|LIBERIA A U.N. SUCCESS STORY
15 December 2005
Only two years ago, one of the most enlightened African countries was in shambles. Liberia, originally a bridge
between Africa and the Western world, was shattered by forces of ethnic and tribal conflict. For 14 years, even
children were brought into killing fields. Not only did armed thugs ravage through the country, they also inflicted
damage on neighbouring countries, like Sierra Leone. Diamonds were looted, smuggled and sold on the open international
market to feed arms and ammunitions to bands of thugs who terrorized decent civilians with macabre threads of cutting
their hands and limbs. An initial peace negotiated in 2003 by Nigerian President Obasanjo gave refuge to Taylor while
providing the country with a helpful breathing spell. Under U.N. auspices, Liberia gradually regained its daily
life. For a change, the Special Representative Alan Doss was an experienced manager and a talented leader of a
business-like team. As resident co-ordinator in several countries, including Congo, the U.K. national habitually
prepared his homework, grasping local intricacies while maintaining his touch with international decision-makers. Doss
is an example of a devoted United Nations official committed to a rightful cause while adapting to changing realities.
He persevered, discreetly, effectively. By end of November, Liberia had a generally free and fair election producing a
new President -- with a double bonus to the U.N. Ellen Thomson-Sirleaf became the first woman to head an African
country. She is also a former U.N. official as Associate Administrator for Africa of the U.N. Development Programme. Those
who know the Harvard graduate in New York were impressed by her dynamic drive. She will certainly make a difference
in Liberia. It may also help that the President of nearby Sierre Leone is another U.N.D.P. staffer, Haj Ahmed Kaba who
worked in the Budget Division.
As in elections everywhere, there were questions about her winning tactics. Her trip to Nigeria between runoff and final
votings -- officially to console President Obesanjo for the loss of his wife -- was suspected by adversaries to have been
a meaningful clue. Exiled former President Charles Taylor lives there and some of his key former supporters switched to
the "Iron Lady." She won disputed areas through possibly dubious alliances. Much has also been made of her last minute
swing by a donated helicopter, indicating that she had received financial backing from somewhere. However, finance has
not been a problem for her competitor, international soccer star George Weah. United Nations and other international
observers who witnessed the elections declared her the clear and fair winner.
Incidentally, when still at U.N.D.P., Mr. Kaba had the habit of having his coffee at the Delegates Lounge at
precisely 12:30pm every working day. He was regularly joined by his colleague Khaled Yassir. When President Kaba
returned to the U.N. for the year 2000 Summit, he managed to find a few minutes out of the General debate for a quick
coffee at the Lounge at exactly the same time.
Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf volunteered regularly for press briefings which were truly brief and to the point. She stood
up for the cause of women while practicing what she preached. More practical than theatrical, she conveyed a dignified
and enlightened image of an African woman.
As Liberia moves into a new phase with neighboring Sierre Leone at its helpful side, it provides an opportunity for
the U.N. to maintain, or even increase its support in every feasible aspect. It is a worthwhile investment in human
development that Liberia (and Sierre Leone) deserve. The U.N. could not ever have better partners than the leaders of these
countries who know precisely what the needs and limitations are on both sides of the donor-recipient operation. To
begin with, the outside world should know more and better about that U.N. success story; then the development mechanism
will follow. Meanwhile, heartiest congratulations to the first woman President in Africa, our former colleague Ellen
Johnson-Sirleaf. And three cheers for Alan Doss.