Report that the United Nations has requested the Liberian government to increase its troop strength in Mali is welcome news for an AFL still struggling to redeem its image as a guardian, defender and protector of the Liberian people. As AFL Chief of Staff, Major-General Prince C. Johnson, III rightly noted in recent remarks to the Press, the AFL was named in the TRC Final Report as a major perpetrator.
According to him, “the national army then was disbanded and restructured because of activities that went on during our civil war. If you read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report (TRC), our institution was rated number seven for worst atrocities committed during the civil war among 27 war factions and just imagine from 2006 to 2013, to launch the army into peacekeeping, I am proud.”
Such performance in Mali makes all Liberians proud and that is why it is important that AFL soldiers be trained not only in combat tactics, but training in citizenship including the rights duties and responsibilities of each citizen including soldiers as well. Such training will focus on the ethnic diversity and history of Liberia and how such diversity can make a great nation.
Training in the Constitution is key in this regard. As the Liberian Constitution embodies basic and fundamental rights enshrined in other international instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such should also include human rights awareness and the laws of war.
Further, AFL soldiers should be trained to recognize that they are but fishes in a body of water. Without the water, which in this case means the civil population, they will certainly die.
It must not be forgotten that the AFL lost the war largely because its scorched earth policy pursued in Nimba at the early stages of the conflict, along with the random killing of civilians that succeeded in alienating the AFL from the Liberian people.
More to that, its recent performance during the COVID-19 lockdown measures leave much to be desired in view of the spate of complaints from the public accusing AFL soldiers of wanton abuse.
These are all reasons why those troops now slated for Peacekeeping duties need to be fully prepared technically and psychologically. They should also be made aware that Mali is a very ethnically diverse nation like theirs and that they should demonstrate impartiality, fairness and empathy at all times.
However, should their performance and how they relate to local Malian people mirror that of their recent behavior towards Liberians during the COVID-19 lockdown, they can rest assured they will not only earn the distrust and hostility of locals but they will bring dishonor as well to the UN Mission and their own country, Liberia.
Thus, this request by the UN for additional troops to serve duty in Mali should provide the opportunity for assessment and evaluation of troop performance and morale — a kind of SWOT analysis, so to speak. It should also provide the opportunity to strengthen those weaknesses identified in the analysis, develop appropriate strategies to respond to threats and maximize available opportunities.
Key amongst such opportunities is the prospect of better training, capacity building including the development of stringent accountability measures, experience for AFL troops in operating in foreign and hostile environments, as well as enhanced prospects for increased future troop contributions to international peacekeeping duties.
A well structured and coordinated plan of action for implementation including recruitment could help reduce the propensity of the country’s youth most of whom are unemployed, to gravitate to armed gangs and jihadist enterprises offering them money and the opportunity to benefit from loot and plunder.
It must not be lost on policy makers that, like any national institution, the AFL also has to develop and evolve into a truly national institution that will be accepted across the board without question.
The challenge is out to the Government of Liberia to provide the AFL with the necessary support to fully discharge its duties and responsibilities to the nation. The challenge is also out to the new AFL leadership under the command of Major-General Prince C. Johnson, III to provide the quality of leadership that will do away with officers and Defense officials eating enlisted men’s pay, which has been an age-old chronic problem, or depriving them of their benefits, including adequate housing, medical and insurance.
Finally, the AFL needs to develop its own military doctrine or its own guide to action so to speak. Its doctrine cannot be that of the US, its traditional ally and trainer of the Liberian military. It is not clear whether the AFL has already developed its own guide to action. The conduct of its troops towards the civilian population was high-handed and ruthless, according to reports quoting media and informed sources.
In case it has not, perhaps this can probably explain why its leadership in the field performed so poorly. And its deployment included noncoms and officers who should have provided instruction and guidance to their men. But this was found lacking. Defense officials had pledged to probe reports of AFL brutality against civilians during the lockdown. There is yet, however, no evidence of any report from the probe.
But, as noted previously, this latest request from the UN to Liberia to increase its troop strength provides an opportunity for sober reflection and pragmatic concrete action, sparing no indulgence for idealistic inclinations nor vainglorious pursuits. This is a challenge and your charge Major-General Prince C. Johnson, III, Chief-of-Staff, Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).