I am most grateful to Lieutenant Colonel Festus Aboagye for honouring me with the invitation to author the foreword to this very detailed account of the seven-year Liberian civil war, the commendable initiative of ECOWAS and the splendid performance of ECOMOG. I accepted to do so for a number of reasons.
In the first place, when the war started in December 1989 and saw the intervention of ECOMOG later in 1990, I had no definite position on the matter as I had just returned to Ghana, after many years as Ghana’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, with no immediate responsibility for Liberian affairs. Even when I was myself involved subsequently in the equally problematic Somalia conflict as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN, little did I expect that five years after the Liberian conflict had started, I would become directly involved in finding a solution to the intractable quagmire of Liberia.
Secondly, when I found myself in the role of the Special Representative of the Chairman of ECOWAS, held by Ghana between 1995 and 1996, little did I suspect that I would be brought face to face with the most difficult and unacceptable manifestation and nature of violent conflict in the West African sub-region. My own thoughts and feelings have been under strain since the conflicts and civil wars. I am happy, therefore, that someone has undertaken to write about the management of conflict in Liberia.
Looking back on those years, I feel gratified that considerable political progress was made in the peace process during the period that I served in Liberia under Ghana’s ECOWAS chairmanship. If I had any illusions, at the beginning of my tenure there, about a speedy resolution of the conflict, however, I was soon reminded, on arrival, that the Liberian conflict had no speedy cure. It rather required the full and committed attention of the main parties to the conflict and facilitators. It was through the perseverance of facilitators in the sub-region that the Liberian civil war was resolved through the successful holding of elections in July 1997 and the subsequent inauguration of a democratically elected Government under the leadership of Charles Taylor in August of the same year.
This success story was after an estimated 150,000 Liberians and other nationals had been killed under barbaric conditions, and another 700,000 had been displaced as refugees or internally displaced persons under very difficult conditions. Besides, there was considerable destruction of an already decaying Liberian infrastructure while the whole war drained the limited resources of ECOWAS Member States.
As I perused the manuscript of this book – The ECOMOG Experience – I appreciated even more, in retrospect, the tortuous path that ECOWAS treaded in its determination to deal effectively with the Liberian civil war through its novel concept of regional intervention. Indeed, Liberia presented enormous social, economic, political, diplomatic and military challenges to the West African Community. The whole experience brought to the fore the exponential growth inherent in domestic conflict as well as the complexity of intra-state conflicts. It is more so in Africa, given the multiplicity of ethnic groups and the conflicting external interests in a region that was otherwise perceived until recently to be of little global economic and strategic interest.
The conflict betrayed how ill-prepared ECOWAS was for military engagements to protect the economic wealth that the Community seeks to create. This was in spite of the fact that as far back as 1981, it had foreseen the need for such an intervention and made provisions for it in the Revised Treaty under the Protocol Relating to Mutual Assistance in Defence Matters. Even then, political pundits would argue that this was a provision for dealing with external attacks, not domestic conflicts. On the contrary, it even showed how fragile the Community is, under the all-too-real influence of Euro-linguistic pressures and tendencies. It was also painful that owing to the economic weakness of the Community, it had to rely on external financial assistance that came in trickles and with such conditionalities as made a speedy and sustained resolution of the conflict nearly impossible.
These realities, by and large, underscored my readiness and willingness to author the foreword to a book that I consider very well researched and dispassionately written by Lieutenant Colonel Festus B Aboagye. His professional approach to operations in Liberia, where he was Commanding Officer of ECOMOG Ghanbatt 13, and where I got to know him, not only constituted a model in peacekeeping, as I observed it, but also qualifies him immensely for the analysis he undertook. I share many of the views and opinions expressed by him, particularly his view that there are serious lessons to be learnt from the seven-year Liberian war that indeed replicated many aspects of the Congo crisis in 1960-63. To this, I would add the lessons to be learnt from the on-going conflict in Somalia.
I am hopeful that those who read this book will not only find it enlightening but very useful. I, therefore, recommend it to those who are directly and indirectly involved in peacekeeping as a mechanism for conflict resolution anywhere but especially in Africa. This group of clients includes officials of Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the officers and men of the profession of arms who may find themselves in the fields of military intervention, and academics whose collaborative studies contribute to the development of concepts and capacities for conflict resolution and management.
Last but by no means least, I hope that many of our political leadership in Africa who read this book will be convinced by the wisdom of the leadership of ECOWAS. This wisdom re-echoed, as it were, the vision of President Kwame Nkrumah of always “finding African solutions to African problems”.
September 1999 James Victor Gbeho
Former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Accra Ghana
The Second of the Book was launched on 27 November 2018 and is available at the Legon University Bookshop in Accra, Ghana.