Liberia's peacekeeping legacy

From: Jonathan Paye-Layleh © BBC World Service

One of the legacies the former West African peacekeeping force for Liberia (Ecomog) left behind in the 1990s was more than 6,000 fatherless children.

Most of the soldiers left their partners no means of future contact and many of their children are being supported by a local charity in the capital, Monrovia.
Now, with new peacekeepers in the country helping in Liberia's peace process - this time serving under the United Nations - the Ecomog Children Centre is trying to avoid a repetition of past mistakes. Ninety-five women pregnant by UN peacekeepers have asked the charity to assist them in finding out the soldiers' genuine home addresses.
"We have told the girls seeking our assistance that it is better now for them to press the soldiers and get the proper addresses, and if possible the pictures of the peacekeeping boyfriends," said Reverend Abraham Cole, head of the Ecomog Children Centre.
Then it is possible to locate the men when they return home and organise for their new families to join them, he said. "Or if they want the babies to stay with us here to help them - because they are married at home - we can use the addresses to get them to send child support every month."
But the response from the women's partners has been slow, he said. "So far only 19 peacekeepers have given us what they say are their appropriate home addresses."

Suffering

The abandonment of the Ecomog children has led not only to economic hardship for their mothers, but also social difficulties. A woman who had a relationship with a former Ghanaian peacekeeper says their son has caused her serious problems with her current Liberian boyfriend.
"We had a nice time together here; but after leaving, the address he said he was going to send - for me to get to him - did not come," she told me at the welfare centre. "So the child and myself are suffering because the new man I have does not want to lay his eyes on the child."

Rev Cole and his wife, Sia, run a school at the centre - located in the New Georgia Township of the battered Liberian capital - for a few hundred of the children whose mothers are unable to take care of them.
"We are children of Ecomog," the children sing for any guests that arrive.
"We are left alone; we need fathers; we need friends; we need sponsors and you may be one."
Their voices represent what could be called Liberia's fatherless generation - a result of the terrible 14-year civil war.

Ambition

The centre struggles to find funds, but this does not come between the children and their ambitions. Twelve-year-old Richlius Larmas, whose mother told him his father died in the line of duty in Liberia, says he wants to be Liberia's president one day.
"I want to be a computer scientist," says another 12-year-old - Oshu Shola - wearing a red T-shirt with a pair of yellow shower slippers. He and his mother do not know the whereabouts of his Nigerian father. "I pray for God to help us; one day I will visit Nigeria," he said.
Some of the UN peacekeepers in Liberia today served under Ecomog a decade ago. But they are reluctant to talk about the abandoned children and distance themselves from issue. "I've heard it - that some of our colleagues left children here, " said a Nigerian check-point soldier who served in Ecomog. "But for me what brought me here is to give peace. "

The UN force of more than 14,000 troops is due to scale down their operation after the war-torn country's presidential and general election in October this year.

Monday, 24th January 2005


uploaded by: Robert W. Kranz  2005