Kevin in Liberia

Its Purpose: to raise awareness of current social, political, ethical, and spiritual issues within a relief and development context in Liberia. Its effectiveness is simple: It relies on me, the author, to provide insightful, and often debate-sparking material that will encourage you, the reader to get engaged through comment contributions, emails, and promoting others to read, re-think, and respond to the important issues discussed.

I know not which is most profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world. That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels, and is hidden among the secrets of your Providence, which I adore, but do not seek to fathom. ~ a prayer by Blaise Pascal

Monday, June 04, 2007

Community Reconciliation & the DDRR Process in Liberia

The challenge of community and national reconciliation is one that the present government of the Republic of Liberia is currently facing and a process that has been directed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the DDRR (Demobilization, Disarmament, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration) process. As the DDRR process comes to a close in mid 2007 the long-term direction and benefits of the programme in the overall goal of the reconciliation of tens of thousands of Liberians, namely ex-combatants or child soldiers, to their families, communities, and the Liberian society as a whole is questioned. What follows is a brief reflection of the DDRR process in Liberia and how it fits into three distinct phases in the reconciliation process.

Reconciliation Process Stages & Significant Developments/DDRR Stages

Genesis Stage

Signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (August 2003):

- Government of Liberia (GOL)

- Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD)

- Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL)

Transformation Stage

- Disarmament

- Demobilization

- Rule of Interim President Gyude Bryant

Readjustment Stage

- Rehabilitation

- Reintegration

- Rule of Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Within a country in which an entire generation of Liberians have been marginalized by the 14 year civil war the Readjustment Phase is proving difficult for President Sirleaf and as well as the international aid agencies and NGOs responsible for the implementation of this process. Commonly understood is the idea that in order for ex-combatants to be fully reconciled and integrated by into Liberian communities and society, they need to become fully productive citizens through education or gainful employment. The real question to be asked is how do we transform brainwashed human beings, trained as ruthless killing machines, into upright, moral, and spiritually productive individuals in society? Also, how do these ex-fighters begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and go forward, returning to their villages, often villages in which they carried out thoughtless murders?

I am currently involved in managing the finances for UNICEF-sponsored Skills Training programs; programs that teach skills such as Carpentry, Masonry, Auto Mechanics, Pastry, and Cosmetology. As part of the Rehabilitation and Reintegration phases of the DDRR process, Children Affected by the Fighting Factions (CAFF) are traced and encouraged to enter into either Skills Training programs, such as the ones that I financially manage, or reintegrated back into school free of charge. The problem with these programs, if it doesn’t lie in the methodologies that UNICEF uses to identify these children, lies in the inequality experienced by children who did not get involved with the fighting. They have essentially not been offered any assistance to the level that the ex-fighters have been. Cantonment sites in Tubmanburg, Buchanan, and Monrovia left ex-fighters in very underdeveloped urban settings which provided them with ample opportunities to squander their disarmament benefits which amounted to a mere few hundred US Dollars each. Many of the ex-fighters squandered their benefits leaving them with no financial means of transporting themselves back to their home villages in the surrounding countryside and forcing them into unskilled market jobs or begging in order to find their ‘daily bread’. Very little reconciliation is happening on the community level due to the number of ex-fighters, in a sense, ‘stuck’ in Monrovia.

As the goal of reconciliation and reintegration is pushed by the United Nations, through UNDP, a very important element is essentially missing in the secular development community’s perception of reconciliation in Liberia. This element is the role that the message of Christianity has to offer with regards to forgiveness. As with any free gift, it must be accepted. In the Liberian DDRR reconciliation process, the important question that needs to be asked is whether these ex-fighters are searching for genuine reconciliation (or if they even know what that means) in their own lives or is the war just over? There is a substantial difference between the two and in my experiences there are defined moments which point to the latter.

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