Financially Induced Disarmament - Implications for Reflection

By Brownie J. Samukai

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 9, 2004


The process of disarmament and demobilization in Liberia, as it now seems, may be characterized as financially induced disarmament (FID). FID may be characterized as a process by which cash-based incentives are provided to individuals, combatants, and/or armed groups (as part of a settlement) after a civil conflict, or conflict involving the use of war like materials, in order to demilitarize the society. It relies on the assumption of a batter system in which in exchange for combatants’ brutal instruments of power, cash-based incentive is seen as the appropriate medium of exchange commodity on the market for peace.

In following this pattern of logic, there seems to be a political assumption resembling tenets of Parito Optimality, that the society is better off buying back weapons from combatants, without providing or delay in providing requisite training endowment for combatants future livelihood, than by allowing combatants to retain their weapons: That the society will be better off with former combatants without guns, but not worse off with unarmed combatants lacking endowed dexterities to create better livelihood for themselves in the foreseeable future. Reliance on this postulate will hibernate into discontentment and likelihood of a military coup in the near future by mercenaries of the old order.

Following the beginning of the disarmament process in Liberia, and the ensuing euphoria it generated, it was no accident that the confidence of the Disarmament and Demobilization process was shaken when combatants to be disarmed, already hyper about financial payments for their weapons, went on a shooting spree when they did not received their ‘money’ on time (since Christmas and New Year festivities were around the corner). The Interim Government and handlers of the process in Liberia took the unusual steps of instituting an immediate curfew, and offered to give a Quarter of the expected disarmament payment package to continue the process. This dual action helped calmed the situation.

However, the legacy of this action on the part of combatants to be disarmed should be an awakening call of what should be expected of combatants who are disarmed and demobilized, but without requisite training opportunities and redirection of their capabilities. The liability of such group on the society will create a social dilemma of roving mercenaries, criminal gangs, ghettoes of drug addicts, and stretch the bandwagon of unemployed youths, whose future will be lost in the present.
The disarmament process is being overshadowed by the expectation of success by the handlers to immediately get the guns away from combatants. It is focused on dates and deadlines. It generates publicity on the number of combatants ‘disarmed’, the number of weapons recovered, and the tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition collected. Is such an approach a long-term solution, or a stopgap solution, which may hibernate?

One is left to wonder how stakeholders of the D&D process will decide on payment for crew-served weapons (such as Machine gun nest, 50-caliber encampment, mortar gun crew, etc) already collected by commanders of former combatants and brought to the disarmament site. Is it not logical to expect another round of shooting spree or men-on-the-rampage for not receiving their equal share of disarmament proceeds from their commanders who have already carried out self-disarmament? Self-disarmament by commanders of militia groups is a very dangerous precedent.

In East Timor, between 2000-2003, despite the presence of thousands of UN blue helmets peacekeepers, and after a successful disarmament exercise, there were at least two assassination attempts on the life of the resistance leader (Zanana Gusmao), by disgruntled former militias who may have felt that the political process denied them their instrument of power and wealth. There were violent riots by unskilled and jobless former combatants. The reality was the UN had delivered a new nation, and thus the responsibility was passed on to the government to provide technical training skills, educational institutions, and employment opportunities for these disarmed former militia fighters. These militias were disarmed and demobilized by Peacekeepers, but no training provided, neither were there technical institutions to provide some rudimentary skills for them to learn and earn a living, months after disarmament. However, to compensate for this dilemma in the immediate term, the new nation of East Timor focused on training a new Police Force as part of revamping the criminal justice system, and provided appropriate equipment and capabilities to help maintain law and order and restore confidence between the community and Police. East Timor is successfully coping with the challenges of improving the manual and mental dexterities of its people (especially former militias), through education, training, and community activities among other.

The case of Mozambique was much more successful, and is also clearly evident, that disarmament and demobilization must be complimented with extensive investments in institutional rehabilitation for providing technical skills and other economic capabilities to everyone including former combatants. In Mozambique there were investments in law enforcement institutions to face the challenges of social discontentment. Community Policing became more of a reality than a political concept. Mozambique is on the path of recovery after a successful disarmament and demobilization and retraining program.

In the Liberian case, the Ostrich Principal of not confronting reality will be a disaster for the DD process. Let us not pretend that the initial methodology and assumption upon which the DD process was initiated had very serious limitations. Nevertheless, we must recognize the limitations of the international community to the humanitarian situation affecting our people, and the need for an environment free of arms. The dichotomy here is that non-combatants in Liberia have placed their faith in the international community for their survival. However, the international community has seen fit not to interfere in the political machinations of the nation-state, even though their presence with overwhelming capabilities may protect and guarantee the process unfolding. This would be a resounding mistake. Like in East Timor and Mozambique (the latter had some form of political institution still available), the international community must be involved and remained engaged in the political process to ensure that return to arms will not be an option of choice for former combatants and their supporters.

The anticipation of the future, is a logical incentive for individual choice, whether within legal limits or outside the bounds of civility and the return to old habits. Malthusian Population Thesis postulates variety of reasons for rural to urban migration, one of which is the anticipation of better opportunities. In the Liberian scenario, combatants literally dislodged entire communities from the rural area to become internally displaced persons, with concentration in the already congested urban areas. Unfortunately the urban areas are themselves constrained by the lack of institutions to provide reasonable level of social and other services. Subsistence petty trading is the order of the day, with a questionable profit margin to support and sustain the average family size.

Therefore, as the D&D process continues, it should not be surprising that in Monrovia, and in other concentrated areas of Buchanan, Tubmanburg, Gbarnga, Ganta, etc. many former combatants, who fought for different militias, may happen to know each other, become better friends in common spots, reminiscing on the war years, and sharing the frustration of being powerless, and thus form a common bond to engage in criminal activities. We may have a situation of non-combatant population sharing stories of their victimization during the conflict, facing disarmed individuals with a common bond of uncertainty.

Thus, the reality may be that the congestion of urban areas by displaced citizens, due to the actions of combatants, living along side disarmed and demobilized combatants residing in the same congested urban area, may likely exacerbate the costs to society of maintaining harmony among the population. The coincidence that law enforcement institutions are cramped with former combatants may also seem an unbearable level of coincidence from which non-combatants may find it harder to reconcile. The question that follows is by which method would reconciliation, as an agreeable concept, be demonstrated?

In the case of Liberia, the capabilities of our law enforcement institutions to combat the anticipated rise in criminal activities after such bloody civil conflict are without precedence: Destroyed by the political system of a failed regime: Lack of professional core, questionable integrity, administrative ineptitude, technical deficiency, operational decay, cold-blooded killers, “and above all else”, no respect for the law.

Therefore, as the Disarmament and Demobilization process unfold, the challenges facing those entrusted with the mantle of revamping out security and criminal justice system are overwhelming. There is very limited evidence of systematic training programs and follow-up specialty training for Law Enforcement Personnel during the past quarter of century. More realistically, by 1995, the average service years of law enforcement personnel with rudimentary training was about twenty three (23) years of service! This is a sad phenomena.

However, there is comfort in knowing that there is still a functional Liberian National Law enforcement Association. This association has helped to maintain a core of professional law enforcement personnel in the midst of this madness. For example, it has a resident history of the Liberian National Police, as well as conducted research on alternative approaches to restructuring the Liberian Police. Could this be an option for the restructuring process?

The success of this financially induced D&D process will depend on the foresight of those entrusted with the process, to urgently develop an institutional approach, reflecting better options for the future. A hasty process, clearly dependant on the euphoria of a batter system is a recipe for disaster. Concomitant investments in technical institutions and the creation of a better and respectable law-enforcement capability are urgently needed to redirect the future anticipation and confidence of disarmed and demobilized combatants, and the non-combatant community.

About the Author: Mr. Brownie J. Samukai is a Liberian who resides in Dar Es Salaam.