Gyude Bryant, the head of Liberia's transitional government, has no illusions about the enormousness of his task, but he is pursuing it with the steady, systematic approach of a trained economist and the stoic perseverance of a man of faith.
"It's like turning night into day," he said in an interview about the challenges he faces in healing his war-mauled country.
Chronology: History of Charles Taylor in Liberia
Bryant, who took the oath of office last October as chairman, rather than president, of the two-year transitional government, is charged with guiding Liberia toward elections in 2005. He must also find a way to resurrect if not invent institutions capable of working with international donors with the requisite transparency and accountability.
He acknowledged with gratitude the support given his country by the U.S. Treasury Department, the State Department, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. But he said the amount of funding needed for disarming, rehabilitating and resettling combatants had exceeded early projections. The estimated number of fighters in the country, he pointed out, has ballooned from 38,000 to 73,000 since a disarmament program funded by U.N. and international donors began.
"Coming out of this war, it looks like they like the rehab programs we started," he said, referring to the former fighters. "They have turned in 22,000 pieces of arms and 5 million rounds of ammunition. Can you imagine the wasted resources that went into the purchase of such arsenals?"
Since the fighting subsided, throngs of idle youths have gravitated to the cities, including Monrovia, the capital. "My big concern now is to find jobs for the tens of thousands of young men who are bored, with nothing to do," said Bryant, a former businessman. "We need to resettle them with proper income-generating activities and infrastructure so they can lead normal lives and go forward."
Liberia, a country of 3.5 million people, was devastated by 14 years of intermittent civil war, which ended in August 2003 with President Charles Taylor's exile to Nigeria. Taylor's departure cleared the way for a peace deal and the installation of the transitional government.
In the past, warlords traded timber and precious diamonds to finance their operations and feed their fighters. U.N. sanctions banning the export of both remain in effect.
"We have pleaded with the United Nations to end the sanctions by the end of the year," Bryant said. "Our only real assets are in forestry and diamonds."
Bryant discussed several issues with President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at a reception Tuesday in New York. On Wednesday, he delivered a progress report on his country in an address to the U.N. General Assembly.
"The hardest thing," Bryant said, "is to try to keep all factions together, to keep the balance, so we don't go back to shooting guns everywhere, but getting together someplace, while agreeing to disagree."
Thirty-five colorful flags fluttered outside the sun-drenched building of the Organization of American States (OAS) yesterday as 12 presidents and prime ministers, two vice presidents and 20 foreign ministers from the Western Hemisphere attended the installation ceremony for the new secretary general, Miguel Angel Rodriguez.
In his speech, delivered in Spanish but interspersed with passages in Portuguese, English and French, Rodriguez spoke about freedom, optimism and realistic hope, as well as the need to combat terrorism, drug smuggling and international crime.
"A vision of the Americas as a land free from terrorism, violence and crime, from epidemics and the preventable effects of natural disasters, is a dream that unites us in this 21st century," said Rodriguez, a former president of Costa Rica.
On the eve of the ceremony, Rodriguez unveiled the blueprint of a drastic restructuring of the organization aimed at making up a $1 million deficit this year and circumventing a projected shortfall of $5 million for 2005. The plan whittles down the number of offices that previously reported directly to his office. It also eliminates key management positions, downgrades others and reduces the salaries of top officials, including his own, by $12,000. "There will be no raises next year, or in the following year. Now we have a leaner, more focused structure," he said.
Rodriguez reversed himself on the elimination of the position of special rapporteur for freedom of expression with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, held by Eduardo A. Bertoni of Argentina. Rodriguez had planned to combine the office with the separate OAS department of human rights.
Rodriguez reinstated Bertoni on Wednesday after conferring with Jose Zalaquett, the president of the commission, and Jose Miguel Vivanco, the executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch.
Vivanco said after the ceremony yesterday that Rodriguez "didn't realize how strongly people feel about the role of this office in protecting this fundamental freedom in the region. Fortunately, in the end, he made the right decision."