Do not repeat the mistakes of the past!

By Aagon Gweh Linford

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 19, 2004

What Liberians and the international community see as the most important phase of the peace process in Liberia is now underway, the disarmament and demobilization of the thousands of former factions. All sides, the Government of Liberia, the international community and the factions and their fighters say they are ready for disarmament and demobilization. Good news! There are reports that disarmament sites, though not large enough to accommodate the huge number of combatants, have been prepared for the purpose and that financial incentives in the amount of 300.00 USD for each combatants are ready to be paid out upon disarmament. Another unconfirmed report speculates that the ex-combatants will be removed from the disarmament sites roughly one week following the disarmament. I wonder to where? The sequence of the program seems good for a gun-free Liberia for now, but in my opinion, which I guess many people would want to share, that is not the best recipe for a problem-free Liberia in the future.

Before the 1997 Special general and presidential elections in Liberia, both the international community and GOL made similar mistakes, thinking that disarming and demobilizing the factions and having access to the rest of the country which was then controlled by the NPFL, ULIMO-K, ULIMO-J and the LPC was the solution to the problem. The factions were hastily disarmed and demobilized but to what extent is another entirely different topic for discussion. The GOL, the international community and even the then heads of the various factions did not put into place better incentives or sustainable training programs for the ex-combatants, but rather saw the election as a priority, since in fact the war-lords were eyeing the executive seat. Catering to the short- term needs of the combatants only to achieve a particular goal at a time like in the case of the 1997 election is a grave mistake that must not be repeated. The adage that “first fool is not a fool, but second fool is a real fool“ has taught Liberians a lesson. Many Liberians have learned from the past mistakes and have begun giving early warning signals to the major stakeholders in the peace process to avoid similar errors.

I read Mr. Brownie Samukai’s article entitled: “Financially Induced Disarmament” posted on The Perspective’s website earlier this year. In that piece written by Mr. Samukai, former head of the Black Berets militia group, tried to draw attention to the mistakes of the past disarmament and demobilization programs in Liberia and its adverse resultant force that we feel today as nation. Mr. Samukai also laid down a number of proposals that could help correct past errors. Failure on the part of those responsible for the peace process in Liberia to heed the warnings and recommendations from people like Brownie Samukai and others will create a breeding ground for more problems than solutions in Liberia in the future. Already, some commanders of the factions including Roland Duo of former president Taylor’s loyal forces and Joe Wylie of LURD have begun crying out loud for better incentives and sustainable programs for their fighter that are to be disarmed. They don’t want to be second fools.

Finally, if the disarmament and demobilization is to yield better results and bring lasting peace to Liberia, the major players including the international community, GOL and the factional heads must consider the following:

· Since the ex-combatants will soon become part of the normal civil society, they need the requisite training and preparations for normal life.
· That ex-combatants who fought for these many years be properly trained because it will take less time and resources to get them back to war again.
· The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and other security apparatus cannot absorb the 60,000 or more combatants in the country.

These and other reasons must form the bedrock for comprehensive disarmament in Liberia. Remember! What is not done properly is not done at all.

About the Author: Mr. Aagon Gweh Linford is a Liberian journalist residing and studying in the Royal Kingdom of Norway.