Liberia Crisis Highlights Failure of Africa's Security Plans, Analysts Say

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - The continuing strife in Liberia is an indication of Africa's flawed security strategy and does not bode well for African nations' ability to resolve their own crises, analysts said here.

On Monday, the smaller of the two main rebel groups fighting to overthrow Liberian president and alleged war criminal Charles Taylor captured the West African country's second-largest city, Buchanan.

The larger rebel force continues to besiege the capital, Monrovia, where hundreds of deaths have been reported in recent days.

The fighting has intensified while talks on a regional peace mission drag on in Ghana.

The U.N. and African states want U.S. intervention, but Washington expects African nations to take the lead in providing a peace force, to which it has pledged as-yet undefined support.

President Bush last Friday ordered troops to deploy off Liberia's coast in readiness for any mission.

The U.S. is urging Taylor to leave the country -- the main rebel demand -- and for rebels and government forces to stop the fighting so that peacekeepers can enter Liberia.

African analysts have warned that the Liberian episode is putting the authority of the African Union (AU) at stake.

A representative of the Nairobi Peace Network, a non-governmental organization, said that while it may be too early to judge the AU, based on its record to date, it looked unlikely that it had the capability to end the Liberian crisis.

Ochieng Adala of another Nairobi-based organization, the Africa Peace Forum, said the fact that African nations had not moved into Liberia but were instead calling on the U.S. to address the crisis demonstrated the AU's inability to tackle African conflicts.

Rather than engage itself in resolving conflicts, he said, the AU appeared to have given up the role to regional groupings and neighboring states.

"The credibility of the AU will be put into question if there is no forthcoming African-owned solution to Liberian crisis."

The AU is an Africa-wide organization which replaced the much-criticized Organization for Africa Unity (OAU).

Its plan for final African integration places great emphasis on encouraging the development of regional groupings, which are expected eventually to integrate to form a common African union.

That plan has been widely faulted, however. Some nations belong to more than one regional organization, and most countries sign regional protocols -- but never implement them.

The AU also plans to establish a "peace and security council," under which an African peacekeeping force is meant to be set up to deal with crises on the continent.

But the process has been delayed, reportedly because of a lack of funding.

Libya initially offered to foot the bill, but many African countries are concerned about being seen to be relying on a regime that has been linked to international terrorism.

"They [African nations] would be seen to be acting in bad faith by Western nations if they allow Libya to fund the establishment of this council," Adala said.

"They fear the possible repercussions from their [Western] development partners."

Financial problems are also reported to be holding up intervention in Liberia.

West African states have been wrangling over how they will raise the funds needed to commit their troops to a peacekeeping mission to Liberia.

Regional giant Nigeria is expected to lead the proposed mission. About 1,300 Nigerian troops are on stand-by to enter Liberia from neighboring Sierra Leone, but Nigeria says it lacks the funds to move them into the conflict zone.

Meanwhile, civilian casualties are mounting, and aid agencies say the humanitarian situation is continuing to deteriorate.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the bombardments since the beginning of the latest rebel siege of Monrovia, on July 19. Tens of thousands have fled the fighting.

One agency, Oxfam, called for peacekeepers to be given a mandate to protect civilians and create conditions for agencies to provide humanitarian help.

Apart from the heightened pressures of recent weeks, many Liberians have been suffering for much longer during the past 14 years of almost constant upheaval.

Doctors Without Borders released a report detailing arbitrary violence, looting, rape, family separation, disease, malnutrition and general chaos which it said characterized the situation in Liberia.

(CNSNews Pacific Rim Bureau Chief Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)

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