Liberia: Poor Regional Relations Responsible for Hostilities’

Liberia’s Defense Minister, Major Gen. Daniel Dee Ziankahn, Jr. (Rtd.)

... Defense Minister Ziankahn says

Daniel Dee Ziakahn, Liberia’s Minister of National Defense, was unequivocal on why the West African region continues to suffer or experience hostilities, mainly those carried out by military dissidents, because of dissatisfaction or poor cross-border relationships between or among regional member countries.

Minister Ziankahn made the comments when he appeared on Spoon Talk, a popular Liberian evening talk show yesterday.

According to Ziankahn, the 14-year civil unrest that took place in Liberia was a direct result of the country not having good rapport at the time with its neighbors.

“We fought wars here because we had a bad relationship with our neighbors. I can sit now and call the defense ministers of our neighboring countries. Even though the Guinean military has overthrown the president of that country, they are still our friends. We must keep engaging them because we share common borders and we have many things in common,” he said.

At a meeting of regional heads of states, following the coup d’etat in Guinea, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to sanctioned Guinea due to that country’s military having overthrown its President, Alpha Conde and the coup-makers’ refusal to immediately return to civilian rule.

President Conde, who had begun serving a third term, was seriously opposed not only by his critics but also the international community and, in the end, he suffered a military takeover, especially headed by Col. Mamady Dumbouya, his once trusted and loyal soldier.

The Liberian Defense Minister emphasized that Liberia’s separate civil wars each took place because those in charge of governance then failed to ensure that Guinea, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone, trusted them and assured security. 

“This is why Guinea, Ivory Coast and, at another time, Sierra Leone, provided the environments for dissidents to train and invade Liberia as rebels. We were at war with each other and that was not good for our region,” Ziankahn said. 

Minister Daniel Dee Ziankahn is a retired Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), having attained the rank of Major General. He was decommissioned from the nation’s most senior military post and appointed Minister of Defense by President George Manneh Weah on the day of his inauguration.

For Ziankahn, military science and practice are not all tactical, as his soldiering career has allowed him to deeply understand the political, economic and social dynamics of regional security, from whence he speaks. 

The interview with the Minister was prompted by a recording on which the current Chief of Staff of the AFL expressed disdain at the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel D. Tweah, over what appeared to be a denial of priority financial support for the Liberian peacekeeping contingent in Mali. However, Minister Ziankahn was quick to inform his interviewers that the AFL’s issue with the Finance Minister had been resolved. 

However, Ziankahn used the AFL’s peacekeeping activities as an example to underscore Liberia’s strategic role not just regionally, but for its own sake. His message was simple: with insurgencies and terrorism on the rise no country can single-handedly guarantee its citizens total security unless that country has good rapport with its neighbors.

“Our borders are porous. If we do not have a good relationship with our neighbors, we will be exposed to serious security threats. This is why we should keep participating in peacekeeping missions in other countries. If we fail to do so, other countries might never want to risk the lives of their citizens — military or not — for us,” he noted.

Ziankahn said that another factor responsible for peace among military personnel, even the governments of the day, is better welfare of the military.

“I don’t see our military emulating our Guinean or Malian counterparts who staged coups and overthrew their leaders. The conditions that necessitated those actions are not prevalent in Liberia,” he explained, indicating, however, that the AFL is by no means in an ideal situation.

“There are challenges ranging from lack of twenty-four hour electricity supply in our barracks to logistical issues but, again, there are some gains made over the years since our country returned to democracy,” the Defense Minister averred.

He continued that although the beginning amount as salary for soldiers is US$125 or US$150 plus a 25kg bag of rice per soldier, he is hopeful that there will be improvement.

“Military welfare is not only about the soldier in uniform, but his or her dependents too. This is why we are hoping that more is done to meet up with some of the major concerns. The President gave us ten vehicles and that is laudable. The first lady has built a vocational school for our women and children and that is also commendable,” Ziankahn said. 

The AFL and Politics

Meanwhile, the Defense Minister said the army remains a non-political institution. According to him, the AFL is not a unit of any political party and everyone in the country should continue to trust and believe that it is a force for good.

“We will not get involved with the elections. The Police and other paramilitary security agencies will continue to be in charge of elections security. We will not get involved unless it has to do with ensuring there is peace and order [when] the Police are challenged or overwhelmed. We will come in, when only necessary, to help keep a free flow of traffic and people going about their normal activities.”

The Defense Minister said it is his prayer that political parties conduct themselves responsibly during elections for the good of the country.

“We will not be there determining who wins or not. We are soldiers and we don’t meddle with politics,” he stressed.

Although he did not say what has been the AFL’s previous fiscal budgetary allotment, Ziankahn said the AFL’s current budget is US$3 million, and hopes it increases in the next fiscal year.

He reported that the AFL has a good relationship with the U.S. military and he is grateful that most of the AFL personnel have received training through the relationship with the U.S. military.

In addition to the soldiers’ welfare, he expressed his anticipation for the Weah administration to build recreational centers, including a sports park for the AFL.