The war in Liberia began in December 1989 when the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), led by Charles Taylor, entered Liberia from the Ivory Coast and launched a military offensive to overthrow the government of Samuel Doe.2 As the NPFL advanced toward Monrovia, it was met with resistance by government troops of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), and indiscriminate brutality was used by both sides.3
As the fighting approached Monrovia, the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened with a regional peacekeeping force-the ECOWAS Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG)-which pushed back the NPFL and took control of Monrovia. In September 1990, President Doe was unexpectedly killed by a breakaway NPFL faction and an interim government was installed in Monrovia. The NPFL, however, refused to recognize the authority of ECOMOG. In November 1990, the first cease-fire was signed.
For over two years, the fragile cease-fire held as repeated attempts were made by ECOWAS to negotiate a solution. In October 1992, the NPFL launched a major offensive against ECOMOG in Monrovia, drawing the peacekeeping force into combat for the second time. This action resulted in charges that ECOMOG was no longer an impartial arbiter. The situation was compounded by the emergence of a new faction calling itself the UnitedLiberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), made up predominantly of former Doe government soldiers from the AFL.
Some progress was made in 1993 with the signing of a peace accord by the NPFL, ULIMO, and the Interim Government (on behalf of the AFL). Disarmament was to proceed along with the seating of a Transitional Government, made up of representatives from each faction, which would take power from the Interim Government until elections were held. At that time, the U.N. established a military observer mission, UNOMIL, to address NPFL complaints that ECOMOG was no longer an impartial force. UNOMIL's mandate was to monitor the factions that had agreed to encamp and disarm, and to verify compliance with the peace accord.
Yet, throughout 1994, these gains were steadily reversed. While the Transitional Government was seated, disarmament came to a standstill as fighting was renewed. Widespread atrocities against civilians increased as ULIMO split into two rival ethnic factions in the west of the country (one led by Al-Haji Kromah representing Mandingo interests and the other headed by Roosevelt Johnson representing Krahn interests); a new faction called the Liberia Peace Council (LPC), largely made up of former government AFL soldiers, gained control of areas of the southeast from the NPFL; and in the north, another group called the Lofa Defense Force (LDF) fought ULIMO. From Monrovia, the AFL provided logistical and other support to ULIMO and the LPC, both anti-NPFL factions. These anti-NPFL factions were also given support by some ECOMOG battalions, which supplied them arms and ammunition and allowed them to operate unfettered, as a way to weaken the NPFL. Charles Taylor's faction, the NPFL, controlled the bulk of the country throughout. However, no one faction was ever able to win militarily.
In 1995, yet another peace accord was signed creating the Council of State, made up of representatives from the factions, to replace the Transitional Government. A new timetable of disarmament and elections was set. However, on April 6, 1996, the factions again plunged the country into a frenzy of looting, lawlessness and killing. The fighting centered on Monrovia, creating a devastating humanitarian situation. The fighting in Monrovia was the worst in three years and left an estimated 3,000 dead and 80,000 displaced. Fighters looted millions of dollars worth of equipment from the U.N. and humanitarian nongovernmental organizations. The fighting and looting was clearly sanctioned by the faction leaders, especially Taylor and Kromah. ECOMOG displayed a reluctance to intervene, and some ECOMOG soldiers actually participated or assisted in the looting and fighting. By late-July, ECOMOG retained control of the city after the factions' leaders ordered their forces to withdraw. However, fighting between the factions continued sporadically and the humanitarian situation in many places outside Monrovia remained grave.
In August 1996, a new timetable for disarmament, demobilization, and elections was established. The poor conduct of ECOMOG during the April 6 fighting contributed to the decision to assign responsibility for the force to a new Nigerian field commander, Gen. Victor Malu, and to rotate out many of the troops. Renewed political attention by ECOWAS to improving ECOMOG, as well as regular funding to pay the salaries to the ECOMOG troops, had a notably positive effect on the levels of professionalism and public confidence in the West African peacekeeping force. From the end of 1996 until the election, ECOMOG played a critical role in bringing the civil war to an end. ECOMOG was assigned to create a series of safe havens throughout the country beginning on November 7, 1996; disarmament and demobilization of combatants, and repatriation of refugees was to proceed from November 22 through January 21, 1997; and elections were scheduled for May 30, 1997.
Although the timing of this schedule was delayed somewhat, and not all the objectives achieved-particularly the return of refugees and the demobilization of combatants-disarmament began on November 22, 1996, and was concluded after a seven day extension on February 7, 1997. Some 21,315 combatants,including 4,306 children and 250 female adults, were disarmed from an estimated total of 33,000 fighters.4 Some 10,000 weapons and 1.2 million pieces of ammunition were recovered.5 Although not all weapons were turned in and the command structures within the factions remained largely intact, the collection of arms resulted in a notable demilitarization of the society. Following disarmament, preparations for the election proceeded with international oversight, and despite some delays, the election was successfully held on July 19, 1997.
The election was certified by the U.N. and ECOWAS, and judged credible by hundreds of international and national observers. The Special Elections Law met international standards and the Electoral Commission was deemed to be impartial by observers. Election day was remarkably orderly and the lead-up to the election generally free of violence or intimidation. Voters lined up as early as 4:00 a.m. to cast their votes. Although there were some reports of over zealous West African peacekeepers helping voters to cast their ballot, the process was largely free of fraud.
Nonetheless, the broader context in which the election was held placed limitations how free and fair the election could be. The timetable leading up to the election was extremely tight, and a number of the pre-requisites agreed to in the peace accord, such as the return of refugees and the demobilization of soldiers, were not able to be completed prior to the election. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Liberian refugees outside the country were not eligible to vote in the election. In addition, the lack of demographic information, the rainy season, and the logistic difficulties of functioning in a war-torn place meant that the polling stations in the rural areas did not always correspond to population density. The lack of identification papers allowed for some minors under the age of eighteen to register. The short time available for civic education was inadequate in light of the high illiteracy rate, but also because of the length of the war, the lack of communications and the poor infrastructure.
The candidates' campaigning resources were markedly disparate. Charles Taylor, having controlled and looted the bulk of the country's revenues from logging, diamond and iron ore mines for most of the war, was able to use his vast resources to campaign more effectively-using a helicopter to reach distant areas, transporting voters to polling sites so they could register and vote (including refugees from neighboring countries), and handing out money, rice and tee-shirts to voters. Charles Taylor also held a monopoly on the broadcast media, having looted transmitting equipment during the war, and in some areas was the only radio station heard by voters.
It is also widely believed that the desire for peace and the implicit threat that Charles Taylor would resume the fighting if he lost was also high on the minds of Liberian voters. Many categorized their vote for the man who had started the war and whose faction had been responsible for widespread atrocities against civilians as "a vote for peace." Others expressed genuine support for Taylor saying that "he said he would destroy this country and he did. Now he is saying that he will rebuild it and he will."
Charles Taylor and his party won the election overwhelmingly. Of the thirteen parties that contested the election, three were headed by former warring faction leaders. The thirteen presidential candidates and their parties received the following percentages of a total vote of 472,863:
75.3 National Patriotic Party (NPP) led by former NPFL faction leader Charles Taylor
9.6 Unity Party (UP) led by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
4.0 All Liberian Coalition Party (ALCOP) led by former ULIMO-K faction leader Al-Haji Kromah
2.6 Alliance of Political Parties (Alliance) led by Cletus Wortorson
2.5 United People's Party (UPP) led by Gabriel Baccus Matthews
1.6 Liberian People's Party (LPP) led by Togba-Nah Tipoteh
1.3 National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) led by former LPC faction leader George Boley
1.1 Liberia National Union (LINU) led by Harry Moniba
0.6 People's Democratic Party of Liberia (PDPL) led by George Washington
0.5 National Reformation Party (NRP) led by Martin Sheriff
0.3 Progressive People's Party (PPP) led by Chea Cheapoo
0.3 Reformation Alliance Party (RAP) led by Henry Fahnbulleh
0.3 Free Democratic Party (FDP) led by Fayah Gbollie
Due to the system of proportional representation used in this election, legislative seats were won by parties on the basis of the percentage of the presidential vote won. As a result, Charles Taylor and his party, the NPP, won 75 percent of the legislature. Of the twenty-six Senate seats in the Senate: the NPP won twenty-one, the UP won three, and the ALCOP won two. Of the sixty-four seats in the House of Representatives: the NPP won forty-nine, the UP won seven, the ALCOP won three, the Alliance and the UPP each won two, and the LPP won one.6 After the number of party seats were calculated, parties were free to select any of their candidates from a public list previously submitted to the Independent Elections Commission. The party with the highest number of votes was permitted to name its representatives first. Based upon the system of proportional representation, the assignment of seats in a particular area did not necessarily reflect the voting patterns of the area. Because of the overwhelming NPP majority, the few opposition legislative candidates were relegated to the least important constituencies after the NPP selected its seats. On August 2, 1997, Charles Taylor was sworn into office, heralding a new era of peace for Liberia.2 President Doe came to power in 1980 in a bloody military coup led by the AFL. The coup ended over a century of rule by the Americo-Liberians, the descendants of freed American slaves who had emigrated from the U.S. in the nineteenth century. The Doe government was renowned for its lawlessness and brutality. President Doe systematically eroded judicial and legislative independence and expanded the military, thus promoting members of his small ethnic group, the Krahn. Between 1980 and 1985, the United States gave close to half a billion dollars in aid and military assistance. It is unlikely that President Doe would have been able to entrench himself in power without this unconditional support. See Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Liberia: A Promise Betrayed, (New York: 1986). 3 See Africa Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Africa), "Liberia: A Human Rights Disaster: Violations of the Laws of War by All Parties to the Conflict," News from Africa Watch, October 1990. See Human Rights Watch/Africa and Children's Rights Project, Easy Prey: Child Soldiers in Liberia (Human Rights Watch, New York: September 1994); Human Rights Watch/Africa, "Liberia: Human Rights Abuses by the Liberian Peace Council and the Need for International Oversight," News from Africa Watch, vol. 6, no. 3, May 1994; Africa Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Africa), "Liberia: The Cycle of Abuse: Human Rights Violations Since the November Cease-fire," News from Africa Watch, vol. 3, no. 13, October 1991. 4 U.N. Secretary-General, "Twenty-Second Progress Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia," U.N. Doc. S/1997/237, March 19, 1997, para.13. 5 U.N. Secretary-General, "Final Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia," U.N. Doc. S/1997/712, September 12, 1997, para.8. 6 According to the Special Elections Law, each party had to attain a minimum threshold before it was eligible for any legislative seats. This threshold was 3.84 percent of the vote for any senate seat and 1.56 percent of the vote for any house seat. As a result, a number of parties failed to qualify for any legislative seats.