The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Liberia:
Intervening to end the civil war?
Not likely

Aug 11, 2003

The following article is a translation from the August 8, 2003 edition of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Struggle), a French Trotskyist weekly.

The military intervention which began on August 4, under the sponsorship of the U.N. and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), is supposed to put an end to the civil war from which Liberia has suffered for 14 years. This force will number a little over 3,000 men. Composed of troops of six countries from the region, dominated by Nigeria, it has a mandate to enforce the cease fire, to help maintain order after the dictator Charles Taylor leaves Liberia and to help handle humanitarian aid. On the other hand, the protection of civilians, which originally was supposed to be a part of the mandate of this force, was finally removed from the U.N. resolution – which illustrates the priorities of that body.

After 14 years of civil war, which have cost the lives of a fifth of the population, destroyed the economy of the country and condemned the majority of its inhabitants to a life of "refugees" buffeted around by the fortunes of war, the situation has become catastrophic.

The capital Monrovia, where many refugees have flocked, has been deprived of running water and electricity for more than ten years. A great part of the inhabitants have no resources or shelter. According to a surgeon with Doctors Without Borders, "thousands of people take refuge in schools, piling sixty into a classroom to sleep. There's no drinkable water. There are one or two bathrooms for thousands of people. There's no food." The deplorable health conditions have intensified the cholera epidemic. More than 1,000 people have died since the resumption of fighting, especially due to severe wounds caused by the bombardment, which they weren't able to get treated.

What's needed is to provide the Liberian population with means of survival, including a way to escape the hold of the war lords. That would certainly require a significant mobilization of resources, but it's a small thing in relation to the means which the great powers have. There are only 3.2 million people in Liberia. But despite its humanitarian pretexts, this isn't the goal of the U.N.-backed intervention.

This is not the first time that the great powers have had recourse to ECOWAS to impose their order over the region. Between 1990 and 1997, an 18,000-man contingent under Nigerian command was sent to separate the rival factions in Liberia, including those of Taylor. But instead of doing that, the Nigerian generals massacred the population, devoting themselves to trafficking in diamonds and rare wood, imposing taxes on shipments in the ports under their control and contributing to the multiplication of factions by creating their own auxiliary militias.

Today nothing guarantees that once Taylor leaves (if he leaves), his opponents won't explode into rival factions. Nor is there any guarantee that the heads of the force won't try to live off the land, at the risk of restarting the civil war as they did from 1990 to 1997. What's certain is that the population once more will pay with its blood.

The corporations and the imperialist governments don't have a problem with civil war. Dealing with a war lord doesn't necessarily cost more than dealing with a head of state. On the contrary, and if necessary, warlords can easily ensure the security of the mines or plantations owned by foreign capital. The only thing necessary is that the armed rivalries don't encroach upon profits by going beyond the territory or into neighboring countries, as is the case today between Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. In this case, the great powers are ready to intervene, directly as in Sierra Leone or in the Ivory Coast recently, or indirectly as in Liberia today, to force the different factions to respect the imperialist rules of the game.

The fate of the population has nothing to do with this affair.