Monrovia - The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), one of the largest UN peace keeping operations ever officially turned over security to Liberian security on June 30 but there are still fears that ahead of general and Presidential elections in 2017, there is a need for the presence of some form of foreign troops to beef up the security during what is expected to be a tense electoral process.
“I have been hearing in the air, reading the newspapers that they will be bringing in foreign troops to take over the security for the elections in 2017.
I don’t even know who will be spending the money, maybe if it is the EU or ECOWAS that will be sponsoring this, but whatever the case is for me I have not been informed officially about that, but if the information is true, why can’t the money that will be used be directed to our local security forces on ground. I want them invest in us and see whether we will not perform”- Chris Massaquoi, Director, Liberian National Police
The ensuing election will be the third successive post war election but will also see no real incumbent factor as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is ineligible to contest. This will give hope to the dozens of opposition political parties that the presidency is within the reach of any of the contenders.
While the political fever is already in the air, there are security concerns with some Liberian government officials fearing that the local security might have some challenges providing security during the election, with many pushing for the presence of foreign troops to help.
Senator Steve Zargo of Lofa County expressed similar concerns during a press conference about a month ago and another Lawmaker, Representative Bhofal Chambers on August 4, 2015 wrote the plenary of the House of Representatives at that time requesting that body to prevail on UNMIL to leave a small force on the ground to help with security.
During its 53rd siting, the House of Representatives mandated its Committees on Foreign Affairs, National Security and Defense to advise plenary on whether it is necessary for the body to plea with the United Nations for the presence of foreign troops in 2017.
The Committee report is yet to be made public but UNMIL on June 30 put security matters in the hands of Liberian security forces.
Since the official turning over ceremony of security to Liberian security personnel, calls for foreign troops to remain in the country until the 2017 election is concluded continues to be made but there is no public statement by the government in such direction.
Police Director wants support, not foreign troops
President Sirleaf is currently the head of the regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which could make any possible request for foreign troops workable but the Director of the Liberian National Police is not in support of any attempt to have foreign troops in the country to help with security in 2017.
Director Chris Massaquoi instead wants the government to provide more support to the Liberian National Police and other security agencies instead of pushing for donors to spend money on bringing foreign troops to the country.
Speaking Thursday at the start of a four day Police Assessment retreat in Monrovia Director Massaquoi also lashed at the government of Liberia for poorly managing the Security sector, saying the limited budgetary support is making the Police and other security agencies ineffective.
He said all Liberians have confidence in the ability of the Police to provide security especially during the political season of Liberia.
He wonders why the funding expected to be used for any possible bringing to the country of foreign troops for election cannot be used on local security forces that are trained to provide the security needed.
“I have been hearing in the air, reading the newspapers that they will be bringing in foreign troops to take over the security for the elections in 2017. I don’t even know who will be spending the money, maybe if it is the EU or ECOWAS that will be sponsoring this, but whatever the case is for me I have not been informed officially about that, but if the information is true, why can’t the money that will be used be directed to our local security forces on ground. I want them invest in us and see whether we will not perform” said Director Massaquoi.
Director Massaquoi wants increase in support to the LNP to help the force become effective in its operations.
Waste of resources
He noted that bringing in of foreign troops is a waste of resources, saying “let the foreign partners empower the local security to do the job”.
Director Massaquoi also said the poor management of Liberia’s security sector by government has led to the infectiveness of the Liberia National Police.
He however confessed that the Police have done nothing to safeguard the Country with the increasing number of criminal activities as a result of what he termed abandonment by National government due to insufficient budget.
June 30 2016, ended the security mandate of United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), after which the UN has officially hand back security to Liberian government.
This has been a long anticipated event that gripped Liberians with fear and anxiety, though the process began several years ago, with the gradual drawdown of UNMIL’s foreign contingents.
The Liberian government has already re-assume full responsibility for the protection of its territorial integrity and inhabitants, nationals and foreign residents.
Historicity of foreign troops
Since the takeover of the security sector by Liberians, unconfirmed reports of bringing in Nigerian troops to take over the security for the upcoming 2017 elections continue to alarm in streets corners.
The first foreign troops of the West Africa Stabilization Force (WASF) initially landed in Liberia in August 2003 as was later transformed into the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) deployed in every part of the country to ensure security and instill confidence in the people who have been traumatized by the savagery over the course of the 14-year crisis that claimed the lives of an estimated 250,000 people.
Beginning with a contingent of over 15,000 troops from all over the world including Nigeria, Ghana, The Gambia, Senegal, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Ireland, the People’s Republic of China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan and India, among others, UNMIL has gone down in history as one of the largest peacekeeping operations by the United Nations to a war-zone anywhere in the world.
At their deployment, the Blue Helmets set up checkpoints and patrolled streets and communities across the country, creating the space for normal civilian activities to flourish. Gradually, over the years, the checkpoints disappeared as civilian life solidified.
A newly recruited National Police (LNP), Immigration (BIN) and Armed Forces came to the foreground as UNMIL forces took the backseat, providing support to the LNP.
Thirteen years later, UNMIL completed its transition, turning over its mandate to the national government, some Liberians remain apprehensive about the prospect of peace without the peacekeepers.
The plan has been long in the making and, while many Liberians have voiced their concerns about the preparedness of the national security apparatuses to adequately take over the mandate, the various heads of Liberian security apparatuses, including the Commander-in-Chief, President Sirleaf, have continued to give assurances that her government is ready.
The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), which was fragmented among various warring factions and blamed for heinous atrocities during the conflict, was disbanded when the war ended in 2003. Other former security forces were dissolved, and a new Police, military and immigration forces were recruited and began training in compliance with the 2003 peace deal.
The official list of servicemen at the time of the disbandment and restructuring totaled 13,770 according to a 2008 reports.
Police training began in 2004, and by 2008 UNMIL had trained 3,662 new Police officers. Many of them were trained locally, though some top brass were trained abroad.
However, the US government sponsored the restructuring of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), though it out-sourced the training of the force to a private contractor, Dyncorp International.
According to the most recent figures available, Liberia’s armed forces stand at 2,050 personnel, along with 5,170 Police, according to a UN report.
By contrast, UNMIL had 3,745 uniformed personnel as at March 2016, comprising 2,592 troops, 71 military observers and 1,082 Police, though this would drop under 2,000 by June 30, the UN also said.
Though faced with huge logistical problems, Liberian security apparatuses, especially the LNP, still have a poor reputation among locals and they are also hampered by very low salaries and majority are not armed. Another uphill task is for Liberia to ensure security along its porous border with Ivory Coast, which is also emerging from years of civil conflicts.
Authorities and UN experts have blamed armed groups operating from Liberian forests along the border for a string of attacks on western Ivory Coast, while tens of thousands of Ivoirians have sought refuge in Liberia during the years of unrest in their country.
Former combatants, including teenagers who had known nothing other than a life of conflict, continued to pose a challenge for national security forces and the UN long after the conflict wound up. However, many have been assimilated into society with gainful employment, while some of their peers remain on the streets.
Budgetary constraints are severe. While UNMIL has a $344m annual budget, the entire security sector of the country draft national budget 2016/2017 is only about $90m. A UN report described the national coffers as “exceptionally constrained” at a time when “the country faces critical security and democratic transitions”.
There are many concerns, especially from the international community, that the security sector remains stymied by political appointments.
With UNMIL’s departure, many believe that its goals have been achieved, though they question the sustainability of this progress under the government. The challenge for the government, however, would be to improve public perception and confidence in the national security forces while optimizing performance of the latter.
In May 2016 the UN Security Council voted unanimously to lift an arms embargo on non-state groups, the last punitive measure in force, a decision that will be closely watched in Liberia.
The official turnover ceremony marking the assumption of all security responsibilities by the Government of Liberia from the UN Mission was held on July 1, 2016, at the Monrovia City Hall.