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Liberia - No More War, May 2005

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The United Nations Mission:  Interview with Jacques Klein
Jacques Klein

Jacques Klein
Now that you've collected the majority of the guns in Liberia, what is your next challenge?
The biggest challenge right now is rehabilitation and reintegration. We fought hard in New York to have the money for the disarmament and demobilization portion in what is called the assessed budget, which is part of the regular budget of the United Nations. The rehabilitation and reintegration was supposed to come out of the donor conference -- out of pledges and donations. That money is not there. But we're talking about 100,000 people. And trying to integrate them into an economy where you already have 85 percent unemployment -- that to me is the major challenge right now.

Also, even if I do reintegrate you ... let's assume that I tell you that you have a job as a gas station attendant -- changing oil, pumping gas, changing tires -- for $1.50 to $2 a day, which is a good wage here. You're going to hear, "Let me understand this -- I had a Kalishnikov, I could rape, rob, steal, whatever, and now you tell me I'm working for $2 a day?"

How do you estimate what percentage of Liberia has been disarmed?
You can't. There's no way. I'm assuming that we're not only cleaning up this war, we're cleaning up past wars. Because the first Liberian mission here didn't do that. They didn't get all the weapons or all the ammunition ....

The fact is, 100,000 people have been disarmed. Millions of rounds of ammunition have been destroyed. I focus on the reality of what we're doing .... We have informants, who for $25 or $50 tell us where weapons are buried. Especially now that the combatants have demobilized themselves and gone out of business, people are interested in making a little money. ... The last public disturbance that we had [riots at the end of disarmament], the fact that no major weapons came out, no Kalishnikovs, no massive shooting, indicated to me that we are getting a handle on this. Basically, people are tired of war. They're tired of it all.

General Daniel Opande said that he didn't have enough troops or infrastructure in place to pull off the first disarmament in December. What do you think?
The military was at every meeting -- and I have the notes -- and not at one meeting did they ever say it shouldn't be done .... Opande says ... I don't care what he says .... There was a total agreement. Some people were more cautionary voices. That's immaterial. The fact is, in December when that [the riots] happened, we disarmed how many in 10 days? Thirteen thousand. We took in more than 8,700 weapons and 2 million rounds of ammo .... New York said, "We want the disarmament process to start now." Why? Weapons kill people. And the sooner we got those weapons out of their hands, the sooner the killing stopped. And the sooner the exploitation stopped. And the sooner the political factions no longer had the muscle and the firepower to do the threatening. So regardless of what people say -- and I'll say it on camera, I have the record; I was at every meeting and so were my people. ... My philosophy has always been lead, follow or get the hell out of my way. Because my goal was to save Liberia.

We had an agreement with the government on the given number of people who were supposed to show up at Camp Schieffelin [disarmament site] every day. They [the government] violated that agreement. Rather than send us 350 to 400 people a day, for which we were ready -- ablutions, tentage, food and health care -- they, basically [the faction leaders], ... we know now after the fact, from our intelligence sources, said, "If the U.N.'s willing to feed you, pay and take care of you, go now, it's before Christmas. But also understand that we're no longer responsible for you or your family." So on the first day, what turned out to be 450 was over 1,000. And after 10 days, we disarmed 13,000, but the system broke down. You can't feed that many people, house them, give them ablutions or medical care. ... It would also have been nice if the warring factions had given us a list of their combatants, which they never did, and I still don't have.

How do you measure the United Nations' overall success here?
The mission has four basic mandates. One is disarmament. Two is reintegration. Three is internally displaced persons' return. Four is refugees' return, and then the election .... When I came here in July 2003, this was a city of a million people without running water or electricity. Claustrophobia. Riots. Looting. Absolute chaos. Over 200,000 refugees. Not a car on the road. Look at it today. There is security and stability in the city.

Hotels are opening up, restaurants opening up, automobiles on the street, cars being imported. We have used car lots now in Liberia. All you have to do is walk in the streets. When I drove in the streets last year, I was the only car on the road. Today, you have traffic jams ....

I always keep in the back of my mind that 50 percent of all U.N. missions fail after five years. That's a fact. So how successful are we? We try to give Liberia a safe and secure environment because that's what investors are looking for ....

How would you describe the history between Liberia and the United States?
First of all, it's a tortured history. By all rational logic, Liberia, being one of two countries never colonized, should have been a model of middle-class, Protestant, Republican Africa. And the reason it isn't is because the United States has failed Liberia time and time again. Embarrassment over slavery -- which is nothing to be embarrassed about because we weren't born -- and secondly, total lack of a consistent policy, where it changes every four years.

An illiterate master sergeant, Samuel Doe, is given $480 million [by the United States] because he was anti-Communist, when he couldn't spell "communism" and probably thought Marx was one of the Marx brothers. That's the reality. And it's sad. As the only nation outside of Ethiopia never colonized, Liberia looks to America as the godfather, but America doesn't often reciprocate that affection. And that's tragic. If we wanted to be anti-Communist here in the 1960s and 1970s, this place should have been the model. That means banking, university exchanges -- we should have nurtured this thing as a godchild. And no one ever did. And now it is a failed state.

Why hasn't the United States reciprocated?
Again, the same people don't want to be associated with it [Liberia]. Or they come up with wonderful clichés: African solutions for African problems. Which means what? "I'm not responsible. It's your problem." But it isn't. We were very much part of the history of this country, and Liberians helped consistently when we needed it. In 1939, with the ship registry, we could flag American vessels with Liberian flags and send goods to Europe; with 8.5 million rubber trees, Liberia produced the rubber in World War II that helped us win the war when the Japanese overran Southeast Asia.

What would you say to the international community about Liberia?
I would ask the world not to forget Liberia. I realize that the media is tempo-centric; they're looking for the negative, not the positive. Liberia is the key to West Africa. If we do not have a stable Liberia for the long term, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire will be unstable. That's the reality. That means for those who pledged, honor those pledges, make the commitment. We have to stay the course here and do the right thing. And the right thing means to give the people of Liberia, who for the past 24 years have suffered mayhem, murder, rape and chaos, at least the opportunity to see a better future, assuming that we can help and guide them toward that goal.

NEXT: A Political Survivor: Interview with Daniel Chea

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