On Saturday 4th February 2012, International Alert’s Liberia team convened a group of local partners and other civil society leaders in Monrovia at the invitation of the UN Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) team visiting from New York. The BCPR team were in Liberia at the behest of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Laymah Gbowee who has been tasked by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to reinvigorate the national reconciliation process through the newly established Liberian Reconciliation Initiative (LRI). Ms Gbowee had invited the UN team to provide some reflections and advice on how her new LRI could move forward, in coordination with other instruments and initiatives already underway.
During the meeting between the UN team and civil society, which was facilitated by Alert’s Liberia Country Manager Jackson Speare, the UN BCPR team briefed the civil society group on their findings and recommendations, and challenged them to come up with innovative ways in which they can begin to drive the process of national reconciliation forward. They stressed the relevance of civil society organisations (CSOs) in these national processes, and the CSO representatives in return laid out what their challenges were regarding their participation. They stressed how fragile CSO coordination was in Liberia, and how at times this can undermine their efforts to engage and make meaningful contributions to these national processes. Participants commended Alert for launching an initiative aimed at strengthening CSO coordination, their representativeness and ensuring their voice is heard in the national reconciliation process.
After the meeting, the UN team discussed their impressions with Ms Gbowee, who then asked Alert to convene a meeting for her to engage with the civil society network. During this important discussion, Ms Gbowee stressed that she needed the CSOs to raise their voices on the challenges faced and to start some initiatives around reconciliation. She pledged her commitment to working with the platform and asked for another coordination meeting to be held for CSOs to develop their action plan and to focus on advocacy and media outreach concerning national reconciliation priorities. Finally, she asked that Alert continues to convene the meetings and requested a much closer collaboration with the CSOs through this platform.
Alert will be taking this advice on board as it deepens its engagement with civil society organisations, working towards its overarching goal of promoting meaningful national reconciliation in Liberia, including through connecting civil society’s voices with relevant processes and developments, following up on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report and the work of the Liberian Reconciliation Initiative, as well as understanding risks associated with UNMIL’s withdrawal from Liberia scheduled for 2013, and the conflict risks and peacebuilding opportunities represented by the government’s plans for decentralisation.