Over 3,865 widows of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) decrying what they consider as “continued neglect” have called on President George M. Weah through the Monrovia City Corporation Mayor, Jefferson T. Koijee, and the Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel McGill, to provide them some food during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Appealing to President Weah recently in an interview with the Daily Observer in Monrovia, Madam Mary Allison said the AFL widows are suffering a lot and do not have any hope of surviving this coronavirus fight and are therefore calling on the national government and other institutions for support.
Madam Allison, who is the chairperson of the Concerned Widows and Children of the AFL, told this paper that they need food and shelter and, if the president can really look after them it will add tremendous value to their lives as widows of the AFL.
“I am in a serious problem with most of the widows because they are calling and telling me they don’t have any food to eat during this whole health crisis. We are appealing to the government through the office of Mayor Jefferson Koijee to please help us with food because our women are stranded and they do not have any food to eat,” she added.
According to Madam Allison, “They will call me on phone to say, Mother Allison, you can try to get to our government officials to fulfill their promise; talk to them to give us little food, it is difficult. Some of them also stop with family members. Even the widows that are selling bottles on Johnson street will no longer sell there because of government restrictions.”
“So, we are appealing to the government to get to our son, Jefferson Koijee, he is the main person who we can always get our ration from, let him try to get to President Weah and talk for us, he and Minister McGill so they can find our food. It is difficult, we are suffering and stranded,” she said.
She added that the widows have been left out in the COVID-19 fight and what “I learned that zogos are getting food. Then why is it that the President cannot take care of us? Right now I am feeling bad because I don’t know what we did to President Weah and we are widows, we don’t have anybody to help us.”
“We are calling on our President, our son, George M. Weah to please look after us as widows. Our husbands them died during the war just to protect this country and now we are left vulnerable,” Madam Allison said.
Also speaking, Madam Musu Kiamu, co-chair of the Concerned Widows and Children of the AFL, made an urgent appeal to President Weah to remember them during these tough times.
“When things were better, the women were up and down in the streets. Now that it is a lockdown, it has become a serious problem for us because we ourselves don’t have it to eat. As I speak, we have nine (9) persons who have died, and it is difficult,” she said. But questions are being asked whether the self-styled AFL widows are justified in their demand in view of its role in the conflict.
Meanwhile, it can be recalled the leadership of the former Armed Forces of Liberia under the leadership of General Hezekiah Bowen declared itself, sought and gained recognition under the 1994 Akosombo Agreement as a warring faction just like other rebel groups that fought each other for 14 years and devastated the infrastructure, economy, and social fabric of the society.
Recalling history, a letter dated 14 October 1994 from His Excellency George O. Lamptey, Permanent Representative of Ghana to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council reads as follows:
“Upon instructions from my Government, I transmit herewith the text of the Akosombo agreement made and entered into on 12 September 19 94, between the three warring factions in Liberia, namely the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) represented by and through its leader Mr. Charles G. Taylor; the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), represented by and through its leader, Lt.-Gen. Alhaji G. V. Kromah; and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), represented by and through its Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. J. Hezekiah Bowen, at Akosombo, Ghana”.
Since the cessation of hostilities and restoration of peace and civil governance in the country, the self-styled AFL widows and members of the disbanded AFL have always pressurized the government to feed and compensate them. The AFL is recorded in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report for committing some heinous crimes during the civil war. They were mainly on the side of President Samuel Doe and were alleged to have targeted different tribal groups mainly the Gio and Mano tribes for extermination.
In their plea, the widows whose numbers, according to sources, appear to continue to multiply have always touted their husbands as people who fought to defend and liberate the country, but from witness accounts given to the TRC, which appear to contradict the narrative that depicts the wartime AFL as heroes, state security were actively involved in killing the very citizens they were sworn to protect and defend according to the TRC Report.
The new AFL is trained by private contractors hired by the United States Government under a UN approved Security Sector Reform(SSR) program.
According to Decision No. 2007/11 of the Secretary General’s Policy Committee, “The objective of a UN approach to SSR is effective, accountable, and sustainable security institutions operating under civilian control within the framework of the rule of law and respect for human rights… The focus should be on executive security agencies, armed forces, police and law enforcement agencies, relevant line ministries, and judicial and civil society oversight bodies”.
But as noted security expert Magnus Malan critically observes:
“In Liberia, the American contribution to the SSR Program is provided through private contractors. While contractors may be good at providing basic and even advanced infantry training, they answer to private sector bosses whose bottom line is profit and are therefore not the ideal role models to instill in the AFL the notion of duty to country and military subordination to a democratically elected government. Indeed, in a country and region where recent history has been shaped by warlords and mercenaries, the U.S. Department of State has shown remarkable insensitivity by sending in contractors to shape the new army.”
Meanwhile against the backdrop of reports of brutality being meted out to civilians by soldiers and allied security officers including the Liberia National Police during this lockdown period, the payment of benefits to AFL widows is fast becoming a controversial issue given that concerns of victims of their current abuse and those of the civil war continue to go unheeded claims a survivor (name withheld) of the Lutheran Church Massacre.
But he readily admits that demands by AFL widows cannot be readily dismissed because the soldiers died defending the state against rebel armies and by reason of such argument, there is a need to find a final solution to this problem which has implications for national security and stability he maintained.