Barely days following the Daily Observer’s April 17, 2020 editorial entitled “Security Sector Reform in Liberia: A Dismal Failure to Provide Tangible Improvements in Human Security?”, reports have once again surfaced of the violence and brutality accompanying Police interaction in West Point and with citizens in faraway Grand Kru County.
According to reports from that county citizens in that area have complained incessantly but to no avail about the barrage of abuses being meted out to them by state security particularly the Police. Such behavior on the part of law enforcement officers have also drawn the attention of the Grand Kru County Assistant Superintendent for Development, Joe Sekpeh, who has acknowledged receipt of reports of brutality against peaceful citizens perpetrated by members of the Buah District Joint Task Force headed by one Josiah Sloh Nagbe. Citizens from the area have identified a Derrick Nimley as perpetrator of the most recent case of brutality meted against the two victims, Abel Sleh and Tom Sleh.
Latest reports from that area as carried in the April 21, 2020 edition of the Daily Observer say angry youths in Tabue, Buah District, Grand Kru County have physically assaulted Police officer and flogged him mercilessly in retaliation for the alleged brutal flogging of two men, Abel Swen Sleh and Tom Sleh, for merely sitting before their house after the official 3:00 PM lockdown hour.
In a related incident, a Police Officer in West Point has also reportedly been flogged by a mob of angry residents allegedly in retaliation for abuse suffered at the hands of Police officer Sudue who, according to residents, has virtually been a law unto himself.
Observers say anger and frustration have been brewing in West Point since the destruction of their market stalls at the beginning of the Lockdown measures against the COVID-19 on April 10, 2020. Such pent-up anger and frustration at the loss of income occasioned by the destruction of their stalls may have likely provoked the violent reaction against the Police officer in his attempt to enforce lock-down measures.
Whatever the case may be, the Daily Observer warns that such developments need to be given urgent attention by this government in the face of glaring failure of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) process to address concerns of poor discipline and lawless behavior by state security forces and their very poor relations with the civilian population who they are duty bound to respect, protect and defend.
The Daily Observer notes that while these incidents may appear isolated, it is important to recognize that such reported citizen retaliatory action against state security, if not handled with reasonable dispatch, could become infectious and possibly morph into wider resistance and eventually open rebellion against the state (GoL). The possibility or likelihood of such eventuality obtaining, should be avoided at all costs.
The fact that GoL appears impotent to stem the tide of invasion by illicit miners from neighboring countries and even further afield attests to the general weakness of the state and its ineffectual response to and weak capacity to provide effective governance over it natural resources. These are indeed serious problems to which this government must turn its attention.
Security Sector Reform must be given a new meaning to mean and include respect for the rule of law, commitment to country and absolute and demonstrated respect for human rights. Such new meaning cannot be infused or injected into our reform efforts by private contractors with little or no sense of commitment to make the AFL and other state security institutions respectful of the Constitution of Liberia, the rights of the people and ultimate defenders of their civil liberties.
A similar plea goes to the Government of the United States of America to draw lessons from the failure of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) to contain the NPFL rebellion in 1990. In the face of these experiences, what guarantee can this government provide that the AFL as constituted will defend and protect the people and not harass, kill or loot their personal belongings? The international community especially the UN should draw lessons from the SSR process which was handled under its watch.
Now that it has become clear that their much vaunted SSR has amounted to colossal failure and such failure is exacting its toll on ordinary Liberians who continue to suffer excesses at the hands of state security forces, the UN needs to step up to the plate to mitigate to the fullest extent possible, the harmful effects of its disastrous handling of the SSR process in Liberia.
Experience however suggests that mitigation of is quite a long way off and even possibly off the table for all purposes. But there is an underlying thread connecting all these developments and that thread is and remains the old issue of impunity. Since the end of the Liberian civil war, no one has been held to account for the thousands of innocent lives taken away and properties willfully destroyed.
Millions of dollars stolen by post-war government officials remain uncounted for. With the exception of former Transitional Chairman Gyude Bryant who was dragged to Court by President Sirleaf on corruption charges, the rest have gone with impunity especially close friends and family members of the last administration. And, of course, this includes officials of this current government some of who continue to face public excoriation for their corrupt excesses but have gone with impunity, nevertheless.
In other words, Liberians can expect little from their military and security forces if our structures of national governance do not maintain generally acceptable standards of transparency, coherence and effectiveness. This does not apply only to President Weah and other top elected officials. It also includes line ministries and agencies and the way in which they react and relate to each other in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities. This means, for example, that conflicting official policy pronouncements which are suggestive of incoherence and dysfunctionality should be no more.
We need not say more!