The imperatives of ensuring lasting security in a shattered nation

By: Tarnue Johnson

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 30, 2003

Now that an interim government is about to assume power, the ensuring of lasting security should be the foremost priority for a society shattered by long years of fratricidal warfare. Liberia is no exception and in fact she constitutes a contemporary case example in this regard. Secured and sustainable peace has eluded the country for almost two decades. Thus, there is a strong desire and a longing for normality in Liberia, which is impossible without a true sense of security. Security in this crucial sense suggests the immediate and permanent dismemberment of all armed groups. Security from fear of being raped and murdered must therefore be the single most important issue and should thus constitute the first agenda item to be addressed in the transition period. People in Liberia want to feel save in their homes, on their farms and in towns and villages. The pillaging and insidious violations of rights and the most basic tenets of humanitarian law must stop with immediate effects as a minimum requirement for beginning the process of peace building and reconstruction. In these times of great uncertainties and national stress, the sense of community and belongingness to a greater Liberian patrimony can only be fully restored on the foundations of a secured and viable peace for all.

The beginning of the United Nations mandate and the putting of its troops on the ground in October must be seen as the material condition and a foundation upon which to launch a credible disarmament program without hesitation. That process must begin as soon as the interim government is seated. No cabinet posts must be distributed among the warring factions, without a practical demonstration to ensure a credible beginning on the disarmament front. Because this is where the key to durable peace in Liberia lies. The post-agreement carnage in the countryside shows that this nation cannot move forward without disarmament. And this is the single most important test of the seriousness of the warlords. They must help us to disarm these young boys and girls and adults who carry guns. Liberians may be prepared to suspend justice for war criminals, given the current circumstances, but I am not sure if they can afford to prevaricate on the question of full disarmament. For the very survival of the nation-state hinges on fulfilling this all-important goal and inexorable political outcome.

Hence, the warring factions must be told in no uncertain terms that the quest for disarmament and demobilization without which peace is unattainable is non-negotiable. Because there are arms still in the hands of gangs, the security situation in Liberia remains fluid despite the signing of the comprehensive peace accord by the relevant stakeholders and belligerents in the country’s conflict. Liberians particularly in the countryside are being killed, rapped and pillaged by mindless and marauding thugs. Hence, the achievement of disarmament is the central most important key for building sustainable peace in post Taylor Liberian society. We cannot escape this requirement; it has to be the central feature of the transition process. It must be the test of the success or failure of the transition process. The warlords must deliver on disarmament without preconditions as stipulated in the Accra peace accord. If disarmament were not secure before general elections, then Liberia would have not heeded the lessons of the 1990s. This perhaps may be the last chance for Liberia and if progress is not achieved within the next two years, then the demise of this once relatively vibrant polity and nation state shall become complete.

A country free of guns in the hands of children and marauding thugs must become our new national motto at least until this task is accomplished. The warring factions must be made to understand that this is their last chance to prove that they are capable of giving security and peace to a shattered nation. It must be made clear that this is the last time they would be allowed to take part in a power sharing arrangement. The Accra peace accord has given them two years to demonstrate prudence and political dexterity but their track record is dismal and this is where the problem lies. People do not trust them that they would rise up to the challenges of rebuilding a shattered nation. Time and time again, and at every opportunity they have miserably failed their people. The men of violence must be further made to understand that they have no legitimate democratic mandate to govern, and in fact we do not approve of their leadership because they have proved themselves unworthy of the prerogatives of governance and moral authority by their recklessness and lack of remorse for masterminding hideous crimes against humanity on Liberia soil. What one is arguing at this stage is that they must give up the guns for good. Enough is enough!

Most of these factional leaders are callous men that should not be heading a modern society of laws for all practical purposes save for the predicament which we have imposed upon ourselves. It is unfortunate that Liberians and Africans in the sub-region cannot see what some of us see, that power sharing as a model for peace building in Africa is inherently problematic; at worst it is a modus operandi for appeasement of criminals. It perpetuates the culture of impunity in Africa. It leads to the commission of more crimes, hideous crimes! Power sharing cannot be the best model for peacemaking under all circumstances; it is a demonstration of failure and lack of foresight.

What we have always needed in Liberia is a political commitment in the international community to enforce disarmament by bringing to bear a mightier military power. In the absence of this power and political will, we are forced to rely on the good will of warlords to demonstrate a commitment, which as a matter of principle, would be in contradistinctions to their very ambitions. This is an egregious fallacy and a classic catch 22 scenario, which cannot be expected to succeed. It is a Russian roulette that defies simple rules of logic. It is convenient but it is often the path to failure. This model failed us miserably in the 1990s and complacent political representatives and the ECOWAS elite have yet again chosen to impose it upon us. I hope and pray that it succeeds this time for we do not have time on our hands. We cannot afford to fail yet again! Failure would main disaster of unimaginable proportions. Indeed, failure would mean the end of Liberia, as we have known it for more than 100 years.

I would further note that factional leaders lack an operational concept of encumberness in society as the philosopher Kant would argue. They lack a sense of encumberness in terms of their appreciation of the weight of moral imperatives, political virtues and collective consciousness in the historical process. What we expect of them however, during the next two years, is for them to give up the arm option for good as a method for pursuing politics in Liberia by other means. Liberia can do more and would perhaps be at ease with itself without guns. This task among other monumental challenges must be accomplished at all costs, for without it Liberia will have no future.

In pursuing this goal, there can be no positive neutrality, but rather a concentrated effort by civil society leaders, legitimate political parties and the international community, particularly the United Nations, to enforce disarmament as the sin qua non for sustainable peace in a country that has known no peace for almost two decades. This realization of the critical nexus between disarmament and peace in Liberia must be the focus of the next phase of the campaign by the forces of social and political change in Liberia. Once again we must prove that the pen is mightier than the sword in an epoch of globalization, the supremacy of knowledge networks, organizational and institutional ideals, and their efficient calibration, among others.

The warlords in Liberia must know that it is not primarily because of their feeble military efforts over the years that precipitated the demise of the despotic and irresponsible regime of Charles Taylor. They cannot therefore expect to be rewarded for something they would have hardly succeeded in accomplishing in a timely manner. But rather it was a combination of different types of pressures brought to bear through collective struggles spearheaded by the most enlightened segments of Liberian society and conscientious allies in the international community. The Warlords and their closet supporters must come to learn that power in a nation and other collectivities has an enviable dimension. This dimension involves strategic posturing and stances, critical and collective consciousness, predicated upon reason and the unbending will to foster nation building.

Thus, these warlords would have to understand that genuine political and institutional power is not always determine through the barrel of the gun especially in an age where time and time again the proper calibration of other human and material resources; such as international solidarity and social capital, information and knowledge, have proved mightier than guns. What matters at the basic foundational and epistemic levels are not guns and the willingness to use them, but rather the adoption of a strategic posture, paradigm and meaning perspective as governing principles for acquiring mastery of the world in which we live. Ultimately, it is the ethical and moral densities of our interpretive stances and frames of reference that will bring about genuine healing, peace building and the building of correct and durable alliances to achieve institutional power in society; not necessarily who has the biggest guns. As the demise of Charles Taylor has shown, the power of guns is very transitory because it is not imbedded in institutional power, popular mandate and correct alliances. It is untenable because it is often based on alliances of convenience between gangsters and heartless people devoid of a moral compass, and an interpretive stance integrative of experience.

Mezirow (1987,1998) has intimated that through various modes of intentional construal we come to improve our understanding and remake the world in which we live for the better. This active engagement with the world demands more complex and higher forms of consciousness than the brute and raw passions required in playing the role of the contemporary ignoble savage. Active engagement with the world demands perseverance, self-determination, prudence and self-efficacy. This is one of the primary reasons for which I believe that the psychology of war and the warlords and their closet supporters who lend form and substance to this psychology posed the greatest obstacles to peace and recovery in Liberia in the immediate period. War will have to become unprofitable and a futile effort in the never-ending quest to loot and plunder in order to eclipse this psychology.

Currently, no one can deny the gravity of the humanitarian challenges that await the proposed interim administration to be headed by Mr. Gyude Bryant. But the challenge of disarmament of armed groups that has caused so much harm to their fellow compatriots over the years must be the prima enter Paris among policies during its tenure for the next two years. One cannot really expect much from a government, which will no doubt be hamstringed by the armed groups as per the terms of the Accra Accord; but one can expect one thing - and that is unconditional disarmament as stipulated in that agreement. I believe that this objective is the overriding aspiration of reasonable people who mean well for Liberia after all these troubles and years of neglect. On this vital question the United Nations mission under the hitherto able leadership of Jacques Klien would be expected to play the role of an indispensable partner and referee in calming passions and getting the job done.

Certainly, there are other tasks that have to be fulfilled in the medium and long terms to get the society on a steady path of reconstruction and socio-economic development. The educational sector for example, must be revitalized to aid in the process of disarmament and to fulfill immediate training and economic needs. The economy as a whole is in complete ruins and the basic infrastructure such as water and electricity must be restored to accommodate economic regeneration and inward investment. Economic indicators such as employment and real domestic product per capital have depreciated considerably over the years. The national debt burden has appreciated uncontrollably as well in the face of gross fiscal and managerial ineptitudes. There is also crippling structural and institutional rigidities, which have undermined the potential for growth. Agricultural production, which is the mainstay of the economy, has come to a dead end due to persistent warfare and harassment in the interior for the past 14 years. Roads must be repaired and an effective program of resettlement of Liberian refugees must begin in due course.

Similarly, the nation requires constitutional reforms and amendments to meet the postwar challenges of distributive justice in resource allocations and decision-making. Many commentators including framers of the current constitution have agreed that there is a need to address the immense powers of a cumbersome presidency. All these issues would have to be addressed in good time, but the single most important task facing the Bryant interim administration, in my opinion, is disarmament and demobilization of combatants. Various means and models must be devised to accomplish this principal task. If nothing else, this task must be accomplished expeditiously and completely. And I believe that two years is enough to do just that in meeting the challenges of ensuring lasting security in Liberia.

On the question of justice, I might add that lasting security in a shattered nation can only come about when there is justice to avenge wrong doings in a form that may be decided by the Liberian people. There must be justice to help heal and bring about closure to this dark page in our history. There must be justice to curb the culture of impunity in Liberia. Justice delayed in Liberia must never be construed as justice denied. There will be justice in Liberia, absolutely! For there are no statute of limitations on gross human rights abuses as we have seen in Liberia in the past and we continue to see unfolding on a daily basis. In my humble opinion I would hold that there is a time for everything, and particularly there is time for taking stock and accountability. Thus, I have attempted to express these humble sentiments in the following reading:

There is comings and goings of time
There is time for everything
As the great book says
There is time to wrong,
And there is time to right wrongs
Time to disobey the laws of nature
Time to disobey the laws of man
As in the arrival of the great beast

When the great beast arrived in town
On my side of town
On your side of time
When the great beast was incarnated
By self, by greed, by brute urges
It was time to wrong

It was time to disobey
To reap the seeds never sowed
It was time to go amok
Children loosing their childhoods and adults refusing to become adults
Poison drinks becoming the sanctuaries of little minds
It was simply a time to cry when fear reign supreme

But there is also a time to build
Looking into the future from…
Where the past did not built,
There is a time to heal
There is a time to pacify the beast, which is not of nature
Which has been incarnated by greed
And has reign supreme!
In an epoch of mayhem

Justice is a friend of the common man and woman
The common man and woman have had no time;
No comings, no goings of time,
Injustice. In time comings and goings
But justice is the day of judgment!
And on this day of justice
The common man and woman shall reign supreme
In the tapestry of humans
And that is justice, fair justice!
And on this day there will be a time for everyone
In the comings and goings of time.

About the author: Mr. Johnson holds a doctorate degree in adult education. He is currently based in Chicago, Illinois, United States. The author has also served as a college lecturer at the Manchester City College based in Manchester, England.