Security Sector Reform in Liberia: A Dismal Failure to Provide Tangible Improvements in Human Security?

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Widespread reports of harassment of civilians by state security forces since President Weah announced quarantine and lock-down measures for the nation on April 8, 2020. Those security agencies singled out by the public for harassment include members of the Motorcycle Union security unit, the Monrovia City Police and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).

So far, the AFL leadership has yet to respond to public reports of harassment by soldiers under its command. Such incessant reports of harassment of civilians have drawn into question the efficacy of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) process undertaken by the UN with strong backup support from the United States of America.

Judging from the conduct of our national security forces, it becomes clear that despite the millions spent on Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Liberia, results achieved therefrom show that SSR has been unable to provide tangible improvements in human security.

According to Decision No. 2007/11 of the Secretary General’s Policy Committee, “The objective of a UN approach to SSR is effective, accountable, and sustainable security institutions operating under civilian control within the framework of the rule of law and respect for human rights… The focus should be on executive security agencies, armed forces, police and law enforcement agencies, relevant line ministries, and judicial and civil society oversight bodies”.

However in Liberia this appears not to have been the case. A March 2008 publication by Mark Malan, a noted security expert and University lecturer, entitled: “SECURITY SECTOR REFORM IN LIBERIA: MIXED RESULTS FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS”, says:

“In Liberia, the American contribution to the SSR Program is provided through private contractors. While contractors may be good at providing basic and even advanced infantry training, they answer to private sector bosses whose bottom line is profit and are therefore not the ideal role models to instill in the AFL the notion of duty to country and military subordination to a democratically elected government. Indeed, in a country and region where recent history has been shaped by warlords and mercenaries, the U.S. Department of State has shown remarkable insensitivity by sending in contractors to shape the new army.”

Given the above, and judging from the overall performance of state security, particularly the AFL, during this quarantine and lockdown it becomes apparent that the AFL strongly lacks a notion of duty to country and people. Else they would not be subjecting the people to a torrent of abuse currently being on local media outlets. In other words the SSR process was in effect a dismal failure.

Through all this it must not be forgotten that public distrust of state security, particularly the AFL, is rooted in the experiences of the past where, rather than defending and protecting the people, they were preying on innocent civilians and subjecting to a host of abuse. These recent developments should draw the attention of the AFL leadership and take immediate corrective action to make the AFL what it should be-“A Force for Good”.

This should also claim the attention of Commander-in-Chief President George Manneh Weah. He should order the AFL leadership as well as the Joint security to probe and investigate reports of abuse by security officers and punish perpetrators as a way of driving home the message that assaults on the dignity of citizens by state security forces will not be tolerated, going forward henceforth.

The consequences of allowing impunity to thrive is potentially dangerous because it could produce a disconnect between the government and the people, which often tends to engender resistance and consequently fatally undermine peace, national security and stability.

If, for example, the shooting to death of little Shaki Kamara by an AFL soldier during the Ebola lockdown of West Point in 2014 did not impart any lessons about the lack of a culture of discipline in the nation’s armed forces, then ongoing reports of harassment by state security, particularly the AFL, should be taken seriously and addressed with dispatch in order to allay public fears of a resurgent AFL.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Keeping law and order by enforcing the emergency stay in place request needs to be handled with great care. If the cost of policing citizens into staying indoors justifies military and police brutality, I am afraid we may be unwittingly sliding toward the cliff edge. You cannot unleash the police out into the streets and give carte blanche latitude to do whatever they please. We are better than that!

    With our very terrible history with Liberian soldiers from the past, I find it absolutely amazing that they’re being sent out to do what ought to be left to peace officers. Forget about the notion of the ‘old AFL’ and the ‘new AFL’. Am I anti-military?No! My concern is we must not let our guards down in being distracted by shiny objects. The distinction between the two is a superficial one of a separation of degrees. Soldiers are trained to be deployed against enemy combatants; ie., armed groups or foreign armies. The moment they come into contact with civilian targets, the killing instinct kicks in and bad things happen. Why, then, in heaven’s name our we then deploying against a mother or father rushing out to buy some food to feed the family? Why??? Do we have to suspend our humanity in the name of limiting the spread of covid 2019? Come on, now!

    We’ re better than that! We’re smarter than that! The government of Liberia needs to recall the Army from the streets at once before things go horribly wrong. I am sure there are fine men and women in the Armed forces of Liberia. Don’t make them the fall guy. When you need to slice an onion, for heaven’s sake, please use a knife. Reserve the bulky chainsaw for trees and logs.

  2. If “the U.S State Dept. has shown remarkable insensitivity by sending in contractors to shape the new army” as Mark Malan correctly noted, it is because EJS enjoying UNMIL protection didn’t give a crap and Americans had compelling reasons to keep the Security Sector ineffectual of a Liberia that was victim of well-documented U.S covert aggressions and would be target of future ones. Slaves weren’t educated for a reason: To keep them ignorant and vulnerable.

    Not surprisingly, the arrangement between her government and the U.S for CIA to build NSA headquarters in Caldwell – which is a taboo – goes on under a new government that never got professional advice on the issue. The overzealousness of people lobbying for Security Sector positions they don’t know anything about and the politicians that enable them put the nation at risk. Any President (after EJS) who wasn’t briefed about the national security failures that got Qwinwonkpa and Taylor into Liberia ought to demand briefings: “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

  3. Greetings:

    1). I shall only refer to the statement regarding”..that President George Weah should institute an investigation into…”

    2). If one is a professional, such as the Minister of Defense, they should not have to be told what to do. It is incumbent upon all professionals to lead their organizations “Towards Professionalism” at all times and upon all occasions.

    3). If anyone who calls themselves a professional leader should fail to lead those they supervise towards self development, then that leader is not a true leader. Those who comes to the organization to work, comes to learn, grow and contribute to the improvement of their country.

    4). Those workers learn and develop the habits of their leaders – what they see their leaders do even by way of “accepting” something that is obviously wrong, they the workers who may know no better adopts the actions of their bosses, because they see it as being proper.

    5). The question is, where are such leaders?

    Kind Regards

    Charles E. King
    Former Deputy Director of Police, CID Affairs
    Liberian National Police
    Republic of Liberia.

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