Does Liberia Need an Army? A Rejoinder to NTLA Speaker's Pronouncement

By Ezekiel Pajibo


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 24, 2003

The New National (November 14, 2003), a weekly newspaper, ran a story in which United Nations Special Envoy to Liberia, Jacques Klein, was reported to have said that Liberia does not need an army. The question of the dissolution of the Liberian army has been debated among Liberian Internet surfers in the recent past. Specifically, this writer has written and published on the website of The Perspective, an electronic news magazine, based in Atlanta, Georgia in early October 2003.

In a response to the news story, the Speaker of the Assembly issued a press release, which formed part of the November 15 Liberian Broadcasting System (LBS) Evening News. According to the Speaker, a statement about the disbandment of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) was in contravention of the Comprehensive Accra Peace Agreement. The news story mentioned a point of view of Mr. Klein, which did not necessarily amount to a policy statement. What is more, Mr. Dweh’s tirade and threats against Mr. Klein is disingenuous especially when he stated that Mr. Klein’s point of view was a violation of the Accra Peace Agreement. Mr. Dweh, according to the LBS news went on to suggest that Liberia is a sovereign state and as such should have an army. He noted that after the civil wars in Biafra, Nigeria and the United States, the armies in both countries were never disbanded. (Let us not even begin to discuss these civil wars for now.) Mr. Dweh continued: “Mr. Klein should know that he is not the first UN Special Representative to Liberia and as such he should be careful before what happened to the first UN Special envoy, Gordon Summers, happens to him” (Heritage November 17, 2003). Mr. Dweh further that Mr. Klein should desist from calling fighters of the factions “thieves and murderers”(See The News 5 November 2003 for detail) and that if Mr. Klein has any problems with the behaviour of the faction fighters, he should consult with the faction leaders to resolve whatever problem may exist.

It is chilling to note that those in the leadership of the various factions almost always seem anxious to employ scare tactics and threats of reprisal in response to statements or actions they don’t agree with. Remember the “we will return to the bush” declaration a few weeks ago? This clearly points out that those who have imposed themselves on the Liberian people through the force of arms innately believe that they can get what ever they want by threatening those who oppose or differ with their point of view. But Liberians would not be cowed. Therefore we should examine Mr. Dweh’s pronouncement in order to establish its public policy import.

About contravening the Comprehensive Accra Peace Agreement: One provision in the Comprehensive Peace Accord stipulates that persons with “tainted” past should not be considered for positions in the transitional government. It is quite clear that this provision has not been “scrupulously” observed thereby breaching the intent and letter of the Agreement. Liberian newspapers have run stories in which it was alleged that Mr. Johnny Nah and members of his family were murdered. A surviving member, who survived the murder orgy, implicated Mr. Dweh in those murders Members of the Liberian Women Initiative protested the election of the Speaker citing his “tainted” past but with the connivance of the warring factions in the transitional government a deal was struck in which the Speaker got elected to his current position and the Deputy Speaker’s position was given to a representative of the former Government of Liberia, Eddington Varmah, a former Minister of Justice in the Taylor government during which time egregious human rights violation occurred. A triad of warring factions (LURD, MODEL, GOL) was forged thereby assuring a majority in decision-making, a strategy, which makes mockery of the capability and capacity of the current Assembly to make justice a fulcrum in the Liberia transitional process. Other legislative shenanigans have occurred including the fact that decisions have been taken while the entire membership of the Assembly has not been seated. According to the Agreement, a majority of 51 members of the Assembly is required in order to arrive at any decision. The 15 county representatives, who arguably can claim any semblance of legitimacy, are mostly still unseated while the Assembly is making important decisions. Since this is all politics – compromises, give and take, “you scratch my back and I scratch your back,” quid pro quo and the like - Liberians can be patient enough to allow these events to go with least resistance and outcry because they want to keep their eyes on the price, which is a just and durable peace. Politicians must not mistake their desire, as a license to engage in demagoguery, self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

As regards sovereignty, Mr. Dweh is mistaken to suggest that simply because a country is sovereign, it must have a standing army. There are countries, where genuine sovereignty is reflected in the standard of living of the people that do not have a standing army. Switzerland and Costa Rica comes to mind. What is more, sovereignty is resident in the people and the current transitional government was not arrived at through any direct consent of the generality of the Liberian people. Rather, it is a product of armed struggle and negotiations among select stakeholder. As a result it can barely claim any pretence of sovereignty. As well, public policy must out of necessity, reflect the espoused value of its citizens.

In relations to calling the armed factions “thieves and murderers”, one only has to re-visit recent reports about atrocities allegedly committed by the various armed in Nimba, Rivercess, Bensonville amongst others to establish that indeed these armed factions are exactly that. As the saying goes,” if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.” In a headline story carried by Poll Watch (November 14, 2003) the captioned read “Rebels ‘Pee-Pee’ in Pastor’s Mouth”. According to the article, which was previously carried by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), rebels of LURD went on the rampage in Kokoya, Bong County and other villages “killing and forcing inhabitants… to engage in forced labour” as well as raping women, even some who were already impregnated. They stole rice, chickens, goats and other valuables. Now if this is not thievery and murder, I don’t what is. Once they completed these criminal offences, and in order to demonstrate their power over unarmed citizens, they ordered their helpless victims and urinated into their mouths.

In a private conversation with a long time high school friend, who is in the know, I was told that he personally knew a woman who was ordered to lick the real ends of at least five rebel fighters after they had taken their shit.

In yet another news report, the Military Chief Spokesman, General Bol Bleaju Bol, told a news conference “several model fighters were abducted by armed men believed to be remnants of Taylor’s armed faction (The Inquirer November 18, 2003). Mr. Dweh, as a leader of a warring faction should have long time ago gotten his men under control. If he had done that no one would be calling them names that he apparently doesn’t want to hear. No one needs to “prevail” on the faction leaders to keep their bloodhounds on the leach.

But the real reason why we should do away with the military is precisely because according to the Peace Agreement, the reintegration of the national army “may” be drawn from the various warring factions. It is almost impossible to fathom that a credible vetting process can be put in place that would assure that individuals who may have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity during the Liberian war years do not compose a re-integrated army. It is ghastly to contemplate that those who have committed untold suffering and destruction on the country can now become custodian of its security. What is more and has been written elsewhere by this writer, the history of the Liberian army is one of hostility towards the Liberian people. In addition, as the country tries to get back on its feet, amidst the lack of resources, certain priorities need to be established. Among these priorities should be the rejuvenation of the Liberian economy, repatriation and resettlement of displaced and refugee persons as well as the reconstruction of destroyed infrastructures including roads, schools and hospitals. The question of sanitation is also an important issue, especially in Monrovia, where the air is so foul it can make one sick or at least nauseous. It is not uncommon for residents of Monrovia to continually complain of diarrhea, typhoid fever, dysentery and malaria – most of which could be curtailed if the city could be cleaned up. This is what a serious government worth its salt would be pre-occupied with. Instead our political leaders continue to bicker about positions in a bloated bureaucracy.

Given that the military is a non-productive sector, whose history is replete with animosities toward our people couple with the fact that all of the warring factions are alleged to have committed serious human rights violation during the war, we can safely conclude that Liberia does not really need a military. It is a hope that the entire country can enter into this debate about whether the country needs a standing army or not. Speaker Dweh does not speak for the Liberian People, he does not have their mandate to do so. Let him speak for his fellow Assemblypersons.

Ezekiel Pajibo is a freelance political commentator.