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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 20:31 GMT 21:31 UK
Liberia expects as Bryant takes over

By Paul Welsh
BBC West Africa correspondent

Monrovia leader Gyude Bryant [left] chats with Interim President Moses Blah at Mr Bryant's swearing in ceremony
Bryant is inheriting a troubled country

At the beach's edge, a shell of a house is being refurbished to make a home for the new leader of this country.

It is a big job.

Gyude Bryant will have to do the same for his country, with the help of the biggest United Nations' peacekeeping mission in the world.

In fact, there is a flurry of building work all over Monrovia, much of it is to provide homes for the army of aid workers who are beginning to arrive.

They are another part of Liberia's rebuilding team.

It is always a sign of confidence in the future when people begin to put their money into their property.

Most of the city has seen no maintenance and no renovation for years.

The fabric has slowly rotted away since instability began here almost a quarter of a century ago.

Awash with guns

But there is plenty of money being spent in Monrovia today.

When the UN draws up its list ranking countries in order of development and quality of life Liberia is left off. It is that bad.

Mr Bryant began work as he made his inaugural speech, scrapping monopolies on the import of rice and fuel to start competition and drive prices down.

If only it were all going to be that easy.

No-one knows how many fighters there were in Liberia when peace arrived in August.

One UN estimate is 45,000.

There are more guns than fighters and while they are out there the risk of looting or new fighting is out there too.

Disarmament promises

The negotiations which brought Liberia's peace deal were a truly West African affair, held along the West African coast in Ghana and chaired by the former Nigerian leader General Abubakar.

The focus of our foreign policy shall be good neighbourliness and peaceful co-existence
New Liberian leader Gyude Bryant
The general assures us that all sides will hand in their guns.

"During our discussion with the belligerents they promised to support the efforts of United Nations Mission in Liberia [Unmil] in security and they have all promised to join hands in the disarmament program and the restructuring of Liberian armed forces and security forces," he said.

And yet I have just met young men who have dismantled their weapons and hidden them ready for when they might be needed again.

One mobile phone call will buy you a new rifle.

There were similar promises of disarmament and the formation of a new Liberian army the last time there was a peace deal here.

Turbulent region

Instead Charles Taylor gave weapons to militias who supported him and added new, loyal, forces who sidelined the army.

Liberian children displaced by fighting huddle together in camp
Thousands of people remain destitute in Monrovia

For more than a decade Liberia has been destabilising the whole of this region, often deliberately.

Mr Taylor is charged with war crimes next door in Sierra Leone, accused of fuelling the war there for his own self-interest.

Liberia dabbled in Guinea and Ivory Coast too.

The end of the war here, if it is the end, is a chance to try to settle a turbulent region.

Mr Bryant promised that in his speech moments after being sworn in.

"The focus of our foreign policy shall be good neighbourliness and peaceful co-existence," he said.

"We shall restore a harmonious relationship with our neighbours.

"No group of any kind shall use Liberia for either terrorism or destabilisation of another country."

Political settlement

But it is not just the three countries bordering Liberia who are worried.

Ghana is growing increasingly concerned by the way the conflicts of the region are closing in and by the huge numbers of weapons and armed young men circulating in the region.

The foreign minister of Ghana, Nano Akufo-Addo, says it is important to find a regional solution to what is clearly a regional problem.

"It is important that we have a framework within the region with which we address these matters," he said.

"One of the things which is being actively considered - the Ivorians, particularly, are keen on this - is to have a Central American-type political settlement in West Africa.

"[It would be] a large peace conference at which all these states which have been subject to these acts of destabilisation and insurgency find themselves in a political accord."

Challenge

In essence, it would be something of a truth and reconciliation commission for a region where such hearings have broken out like a rash.

This is a failed state, with all due respect. The economy has collapsed, social services are non-existent
Ecowas Executive Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas
You can expect one soon in Liberia as part of the reconciliation.

Reconciliation also means reuniting the country.

That will be a big challenge for Mr Bryant, after decades of fighting along regional and ethnic lines.

Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has already sounded a warning, reminding Liberians they have failed to find peace in the past.

"You have tried it before and it didn't work, and it didn't work because, among other things, you practised politics of exclusion," he said.

Mr Bryant has been chosen because he is not closely allied to anyone and may be able to bring them all together.

Ambitious target?

Leaders in the region believe it will be different this time.

UN peacekeepers in Liberian capital, Monrovia
It is hoped UN peacekeepers will bring much needed security to Liberia
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the executive secretary of the Organisation of West African States (Ecowas), thinks the sheer destitution of the country will be something of an advantage to Mr Bryant, that he will be able to keep those in power in check.

"Well for one thing there's nothing for them to share this time around," he said.

"I mean this is a failed state, with all due respect. The economy has collapsed, social services are non-existent."

There is an old billboard in Liberia which calls for "full reconciliation by 2024".

When put up it was an ambitious target, now there is a chance they may reach it.

Previous chances

A lot of people are making the right noises, including Moses Blah, the man who was caretaker president for two months between Mr Taylor and Mr Bryant.

"What I am asking God for is for the peace process to hold," he said.

"I am determined to help. We have reached a point that we are all sure that peace is returning to this country."

There is also, of course, a chance it may all go wrong.

There was a "new beginning" with regional peacekeepers here in 1996.

Charles Taylor threw them out before the job had been done.


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