My maternal grandfather may have been in his early 20s with great conscious and a sense of patriotism when he was enlisted into the Liberia Fortier Force from its very beginning in 1908. He knew that such a decision was in the best interest of his country and the ideals of its founding fathers. From a small town behind Konia called Boi situated in Zorzor District, he began his journey to do his utmost best to defend the sovereignty and territorial boundaries of the country and make it more unified. His struggle and enormous sacrifices might have been seen as insignificant and little known in the eyes of the then ruling establishment and perhaps scores of Liberians as well as foreigners, but his sacrifices and loyalty will forever remain memorial.
His name along with many enlisted men who willingly joined the Liberia Frontier Force may be forgotten; however, his vigor and zest still persist. His courage to defend, safeguard and ensure tranquility may not be remembered, notwithstanding his voice calls many dedicated men and women to duty. His aspiration to demonstrate a high degree of patriotism in the midst of challenges may not be written in the pages of history for generations to read, although his love for country went beyond the quest to be known or hailed. His disciplinary action, respect for constituted authority, and willingness to give his life for the ultimate goal to make Liberia a better place than what it is now may be overlooked, nevertheless, his action entreats us to do more. His picture and tools may not be seen in any museum in Liberia or around the world; nonetheless, it is imaginarily captured in the minds of many who still follow his lifelong career path.
Having been voluntarily recruited in the rural part of Liberia, he set his eyes on the horizon determined to make significant change in the midst of the odds. He set himself above the greed for power or wealth or status and decided to serve his country first in spite of his individual ambition or quest for self aggrandizement. He set himself apart in something more meaningful with a great sense of loyalty, obedience, and respect for human dignity. His sacrificial and selfless spirit transformed his entire life and created an amazing opportunity.
He was among the privileged few to have been selected to migrate to the nation’s capital. With a high level of intelligence, brilliance and discipline, he gradually rose to pivotal leadership role. It was said that in 1944 during the first inauguration of President William V.S. Tumban, he was one of the many soldiers who paraded on the principal streets of Monrovia. Turning back the time through a mental flight, I can see him smartly dressed in his military outfit and majestically stepping to the rhythm of the band. I can see him turning motions and giving salute. And I can still see him carry out the drilling procedures with confidence, pride, alertness, attention to detail, esprit de corps, and discipline. Under whatsoever climatic condition or constraint, he learned to muster the challenges and kept hope alive.
Full of optimistic and enthusiastic comportment, he refused to allow negativism and perception to change his course of action and passionate commitment to serve his country. He was resolved and focused to right the wrongs where necessary utilizing appropriate channels in seeking redress. His passion for human dignity and belief in freedom and social justice was beyond mere expression of words and facial illustration, but a matter of actions. He endured harsh training under the command of our historic and long-term partner. He walked long distances to execute his duty without finding an excuse or complaining about logistical problem. He stood for nationhood. Besides, he left his comfort zone to selflessly risk his life and demonstrated a deep sense of loyalty and desire for lasting peace and tranquility.
The name Forkpah Vowu might sound funny and perhaps unpleasant and possibly nowhere to be found in any archive or museum or pages of any history book or crafted on any stone; however, my grandfather was indeed a great hero. Old man Vowu had a special affection for his country, a sense of statesmanship, and a spirit of willingness to sacrifice for the common good of the country. He vigorously fought for people across this great land and envisioned a new Liberia that is greater than religion confessed, dialect spoken, county of origin, place of birth or family name. He understood that his country was bigger than the sum of his individual ambition and greater than his quest for material possession.
The story of my grandfather’s colossal and unrecognizable sacrifices made to this “sweet land of liberty” is not only unique to him, but rather many gallant men and women who voluntarily joined the Liberia Frontier Force that later transition to becoming the Armed Forces of Liberia. Their achievements may be little known; however, their passion, patience and perseverance will forever be remembered in the memoir for those who care. Although, my grandfather and most of his colleagues if not all, who were originally enlisted into the frontier force may not be alive, but their legacy still live on and once every year we commemorate Armed Force Day to appreciate and honor our heroes and heroines.
Celebrating the Legacy
On February 11, we will once again celebrate the legacy of our valiant men and women in uniform. As a public national holiday in the country, all government functionaries and private businesses as well as other institutions will remain closed in accordance with the law though with a few exceptions. Liberians from all walks of life will gather around street corners from Barclay Training Center to the bustling Board Street to witness the military parade. All too often, the most fascinating and exciting segment of the parade is that some people follow the parade alongside soldiers and other paramilitary personnel until they return to the starting point. The military and paramilitary officers will be dressed in well-attired uniform. Many onlookers rise to the occasion to pay homage to patriotic men and women who are making the ultimate sacrifices to defend and preserve Liberia’s peace.
The soldiers display their military skills and techniques in front of the Commander-In-Chief alongside a host of other dignitaries. Our courageous men and women demonstrate their preparedness and response mechanism to defeat their adversaries. They unite in spite of their diversity with a sense of common purpose to defend the sovereignty of Liberia. They serve their communities through voluntary initiatives. They build bridges that connect towns, houses that shelter people, clinics that provide healthcare, schools that educate people and foster social services.
With pride, dignity and integrity for the moment they spectacularly march the street regardless of the prevailing circumstances. On this day, the government expends thousands of taxpayers’ resources to beautified barracks, update equipment and purchase state-of-the-art hardware. During the formal program to venerate Liberia’s Armed Forces Day, all sorts of thought-provoking and motivational speeches are delivered and many promises are renewed.
However, this year’s celebration seems very interesting, because it comes at a time when Liberia was able to contribute troop to the United Nations backed peacekeeping force in Mali for the first time in the history of post-war Liberia. It comes at a time when the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is gradually drawing down and in fact plans are on the way to end mission sometime this year. It comes at a time when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has expressed commitment to appoint a new Liberian Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia and make the Army fully operational to take up responsibilities amidst UNMIL departure. It comes at a time when the country is gradually transitioning from a fragile state to a more consolidated nation. And, it comes at a time when the Liberian security sector has got huge challenges most especially human resource capability and logistics. Regardless of the situation, the military display along with all ceremonial practices will be carried out. The scene will be picturesque, but the challenges encounter every now and then by the illustrious men and women in uniform will still persist thereafter.
Beyond the Parade
Armed Forces Day should and must not be a matter of parade or a mere public holiday. It should not be an occasion to deliver grandiloquent speeches or rhetorical pronouncements. It should not be a display of military hardware. It should not be an illustration of military skills and techniques. Instead, it is a ceremony to honor our veterans and extol our sober, mature and gallant men and women in uniform. It is an occasion to appreciate military families for their enormous support to their sons and daughters. It is an event to dedicate new barracks, schools, hospitals and research institutions for the sole purpose of serving our military. Besides, it is a time to ensure that all patriotic Liberians who join the Armed Forces of Liberia and other para-military institutions carrying the Flag of this Republic on their right arms are treated with dignity and respect as well as given all due courtesy in a timely and unique manner.
The family and even those outside the family of the patriotic men and women serving the Armed Forces of Liberia along with other security sector should be accorded opportunity so as to appreciate that it is most honorable to be a soldier, respectable to be a police officer, reputable to be an immigration officer, admirable to be a fire fighter and laudable to serve the country.
The hoaxes and empty promises have got to stop and welfare of the valiant and astute state security personnel must be highly prioritized. The threats and humiliation emanating from presidential appointees and well-connected supervisors can no longer be tolerated and need to immediately end.
The human resource capacity gap, logistical problem and better incentive for the entire security sector need to be taken into serious consideration. The Government ought to increase budgetary allotment and continue to lobby for immense support for the security sector. More state resources should be apportioned for the provision of basic equipment and military hardware. The government must take strenuous measures to regulate and ensure that logistics being provided are utilized in accordance with establish principles and values. State security officers who intentionally and recklessly damage state properties should be investigated and if found guilty be prosecuted to set precedent. Addressing these are ultimately prudent so as to stimulate and motivate promising men and women serving in the security sector to be vivacious, effective, efficient, proactive and responsive in the execution of duties and responsibilities.
It is about time that the Government begins to concentrate on building institutions across this great land that would cater to the security needs of the country. Instead of relying on the one and only Police Academy in Paynesville City, the contemplation of government should be on constructing two or three academies outside Montserrado County. When academies are being erected in the rural parts of Liberia, police officers who graduate will become accustom to the environment and could even be excited to take up assignment in remote areas. Every security agency needs to organize a monthly or quarterly in-service training initiative to enable security personnel to acquire emerging skills and knowledge. Additionally, the national Legislature also must play a pivotal role in consolidating the already fragile peace through appropriate legislations and budgetary allocations that would ensure better living conditions of the selfless men and women in state security uniforms and as well improve the stability of the country even after UNMIL departure.
The Armed Forces of Liberia needs to revitalize its barracks across the country and begins to open technical institutions within the barracks or at ideal location so that soldiers can acquire practical training in various disciplines. The construction of military hospitals and colleges would also be a commendable idea. When soldiers have access to good health care facilities and quality education, the army will be serviceable and in most cases call upon to provide peacekeeping mission in other troubling nations. This will definitely provide exposure and empowerment opportunities for soldiers and more people would want to be enlisted.
With barely few days to yet another Armed Forces Day, it is a fervent hope that my grandfather dream of a professional, trained and well-equipped army will become a reality in the not too distance future.
About the author: Mr. Stephen B. Lavalah is an advocate and the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, non-profit and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization. Visit http://www.liberiayes.org to obtain more information about YES.