Extending and consolidating the peace process | Francis Kai-Kai, Chief of Peace Consolidation Services

Members of the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), carry placards with messages of peace and non-violence during the electoral period. Photo: Emmanuel Tobey | UNMIL | 18 Oct 11

20 Apr 2018

Extending and consolidating the peace process | Francis Kai-Kai, Chief of Peace Consolidation Services

Francis Kai Kai, Chief of Peace Consolidation, studied agricultural economics and development and worked for the German Agency for Technical Development (GTZ), for his Government and the World Bank in Sierra Leone, and for the UN in Sudan. He gave this interview in October 2017.

Mr. Kai Kai, tell us a bit about your background that led to your work in the Mission’s Civil Affairs Office.

I ended the Mission as Chief of Peace Consolidation, but I had been recruited as Principal Civil Affairs Officer. The change in title and emphasis over time demonstrates that peacemaking and peacebuilding are part of a continuum.

For 10 years in the 1980s, I worked with GTZ on a regional development project in Sierra Leone (my home country). We started project design from scratch in a region that was relatively poor but had a lot of resources. That taught me a lot about institution building and how to shape objectives clearly while working with the people. And I learned to innovate and develop integrated programming across a broad spectrum of sectors, ranging from agriculture and fisheries to health and community infrastructure and development. Professionally, this is where I cut my teeth.

Civil war broke out Sierra Leone in 1991 and lasted until 2002. The war years introduced new dynamics. I came to understand the reasons for the violence: the politics were not right and created the conditions for the war. The fact was that many youth were unemployed, and the Government was too centralized with no vision for the future. Everything was based in the capital, and people out in the towns and villages never really felt part of that central system. Many people also felt disenfranchised by the one-party state. That was the context as we were trying to deliver the best regional development project we could. It was quite a challenge.

I moved to national level work during the crises when I was appointed director in the newly created National Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Ministry in 1997, established to deal with the war-affected civilians, refugees and internally displaced persons. We helped them to resettle back home. We put together some quick recovery programs and tried to do reconstruction here and there.

I was later charged to head a national program that got over 74,000 ex-combatants of all the warring factions through disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR). We tried to find something for them to do and to see how they would fit into a society that was already dispossessed by civil war. They went back to join a larger army of unemployed youth who shared similar characteristics but who had no experience of war. What do you do with these people? We did many good projects, trained them and so on, but their future was still uncertain in many ways.

After the program ended, I worked on the first poverty reduction strategy in Sierra Leone, a major undertaking. That gave me the opportunity to bring together all the experiences I had had, and to see how we could put together a strategy that would address economic development. How do you start growth again? How do you bring back productive enterprises? How can you bring back proper education, improve the health sector,  and establish overall governance? All these questions we posed and brought together, working with the different line ministries of government, with the international community, the UN, the World Bank and others. It was an eye opener for me and enriched my experience.

To raise funds for the poverty reduction strategy, we did a “road show” to donor capitals in Europe and organized a national conference for Sierra Leone. That led to debt relief and more support. I later led donor coordination for the office of the Vice President.

I left Sierra Leone in 2005 for the UN to head the DDR program in the Sudan. I had been so excited by the recovery and development work in Sierra Leone that by the time I left, I had a clear picture of the post-conflict challenges and opportunities many countries face.

Sudan was very complex and from the outset, it was clear to me that the two main sides were not ready for peace. It was 2005, and (Vice President) John Garang had just died. Working for the UN and sitting there between the two was also an eye opener. The two seemed to represent two different countries, or one country but two different systems that would never match. Until they separated formally, nothing was going to happen. I led the effort to set up DDR commissions in the north and the south. After two years, I got fed up. Nothing was going to happen until the South became independent. So at the end of 2007, I returned to Sierra Leone, then left for Liberia to lead UNMIL’s Civil Affairs Section. That is where I found my niche, working on peace consolidation issues. Because of the things I did in Sierra Leone, and because I had worked in Liberia as a consultant on DDR in 2004, it was easy to hit the ground running. The Mission was new, and the Government was also relatively new, so all the post-conflict issues that I had faced in Sierra Leone were the same here. We built on that experience to set up a civil affairs section, recruit and deploy more staff, and determine how to help the new Government which had been installed in 2006.

So, tell us about peace consolidation and how it evolved from a civil affairs approach.

Peace consolidation started with Civil Affairs, which was probably the largest civilian section in the Mission when I came, with a huge number of staff. The mandate then was very clear. It was about decentralization, extending state authority to the counties, from Monrovia; promoting reconciliation. How do you deepen that? How do you build peace? How do you make sure that you broaden ownership of the peace process? It was not just about the government, but about the people contributing in their own ways to the peace process, and making sure that NGOs and civil society were part of that process.

As UN peacekeeping operations come to a war-torn country at the pleasure of the government, there is a tendency to exclusively focus on the government. As a civil affairs component, we try to broaden the scope beyond government, and bring in civil society as well. There are always cracks in government programs and the people who fill in those cracks are the civil society groups, the faith-based institutions and those dedicated to human rights, human development and justice issues. How do you bring all these together to begin the process so that the ownership of the peace process is not just with the government, but also with the people to make it more sustainable? Civil affairs staff ensure that the government gets out to the counties, facilitates its functionality and establishes links between the central ministries and the county level departments.  

It was also important to make sure that the central Government was strong. War weakens all national institutions. You cannot strengthen the counties if the central government is weak. Civil Affairs had to devise a concept of assistance to all line ministries, as well as the agencies and commissions. We had to work with the new interlocutors in all 27 ministries, agencies and commissions on a daily basis. We co-located in many instances and helped with simple things like developing a new filing system, setting up basic plans and policies, and determining how to implement them. We had to employ qualified staff to deploy to those institutions. We brought in an army of colleagues ready to roll up their sleeves with expertise in various aspects of sector governance to be out in the central ministries and counties. We also served as the eyes and ears of the Mission, to know what is going on and at the same time, to provide professional support and assistance to the authorities. So, we crafted the work of Civil Affairs to address the central and county level activities, and provide critical link between them.

For example, we worked with the Ministry of Finance to rebuild the payroll system to include people based in the counties, because the systems had crashed during the war years. We had to make sure that people got their salaries in the counties. County superintendents used to spend two weeks a month in Monrovia chasing salaries for staff. Departmental staff in the counties used to do the same. How do you address something like that, with awful roads? We had to arrange UNMIL aircraft to take pay-teams back and forth. Uniformed peacekeepers helped to escort the cash, by air and by road, and protect the money, sometimes in Mission compounds until all county staff, including those located in the districts, were paid. Those days of extending and consolidating state authority and having the local civil service function in the counties were exhausting.

Another aspect of our work was helping with planning at the central ministries.

At the same time, peacebuilding activities started with a focus on the land disputes and ownership of property. Returning after 10 to 15 years of displacement, many families and communities found other people occupying their properties and land. To this day, the authorities are still grappling with these disputes.

peacebuilding activities started with a focus on the land disputes and ownership of property. Returning after 10 to 15 years of displacement, many families and communities found other people occupying their properties and land. To this day, the authorities are still grappling with these disputes.

We facilitated the formation of ad hoc committees chaired by superintendents to ensure that the remnants of rebel groups who still had power out in the counties ceded to the civilian authorities named by the Government. Civil Affairs was involved in mediation activities in every county. Our military colleagues looked to us to settle disputes between chiefs and the new authorities on the one hand and those who illegally occupied properties on the other.

Another area of engagement was the effective management of concessions for the benefit of the people. Liberia’s economy has continued to depend on concessions, especially rubber, oil palm plantations and forestry, which were occupied in the early years of UNMIL by the rebels. Since the rebels made money out of them illegally, the challenge was how to wrestle these assets from them and turn them over to the authorities. Our skills in mediation were important in those years, settling disputes and making sure that people understood what was going on. At the same time, we tried to see how the former rebels could find alternative livelihoods, rather than just merely removing them from the plantation. These were all issues that the civilian component of the Mission had to address.

Let’s hear more about how the concept of civil affairs in a peacekeeping context evolved into peace consolidation over the past decade

Those early stages of peacekeeping involved putting out fires around the hotspots and gradually building inclusive peace at all levels. Our work evolved over time and varied according to the predominant challenges in each of the 15 counties. According to the mapping we did, the hotspots were in communities where we had land and property disputes, where we had concessions occupied by the rebels, where we had government facilities being used by rebel officials. We decided to focus on these until things became normalized.

Next was to support the county administrations to become functional. UNMIL/Civil Affairs staff worked alongside the UN Country Team to set up county support teams, comprised of UNMIL civilian personnel, OCHA, UNDP and UNHCR. Civil Affairs managed this team, which was out in the counties dealing with multiple issues to help the state get established in those counties. Superintendents, commissioners and chiefdom authorities were fully assisted with a special package to enable them take full control of the counties. On the rule of law side, county attorneys and magistrates were also supported, as well as the Liberia National Police.

Next was the facilitation of a coordination mechanism among the various institutions at the county level - the different line ministries, the county administration, security and rule of law agencies. We set up a county development steering committee, co-chaired by the superintendent and civil affairs county coordinator. Civil society/NGO representatives were also invited to participate on the steering committees so that they could bring in their own perspectives and share information of their programmes. We did the same in all the counties.

We also set up peace committees in every county to settle disputes, especially land disputes between families that needed a community engagement. The committees were led by opinion leaders, elders, and religious leaders. We encouraged some international NGOs to help them.

Our work was really with the different arms of government, traditional elders, and civil society and community groups, to build up each of the counties. One after the other, we made sure that the peace was kept so that we could start peacebuilding work. Over the last two years of the mission, after the Ebola crisis, our focus has been on consolidating the peace achieved by bringing together our work in reconciliation and governance and supporting the good offices work of senior management. Hence the change of name to “Peace Consolidation.”  

One of the enduring areas of support has been in the area of decentralization and de-concentration of services to the counties. We supported the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Governance Commission to draft decentralization policies and a local government bill at the central level. Through UNMIL quick-impact projects, we have supported the establishment of county service centres in all 15 counties, providing nearly two dozen basic services previously centralized in Monrovia.

How did you wind up your mission? 

There are still outstanding issues which we have been focusing on. For example, education has continued to face many challenges, ranging from teacher strikes for regular pay to university students fighting for scholarships and reduction in tuition. These challenges could disrupt the peace, and we have been weighing in, using the good offices of the SRSG. We have also been proactive in trying to settle land disputes in the agricultural and mining concessions. We used our programmatic funds to address some of these in a systematic way, using mediation. We have worked with UNDP to set up stakeholder groups among the affected communities in at least four concession areas, and a tripartite mechanism involving the government, community and the concessionaires, who had taken virtually all the land. The land grab left the communities with nothing and the concessionaires weren’t employing the local people either. This is one of the outstanding problems UNMIL will leave behind. The tripartite
mechanism should work over the long run, and UNDP is now the owner of this portfolio.

Two bills that we have supported over the last two years remain outstanding at the legislature – the land rights and local government bills. The land rights bill will go a long way in addressing many of the problems and uncertainties surrounding land ownership for the citizenry, especially in rural Liberia. The local government bill will help devolve authority, decision-making and services to the counties through systematic decentralization that will guarantee election of local representatives to manage their affairs. Both bills will help address most of the root causes of the conflict and transform Liberia.         

In terms of civil affairs and governance, which cut across all the Mission’s work, can you identify some achievements that had a direct impact on the country?

Youths attend the One Day High Level Youth Dialogue organized by NAYMOTE-Partners for Democratic Development in Kakata, Margibi County. Photo: Albert G. Farran | UNMIL | 5 Jan 18

Another landmark area was the freeing up the agricultural/rubber concessions hitherto occupied by the rebels and ex-combatants. These concessions have now been contracted out to international investors, bringing job opportunities to many counties and rural communities. Although the concessions pose a new challenge to affected communities, the Government has the opportunity to address these through dialogue within the tripartite committees and passage of the land rights bill that UNMIL and UNDP have supported.I will mention a few of these. One is the presence of Government officials in the counties which allowed for improved service delivery and coordination of activities. With the presence of Civil Affairs staff at county level, we encouraged local governance to take hold by supporting communication, ensuring superintendents get the support from the UN agencies and other international partners present in the counties. Line ministries were encouraged to deploy staff to the counties; and salaries were paid in the counties. The presence of officials at county level immensely supported the work of our rule of law colleagues, the military and UN Police.

We contributed to the preparation of the local government bill on decentralization. We assisted in drafting it and developing some of the policies. In collaboration with other international partners, we also introduced the concept of county service centers, so that people would receive services, even if the political decisions had yet to be made on decentralization itself. With quick-impact projects, we were able to build some of the structures for county services, enabling basic services like driving licenses, business registration, marriage certificates, all the things that people would normally come to Monrovia for. This is quite a relief for the population outside Monrovia.

We also introduced “county dialogues,” and now various NGOs have taken that up as part of reconciliation drive at the sub-national level. The larger picture for reconciliation is problematic, and the Government has not really lived up to its own ideals  and plans. We kept the focus on the county level, with the dialogues between county authorities and the business sector, the police and security sector, bringing them all together to talk about reconciliation in their own counties, and to identify the residual challenges they are facing.

Will the dialogues continue when UNMIL closes down?

Our hope is that this process will continue and will form the foundation for peace consolidation. Some of the NGOs we worked with to spearhead the dialogues wish to continue, but they would have to be financed somehow. We have been using our assessed contribution and quick-impact funds in eight counties, with NGOs helping, and we hope that the whole practice and the knowledge will stay in Liberia.

They should be able to continue with a small amount of money and the involvement of the peacebuilding office in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

One obstacle I foresee is the change of experienced superintendents with the expected change in political administration early 2018. Continuity will be a challenge, but I am sure the NGOs that we have been working with will remain in Liberia and continue that process.

We have also been supporting the land authority, as we don’t have a land reform act yet. We are using part of our resources, about US$1.3 million through UNDP, for a project to help them build that institution. We are doing the same with the plantations and the natural resources sector. These are lasting legacies that will be attributed to our work. 

What were some of the challenges facing the Mission in getting to those achievements?

One of the key challenges was getting qualified and experienced counterparts to work with, on the Liberian side. Unfortunately there was high turnover in Government over the years, even in the counties. None of the superintendents we met when I came in 2008 are there now. You always have a new set of people, and they need skills and experience to propel progress in the counties. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, a key ministry, has had five ministers since 2008, with different management styles and priorities. So this is part of the challenge for Liberia, and not only for us working on peace consolidation and civil affairs. Right across the Mission, this has been an obstacle to sustaining progress.

Secondly, the Government’s budgetary allocation to priority reform areas has been less than optimal. Over 80 per cent of Liberia’s national budget has been devoted to operations and payment of staff salaries and emoluments. Only a meagre 10 per cent or less goes to the much needed socio-economic investment in basic service and infrastructure.

Within the Mission, we lacked our own resources. Although we have had a modest annual budget for quick-impact projects, the focus was on rule of law projects for many years, constructing police stations and courts in growing communities. In the last two years, part of the budget had been allocated to soft projects to support capacity building and promote reconciliation and good governance initiatives.

The Mission’s capacity was also gradually reduced over time as we approached the end of our mandate. We could not continue to provide the level of support we provided before, mainly due to staff attrition and the need for more specialist support to the Government to help sustain the peace. Our focus on SRSG’s good offices support was more appropriate in this final phase, while the UN Country Team stepped up support for peacebuilding and improved governance.

Can you speak about the transition plan and what you hope it might lead to?

The transition plan has been an important instrument to guide the handover of important work from one administration to the next. For UNMIL, it is about the critical work we have been doing to keep and sustain the peace and what aspects the UNCT is expected to take forward and which should be the Government’s own responsibility. As the current administration also transitions to a new one after the elections, it is also about ensuring that the reforms undertaken over the years with support of the international community are safeguarded and taken forward. I am hopeful that the key reforms I have referred to above will be handed over to the new administration.

Is there risk of these reforms rolling back?

Well, my experience in Africa has been that once a new government comes in, they take the posture that “the others didn’t do anything: let’s do our own business,” instead of building on what the last government has done. They will try to look for money to start their own processes, which would be very sad and should not be allowed to happen. The good thing is that the transition plan has made provisions for participation of individuals who may play a role in the new Administration. Also most of Liberia’s donors, the EU, USAID, World Bank, many bilateral donors like Sweden, have been supportive of all key reforms that need to be taken forward. It is hoped that the Governance Commission, the main custodian of the reform processes, will play a significant role in the transition. I believe there are chances for these reforms to go forward.

The convening power of the Mission will be lost when UNMIL finally leaves, but the reinforced Resident Coordinator’s Office will be a major force for leadership among the international community.

On the part of the Government, it is expected that part of the transition will be for the outgoing ministers to leave in place handover notes so that the new leaders will have something to work with and that they can see what the different agencies accomplished. 

When UNMIL wraps up, will you have a sense of completion, or will you be frustrated by unfinished work that you might not have been able to get to?

To be honest, I will not be frustrated, because we came here as part of the Mission, which accomplished its mandate. In neighbouring Sierra Leone, we had five years of active peacekeeping, and after that the people asked the Mission to leave, so they can take over. In Liberia, for 14 years, they have been pampered in many ways. They should be given a chance to run their country. There’s still a question of capacity as a lot of their capacity is still out of Liberia. Many people returned, but they still have roots outside, mainly in America. They do not really come to stay, but they are professionals and should be encouraged to invest back home. This has been their problem, and it is not a peacekeeping problem. So in my mind, it is clear that our Mission’s mandate has been accomplished, and the rest are normal governance challenges which the Government should be able to address, with support from international partners.

In Liberia, for 14 years, they have been pampered in many ways. They should be given a chance to run their country.

We cannot define Liberia’s future by peacekeeping. I think we need to move on, and we already have. Ebola set Liberia back in 2014 when the Mission was already in a draw down mode. We had to renew our efforts, and in 2015 and 2016, we had a fresh mandate, and we achieved a transition of security at the end of June last year. Then the civilian aspects were pretty straight forward. It’s unfortunate that so much is coinciding with the transition in Government, with the election of a new President and new House of Representatives. They will all come on board in early 2018, and that coincidence itself will be an opportunity but also a challenge. 

Liberia should be strong enough to deal with that.

How confident are you in Liberia’s future? Do you have a sense of hope? Do you know where this country is going?

I have qualified confidence, yes. I can see Liberia is ready to move. The people don’t feel very confident in doing a lot of things, without support from outside, and are very worried about what is coming after the Sirleaf administration. But the elections and the change of regime may influence people’s perception positively. After so many years of peace, backed by the UN Mission, one can understand the anxiety they have about moving forward on their own. The people need to be encouraged to stay steadfast. Two critical bills must be addressed – the Land Reform bill that empowers rural Liberians to own and invest in land and the Local Government bill that allows decision making, resource mobilization, planning to devolve to the counties. They need those to go forward as a country. Otherwise some of the root causes of the war will not have been addressed, and the investments made here will be jeopardized.

So what do you say to the people of Liberia as you look to the future?

The people of Liberia should hold their elected officials more accountable. The people should make sure that those officials who have received their votes, deliver to them. They should insist that schools and hospitals are working for them and that their children can survive and have a future. The people (especially youth and women) also need empowerment, and they should demand it from their leaders. They should also demand accountability for the public resources entrusted to public officials for effective and efficient management. Finally, they should demand development from their leaders, and work with them on it. The people should be interested in important bills that are  currently in the legislature on land reform, decentralization, anti-corruption and gender equality. That’s my message.

The people of Liberia should hold their elected officials more accountable. The people should make sure that those officials who have received their votes, deliver to them.

What would you say to the internationals who are staying to help Liberia move forward?

The internationals should focus on giving a chance to Liberians to provide leadership for their own development processes. It should not be left to the internationals. We should also pay more attention to the needs of the people, not just the Government. We have focused on government, but if the government fails, the people suffer the brunt. The people are increasingly demanding accountability and empowerment from their elected officials. As an international community, we should ask how we can support that process. If these two elements come together, there would be more pressure on the authorities, who seem to be the main beneficiaries from all the investment in Liberia’s peace, recovery and development so far.

UNMIL has gone beyond the call of its mandate, and it has been a successful mission in many respects. I am happy that we are moving out, to give a chance to the Liberians to figure out how to move their country forward. We held their hands for too long. We should just go without looking back. As a Mission, we have done our bit. We have stayed long enough.