Welcome to my last Freshman Monroe post! For the last few weeks, I have been looking to see if the presence of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in conflict zones has an effect on the formation of lasting peace. After reading several books and articles (my findings from each can be found here and here), I decided that I would be able to produce more thorough results if I made the project a case study.
Using Diehl and Druckman‘s criteria for evalauting peacekeeping operations, I decided to look at MSF presence in Liberia. Liberia had a series of civil wars that lasted from 1997 to 2003. This time frame is important because it means that we know that the peace that has followed since the end of the war is sustainable and relatively long-lasting. To evaluate the effect of MSF presence, I used the Diehl and Druckman’s series of questions to see if the operation fulfilling the core peacekeeping goals of violence abatement, conflict containment, and conflict settlement. To answer each question, I tried to find data points that reflected the situation of the nation before, during, and after the conflict to see how various factors changed over time.
Although I began this project with lots of hope, I quickly realized why little is known about peace studies. Little data exists for dangerous conflicts, and it is difficult for researchers to keep track of factors like shooting incidents and the involvement of regional powers when much of the information is hidden by governments interested in only putting out war propaganda. The Liberian Civil War had added difficulty factors because West African culture in some areas is more linked to tribalism than nationalism. This idea means that some fighters in the Liberian Civil War also fought and spread the conflict to neighboring nations like Guinea and Sierra Leone, making the conflicts almost indistinguishable. The only reliable statistics I could find were generally from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). MSF rarely published data outside of number of medical treatments provided per year.
With this is mind, my research suggests that MSF played a small but crucial role in the peaceful end to Liberia’s civil war. The access to medical care that MSF provided, especially in the capital Monrovia, allowed the country’s sick and wounded the chance to recover. Since MSF was one of the only providers of medical care after the war destroyed the country’s hospitals, the organization played a critical role in constantly rebuilding and updating the country’s medical capacity. All told, MSF medical services likely saved thousands of lives, many of whom may have afterwards served as crusaders for a peaceful end to the civil war.