In late 2010, the Liberia Peacebuilding Office, with support from Humanity United, led the formation of an organisational network now referred to in Liberia as the Early Warning and Early Response Working Group (EWER-WG).
The goal of the working group is to work collaboratively for the early detection of issues that could lead to the escalation of violence, by identifying and addressing possible causes of conflict, and advancing recommendations to mitigate probable violent conflict situations.
The Group is currently comprised of twenty-three organisations including Civil Society Organisations, United Nations Organisations, representatives from the Government of Liberia relevant ministries and agencies. The government ministries are the primary beneficiaries of rapid early warning alerts and are regarded as the main response actors. Integrating them into the working group is proving to be a well received staple of the Group as the collaboration is helping to increase information sharing.
The work of EWER-WG has been divided into clusters, covering: warning, research, response and technology. The Group distributes activities depending on the capacity of the representative organisation, forming task forces and committees:
- The task forces respond to issues raised during early warning meetings and conduct assessments and inquiries as identified by the Group.
- Committees are standing groups working over a lifespan of a year. There are currently two standing committees, the editorial committee responsible for drafting reports and policy documents and the Liberia Early Warning and Response Network (LERN) verification committee responsible for verifying incident reports coming from reporters around the country.
- working towards the standardisation of mechanism and tools used for data collection
- engaging in credible forecasting based on in-depth analysis of high risk issues
- the sharing of information that develops and strengthens early response capacity by effectively linking with response actors and engaging in first-stage early response activities such as third party intervention
- additional inquiries/assessments by task forces which later bring relative knowledge to the Group representatives for discussion
- the creation of space for conflict transformation processes to take place.
- to provide technical support to member organisations (i.e. mobilising resources to enable them to engage in critical EWER work in Liberia).
The Group is making significant progress in some areas while there are challenges in others all of which points to the benefits but occasional difficulties in many organisations striving to work collectively for the attainment of set goals and objectives.
EWER priority issues
The highest priority issue, land was given more attention during the second half of 2012, with agricultural land concession being the focus. According to the EWER report on Agricultural Land Concession and Conflict in Liberia, concessions for access and exploitation of natural resources make up a complex set of socio-political problems, including confusion around what rights are included or excluded to concession holders.
There is a widespread understanding in Liberia that a concession agreement, while it is issued for the purpose of exploiting resources with promises of economic benefits, has not always benefited local communities, or even the wider population. In addition, areas granted as concessions in some counties have exceeded the area of the county itself. This often leads to conflict as communities work collectively to prevent concession companies from expanding their activities.
The group conducted a multi stakeholder consultation where policy makers, concession companies, and community representatives were consulted on pressing concession related issues which posed as threat to peace and security in Liberia.
Collaboration in data collection
Organisations that contribute reporters include the members of County Peace Committees coordinated by the Liberia Peacebuilding Office, reporters of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, Fund for Peace/Liberia Democracy Watch partnership, Action on Armed Violence/ Liberia Armed Violence Observatory and several others.
Reporters forward incident reports to an internet based platform via text message. The anticipation is that these reports come in real time, triggering real time intervention.The reports, when looked at over time, also help to find trends, enabling the Group to make credible predictions on conflict and posit informed recommendations to policy makers.
As of December, 2012, there are 2,335 reports on the LERN website which are portioned by county, conflict category, and conflict severity. The majority of these reports came from Montserrado County which has the highest incident reports on armed robbery, assault, youth, governance and economic issues, and corruption, showing 690 reports. This high amount of incident reports in Montserrado County can be attributed to the county’s high population density. Around 1.14 million people live in Montserrado, accounting for 32 percent of Liberia’s population.
Community-led urban early-warning
One of these communities is the West Point Community, just less than three miles away from the city center and containing a population of around 65,000. The Group, through its Community-led Urban Early-warning (CLUE) task force, conducted a research and conflict monitoring exercise that recognised the key issues facing community, and the very real implications of conflict that comes with having such a high population density with little or no regulation from the government. If these issues are not addressed, it could serve as a potential source of widespread violence in the Monrovia area.
The group conducted further research and as a result of the findings, which can be found on the LERN Website, a number of development organisations are planning to intervene using the information as a baseline for a consolidated approach to intervention in West Point. The Working Group is also currently conducting research in similar communities, the Peace Island and Logan Town Communities are also located in Monrovia’s jurisdiction.
Decentralising EWER activities
Replicating the work of the Monrovia based National Early Warning Working Group, Civil Society Organisations in four counties; Nimba, Bong, Lofa and Grand Gedeh are organising and establishing county level early warning groups.
These groups have similar objectives as the national working group but focus on community level early warning and early response activities. Supporting their activities, the Liberia Peacebuilding Office conducted workshops in the four counties to guide them through the process of conflict issues identification and response.
The work of these groups is in being linked to the work of the regional justice and security hubs being constructed around the country. Already, the Gbarnga, Bong County Working Group is designing strategies to partner with the Public information Unit of the Gbarnga Regional Hub with the anticipation that such collaboration will promote increased information sharing on potential threat to peace.
With existing tensions over continued political, religious and ethnic issues, a fully supported conflict early warning system will greatly benefit Liberia. It will enable policy makers to be fore-warned of potential threats and advice, following first-hand assessments, what the proper recourse might be. It could also serve as a medium of providing early alerts of incidence of violence before they spread to other parts of the country.
A partnership, such as the early warning working group can be strengthened and provided with more resources to help sustain the peace and relative calm Liberia now enjoys.