To sustain Liberia’s peace and promote reconciliation, dozens of youth leaders joined social media platforms in signing a commitment to responsible online behaviour and social cohesion as Africa’s oldest republic prepares for elections in October.
The pledge – created with the guidance of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) during a three-day peace symposium at the University of Liberia – will be monitored by an independent, non-partisan body.
Supported by the Liberia Peacebuilding Office and the Independent National Human Rights Commission, the monitoring is set to run from this July until February 2024.
October’s elections come five years after peacekeepers left Liberia and 20 years since a peace agreement ended two civil wars that killed at least 250,000 people. Tensions and divisions persist over unresolved issues, fuelled by social and economic disparities in a country with vast natural resources.
“Liberia’s history shows how youth and students have been the usual actors as perpetrators and victims of conflicts that could have been averted through timely engagement,” said Babatunde Afolabi, HD’s Director for Anglophone Africa.
“The average Liberian is 19 years old, so the strategy for this dialogue with young people is to make them champions of peace and cohesion, especially in the social media space that can inflame conflict. This agreement offers inspiration to everyone who wants to promote civility online around the elections, which are vital to Liberia’s peace, reconciliation and progress.”
With 100 participants, the dialogue brought together four university student groups, political party youth leaders and several social media outlets. In the pledge, the signatories agreed to:
- Respect and guarantee the rights to privacy and the freedom of opinion, including constructive criticism in politics, and access to information without hindrance
- Take responsibility and be accountable for online actions and their consequences
- Act in a non-discriminatory and inclusive manner with all forms of communication on social media, respecting the diversity of ethnicities, religions and cultures of the Liberian people
- Ensure the awareness, dissemination and consumption of conflict-sensitive content that promotes peaceful co-existence and social cohesion, guarantees women’s rights and is inclusive of people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups
- Commit to the use of dialogue as a preferred option over conflict
- Make a sustained effort to educate members of their communities, particularly the youth, on social media risks and encourage positive online behaviour
The signing of the pledge was witnessed by UN and ECOWAS representatives in Liberia, the EU and South African ambassadors, the chair of the National Elections Commission, the acting head of cabinet and senior officials from the armed forces, national police and civil society organisations.
Liberia’s 2003 peace agreement tasked the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with “promoting national peace, security, unity and reconciliation”.
But there has been little progress in addressing the root causes of the conflict, with two of the commissioners declining to endorse the final report and disagreements around prosecution and vetting impeding more than 200 recommendations.
Despite the setbacks, the youth dialogue and social media pledge build on a roundtable hosted by HD in Geneva in November with senior Liberian officials, UN representatives and diplomats to add renewed momentum to the transitional justice and reconciliation process.
Also in November, the Monrovia Civil Society Conference – convened by HD and national and international partners – gathered a wide range of civil society voices in Liberia to discuss priorities for various constituencies, including women and youth, on the path to sustainable peace.
Read the full story on HD’s Liberia roundtable here.
As the frontlines of conflict increasingly shift online, the initiatives in Liberia reflect HD’s digital mediation work in various parts of the world, including social media accords in central Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Indonesia.