On last Monday the nation observed the 62nd anniversary of the Armed Forces of Liberia, AFL as a national holiday. The day was set aside as a day of commemoration for all those soldiers who had performed heroic duties in service to the nation. It was meant to inspire others to achieve even more.
The origins of the AFL date back to 1908 when a formal military organization was set up with a charge to patrol the borders of the country and prevent encroachment. The force was also used to collect taxes for the government.
The Liberian Frontier Force (LFF) as it was called at the time, was initially composed of 500 men and officers and it was placed under the command of a British officer, Major Mckay Cadell. He was assisted by a corps of Sierra Leone officers.
In 1909, the LFF under the command of Major Cadell staged a mutiny in demand of salary arrears for the officers serving under Major Mckay Cadell.
The mutiny was however put down by members of the 1st Infantry Regiment, a national militia unit. Further, according to historical accounts, the mutiny was crushed on February 11, 1909. This was during the administration of President Arthur Barclay.
In 1957, an Act of Legislature was passed declaring February 11 of each year Armed Forces Day, to be observed as a national holiday throughout the Republic.
The significance of this year’s celebrations is that it comes after the creation of a new national army following the end of the civil war. Prior to the outbreak of the civil war in 1990 and prior to the April 12, 1980 military coup d’etat, the nomenclature of the country’s military had undergone several changes.
It was first dubbed the Liberia Frontier Force (LFF). And then later it became the Liberia National Guard (LNG) and finally it became officially known as the Armed Forces of Liberia, (AFL).
During the Congo crisis in 1960, a total of 500 Liberian troops served in the United Nations Expeditionary Force in the Congo. Amongst the veterans of that era is retired pilot Prince Page.
Currently the AFL has a company size contingent of troops serving with the UN Peacekeeping force in Mali.
The Daily Observer joins the Commander-in-Chief of the AFL, President George Weah, in wishing that body the best in their endeavors to serve the nation.
However, this newspaper remains conscious of the fact that the conduct of the military during the Liberian civil war and even preceding the war, was less than desirable. The 1990 Lutheran Church massacre, in which over 600 unarmed civilians were killed by soldiers of the AFL, perhaps stands out as the single most significant blot on the image of the AFL.
This newspaper also remains cognizant of the fact that the AFL like any other national institution, needs to be developed just as other institutions of government.
In order to truly transform the AFL into a force for good, the GOL must adequately address the needs of the men and women in arms. Conditions of service, according to some former soldiers are appalling with insufficient or cramped living quarters for soldiers and their families, and low salaries.
Put together, these conditions contribute to low morale and could be a major contributory factor to the high attrition rate the military is currently faced with, according to sources.
Indeed, these are real problems which must be addressed in a timely fashion and with a degree of urgency. This is because, from past experience, we are well aware that the failure to address these basic needs of the military, discontent brews and, if left unchecked, it could open the door to military intervention in national politics.
By all accounts this is a scenario which every well-meaning Liberian should dread, based on the experience of the past. But when a situation obtains where economic conditions worsen, people are catching real hell, yet officials are seen to be plundering the national treasury without remorse and without having to account, the temptation to the military to intervene in national political life becomes very strong. And therein lies the threat to our fledgling democracy.
By all accounts the military is but a microcosm of the larger Liberian society. Whatever affects the Liberian society also affects them.
The Daily Observer thus salutes our men and women in arms on this 62nd anniversary of Armed Forces Day and urges all to live up to the highest standards of professionalism always in the discharge of their duties. Similarly, the Daily Observer calls on President Weah as Commander-in-Chief to address in a timely and meaningful way, budgetary concerns raised by the Ministry of Defense.