Human rights activist, and former Minister of Public Works and Labor, Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods, has challenged soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to become civilian-friendly by attending to the needs of citizens, undertaking development projects and playing roles that add meaning to the lives of people across the country.
Some of the projects Atty. Woods perceived for the AFL to undertake include the construction of roads, schools, homes and other infrastructure and assisting our people when they are victims of any form of disaster such as the EVD epidemic.
He said the deadly EVD outbreak necessitated the debate about the new role our military should play, adding, “We should ready our men and women in arms not only to carry the gun, but to have the brain power to assist our people when they are victims of natural disasters, a health epidemic or other forms of mishaps.”
Atty. Woods believes that humanitarian and development oriented involvement and interaction with communities will be one way that the new AFL can demonstrate that it is serious about reforms, redemption and reconciliation among the population.
Woods’ challenge came against the backdrop of the Commander-In-Chief (C-I-C), President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s 2006 Armed Forces Day Message urging for more support to improve the welfare of the gallant men and women in arms to form part of the reconstruction processes.
Woods said that the AFL needs to increase its local community interaction, “because they are part of our communities, especially the local PHP Community, but we do not feel your presence here.” The BTC military barracks is flanked by Buzzi Quarters and PHP, two slum communities from which many soldiers originate.
“Please develop a community action program for the PHP Community and communicate it well if one is not developed yet,” Woods charged the AFL.
West Point Redemption: Development
No Substitute for Justice
He called on the soldiers to seek redemption and reconciliation with the citizens, especially those who reside in West Point, where the soldiers reportedly shot and killed 16-year-old Shaki Kamara as they (AFL) tried to quarantine members of that slum community, during the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic last year.
For the soldiers to undertake tasks normally assigned to civilian authorities, the AFL, according to Atty. Woods, will be inspiring hope and accrue some trust through a renewed relationship with the community.
“The AFL must return to West Point, this time armed with shovels, diggers, pens, paper and engage in community waste management and sanitation programs, clean up exercises, adult literacy, sporting activities and other initiatives aimed at restoring the broken relationship,” Woods counseled.
The West Point-AFL ‘cordial’ relationship broke down last year August following the shooting incident in which one person lost his life and another wounded in the process of quarantining members of that community against the Ebola virus spread.
According to Atty. Woods, for the AFL to return to the shattered Community of West Point with development initiatives, must not be the substitute for punitive measures and justice, but an attempt to reconcile and restore confidence and mutual trust with their civilian counterparts.
He observed that civilian control of the military requires that the national leadership develop the political will and vision to transform the military and provide the necessary support for its engagement in civil works and other community-based projects that will enhance national development and consolidate the gains of democracy.
Woods speech centered on the theme of the program, “Enhancing the Capabilities of the Armed Forces of Liberia to Conduct Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations.”
He believes that civilian authorities with questionable integrity will undermine the development of the military. Moreover, if the government promotes impunity, “We will subvert the understanding of justice of the military; if we delay or at least ignore our national reconciliation agenda, our unity in diversity of our military will be undercut.”
“A people-centered approach to the transformation of our security must seek to link the national security sector and the society at large, and by focusing on threats to individual’s socio-economic condition and personal security.”
Meanwhile, Atty. Woods said that a comprehensive reform must take into account professionalism and ethics training, encouraging civil-military partnership, supporting democratic governance and dealing with responses to everyday security threats to Liberians.
“We are desperately in need of new knowledge, new discourse, new research as to the nature and character of the state we must build for ourselves. We are in dire need for scholarship and along with it the character necessary to turn our politics of greed and mediocrity into politics of hard work and nobility; our drowning despair into hope, the brokenness into fortresses of prosperity, and our ignorance into outburst of knowledge and creativity,” he said.
According to Mr. Woods, the best vehicle to national revival and renewal is our army, because it is a well-established traditional institution, which embodies those values of our national recovery. The structure of the army, he said, can help redefine the country’s sense of authority and power since it is the one institution that has accelerated the much-needed reforms and has the potential for growth.
He added that civil-military relations should be guided and characterized by winning hearts and minds not brute force and intimidation, because the civilians are the military and the military is likewise since they are recruited from poor communities. “The weapons they own are purchased from our sweat.
They must be used to protect us and enhance our national well being not to humiliate, harass and extort. In civil-military relations, new weapons are deployed. They are the diggers, shovels, heavy earth-moving machines, etc. Our system of government will help the military to improve if we address poverty and national discontent.”