African Nations to Send Military Force to Liberia
Robert M. Press, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
CONFLICTS in two parts of the world are prompting an international military response this week - one in the Persian Gulf, the other in Africa.
President Bush's dispatching of United States troops and fighter planes to Saudi Arabia in the face of military threats to that country from Iraq is grabbing most of the world's attention. The underlying issue there is oil.
A less noticed but, for Africa, vital international response is the West African agreement, announced late Aug. 7, to send troops from several African nations to Liberia to try to restore peace.
The underlying issue there is humanitarian - as Liberian civilians are trapped in a civil war that has broken down into anarchy.
In announcing their decision, the West African heads of state, now meeting in the Gambia, called for an immediate cease-fire in Liberia. They said the multinational African force will try to restore peace and help Liberians set up an interim government to hold free elections.
No date was announced for the arrival of the force in Liberia, but a threshold has been crossed. For the first time, African nations are responding to an African civil war with their own troops. Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and possibly others are expected to participate. The force is to be headed by a Ghanaian, whose deputy will be Guinean.
Both African and American experts on African issues say such an African force might help restore peace in other African conflicts. Formation of the force also appears to be part of a growing recognition by African leaders that their continent, slipping backward economically, can not make progress when there are so many wars on the continent.
The decision to form an African peace force is "a welcome development," says Claude Ake, a Nigerian scholar now at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "There hasn't been such an initiative before ... If this sort of regional initiative is successful, it would certainly help (elsewhere). There are so many border conflicts, so many real and potential sources of violent confrontation."
Former State Department human rights expert Millard Arnold suggests that an African force might help restore peace in the Somalia and Ethiopian wars. In Liberia, "I think such intervention is more than necessary," says Mr. Arnold. "And given the reluctance of the West (mainly the US) to step in, it's probably the only way to keep this from turning into even more chaos," says Arnold, who is now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. …