Who should know better than Defense Minister Brownie Samukai that Liberia's borders are NOT secure, especially as we witness the final draw down of the United Nations Military in Liberia (UNMIL) forces?
The Defense Minister is UNMIL's closest government collaborator in Liberia. UNMIL is a military force. And who is in charge of the military in Liberia? Defense Minister Samukai. So when he speaks about military and security incapacity, everyone should listen.
Our Presidential Correspondent, William Harmon, quoted Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai as saying last week that the security apparatus of Liberia "is not prepared to take charge of protecting the nation's territorial integrity and people as the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) gradually takes its exit from the country."
We consider this a very serious warning.
The Defense Minister said his concern stemmed from the porous state of the Liberian borders being manned by ill-equipped immigration and police officers who he said could not defend themselves in case of any eventuality.
Speaking at the turning over ceremony of two small arms and light weapons making machines donated by the European Commission (EC) and other partners to the Liberia National Commission on Small Arms (LiCSA), Minister Samukai, in a keynote address, told the nation, "If we do not provide those capacities to the security agencies, it would limit our ability to carry on the kind of confident actions that one would expect from law enforcement agencies.
He explained that there were immigration officers currently assigned at very porous borders in areas prone to conflict doing their jobs totally unarmed.
"We have police officers from the PSU —and in some cases the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), "who are responding to security situations at those borders without weapons; it is not advisable for this situation to continue."
Minister Samukai noted that as Liberians consider the development of their country, they need to consider the fact that, "Security officers that we all rely on for protection cannot protect themselves when they are challenged."
The question is, how long will it take for this government to heed the call of our Soldiers, Police and Immigration Officers for appropriate arms, communication and transportation equipment?
The needs of these vital personnel at our borders are nothing new. Since the incipience of this administration, and long before, these security officers–Police, Immigration and Army–have been complaining about the lack of logistical equipment and facilities to empower them properly to execute their assignments. Their problems are not strange to the government. These personnel have over many years complained about the lack of equipment, including communications, transportation and arms to do their work; and as long as they complain, nothing happens.
No one has to ask why these military paramilitary personnel need these supplies. Nearly two years ago when armed Ivorian rebels attacked their government posts on their side of the border and fled into Liberia, the Ivorian government immediately blamed the incursions on Liberian soldiers, until it became clear that Liberians had absolutely nothing to do with the problem. Liberia was forced to close the border with Côte d'Ivoire for more than a year. Most recently again, the same thing happened, and that government again blamed Liberia.
There is another very serious problem: immigration. Does this government not know that thousands of foreign nationals cross our border each month and eventually consider themselves as Liberians? This is a very serious security risk. The problem is that so long as our border security personnel are not equipped, so long will they be exposed to cross-border insecurity, so long will other nations blame Liberia for cross-border troubles; so long will Liberia be threatened by foreign incursions and unwanted aliens that will threaten our internal security and exacerbate our immigration problems.
We call on the Liberian government, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in particular and her finance people to provide the financial resources to equip our border personnel with the necessary equipment and other logistics in order to effectively man our borders. We should not wait for a major crisis before we take the necessary action.
We have enough experience to realize that this business of emergency reaction to crises will not do. That certainly is not the way an old independent republic–the oldest on the block–should behave.