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Speaker Events - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Løj Recounts Eventful End to Liberia SRSG Role

During an IPI event on March 13, Ellen Margrethe Løj, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), recounted the challenges the country faced in 2011 during her last year as SRSG when violence in the Cote d’Ivoire sent Ivorians flooding into Liberia during a fragile election season.

“At the height, close to 200,000 refugees sought refuge in Liberia, and unfortunately, some had been active in the fighting in the Ivory Coast,” she said at the event, adding that the armed mercenaries hid in the jungle.

“To this day, there are a lot of former fighters in Liberia, a lot weapons in the area, or right on the other side of the border, so it’s a situation that will have to monitored close for the future.”

Though the mercenaries did not interfere in the 2011 elections as was feared, there were plenty of other challenges. “You cannot comprehend, sitting here in New York, the challenge of getting the election material to all the polling places in a country like Liberia in the middle of the rainy season,” she said, citing the planes, trucks, motorbikes, porters on foot, and, in some instances, canoes that were employed in the effort.

Ms. Løj said the National Election Commission was particularly impressive. “They did much more then we had expected,” she said. She acknowledged that UNMIL encouraged them. “We told them, ‘You have to try, because 6 years from now, we might not be here.’”

Ms. Løj went on to discuss two other parts of the UNMIL mandate, coordinating international assistance, and applying good offices to insure a free, fair, and conflict-free election.

Of the latter, she said, “That is easier put on paper than to have done.”

Ms. Løj described the lead-up to the presidential election, with 16 presidential candidates and a discourse heating up from political actors. She attributed the lack of incidents to Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and African Union (AU) observers, but especially to special envoys who engaged with the parties and candidates. Two of the envoys sent by ECOWAS were former presidents General Abdusalami A. Abubakar of Nigeria and John A. Kufuor of Ghana. “They were extremely useful in getting the tone down,” she said. “Before this, some were close to inciting violence.”

Ms. Løj also discussed other issues facing a country still rebuilding after its long and brutal civil war. Liberians need to take ownership of the reconciliation process, she said. She also said “It’s important for security to pay attention to young people,” as the war in Liberia happened because “rich people paid young people to commit atrocities.”

Ms. Løj discussed the women's agenda, which she said is supported by the government, although the situation for everyday women in Liberia is terrible. Forced marriage and female genital mutilation are sacred cows to local elders, making it challenging for outsiders to address.

In response to a question as to whether Liberia could become a middle-income country by 2030, Ms. Løj said “Maybe, but there is a lot of work to do.”

The event was moderated by Warren Hoge, IPI’s Senior Adviser for External Relations.

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