The Tragedy of Investment in Security Sector Reform in Liberia

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… Evidenced by refusal of the law enforcement agencies to break from the past

By Saint Jerome Larbelee

In all post-conflict countries and countries transitioning from dictatorships, restructuring the security forces (including the military) is none negotiable requirement for retuning to democracies and rule of law. For any society to break away from wars, lawlessness or transition from dictatorships or authoritarian leadership to democracy, it requires that the tools for asserting states authority (security forces), which states authorities usually used to perpetrate violence and anarchies, are restructured so they can be professional, accountable and transparent in the discharge of their duties for the wellbeing of the citizens.

The security forces including mobilized militias are the instruments politicians and dictators use to engender wars, marginalize and brutalize citizenries and impose their undemocratic rules within the state(s).  Hence, retuning the state (s) to democracy and rule of law requires restructuring the security forces including the military that are the tools used for anarchies. So, for them to become professional, accountable, transparent, and serviceable to the general populations, whose wellbeing should be the “object” for providing security in the 21st Century. Liked in the case of Liberia, the security forces including the military has always been unprofessional in dealing with the public and succeeding governments have always used them as tools for violence against unarmed citizens.  Our security forces have always been regime centric; the security forces accesses under almost all Liberian leaders over the century, have perpetrated lawlessness, bad governance since Liberia’s independence. At the results of those ruthlessness and sometimes barbaric attitudes by state’s security apparatus, consummated into nearly 14 years of brutal civil wars, which started 1989.

After long years of destruction during the wars, where most of the atrocities committed were done by states security force and rebels militias.  The settlement negotiation that brought about the fragile peace Liberia now enjoys was done through the Comprehensive Accra peace Accord (CPA). The CPA amongst many things called for restricting of the security forces including the military.

For about the same years the wars were fought in Liberia, it took the same length of time for the international community led by the UN and the United States Government, to have  invested millions if not billions of dollars in logistical and human resources on Security sector reform programs in Liberia. The Law enforces agencies, especially the LNP, was one of the main beneficiaries of SSR in Liberia. By now, in forward thinking society, one would have expected that Liberia security forces will break away from rough policing, lawlessness, use of brutal force and partisanship law enforcement.

On the contrary, it is now becoming evident by conducts of the law enforcement agencies that the investment on SSR in Liberia was a “tragedy”, which is a shame. For the past decade and half, the international community led by the United Nations and the United States Government made significant financial, logistical and human investment in Liberia’s Security Sector Reform Processes. Millions if not billions of taxpayers’ monies were invested in Liberia’s security sector. Unfortunately, just in 28 months after the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) departure from Liberia, it is a shame for the country’s law enforcement agencies especially the Liberia National Police (LNP) to be exhibiting regime centric, partisanship posture, lawlessness, and use of brutalities against unarmed civilians. This is re what I call “the tragedy on SSR investment” in Liberia.

These unwarranted, unprofessionalism and displaying of lawlessness by law enforcement agencies particularly the Liberia National Police (LNP), in less than three years just after the United Nations mission in Liberia (UNMIL), transitioned security responsibilities to the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Administration; who in January 2018, transferred Power to George Weah’s Administration is unacceptable and should be resisted by any and all well-meaning Liberians who love this country. The displays of brutalities against unarmed civilians in most cases who are expressing their discontentment because of excesses of bad governances, corruption and bad economic leadership, which are affecting families across the country, can best be described as “the tragedy of investment on SSR in Liberia”!

Political leaders and security forces need to understand the world has transitioned in terms of power dynamics: whereby, we now lived in “multi-polar” world; where Politicians, governments and security forces can’t no longer use primordial theories and practices in the governing spheres of states. According to Emile Ouedraogo et al, in Samuel E. Finer’s Classic ‘The Man on Horseback: “the role of the security forces in politics, the level of democratic political culture in a country is determined by the extent to which there exits broad approval within society for the procedures of succession of political power and a recognition that citizens represent the sovereign authority[1]. The notion of security professionalism in democratic states, therefore, must embody basic values such as acceptance of the legitimacy of democratic institutions, principles such as nonpartisanship should be exhibited in the political process, and respect for and defense of individuals’ human rights”.

It is unthinkable and unacceptable whilst the ink on the investment and resources spent on Liberia’s SRR processes hasn’t dried, for the law enforcement agencies particularly the LNP, to allow itself  be classified as ‘regime centric’ security forces by the display of ruthlessness,  lawlessness and use of brutalities especially against unarmed civilians. The Liberian National Police, who is the frontline law enforcement agency in Liberia, was the first highest beneficiaries of SSR packages in Liberia next to the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). Liberia’s SRR processes as a matter of fact, started with the LNP. When the first peacekeepers arrived in Liberia, they started working with the LNP to have restored law and order. The LNP benefited immensely from domestic, regional continental and international professionalized trainings opportunities at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. The Police, therefore, has no excuse whatsoever, for its misconducts as a unit or individual personnel. In a short span of time, we are recently witnessing under the stewardship of President Weah, a distasteful  display of Violence and brutality, which should never be the first, second or neither  third tiers responses in the conduct of law enforcement Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs); especially when dealing with unarmed protesting civilians. In fact, conflict transformations and resolutions are required courses for all police officers; and, the knowledge of fundamental national and international laws, conventions and protocols are also required of all law enforcers.

Since the CDC led Government, we have witnessed the LNP turning into  brutal force, which are evidence by the use of teargas against unarmed students who came out in protestation due to their rights to quality education  been hampered. The Students’ teachers were out of classes in demands of their pay-checks that the government hasn’t pay for several months. The manner in which the Police handled that situation showed high degree of unprofessionalism on the part of the individual LNP officers who were involved in that operation and the entire leadership of the LNP. Because, that was not just the first incident since the George Weah’s Government came to power. There are several reports of LNP’s brutalities on unarmed civilians who were protesting either because of bad governance or people who have gathered in opposition political rallies like in Districts 13 and 15 respectively. Some of the wounded imageries that have surfaced on Social media reportedly perpetrated by LNP officers and militia supported by the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) can highlight the investment tragedy of SSR in Liberia. In all of the cases mentioned, the LNP is yet to investigate and bring to justices officers and militia group involved.

For me, as one of the practitioners who worked in the SSR processes in Liberia, I can only attribute this investment tragedy on SSR in Liberia, firstly, to “lack of understanding” by the Chief Executive -President about the roles of the security forces in democracy.  And, secondly, the failure of  the Chief Executive to appoint qualified professionals in the Sector instead, he has so far appointed mostly his loyalists who are currently managing the LNP and other law enforcement institutions that are carrying on these excesses. Without no disrespect to the Chief Executive (the president), I am of the view that he doesn’t understand that in democracy, the people have the rights at all time to be protected by the security but not for the security to be used against them as thus seen. Under national and international laws, protocols and conventions, no regime or security institution has the right to violate people’s rights simply because their views and believes are different from yours.  Especially, when some of the issues the citizens are angry about are the results of bad governance and states failure to provide policies that will emancipate them from poverty.

This attitude of the Weah’s Administration to always use the security forces to brutalize unarmed citizens reminds me of Alex Thomson’s assertion that, “most of the misconducts of security forces in Africa, can be attributed to bad political governance compare to viewing those misconducts as security issues”. Thomson argues that the security forces in Africa, in most cases are misused by bad political leaders for their selfish gains and as such, one needs to analyze these misconducts of Security forces  as a political problems rather than security problems.

Inasmuch as I to some extent agree with Thomson’s assertion, I will argue that professional security practitioners should always remain professional, ethical, dutiful, accountable and transparent in the discharge of their duties to their populations at all times. Because, government will come, and government will go; but the people and the country remain. Let me remind LNP that the uniforms, cars and other logistic they are using are paid for by the very people’s tax dollars. Hence, the security of the citizens regardless of the political, religious and ethnic origins and affiliations are the duties of all states security forces.

What I think is also contributing to the displays of unprofessionalism in some of the law enforcement agencies is some individuals at the leadership and operations levels particularly at the LNP and NSA were brought in those agencies based on political loyalties instead of on the basis of professionalisms. Many of those individuals have never participated in any of the security reform programs of those institutions, which were merits based. Now, these political loyalists and fanatics that were brought in, are the one in my view, who are the “bad apples” especially in the LNP and NSA. I know for fact that those who were trained and were in the lines of successions in the LNP and NSA have been push aside in “conersville”, simply because they are not regime collaborators, which is wrong for our democracy. If the tragedy of investment on SSR in Liberia will be remedy, then the LNP and NSA need to go back to the drawing table of their organizations reforms agenda pre UNMIL departure.

One of the fundamental principles that Liberia’s SSR architecture was built on was to limit political interferences in the appointments of leaders and middle level staffers and their discharge of duties at key security institutions like the LNP. Appointments and promotions in those institutions should always be merits based not by political affiliations.   Oversights boards are to participate in the vetting of those to be appointed in leaderships position in those institutions and promotions should be merit based and in line of order of successions. ( Gompert et al, Keeping Liberia Safe,  RAND Corporation).  The President needs to understand that loads of investments have been done in this sector. There are professionals within those institutions that the international community invested loads of time and resources to have trained and they expertise need to be utilized.

The Author: Saint Jerome Larbelee is former Deputy Defense Minister for Operations, Republic of Liberia.

[1]  Advancing military professionalism in Africa

1 COMMENT

  1. Dear Mr. Labelee,

    Thank you for your article. It has been very instructive and educative to me. There are details some of us did not know and which you have brought to light.

    However, I somewhat disagree with you on some torts of the LNP. Personally, I think the LNP has been professional in dealing with the January 6 protest and its aftermaths.

    If I were the police director, I would have ordered the disbanding of protesters when I noticed that they had brought cooking utensils to the capital to prepare food and stay in the streets until their demands are met.
    If I were the police director, I would have arrested any protester, regardless of status, bearing arms during the protest.
    If I were the police director, I would have disavowed any parallel thuggish groups assimilating the official and recognized police force.

    The police force and army built so far, according to me, are professional people with the resolve for duty.
    My greatest fear is that these beautiful security agencies would not be corrupted by dictatorship.
    My fear is the persistent resurfacing of notorious rebel elements within their midst during peaceful demonstration. It traumatizes, really!

    I hope the Weah government will understand the Liberian people have been traumatized enough. Making former rebel generals to resurface during protests may bring back fresh memories of the war days in Liberia.

    I suggest our security apparatus, especially the police, should not have within their midst any former rebel element. Some may serve in the army or marine but in a non-combative role.

    My regards Sir!

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