Former Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods yesterday recalled that he had long been against Liberia having a standing army by declaring, “Guns do not protect or promote democracy but guns terrorize democracy.”
Delivering the Keynote Address at the 58th Armed Forces Day Celebration at the Barclay Training Center (BTC) on Wednesday, Mr. Woods told his audience, “Over the years of my career, I have supported the demilitarization of the state and campaigned against increased military expenditures and architecture at the expense of other social services.
“At my Truth and Reconciliation Hearings few years ago, I called for the dissolution of the army and frowned on huge US support to the Liberian Military over the years and during the restructuring phase, suggesting that similar resources be diverted to health and education as well as other social services. We have an opportunity to now reflect together,” he said.
“This position,” according to Att’y Woods, “is borne out of the army’s legacy and its history: “A history of fear, lack of trust, and suspicion. Fear because the military has always represented the power of a repressive government and therefore ordinary citizens are often fearful of any increased presence of the armed forces.”
Att’y Woods, who is also a human rights lawyer and activist, said he is having the suspicion because of the “Sins of your Fathers,” referring to past behaviors of soldiers of the army and their paymasters.
Giving historical reflections, he said, “We are reminded of the origin of our military and the role it has played historically as we constructed our nation. “As you may be aware, the forerunner of the Armed Forces of Liberia was the Liberia Frontier Force (LFF). The LFF did not serve the interest of the vast majority of Liberians. Instead, it preyed upon them. Its successor, the AFL, did not do better.”
The military was therefore seen as a “vehicle of the political establishment using brute force and naked power to penetrate the interior of Liberia,” said Woods.
According to him, the character of the military was then a place for “societal rejects and way-wards.” He disclosed that its recruitment procedures were questionable, not elaborating further on it, however. “Our people were afraid of the national army because it visited upon them mayhem and destruction,” he added.
Further supporting his argument, he reminded everyone that in 1980, the AFL conducted a coup d’état that resulted in a military dictatorship. “It polarized our nation and people. Most, if not all of us, are witness to this history.”
But Att’y Woods,
The Human Rights advocate, disclosed that he hoped to see the AFL having an army that will be engaged in development activities such as constructing roads, engaging in agriculture and providing medical services, amongst others.
“Our military barracks must be transformed into citadels of learning. When we recruit young men and women to serve our country, they should be offered the opportunities to obtain the highest form of learning our nation can offer.
“Our barracks must be centers of learning and excellence. Those who enter our army must, as a matter of national urgency, be assured that by the time their military service to the nation is ended, they can be deployed into other professions and contribute to the nation building process. In other words, it is not sufficient that our men and women in the army are only trained to fight wars but are trained as well to improve the living conditions of their fellow Liberians.”
All efforts to reach the Chief Public Affairs Officer of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Captain. Dessaline F. Allison, to obtain the AFL’s reaction to Att’y Woods’ assertions were unsuccessful as his mobile phones were switched off.