LIBERIA IS GEARING up for major Presidential and legislative elections in 2017 with several hundred United Nations Peacekeepers short than there were during the 2011 elections.
THIS COMING on the heels of an event in June, when the post-war nation assumed responsibility for its security for the first time since civil war ended 13 years ago, leaving behind a reduced U.N. force of about 1,200 troops in a supporting role.
THE DECISION by the United Nations Security Council this week to extend its peacekeeping mission in Liberia for three more months is commendable. The council voted unanimously on Wednesday to extend the mission while reaffirming its readiness to consider withdrawing pending a proposed review of the situation in mid-November.
LAST SEPTEMBER, the Security Council decided to decrease UNMIL’s authorized military strength from 3,590 to 1,240 military personnel, which includes one infantry battalion and related enablers, by 30 June 2016; decrease UNMIL’s authorized Police strength from 1,515 to 606 Police personnel, which includes three formed Police units, as well as immigration and Police advisers, by 30 June 2016.
ADJUSTMENTS TO THE UNMIL military component in 2006, together with the drawdown conducted from 2007 to 2010 reduced the Mission’s troop strength from 15,250 military personnel to 7,952 troops. The Police component stood at 1,375 Police personnel, including formed Police units.
THE PEACEKEEPING FORCE which was deployed in 2003 to help stabilize Liberia after a four-year civil war, has seen its numbers drop as peace has gradually returned to Liberia after many years of war, chaos, confusion, heartaches and heartbreaks.
IN TOTAL, LIBERIA was engulfed in a civil war which reportedly killed more than 250,000.
THE INTERVENTION into Liberia proved pivotal to saving a country at war with itself, it reopened doors seemed impossible and helped save lives and further destruction.
MANY ARE IN AGREEMENT that the UN was never meant to be in Liberia forever. Liberia itself has repeatedly expressed its readiness to take over the security in the aftermath of UNMIL although recent overtures and pronouncement that some 700 Nigerian soldiers were due to be deployed to Liberia on a peacekeeping mission reignited the debate regarding Liberia’s readiness.
DURING THE JOINT COUNCIL of Chiefs and Elders meeting between Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire in January, the issue of the withdrawal of UNMIL was raised by the Ivorian President, Alassane Ouattara, who pledged to ask the UN Secretary-General to extend UNMIL’s mandate until after Liberia’s elections in 2017.
BOTH PRESIDENT OUATTARRA and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on January, 29, sent a joint letter to the Secretary-General containing this request.
FEW DAYS LATER however, Liberia’s Defence Minister Brownie Samukai reaffirmed the readiness of Liberian security forces for the transition, while guaranteeing that the military will not interfere in the election process or its outcome.
SAMUKAI DID make the point that an international presence during elections in Liberia would be of great importance, considering the process of handover from one administration to another.
IT IS A FACT that the international community has spent millions trying to maintain peace in Liberia after more than a decade of war; it is also a fact that the UN has sacrificed a lot of resources to ensure that Liberia never again return to its ugly past.
WHAT REMAINS UNCLEAR is how far the international community willing to go to ensure that Liberia’s post-war peace stays intact, long after the peacekeepers have gone?
NO ONE KNOWS for sure whether or not Liberia’s security sector is ready, only a test in the absence of UNMIL can gauge that.
FOR THIS, it is important that the international community begin working with Liberia’s handicaps; helping Liberia with logistics and helping Liberia ensure that those communities once manned by the peacekeepers are equipped to maintain the security presence residents in those abandoned towns and villages need to feel safe and secure.
THE POLITICAL TERRAIN is key to Liberia’s post-war and post-UNMIL stability. This is why no stone must be left unturned as Liberia embarks on its most important journey to political transition.