has become an obstacle to the economic revitalization of the County.

The Joint Programme Unit for UN/Interpeace Initiatives (JPU) has been working with Liberians since 2006 to prepare a national dialogue project that will address the challenges for the consolidation of peace in the country. Program Coordinator James ‚ÄúJimmy‚ÄĚ Shilue was brought on board in late 2007, and has been working to prepare program activities and personnel.

Late in 2007 Interpeace received a request by the Liberian government through the Ministry of Internal Affairs and from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to implement an emergency intervention, in support of their efforts to prevent the escalation of inter-ethnic tensions in Nimba County. A 6-month process was developed to facilitate the emergence of a consensus-based strategy for sustained and continued reconciliation in the County. The proposal was approved in December and implementation began on 1 February.

Recognizing that land and property have acted as a trigger for conflict in the region, but that the core conflict issues relate to a broader series of socio-political and economic concerns, project activities will work to engage both the issue of land and those deeper, underlying sources of conflict.

The overall project has three tracks:

1. field research on root causes of conflict, visioning workshops with key actors, and reconciliation conferences in conjunction with the Liberian government (implemented by Interpeace/Joint Programme Unit);

2. Research into customary law practices that will contribute to the identification of local resources for conflict resolution that can then be integrated into a legal framework for the resolution of present and future property disputes (implemented by the Ministry of Internal Affairs); and

3. Construction of drainage to the roads being expanded in the city of Ganta will provide employment opportunities to disaffected youth and demobilized ex-combatants (implemented by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Training of the thirteen member conflict research and dialogue facilitation team was completed in February and March and the team has now deployed to Nimba County to commence activities.

The training that program staff have now undergone and the experience that they will gain through work in Nimba County will allow these team members to transition smoothly into work on the National dialogue project to commence later this year, once the current project has been completed.

This national program will engage Liberians across the country in a dialogue process to formulate a common vision for consolidating peace.