Steve Radelet, one of the guest bloggers standing in for Nicholas Kristof, today penned a column detailing the remarkable turn-around in Liberia.
It would have been nearly impossible to imagine these changes just four-and-a-half years ago. Monrovia was in chaos as rebel groups shelled the city in an effort to oust Taylor. By that point the 14-year civil war had killed 270,000 people — an astonishing one out of every twelve Liberians — and forced another 250,000 to become refugees. The economy had completely collapsed, with GDP falling by more than 90 percent between 1989 and 1996, one of the largest collapses ever recorded anywhere in the world. Children as young as ten had become pawns in the violence, with warlords abducting them from their families, stuffing them with drugs, and arming them with AK-47s.
But UN peacekeepers put an end to the conflict in 2003. Taylor first went into exile in Nigeria and is now in The Hague facing war crimes charges for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone. The UN and thousands of brave Liberians organized elections in late 2005 which resulted in President Sirleaf’s election. And she is resolutely moving the country forward by rebuilding institutions, restoring basic services, reviving the economy, and beginning to heal the deep wounds of war.
The signs of change are evident all around….Each time I come there are new signs of change: schools and clinics are being reopened, stores are restocked and repainted, the streets are ever more crowded with commercial activity, and electricity and water are being restored (there was no piped water or electricity except generators anywhere in the country for 14 years). Liberia’s “control of corruption” index, as measured by the World Bank, registered the second-largest improvement of any country in the world this year.
Radelet’s account speaks for itself, but it’s also important to note that, given the historic relationship between the U.S. and Liberia, were the UN not to have played such decisive role, the U.S. might have been forced to dedicate precious time and resources, already strained by conflicts elsewhere, to the situation. The only other choice would have been to let the nation disintegrate and threaten the fragile stability that is building in the region. This includes the peace that is being kept next door in Cote d’Ivoire, previously a supporter of Taylor, by UN peacekeepers.