For observers of the West Africa regional war, the recent calm in the war-torn Mano River Union (MRU) states Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea has given rise to optimism. Guarded, as this optimism might be, the decrease in violence in West Africa during the second half of 2001 is an important development given the scope and intensity of fighting that gripped these states earlier in the year. While observers agree that the current absence of widespread violent conflict in the MRU is a much-welcomed development, it must not mask the profound cleavages within these societies, the tenuous nature of the UN-imposed peace in Sierra Leone, and the continued serious threat of renewed warfare in the region. A brief overview of the horrendous and persistent conflicts that have engulfed the MRU over the past decade underscores the need for vigilance by the international community in its pursuit of lasting peace in West Africa.
The past dozen years of violent conflict in West Africa have led to the death, injury, and mutilation of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of millions more. Conservative estimates place the total number of war-related deaths during the seven-year civil war in Liberia (1989 1996) at 150,000, more than 5 percent of Liberia's estimated population (SIPRI Yearbook, 1996). But this number only begins to tell the story of the horror that civil war brought to this small nation of 2.8 million [United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Human Development Report, 1995]. Hundreds of thousands more Liberians were injured, displaced, and terrorized by the conflict, and today the tiny state remains the hostage of its corrupt and brutal dictator, Charles Taylor.
After the war spread into Sierra Leone in 1991, it had a similarly devastating effect. As in Liberia, armed insurgents preyed on the rural populations, raping, pillaging, and forcefully inducting children into their ranks. During the eight years of warfare that followed, it is estimated (conservatively) that over 60,000 of Sierra Leone's estimated 4.2 million inhabitants were killed and hundreds of thousands more injured, mutilated, and displaced (SIPRI Yearbook, 2001; UNDP, Human Development Report, 1995). The 2001 UNDP Human Development Report ranks Sierra Leone last out of the 162 nations rated on the human development index (HDI), a composite ...
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...ll play in the future of the region.
6. Develop a mid- and long-term regional plan for West Africa that accounts for big-picture economic and human development trends.
7. Implement the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act as soon as possible and draft and then implement AGOA II, thus extending the number of products covered by the legislation.
8. Buttress socio-economic development in Nigeria, the most populous and perhaps most important U.S. ally in sub-Saharan Africa.
9. Cut off financial resources to warlords who gain sustenance from non-state profiteers like diamond and timber buyers as well as from state actors intent on creating instability to further their own political and economic goals.
10. Continue military assistance to the key regional armies to professionalize them and build linkages with the United States.
11. Speed up debt forgiveness, especially for those countries that play by the rules and are in the process of socio-economic liberalization.
12. Increase aid to the region as an investment in stability, socio-economic development, and the creation of new markets for the United States and to help prevent state collapse.
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