Liberia: Open Letter to the Minister of National Defense, Rtd. Maj. Gen. Deniel Ziankahn

.... Your statement, and previous ones, demonstrate a clear intention to incite the Liberian army against the people.  One may also assume that you, and the government, have planned to steal the 2023 general and presidential elections, which is why you are sending the caveat and setting the stage to implement what you might have been told to do

Dear Minister Ziankahn,

Please permit me to respectfully disagree with your inflammatory, inciting, and irresponsible statement made by you on February 11th during the celebration of Liberia’s Armed Forces Day. Specifically, this portion of your statement caught my attention: “Our passionate plea will don’t dare cross the democratic red line beyond the people’s collective will if your dream falls short." What is your definition of a red line in a democratic process and who determines this red line? You or the Constitution of Liberia?

The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) has not substantially demonstrated an agreeable level of civility to maintain law and order in Liberia, especially during conflict situations. It saddens me to see an army personnel like you speaking in a more arrogant political tone that has the proclivity to undermine the tenets of democratic values, and creates unnecessary fears among our already traumatized citizens. What necessitated this threatening political and military comment made by you?

The last time the army was called to just quarantine the citizens in a predominantly civilian township of West Point during the Ebola period in 2014, the AFL that you headed opened sporadic gunfire, fired live bullets and murdered 14-year-old Shaki Kamara, and wounded several other persons. That was barbaric!! Let me remind you that your statement directly threatens our democracy. It seems to set the pace to mentally subdue and intimidate the opposition leaders and their supporters to easily allow the AFL to advance its evil agenda to thwart the people’s democratic WILL in 2023.

Your statement, and previous ones, demonstrate a clear intention to incite the Liberian army against the people.  One may also assume that you, and the government, have planned to steal the 2023 general and presidential elections, which is why you are sending the caveat and setting the stage to implement what you might have been told to do. What underlining factors or circumstances that prompted you to make this reckless and provocative political statement against the opposition? As you are aware, the celebration of the Armed Forces Day was meant for total reassurance of the peace and stability the army claims it has protected so that citizens will continue to restore confidence in the lost dignity and morale of the AFL.  

Regretfully, you intentionally and willfully chose to unveil  the AFL’s brutal strategy as the country prepares for election. Anyone digesting the contents of your statement will notice that it lacks focus, ingredients of constitutionality, and particularly. 

Minister Ziankahn, let me also resuscitate your mind on how and when the AFL is supposed to intervene in conflict situations. When an army personnel and a Minister of National  Defense like you become completely oblivious of your ministerial responsibility, especially when the country is still recovering from the debris of the war, it becomes a moral necessity and constitutional obligation to publicly rebuke and call you out to step aside. We want peace to reign again in the midst of excruciating poverty, sicknesses and diseases fertilized by a chronic system of corruption that has been designed and practiced by greedy political elites in the past and celebrated by the government you now serve. 

Your statement was not only reckless, unfounded, and misguided, but it also undermines the very existence of the National Defense Act of 2008.

Section 2.3 (e) of the National Defense Act of 2008 states: “The duty of the AFL in peacetime shall include support to the national law enforcement agencies when such permission is REQUESTED and approved by the President of Liberia. Such support shall include the exchange of information, personnel training, mobilization, and deployment of security contingents.

 At no time during peacetime, however, shall the AFL engage in law enforcement within Liberia. However, such function shall be the  prerogative of the Liberia National Police and other law enforcement agencies. Notwithstanding, the Military Police (MP) of the AFL may, on REQUEST of the Ministry of Justice made to the Ministry of National Defense and APPROVED by the President of Liberia, assist those law enforcement agencies as determined by the prevailing situations. The AFL shall intervene ONLY as a LAST resort when the threats exceed the capacity of law enforcement agencies to respond.”

As you can see, this law not only prohibits you from getting on the streets on your own, but it provides specificities of your function and delineates the intentionality of your action as the LAST resort and and ONLY when you are asked to render assistance. You have not even seen signs of violence from any political actor or heard someone threatening the conduct of the pending general and presidential elections. Instead, you have concluded that there will be chaos and have already began issuing threats to political actors not to cross the red line. 

Are you mad? I have sat for the past few months since you started beating your war drums ahead of Liberia’s pending elections to scare the opposition and instill fears in the citizens that might choose to exercise their democratic franchise if things do not go right. It seems your fingers are becoming trigger friendly and you are now finding a justification to start preparations to shoot and kill as you army did on 2014 when they were deployed in West Point. Trust me, those trigger-friendly fingers of your army might be very disappointed. 

But let me remind you that Liberians fought war, they know war and are tired of war. STOP reminding them about the red line, because you have crossed it many times. You should remove the veil of arrogance from your face and read carefully the National Defense Act of 2008. You should also concentrate more on improving the lives of AFL personnel, who are underpaid, walloping in poverty, and desperation due to lack of adequate care. You should be ashamed and embarrassed by your warmongering statement. 

As Minister of National Defense, you dress more than the country, ride luxurious vehicles, and get fat salaries while the AFL live at the mercy of God. Almost all of the AFL personnel appear and look hungry. They wear old and dirty uniforms that have completely dishonored the relevance of the army. They no longer have the morale and decency because they are underpaid and live like Prisoners of War (POW) in their own country instead of treating them with dignity and providing them the full support they deserve. I feel ashamed of the AFL especially when they are stopping taxis to get to their locations with dirty uniforms and rotten boots. 

“A caveat to whosoever may feel or is disenchanted as we approach the 2023 elections should use the court system as was seen in the 2017 Presidential and 2020 midterm Senatorial elections. Anyone involved in an unlawful act during and after the 2023 presidential elections will be dealt with according to the law,”.

Who is supposed to make this statement? You or the Ministry of Justice that is legally authorized to prosecute cases of electoral misconduct? This is a clear display of your gross incompetence and now using your ministerial position to market your ignorance. This is shameful. I can’t believe that after the country’s taxpayers money was spent on your education and mental purification in the army, domestically and internationally, you will deliberately choose to undermine the very law that dictates what is expected of the AFL, and how it should proceed. 

It appears that this statement of yours speaks clearly of contentment and desire to see the election in favor of the government. If you think you will deploy the army on the streets of Monrovia during and after the election to threaten the WILL of the people and bring them into submission, then you are daydreaming. 

As I mentioned earlier in this communication, your deployment to assist civilian security agencies should be based on a request of the Ministry of Justice and approved by the President of Liberia. You are on record for repeatedly making these nonsensical, and life threatening comments ahead of the election and it’s time you keep quiet for once. Please zip your mouth Mr. Minister and allow the relevant agencies as prescribed by law to exercise their authorities. 

Your assertion that anyone involved in an unlawful act during and after the 2023 general and presidential elections will be dealt with according is the sole responsibility of the Minister of Justice and when that time comes, the ministry will determine the severity of the situation and act accordingly. As it stands, it is appearing clearly that you have already received the approval to implement the orders from the President of Liberia.

Why are you so eager to issue early warnings when the rightful authority with exclusive rights to speak on this matter is still silent? If you think you and your cronies will use the AFL to steal the election, which is why you are beating this war drum, then you are a joker. 

We can guarantee you very well that you will be disappointed and defeated if you dare threaten to do so. This is not a threat, but a constitutional reminder because you seem to be oblivious of your authority. Anyone who sees your physical morphology and dress code would think you are knowledgeable about the principles that guide the conduct of the AFL. Sadly, you have no idea and it is only prudent to respect your rights to be ignorant at the moment. 

Minister Ziankahn, when you arrogantly threatened political actors with unspecified consequences if they cross your unexplained red line, I immediately thought to question your sense of responsibility and authority. Where were you when former Minister of State, Nathaniel McGill recruited former ex-rebel generals within the National Security Agency? Where were you when those ex-rebel generals threatened civil liberties and issued an open threat to arrest a sitting lawmaker of District#10, Hon. Yekeh Kolubah? These were the real red lines that were crossed, and as Minister of National Defense, and a member of the Joint Security, you did absolutely nothing.

Therefore, you need keep quiet and stop issuing repeated warnings, and blowing the war trumpets. You cannot scare anyone with guns or issue threats when you are not authorized to do so. You are only usurping your function, and if you want to act like a politician, the people will treat you as such.

As an activist, I take your anti-democratic threats and politically motivated warnings very seriously including the intentionality of your action to cause deadly chaos and plunge this country into civil war.

At this time, you should muster the courage to inform the Liberian people about the guns that landed on our seaport that’s under the government’s control, and not the opposition and their supporters. That is the red line that has been crossed, but you sat completely quiet and still refusing to prevail on your colleagues to provide findings on those who brought the weapons onto the shores of Liberia. Liberians deserve an answer, especially from you since you are the only authority to defend our country during war. 

A cardinal responsibility of the AFL is to also protect the territorial integrity of the country, and hearing that guns were illegally brought into the country by unknown individuals should claim your attention. But you have kept completely quiet on this matter. This is purely hypothetical, and it only shows the design of your plans to imprison the democratic WILL of the people, something you will never accomplish.

According to FrontPage Africa, a day after Christmas, a child was murdered where your very AFL personnel are domiciled. Sixteen-year-old Gentle Bryant’s lifeless body was discovered in the Edward Binyan Kesselly (EBK) Military Barracks, on Dec 26, 2022, badly bruised. Instead of sending threats to warn people not to cross the red line, you should be making the findings available to the public on circumstances thst led to the murdered of this child in the army barracks. In this this case, not only the red line was crossed, but an innocent life was taken away. We need justice!

Your repeated anti-democratic warnings are considered threats to our democracy and have claimed our attention. As such, we have begun taking the requisite steps to hold you accountable. It will be a severe political accident to have you preside over the AFL during our election, as evidenced by these repeated inflammatory statements made by you in violation of the National Defense Act of 2008. It is prudent to state clearly that you are appearing to be an endangered species ahead of our elections. Allowing you to continuously make these threats while presiding as Minister of National Defense to direct the AFL during Liberia’s pending general and presidential elections will be a total disaster for the country.

As such, we have officially communicated with the reverent authorities within ECOWAS, AU, the U.S. Department of State, European Commission, European Parliament, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and the Foreign Relations Committees of both houses of the United States Congress.

Our counterparts and the human rights community are taking these early steps to safeguard the peace in Liberia and to stop your provocative and warmongering comments. This communication is also intended to put you on official notice should you dare attempt to usurp your function or abuse your office to take the laws into your own hands during the election. 

In the coming weeks, we will be dispatching our delegations to meet the named counterparts and formally hold talks in addition to the communications that have already been sent. While you are issuing these repeated threats to cause war, make war, and incite the AFL against those who are constitutionally protected to disagree with the government and who might want to exercise their democratic rights guaranteed in article 17 of the Liberian constitution, we will use the law to remind you that Liberia is a country of laws, not of men and women with empty heads. 

Thanks for your understanding and let me assure you of our resolve to make you desist from making these irresponsible, and inflammatory statements that create chaos and lack substance and particularity.


Vandalark Patricks, M.P.A.

Human Rights Defender & Edward S. Mason Fellow 

Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government