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.