On 6 January, Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf joined the United Nations Security Council in a virtual open debate on the “Maintenance of international peace and security: Challenges of maintaining peace and security in fragile contexts.” Invited by Tunisian President Kais Saïed, whose country assumed the Security Council Presidency this month, Madam Sirleaf delivered a briefing on the consequences of regional fragility and emphasized the vital role of women in peacekeeping efforts.
The open debate discussed the impact of neglected issues of fragility, which can spark new cycles of violence, prolong existing conflicts, and drive regional instability. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused further security, socioeconomic, and political strain in many parts of the world, including on the African continent, exacerbating already fragile contexts. These environments can become breeding grounds for violent non-state actors to orchestrate destabilizing agendas on a local, regional, and international scale. During the debate, the Security Council received insights about how local actors can play a role in establishing peace and security.
Addressing the 15-member Security Council, Madam Sirleaf began by recognizing that the start of a new year should bring with it a renewed commitment to ending the cycle through which conflict and fragility breed, particularly amongst displaced persons. She noted that “prevention is always better than a cure,” and urged closer attention to signs of potential conflict. To this point, Madam Sirleaf acknowledged the role of women in preventing the escalation of hostilities, noting that “women peace and security actors can help put out a small smouldering fire before it becomes a major conflagration.” She also highlighted the role that women played in securing peace in Liberia, after a protracted conflict, noting: “without Liberian women, Liberia would not have had peace today.”
Madam Sirleaf then reviewed the three-tier approach used to end armed conflict in Liberia: the declaration of peace made by ordinary people, the implementation of localized and mandated peacekeeping forces, and the subsequent international support for peace agreements. Addressing the UN’s efforts to secure peace in fragile contexts, Madam Sirleaf said:
“You have the power in your hands to help to end the vicious cycle of conflict, displacement, and despair so many have faced for so many years.”
Peacekeepers are now also battling the COVID-19 pandemic, which has contributed to global doubts surrounding the efficacy and cost of peacekeeping initiatives. Responding to these doubts, and reaffirming her own belief in the principles of peace, Madam Sirleaf proposed that global leaders instead adapt strategies to meet the changing demands of peacekeeping:
“I remain a strong advocate for peacekeeping. However, the architecture must, like everything else, change with flexibility to respond to challenging circumstances.”
Madam Sirleaf emphasized that a more flexible approach to the architecture of peacekeeping policy was needed, in alignment with local capabilities and leadership. She proposed that the Security Council allocate 25% of the peacekeeping budget to a “technical training contingent of peacekeepers dedicated to training young, unemployed potential militants” to ensure fragility is proactively addressed at the local level, before it sparks into active conflict.
Madam Sirleaf addressed the UN Security Council alongside the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, who also spoke about issues related to ending violence in fragile and conflict-affected countries.
You can watch the Security Council debate here. Madam Sirleaf’s comments begin at 22:40.