Can Liberia’s Security Apparatus Handle Several Days Of Protests? United Nations Envoy Raises


Monrovia – Inconsistencies and lapses in Liberia’s much-touted Security Sector Reform (SSR) appear to have left the post-war nation’s security apparatus handicapped. For much of the past decade, the administration of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had the luxury United Nations Peacekeepers. With the UN troops out of the way, new concerns are being raised about the preparedness of the country’s security sector, particularly ahead of the pending June 7 Save the State Protest in Monrovia.

Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]

Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) who was in Monrovia at the weekend as part of ongoing mediation efforts to ease tensions ahead of the protest aimed at alerting the George Weah-led government to the unsettling realities of those at the bottom of the economic ladder, alarmed that international stakeholders have serious concerns about Liberia’s capacity to handle a protest lasting several days. “I have mentioned that state capacity is a genuine issue here; Liberia is only rebuilding its security forces after the civil war in the past 12-13 years, that’s a very short time. So, any protest of a long duration will task the effort of the security forces and they may not have the means to effectively police and ensure the safety of protestors for a long duration. It’s just a logistical issue. Nothing to do with whether they want to do it or not.”  

ICG Report Raised Security Reform Concerns in ‘09

In 2009, a report by the International Crisis group came to the conclusion that since independence in 1847 and for fourteen years of war, Liberia’s army, police and other security agencies were sources of insecurity and misery for a destitute people. 

The report pointed out that internationally driven attempt to radically reform the security sector since the war’s end in 2003 was a major chance to put things right and prevent new destabilization. However, the authors of the report lamented that the SSR programs were unprecedented in ambition but with mixed results. “Army reform, entailing complete disbanding of existing forces, has made significant progress despite lack of proper oversight of private military companies (PMCs) and of consensus on strategic objectives. But police and other security reforms are much less satisfactory. The bold approach to army reform was possible due to strong national consensus and the presence of a large, liberally mandated UN presence. Government and donors must sustain their support to maintain hard-won momentum in army reform and, once clear benchmarks are set, give floundering police force more resources. The drawdown of the UN force, begun in the second half of 2008, underlines the urgency.”

Years later, maintaining the peace after a successful transfer of power from one democratically-elected government to the next, is riddled with challenges, now being exposed by the concerns over the potential lack of preparedness of the post- civil war, post-UNMIL Liberia.

The SSR began in effect in 2004 with attempts at major reforms to the security sector, particularly the National Police force and exploratory missions by U.S. officials and private military contractors, one of which, DynCorp International, was subsequently awarded the army contract. 

The ICG report pointed out that specific planning for army reform began with a calculation of what was economically viable with emphasis on the number of soldiers to whom Liberia could afford to pay monthly salaries, and moved forward from there. But while such an approach had obvious limitations, the report noted that it made sense in the context of the post-war transitional government. However, much donor money and Liberian revenues were being lost, and few actors appeared committed to the country’s long-term stability and well-being. “There was little trust between donors and government representatives, many of whom were subsequently indicted for stealing government funds.”

With the June 7 protest nearing close and a bit of uncertainty surrounding the unknown factor of what could go right or wrong, it is becoming increasing clear that the brevity of the fears associated with the protest is giving rise to lingering concerns compounded by growing political insinuations and implications.

Mr. John S. Morlu, former Auditor General added more fuel to the fire with assertions at the weekend that President Weah needs to preempt June 7protest with urgent sweeping changes, reforms, and policy pronouncements to satisfy some of the legitimate concerns and weaken the sinister motive behind the protest.

Ex-AG Morlu’s Conspiracy Theory

Mr. Morlu claims that “the REAL people behind the “Council of Patriots” have given him insight into the plan. “They want to serve as the Real Unelected President. In 2006, some of these wanted to topple Sirleaf in similar manner just with a different arrangement through a newly created agency called the governance reform commission. I found out and told Sirleaf their tricks and Sirleaf nailed them quick and fast. They were the first people to call for my resignation as Auditor General barely three days in office but then Sirleaf had my back and told me to stay resolute. She withdrew the act immediately. In 2019, same tricks on Weah. President Weah need to think fast and read the fine prints. Look at the real objectives behind the June 7.

Mr. Morlu claims that the Council of Advisors are seeking a co-Presidency.  “The whole June 7 looks stinking. Probably some of these poor Liberians really want to protest for what they believe are legitimate issues. But I don’t think they know the real motive is to hijack and control Weah government through Quasi institutional arrangements like “Council of Advisors. I save Sirleaf from them in 2006. Now it’s 2019. We too are creating the “Council of Wise Men” These just don’t want to accept the wisdom of Liberians who overwhelmingly voted Weah in power. Council of Patriots or Council of Advisors please run for president the next time.”

Conspiracy theories aside, the visit of Dr. Chambas at the weekend points to how serious regional and international stakeholders are paying to the upcoming protest as they look to ensure that their political and economic engagement and investment to secure and maintain post-war peace in Liberia is not lost. 

The UN envoy left Liberia hopeful that both sides understands the implications. “On the path with the political parties and opposition and also the Council of Patriots, we had very fruitful protest which is their constitutional rights and nobody is seeking to deny them that. At the same time, we also understood that the capacity of Liberian state is still quite limited so if the protest is of a certain scale it can pose challenges just for the managers to ensures that everything is done in a peaceful manner.”

For Dr. Chambas, getting all sides to reason and understand signals all is not lost. “I think where we are now is for the both government side and the Council of Patriots to sit down which they doing already and we encourage them. I was happy to know that there is forum for the two sides to sit down and to plan the protest and for the fact that they will have the day to make their voices heard and to state what their grievances are and do it in a way that other citizens will not feel inconvenienced or chaos or any violence arising out of that.”

“I have mentioned that state capacity is a genuine issue here; Liberia is only rebuilding its security forces after the civil war in the past 12-13 years, that’s a very short time. So, any protest of a long duration will task the effort of the security forces and they may not have the means to effectively police and ensure the safety of protestors for a long duration. It’s just a logistical issue. Nothing to do with whether they want to do it or not.” 
– Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas

Even amid concerns about the lack of preparedness in the security sector, ECOWAS, the UN and the AU are all keen to ensure that there is no spillover effect emanating from one wrong turn on June 7 or the days after. “Naturally, we are in a sub region where issues of peace and security is our concern. We are very fragile state in West Africa. When there is this kind of situation where there seems to be a standoff, it is a concern of all of us. But I think there is a growing understanding that things should be organized and done in a proper manner as is a case in many democratic states.”

Rep. Edwin Melvin Snowe (Independent, Bomi), said despite the skepticisms regarding the upcoming protests, he has been encouraged by ongoing dialogue. “We encourage dialogue. We hope that we can find the solution to abort the protest and then go to dialogue. But if we cannot do that, we begin to have some commitments that at least it will only be for June 7-one day where they will present their petition to the Government. Then the government now will begin to review it for possible action. So, we hope that we can make progress.”

Dillon Fires Back

Dillon in his reaction to Morlu recalled that Morlu wrote long commentaries in favor of Madam Sirleaf and that landed him a job as Auditor General of Liberia under the Ellen-led administration. He opined that Morlu may be at it again to attract Pres. Weah’s attention similarly. 

Dillon: “Where has Morlu been since the inception of the Weah-led regime? Where has Morlu been on the lack of transparency and accountability under the Weah-led regime? Where is Morlu’s commentary on the refusal and failure of Pres. Weah and most of his officials to transparently declare and publish their assets and liabilities prior to assuming office? Where is Morlu’s long commentary of the poor economy and increasing economic hardship in the country? What has Morlu said against the unconstitutional and politically-driven removal of Justice Kabineh M Ja’neh from the Supreme Court Bench? Where is Morlu’s very long commentary to Pres. Weah regarding establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court for Liberia? Has Morlu written any commentary, frowning against wanton abuse of our Public Procurement and other laws by Pres. Weah and his govt? Where is that John Morlu that Liberians thought they knew?”

Businessman Points to ‘Two Political Extremes’

Amid calls for dialogue, many political and economic observers point to the extremities of a complicated dilemma. Businessman Henrique Caine in a Facebook post Saturday suggested that the issues confronting Liberia are embedded in two political extremes, regardless of tribe, socio economic status or any other social indicators: 

On the one hand, Caine states that one group believes the Government of President Weah is doing just great and can’t seem to see what all the talk is about and blames all current problems on the previous government while the second group sees absolutely nothing good now or remotely possible in the future about the government and believes that even if there were inherited problems from the previous government, it was compounded by this government and attributes their actions as the cause for the current economic hardships.

Caine adds: “Lots of moving parts between the two and both sides believe their positions are justified.  Both sides have hunkered down into their positions and although they are talking and meeting, they are not actually “active listening.”  All of those positions are being perpetuated daily by both extremes overtly and covertly.  This is like a couple heading for a very bitter divorce and neither side believes the marriage can be saved! Where are we heading after June 7th?”

Dr. Abdoulaye W Dukulé who worked as a consultant and advisor to former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is unsure why regional stakeholders are dedicating a lot of time and energy to the looming protest in Liberia. 

Chambas Fears ‘Other Elements with Agenda’

In an OP-Ed post, he writes: “My problem here is why did he (Chambas) have to come in the Guidry place? Is everyone thinking that Liberians are so stupid they are ready to start another war because a group wants to voice its grievances to the powers? All my years during President Sirleaf days we never had any international partner involved in issues of political nature. Dr Chambers’ presence means that although the UN pulled out of Liberia it doesn’t think the people are mature enough to hold a demonstration without setting the country at blaze. Who is so afraid of June 7? Are things that bad?”

For Dr. Chambas and the UN, the AU and Ecowas, prevention is key to ensure that years of investment to secure peace in Liberia, particularly, the factors of the unknown. 

As the UN envoy said in a FrontPageAfrica interview prior to his departure, he left the discussions with President Weah and members of COP feeling and …taking that into account and the vulnerabilities of the subregion. “Some other elements with a different agenda could try to infiltrate a peaceful demonstration and we have to be sensitive to that. Not even talking about elements necessarily from Liberia. We live in a region like West Africa and the Sahel where we have concerns for terrorism and other multinational organized crimes. So, I think those should not be minimized. Let the protesters have their day. Let the have their activities to present, their protest, their grievance and concerns to the authorities without necessarily stretching the unreasonably period and for me I think what is reasonable and what I now from the practice in our region with these things is that within a day you come and show your discontent and then you present your grievances to the Government. So, I hope that the protest will be managed and organized along these lines.”