- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

The recent presidential election in Liberia is Africa’s success story. In 2003, when Liberia was riven by warlords’ battles, many observers called for a robust U.S. force to establish order. It was a West African military and political group, ECOWAS, that sent the bulk of the forces to Liberia, assisted logistically by a U.S. presence. The ECOWAS force of 3,600 pressured former president and war criminal Charles Taylor to flee to Nigeria and put a stop to much of the violence and eased the subsequent entry of U.N. forces. ECOWAS also brought rival factions together to sign a peace agreement and accept a two-year transitional government that oversaw the successful elections. Both ECOWAS and the United Nations still have peacekeepers in Liberia.

There are reasons to be hopeful about Liberia today. The country has recently held presidential runoff elections that international observer groups, including ECOWAS and the United Nations, have described as generally peaceful, free and fair. A preliminary tally gives about 60 percent of the vote to Harvard-educated economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was more than 18 percentage points ahead of soccer star and philanthropist George Weah. Mr. Weah has alleged that massive fraud marred the election, and electoral authorities must investigate his claims before Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf is officially declared the winner. Liberia’s new president will take office in January.

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, who would be Africa’s first female president, inspires confidence because of what she has said and done. She resigned her position as finance minister to protest excessive government spending and has also refused to take a seat in Liberia’s Senate to protest fraud. She will implement a temporary anti-graft plan, drafted by international donors and known as GEMAP that foresees the installation of foreign experts in revenue-generating institutions.

Under new leadership, Liberia can come to have the special relationship with the United States that its origins implied. Liberia was colonized in the 1800s by freed American slaves, and is today populated by their descendants and the peoples native to the area. The country declared war against Germany in 1917 and gave allies a base in West Africa. In 1944, it declared war against Axis powers.

Liberia’s new president faces considerable challenges. Many of the young people who fought in Liberia’s civil wars in which hundreds of thousands of people died remain unemployed, and the country faces a daunting debt of $3 billion.

Liberia’s history is a litany of broken peace accords. The current peace may not be any different, but some stability has been attained thanks to the Liberian people and the mobilization of African peacekeepers.

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