Human Rights activist and former Public Works Minister, Attorney Kofi Woods yesterday challenged the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to be more civilian-friendly and eschew (avoid, shun) its tragic legacy when it played the role of “terrorist to democracy.”
Fresh in the mind of this year’s Armed Forces Day Speaker were two particular incidents of terror. The first was the AFL’s invasion of the University of Liberia on August 22, 1984 when, led by Samuel Doe’s Defense Minister Gray D. Allison, the heavily armed AFL soldiers stormed the UL’s main campus and stripped naked, brutalized, raped and killed many professors, students and staff and ransacked the campus.
The Daily Observer, too, remembers vividly the horrors of that day, which we covered in detail. Our editorial the following morning cried, “Bleed, Bleed, Poor Country—Great Tyranny”—a line borrowed from William Shakespeare.
Kofi Woods’ second fresh recollection of AFL brutality was the shooting and subsequent bleeding to death last August of the West Point youth, Shaki Kamara.
It was heartwarming to hear Defense Minister Brownie Samukai himself, in his remarks yesterday, apologetically recall that tragic incident, for which he showed contrition (remorse).
The logical and most welcomed denouement (conclusion) to this unfortunate episode is for the government to release the results of the investigation that followed and tell the public what punishment has been meted out to those involved in Shaki’s untimely death and other victims.
A more distant reminiscence (recall) of Attorney Woods was the cruel participation of the AFL’s predecessor, the Liberia Frontier Force (LFF), in hut tax collection in the Liberian interior.
But this is all in the past. Mr. Woods, who told his audience that he had long been a severe critic of the AFL, including even denying the necessity for its very existence, was now full of praises for the men and women in arms. He commended their role in road building, carried out by the AFL’s Engineering Battalion, in the erection of Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) in various parts of the country, and their successful role in peace keeping in Mali.
Recalling, however, the Biblical dictum that “Charity begins at home,” Mr. Woods then challenged the AFL to turn its attention to winning “the hearts of its citizens at home.”
He urged the AFL to start within its own community—PHP [and nearby Buzzi Quarters] and do something to help the people in those slum communities. He also called for the revival of the AFL’s Agricultural Battalion. This could help train Liberian farmers and AFL itself could grow food, in order to enhance Liberia’s food security.
He further dared the AFL to return to West Point, not with guns this time, but with shovels and diggers, copybooks and pencils, to engage in agriculture, clean-up campaigns and house repair as well as adult literacy.
He called these endeavors “the civilianization” of the AFL.
For sure, if the AFL could return to West Point in the way Attorney Woods has suggested,
it would be a tremendous attempt at reconciliation. But beyond that, should the AFL be able to reenergize its Agricultural and Engineering Battalions, they could make their impact felt throughout the country, by helping to improve and expand agricultural activities and to build more farm-to-market roads around the country.
There is a big BUT to all this—and Defense Minister Samukai took pains to emphasize this in his own Armed Forces Day Address yesterday: funding. The Ministry was seriously cash-strapped, limiting it from doing the urgent items on its agenda.
The Defense Ministry was not oblivious to the need for better pay, housing conditions and other emoluments for the men and women in arms—something Keynote Speaker Woods also called for, toward making our military truly professional people. The more professional they become, the better service they would be able to render the country following their retirement, Mr. Woods averred.
But, as Minister Samukai cautioned, none of this would be possible without more money.
We urge the GOL to heed this plea and empower the Ministry and our men and women in arms not so much with military hardware as with money, to professionalize them and turn them into a truly CIVILIAN-friendly force for good.