UNMIL Departure: The Need for Confidence Retention in Liberia’s Security Sector

David K. Dahn, Assistant Defense .jpg


Analytical Point of Departure

Security is an abstract concept that cannot be measured or weighed by its dimension, but an imperative for societal harmony.  It is a social construct that is described by different scholars who cling to their independent views on contemporary social and political realities. Despite scholars’ dithering views, security is inclusive. Therefore, one can state unequivocally that all citizens share a responsibility for the cohesiveness of their country’s security.

The heightened debate around the country nowadays is the void that is at the verge of being created as a result of the departure of UNMIL peacekeepers from Liberia in some few months from now. Numerically, the groove is going to be too wide and deep to be filled by collective national security architecture. The hard landing by UNMIL 15000 robust forces in 2003 on Liberian shores resuscitated the hope of many Liberians. But that number has long over time began to decimate and it is about to reach an evaporated rate by June 2016. If I may join the skillful debaters I would, with some degree of similitude, begin to ask such questions as the following:

Should Liberians be mute about national security following the departure of UNMIL? The answer is a resounding no. Are the Liberians wronged to express edgy concerns as a result of UNMIL departure? The answer, as before is no. Has the Liberian security sector been latent as a result of the presence of UNMIL peacekeepers in Liberia? Again, the answer is no. Did the larger Liberian population sit idle and watched the UNMIL restored and maintained security through the length and breadth of this country? Like the previous responses, no. With the widest stretch of imagination, will the security structure of Liberia crumble as a result of UNMIL departure from this soil? Again, with utmost humility and as a confidence retention person,  my final rhetorical response  is also no.

UNMIL Departure; Is It Reversible?

Holding all things constant as a result of collective inputs on the part of all major stakeholders in the Liberian peace and security process, all is set for the departure of UNMIL from Liberia. Like one philosopher notes, “History is a brilliant mirror reflecting the reality and the most philosophic text book as well”. So, flipping through the pages of history, one recalls that about 13 years or there about would have elapsed when UNMIL shall have pulled out in 2016. With the departure afoot, we must remember that it has never come in leaps and bounds. The departure plan of UNMIL, from all indications, was phased out in time. In her post captured in the Volume 9 Number 51  May 4, 2015 edition of the FrontPage Newspaper,  Karin Landgren,  Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General and Coordinator of UN Operations in Liberia writes, “ On April 2, 2015, the United Nations Security Council resolved  to resume the phased withdrawal of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The decision highlights the council’s confidence in Liberia both to continue the remarkable job it has done in rolling back Ebola, and to build on the progress made since the deployment of the peacekeeping mission at the end of the civil war in 2003.” Let Liberians not be taken by storm that the final date, no matter how long it would have seemed then, would come. Probably, the population’s proximity and appreciation for the involvement of the peacekeepers in the stabilization of the overall security of the country have dwarfed UNMIL’s almost spanned thirteen years.  However, for the transition plan to succeed, Karen Landgren,  in her suggestive tone, penned down that the Government of Liberia must consistently prioritize security sector and rule-of-law reforms throughout the fourteen months remaining until the handover deadline.( Volume 9 Number 51  May 4, 2015 edition of the FrontPage Newspaper  ). The collective security sector is not oblivious of this fact. That’s while plans are concluded to effect recruitment within the AFL, BIN and the LNP ahead of the departure of UNMIL.

 The AFL Contribution to Confidence Retention and Security Protection

Our interactions with people from diverse backgrounds including politicians, journalists, educators, students, the clergy and ordinary citizens have always pricked the question of the preparedness of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). Their inference, which is right , is that we are best seated and suited to address the concerns  regarding the role of the AFL in the maintenance of security following UNMIL’s departure. At the height of it all, the numerical strength of the current Liberian military force, I have been told,  is a fear brewing factor in post war Liberia. Now, let’s put things into perspective here by looking at the mission of the AFL.  “The primary mission of the AFL shall be to defend the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Liberia, including land, air and marine territory, against external aggressions, insurgency, terrorism and encroachment. In addition thereto, the AFL shall respond to natural disasters and engage in other civic works as may be required or directed.”(New National Defense Act 2008, section 2.3 (a))

The articulation from the New Defense Act clearly and incontrovertibly laid bare the canopy of responsibility thrust to the AFL whether in the presence or absence of UNMIL.  I join the many persons who, by hearing the numerical strength of the AFL, become jittery. But here, your legitimate fear as a patriotic and for gender sensitivity, matriotic citizen, can be allayed within the context of prevailing security realities. Number by itself, if not adequately maintained and sustained over time, turns out to be a source of economic burden and subsequent security threat to any nation. Let’s remember that, that which ‘protects also terrorizes’ thereby leading to un-intended consequences. So, the exponential rise in any force’s strength, particularly the Liberian scenario, calls for the analysis of sundry prevailing threat levels. For examples, within the context of UNMIL departure, is the threat level critical so much so that an attack is expected imminently against Liberia? Is the threat level severe by which measure, an attack is highly likely? Is the threat at a substantial level when an attack is a strong possibility or is the nation experiencing a moderate threat level whereby an attack is possible but not likely? Better still, is the threat level at its lowest ebb that an attack is unlikely? The analysis from a given threat level would  be the determining factor for Liberia’s hard landing , soft landing  or  simply no landing  by the military  in the internal security matters of the country. We can elevate our thoughts further by thinking of the sources of the perceived or real threat to establish whether the threat is from a hostile neighbor or from non-state actors. Additionally,  one would be interested in knowing the scale, if any, of the perceived or real threat to know whether it is on a regional scale,  is it a full blown war, an armed conflict or skirmish that the military force would be called in to quell. When pieced together, the analysis from the strategic, operational and tactical intelligence from these different levels of considerations would then serve as the catalyst in making informed strategic decisions.

Confidence retention in the Liberian security sector, not only the AFL, requires that major stakeholders and the population in its entirety nexus efforts aimed at boosting the morale of all service personnel, providing support that strengthens civil military ( and for inclusivity, civil security) relations and availing the soft and hard elements that will enhance the combat effectiveness of  our national troops. Community support to our security sector is as well critical for the success of the sector. As expressed by Karen Landgren, “Community support is vital to the security transition plan….A successful security paradigm after the UNMIL drawdown requires at least the same degree of community involvement, consultation and cooperation that resulted in Liberia bringing Ebola to the brink of elimination.” (Karen Landgren, Volume 9 Number 51 May 4, 2015 edition of the FrontPage Newspaper)


The   ultimate drive of this paper is to propel the nation, but, particularly key stakeholders in providing intelligent responses to questions regarding the drawdown of UNMIL in a manner that helps our people to avoid self negating or self discomforting prophecy. Security is inclusive, therefore, no matter our religious, political, social or economic dispositions, we all should seek convergence and shelve   divergence on this matter for the common security of our cherished nation. At the level of the Defense Ministry, we encourage broad spectrum of thoughts on whether the departure of UNMIL constitutes automatic security threat to Liberia and if so, is the use of military force the most appropriate and effective means of addressing the threat. Assuring our people through this dossier is good but, it is in the purview of national security authorities to make it better by taking a wider practical approach aimed at enhancing civil military/ security relations and working closely with our neighbors in the Manor River Basin. With sustained national and   international support for the current strength of all security architectures in the country, inclusive of the  Armed forces of Liberia , the law enforcement agencies and other intelligence institutions, capped  by entrenched community  support, Liberians can once again, in the absence of UNMIL, enjoy lasting tranquil  security environment. 


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