Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia

His Excellency Joseph Nyema Boakai, Vice President, Republic of Liberia

Mr. Speaker and Members of the National Legislature

His Honor, Chief Justice and Members of the Honorable Supreme Court

Dean and Members of the Cabinet

Doyen and Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Chief of Staff and Members of the Armed Forces of Liberia

Heads of Public Corporations, Academic Institutions

Traditional Leaders, Elders, Eminent Citizens, Women, Youth, Students

Distinguished Guests, Ladies, Gentlemen

Members of the Press

People of Liberia

Allow me to join all of you in paying tribute to one of our own soldiers who succumbed to the cruel hands of death recently and others who fell victim to the EBOLA Tragedy: General Abdul Rahman, Former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia. General Abdul-Rahman was a Soldier’s Soldier: A humble man but a man of candor. I am honored by the privilege of interacting with him.  I got to know him not as a soldier but as a friend. He was known as a soldier only when he wore his military uniform.  This “Great Liberian” deserves a memorable honor.

Honorable Minister of Defense, Chief of Staff and Men and Women of the Armed Forces of Liberia: May I now ask, to what temptation have I been invited?

Today is your natal day marking 107 years of your existence and 58 years since this day was set aside by the National Legislature to recognize you all as the defenders of our sovereignty.

I admire your courage to invite me to your birthday celebrations. I am one of your most vocal and un-repenting critics; and in a country where critics and those who dissent are considered enemies only to be excluded, demonized and to a large extent condemned as a heretic, I see this as a rare act of courage, humility and a new sense of the definition of power and authority. Most often, you invite your friends and well-wishers to your birthday celebrations. Although, in this case, this is a national celebration, you appear determined to entertain diverse opinions on how you can better serve our country and restore the confidence of our people: This underlines your commitment to reform and renewal.

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.

This position is borne out of your legacy and your history: A history of fear, lack of trust, and suspicion. Fear because the military have always represented the power of a repressive government and therefore ordinary citizens are often fearful of any increased presence of the armed forces.  What I call the “Sins of your Fathers”.

Some Historical Reflections

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.

The Liberian military formally started as the Liberian Frontier Force in 1908. It was a “national constabulary” mandated to protect international borders, maintain public order, assist in the State’s expansion into the “hinterland regions” and in the collection of public taxes (hut tax). There is extensive documentation of widespread abuse and untold injustices to rural Liberians for many decades. In 1909, the National Legislature enacted the LFF Reorganization Act, mandating that the military force shall be utilized in scientific service such as the mapping of the interior, the exploration of rivers and watersheds and laying out of roads from the interior to the coast and perform such other duties of a scientific and economic character as the President may require to be done.

In 1962, the Engineer Battalion was created in order to carry out the scientific and engineering duties. The Engineer Battalion participated in building of Farm- to-Market roads and sponsored by Government in the 1970s. I have seen some of their work in various parts.

In 1981, Agriculture Battalion was also created in order to produce food not only for the Army but also for the entire civilian population. Great vision, Great Ideas! No Sustained Action!

Historians documented that LFF was alienated from our people and was used against them. 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 therefore was seen as a vehicle of the political establishment using brute force and naked power to penetrate the interior of Liberia. The character of the military was then a place for societal rejects and way-wards. Its recruitment procedures were questionable. Our people were afraid of the national army because it visited upon them, mayhem and destruction.

Though reforms were attempted in the last decades of the 20th century, the new Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) remained for long time a tool for regime (as opposed to State) security.

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. We have all learned that GUNS DO NOT PROTECT OR PROMOTE DEMOCRACY. GUNS TERRORIZE DEMOCRACY!

As a young student, I confronted the military on several occasions, was arrested and detained, my colleagues were arrested and tried by the military tribunal and then the August 22, 1984 invasion of the University of Liberia by the military: an attack on academic freedom.  During the civil war, our army emerged as a faction. It reportedly committed equally untold atrocities as the warring factions.

Over the years of my personal development and my personal understanding of the development of the Liberian State, the military has been a key factor in this development process. As a state initially developed on a false premise, the military found itself a liability rather than an asset to our development process.

So we cannot ignore our history as we set out to rebuild our nation and thus the need to deliberate on the role of the Army in our current dispensation.

I therefore applaud your rare act of courage and humility to invite me both as a sign of redemption, a sign of reconciliation and commitment to reforms as I endeavor to share my thoughts and reflection on the


The Armed Forces of Liberia must be commended for this new thinking.  A vision built on such a strong premise will certainly transform the AFL into a modern army fulfilling all of the dictates of both domestic and international standards.

The restructuring program of our army started few years ago and was further pursued under the Accra Peace Agreement of 2003. This process continues and now forms a part of the overall security and defense sector reform programs. Hence, this new thinking must be informed by varying factors.

  1. Post Conflict Liberia: A national call for reforms: a new structure, policy and program, new progressive thinking and policy initiatives including compliance to new regional and international protocols.
  2. Post Coup Africa: The universal rejection of unconstitutional changes of governments and the threat of sanctions on erring nations. The army is now compelled to focus on other issues of state and subordinate itself to civilian authorities in the consolidation of democracy. The growing influence of the International Criminal Court and International Justice Framework is also a factor.

3. A Global demand for a more comprehensive security/defense sector transformation program, which takes into account a policy framework, vetted nationally with various stakeholders; new recruitment strategy, and the strengthening of the capacity of the institution. This new approach demands new ideology and philosophy that will rebrand our army making it a modern entity both at home and abroad.

In her first Armed Forces Day Message in 2006, President Johnson Sirleaf envisioned a nation building army. It is indeed what this country needs. But what exactly is a nation-building army.

According to the US Pentagon nation building “refers to a range of activities which include: repair, maintenance or construction of economic infrastructure and of health infrastructure, water and sewage facilities. They can also include training and assistance to Police, the military, the judiciary and prison officials as well as other civil administrators.”

The history of the military involvement in humanitarian assistance dates back to the Napoleonic period.  The concept of establishing martial law over civil populations was developed as a means of structuring this involvement in a post-conquest period. While most European armies of the period pursued only a limited security objective with martial law, Napoleon and the French revolutionary armies saw it as a means of changing the social structure and bringing the benefits and new social order of the French Revolution to the occupied territories. (That they failed is a lesson to be learned.)

Post-World War II Europe witnessed what was perhaps the most extensive use of the military in civil affairs. It is important to recognize the influence this had both on military doctrines of civil involvement and on development of the international relief system and the approaches that relief agencies have used since that time. The task that faced the Allies in the aftermath of the war was enormous. Virtually an entire continent had to be administered. Vestiges of the Nazi regime had to be eradicated, whole populations had to be reunited or resettled and economies rejuvenated. Civil government and the rule of law had to be reestablished and entire civil administrations restructured.

The role of the military was expanded as never before. The public administrative function was perceived as so important by the Allies that special attention was given to recruiting civil administrators, city planners, urban development specialists, and hundreds of persons skilled in operating the systems of modern cities and their governments.

The military can be deployed after natural disasters, at the conclusion of a conflict, in peace-keeping, point relief, in humanitarian interventions and cross border operations.

One must also commend the Armed Forces of Liberia for the progress it has made thus far locally by intervening in assisting some communities and its latest triumph in its star peacekeeping role in Mali. I must advise, however, that if you are applauded abroad you must seek to win the hearts of your citizens at home.

Civilian authorities turn to the military for help in humanitarian operations for several reasons, among which the most obvious may be their physical assets. The military is often regarded as a cornucopia of assistance. Among the most sought-after assets are transport (land, sea and air); fuel; communications; commodities including food, building supplies and medicines; tools and equipment; manpower; technical assistance (especially logistics and communications) and facilities, aerial photographs, etc.

Relief authorities know the military has the capability of providing these on request and, in a resource-poor post-disaster environment, it is not unreasonable for authorities to request them. Since many of the items are commonly stockpiled and since civil disaster agencies have few stockpiles of their own, especially in the developing countries, demands can be quite extensive.

There are some challenges in humanitarian operations coordinated by the military: Conflicting Values in Emergencies, Nuances of Involvement, The Mantle of Neutrality, Humanitarian Assistance vs. Pacification and Operational issues.

What makes the military so efficient in the first place, that is, its highly centralized control system. Its hierarchy is designed to facilitate control and centralize authority. But in a disaster, people need to get together and develop collective responses. A military hierarchy of decision-making can discourage and inhibit this process.

Seemingly, there is a place in the “new” Liberian military for a humanitarian and disaster relief mission or component that stands in need of enhancement.

In 1981, the AFL was deployed in one of the first major disaster crisis in history, which occurred at Noway Camp in Mano River. The second major involvement of the AFL was the Ebola crisis in 2014.

Beyond the normal periodic improvements in such outfits, one wonders whether there is some recent occasion that prompts the need to think “enhancement.”  Evidently, the Ebola crisis that raged in the second half of 2014 is that occasion. The performance of the military, notably in the West Point Incident left much to be desired. And the subsequent reaction of UNMIL to that incident coupled with that of the Mission of the U.S. Military to support GOL’s efforts in containing the epidemic, all underscore the need to examine the role of our military as regards “humanitarian and disaster relief.”

Like on August 22, 1984 when it invaded the University of Liberia, it was in August 2014 when the AFL was instructed to enter the West Point Community to ensure that a quarantine order would be respected and that the safety of our people assured. We watched and witnessed a sad and tragic event. One of our citizens: a young boy was shot and he died subsequently. IT WAS A GRIEVIOUS WRONG! IT MUST BE CORRECTED! That incident reminds us all of the conversations we need to have as to the role of the Army in our national development endeavors and how we deal impunity in this new thinking.

If there is to be no repeat of this sad event and the military is to serve people in community in “humanitarian and disaster relief” situations, the following general principles need affirming or incorporating into Guidelines for the Liberian military. AND SUCH GUIDELINES NEED TO BE MADE PUBLIC.

1. The military should be used in such situations as a “last resort,” but even so there must be enhanced understanding and effective communication between the military and humanitarian professionals at all levels. One cannot overemphasize the importance of inter-organizational communication and coordination during military engagements in “permissive and uncertain environments.”

2. There is prior need to establish a basic framework for formalizing and improving the effectiveness and efficiency in relief situations. As such, the basic humanitarian principles of HUMANITY, IMPARTIALITY and NEUTRALITY should be inculcated in the mindset of our military.

Humanity: Alleviating human suffering, particularly the most vulnerable in the population – children, women, the elderly, persons with disabilities, etc.

Neutrality: Guarding against hostilities of a political, ethnic, religious or other social character.

Impartiality: Guarding against discrimination (when delivering humanitarian assistance) as to ethnic, gender, religious or other considerations.

A national policy framework must be developed and properly communicated throughout the rank and file of the military. Our men and women of the Armed Forces must be properly trained and informed that there are local and international consequences for violations and those punitive measures must be enforced.

The recent out-break of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease; necessitate the debate about the new role our military should play. This new role means that 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 disaster, a health epidemic or other forms of mishaps; as happened and is happening in our country in regards to EVD.

We need engineers who can built and maintain our road networks, we need doctors and nurses who can go to the remotest part of our country and attend to the sick where ever they reside; we need teachers who are committed to the education of our children; these are all roles that can be played by our army. This new army must engage our people in ways that add meanings to their lives in terms of attending to their needs. This will certainly endear them to our people. Therefore, the capacity building that is so much talked about need to find expression with the rank and file of our national army. The men and women who join our armed forces need to develop leadership skills and abilities. This is one of the many ways our State can invest in its citizenry.

My Dear Friends, while we celebrate more than a decade of peace, we as a nation have to re-dedicate ourselves to the building of a sustainable peace and the construction of an enduring democratic order. To achieve these two cardinal principles, the role of the army must be defined and pursued. The national army is made up of our citizens, those who take the solemn pledge to defend our people and protect our territorial integrity. As a result, they must embody the best principles this nation holds. A principle, which speaks to the inherent dignity of the human person.

Our political leadership and citizens must participate to form credible, holistic sector roadmap to include: defense, police, intelligence agencies, court system, public and government. Communication between civilian authorities, communities and security professionals, respect for human rights; such reform will ultimately help build or produce accountable government and responsible security sectors that provide the foundation for economic development and opportunity. This process requires Local ownership to ensure that we design, manage and implement.  It must involve people at all levels of the justice sector and those outside, this will bolster legitimacy, political sensitivity, and holistic vision and address technical complexity. It will encourage effectiveness balanced with accountability. Accountability requires checks and balances to make sure laws are followed to avoid abuses.

In our current environment where national reconciliation remains an unfinished business, stigma of injustice and impunity requires a code of conduct, a more aggressive legislative oversight, judicial review and civilian review groups, religious groups, and media, NGOs to provide informal accountability.  

Accordingly, we must ensure the best atmosphere in which our national army is nurtured and built. As we strive to build a responsible citizenry, we must at the same time make sure that not only do our men and women in arms are professionalized but are enabled to contribute to our nation building process.

This means that we should invest in building the capacity of our men and women in arms. Professionalization does not only mean that our men and women in arms conduct themselves according to the existing military doctrine and the command structure, it also means developing their abilities, their minds so that they too, can actively participate in the reconstruction of our country. We need our men and women in arms to be trained as medical doctors, nurses, engineers, policy analysts, teachers amongst other professions. We as a nation cannot afford to have able-bodied men and women waste away while we continue to make the claim that ours is a nation without skilled personnel.

They must be provided better conditions of service, to live to work in dignity like others. They must be given benefits and assurances when they retire from public life and service. I have had the opportunity to visit our borders and see first hand the conditions of our Joint Security Team. The conditions to which they are subjected are deplorable. Housing, salaries and other conditions of work must be addressed as a matter of urgency. These are the men and women we depend for our security.

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 center 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 arms are only trained to fight wars but are trained as well to improve the living conditions of their fellow Liberians. Our armed forces must play a meaningful role in humanitarianism in our country, in our region and within our continent. They need to acquire the requisite skills to be able to achieve such tasks.

This then means that our military and civilian leaders need to cooperate. The security and reconstruction of our country is a necessity whose time has come. The real security of our people is dependent on their abilities to see in their living conditions as an active intervention by the State. We cannot anticipate a loyal citizenry when the State is not actively involved in the delivery of social services especially during periods of calamity such as we are witnessing at the moment.

Thus the moral imperative that is upon us is to use all of our existing institutions, including the military to hasten the delivery of social services to our people. The military in the post Ebola Liberia must be viewed as an ally in this venture. That is why, we need to develop and train our men and women in arms to acquire professional expertise in the various disciplines so central to our nation building efforts – that can bring dignity to our people. As my parents always cautioned me: “Knowledge once gain is never wasted”.  Indeed an army with knowledge in how to improve the material conditions of our people is an investment that we as a nation must make and make now.

My Final Thoughts

The New Armed Forces of Liberia is attempting to demonstrate that it is serious about reforms, redemption and reconciliation. Its recruitment diversity, its recent success at peacekeeping initiatives in Mali, civil initiatives in our communities is all commendable undertakings.  Madam Commander-in-Chief, Mr. Minister of Defense, Chief of Staff, Men and Women of the Armed Forces, you have done your best and made your contributions too.

However, CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME. The Armed Forces of Liberia needs to increase its local community interaction.  You are part of our communities especially the local PHP Community but we do not feel your presence here. We see what appears to be local garrison that continue to instill some fears.  Please develop a community action program for the PHP Community and communicate it well if one is not developed yet.

We must seek redemption and reconciliation with the citizens especially those who reside in West Point. We cannot resurrect young Shaki Kamara and other victims, we cannot pay reparations but we can inspire hope and accrue some TRUST DIVIDENDS 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. This is not the substitute for  punitive measures and justice but an attempt to reconcile and restore confidence and mutual trust. As a son of West Point, I avail myself to facilitate this process. As I call for the end of impunity, I offer my own character for scrutiny where my stewardship in public service do so require.

Civilian Control of our 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 process that will enhance national development and consolidate the gains of democracy. This is what I call the CIVILIANIZATION OF THE MILITARY.

Civilian authorities with questionable integrity will undermine the development of our military.  If we promote impunity, we 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. We must do our share. We must develop the political will and courage to lead and take responsibility for our actions. We must act against friends and allies who break the law and violate the public trust. To build a new future: we need a new value order. A radical paradigm shift on how we govern and lead. We must be true servants of our people. By this we set good examples for our men and women in arms.

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. A comprehensive reform will take into account professionalism and ethics training, encouraging civil-military partnership, supporting democratic governance and dealing with responses to everyday security threats to our citizens.

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.

The best vehicle to national revival and renewal is our army. It is a well-established traditional institution, which encapsulates and embodies those values of our national recovery. Its structure can help redefine our sense of authority and power. It is the one institution that has accelerated the much-needed reforms in Liberia and has the potential for growth.

Civil-military relations should be guided/characterized by winning hearts and minds not brute force and intimidation. We are the military and the military is we. They are recruited from the poor communities. They know about transportation fares, school fees, costs of goods and services. 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.

In your legacy lie fears of brutality and a history of extortion and intimidation. You must now invest in a rebranding and reshape your new image, improve your communication and interaction with our people, your own people. Your attitude, your sense of power and authority must be radically altered to rebuild trust and restore confidence.

The transformation of our military will require partnership. The International Community (US, ECOWAS, AU, other partners) continues to assist us with training, equipment and logistical support. Their interest manifest or latent can impact our future. In a globally connected world, regional and international security will affect our policy decisions. The pending drawn down of UNMIL and the departure of the US Military Ebola Mission must consider the new standards, perception and action they have imposed on our nation. You have displayed your capacity for effective and efficient delivery. How do you intend to depart? Will we have a specialized ward at JFK, a clinic/hospital for our military? I recommend that a comprehensive transitional plan be developed knowing that one is already being developed. It must include all of the necessities to make our army proud and transformed. Our own army needs to be prepared to deal with our health and other forms of humanitarian crisis or disasters. In this, you too, will reconcile with our country.

“Shakespeare mentions in Julius Caesar. Where the dialogue between Brutus and Cassuis ensued: “We, at the height, are ready to decline. There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in the shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat; and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures”.

Finally, Commander-in-Chief, Minister of Defense, Chief of Staff, men and women of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Dear Friends, The military will not be prepared to actively engage in humanitarian and disaster relief activities if the dreams and aspirations of these men and women remain unfulfilled. If their dreams are unfulfilled the dream of Liberia will be unfulfilled. We must seek to ensure that their dreams of a better life, better pay, improved skills, decent houses and other benefits are improved consistent their dignity. They travel on peacekeeping missions and interact, here in Liberia they are interacting with the US Military. The Military can help with Revenue generation:  Protection and surveillance of our exclusive economic zones, shipping lanes, protecting the energy sector, protecting fishing rights, rapid response to maritime threats, peace keeping operations; responding to the new security challenges both regionally and internationally.  We need to engage each other and reconcile our nation.

We can all see that even your critics must be heard, for in understanding your critics you can discover friendship and appreciate your imperfections.

I wish you a pleasant anniversary. Thank you for your invitation!


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