Fears, Apprehension and Reality of UNMIL Departure

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 3, 2015



Anyone who remembers the period spanning from the 1970s to the early 2000s, the social uprising, the military coup, the killings, the wars and their attendant trauma would have cold shivers whenever hearing about UNMIL leaving Liberia, in just about a year, when the nation would face a testing political exercise. The 2017 elections will check Liberia’s political maturity and the capacity of politicians to provide the leadership and guidance required to nurture the peace process, which is far from over.

By the time the United Nations dispatched a military force to Liberia in 2003, the country had hit rock-bottom. The cruelest memories are numerous, but many remember images of the young fighter up in the air, bare-chested, armed with an AK-47, flying above a bed of empty shells that littered the Gabriel Tucker Bridge and no one can forget images of people lying dead bodies in front of the American Embassy which happened to be across Greystone, where thousands people had taken refuge. The camp of displaced people sleeping under the rain had turned into a killing field, where rockets and gunman slaughtered scores daily.

Before those images, there were the ones in 1979, when demonstrators were gunned down, thrown in mass graves. Those images will be followed by the daylight televised execution on a sunny beach of people that had had absolute control over the nation for a century just a few days earlier. Then came the images of young soldiers who had high jacked power, going on a killing spree, killing each one after the other, until there was only one man standing, Samuel K. Doe. His death is probably the most gruesome political reality television show. Images of refugees, summary executions at checkpoints, child soldiers, wigged commandoes and the uprooting of almost an entire country, something only akin to what the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia still linger in the traumatized Liberian collective memory. The fact that nobody has ever been punished or made to pay for all the crimes only makes the situation even more unforgettable and traumatizing.

The older generation has good reasons to feel chills when hearing about UNMIL leaving. They are afraid that the country would return to those days of uncertainty, violence and absolute and lawless power. Liberians have learned more and more to trust and depend on foreigners for an entire generation and dread the days when they will be left alone to deal with each other.

The fears may be justifiable, but Liberians will have to face their demons. UNMIL has come when it was needed, it did its jobs, by helping to create a relatively secure and peaceful social and political environment conducive for the return of the country to a somehow normally functioning state. UNMIL has completed its job and will be needed in other parts of the world. UNMIL will leave.
Liberia is at peace because Liberians want peace, not because UNMIL is here. Some of the most important issues at the core of the agitation in the 1970s have been resolved. The various political movements and the warring factions all fought for the same principle, however different their methods and vision may be: to be part of the political process; to break the cycle of oppression and gain lost dignity; to have the same opportunity as anyone else. All those battles led the nation to where it is today, with freedom of speech, freedom of association, national leadership open to anyone without distinction as in any democracy.   

There is no guarantee that the peace and freedom that came through 30 years of upheaval will and can withstand destabilization of the kind that devastated the country. Only Liberians can ensure that it never happen again. No amount of peacekeepers can do that.

Rather than calling for UNMIL to extend its stay, political and opinion leaders must start talking to the general citizenry about peace and peace building. So far, this has been mostly the work of international organizations, sometimes with scanty results.

The next administration will not only have to maintain the country on a stable trajectory, but also reinforce peace, freedom and social justice. This will demand strengthening the institutions of integrity such as the GAC, the PPCC, the LACC, the Human Rights Commission, the Land Commission and others all set up to check corruption, impunity and injustice but are still in formative stages. It will also have to narrow the economic inequality gap that seems to grow as a new political class emerges. The danger the country faces will be more about social and economic injustice than outright political violence. The fact that the “emerging” middle class of Liberia uses politics as its only tool to success will lead to the birth of a weak and corrupt bureaucratic elite, less and less connected with the people, busy milking government and the minute private sector.

UNMIL will leave and like the child who must get up and walk someday after falling many times, Liberia will have to learn to be its own peacekeeper. The best protection against war is not the presence of peacekeepers, rather social harmony and justice.

UNMIL has fulfilled its mandate. Liberians need to start talking and thinking about how to build and maintain peace on their own. This may be the first step towards ending the dependency mentality that has hooked the nation to foreign aid for decades.

Ready or not, UNMIL will leave. Liberia will have to live with itself and burry its demons.       

Mae Moore
Abdoulye Dukele, besides multipatty democrscy NONE of the agitations of the 1970's and beyond has been resolved! Ellen had the opportunity for twelve years to resolve these problems but she, her children, and her cronies used the twelve years to enrich themselves! And you know it!
Mae Moore at 12:58PM, 2015/11/03.
sylvester moses
“All those battles led the nation to where it is today, with freedom of speech, freedom of association, national leadership open to anyone without distinction as in any democracy”. Thankfully, nobody is passing off these cumulative achievements as results of policies implemented by the present administration. Most importantly, as the author rightfully noted, “The best protection against war is not the presence of peacekeepers, rather social harmony and justice”. What a simple antidote for a tantalizing disorder of trust afflicting millions of Liberians within and without the country. Which is why they are bewildered by the lack of government enthusiasm and commitment toward administering the prescribed curative dosages of “social harmony and justice”.

Definitely, medicines that ought to have been included are the following: reconciliation; responsiveness to citizens’ demands; equality of opportunities; jobs/ education; transparency, and accountability. These were also the envisaged building blocks which could've erected our UN – funded “Confidence Restoration” peace and stability structure. However, the failure to even put down cornerstones is understandably the main driver of the collective disappointment and concern over UNMIL's departure. Unfortunately, after reading this well - wrought motivational take, one is left wondering whether providing “social harmony and justice” isn’t the cardinal duty of a “democracy". But if it’s, I’m afraid, the article in spite of such excellent artistry - to use a cliché - is neither here nor there.
sylvester moses at 02:09PM, 2015/11/03.
J. Jaye Larblah

Thank you, Abdoulye, for this mind refresher. Recognition must be given to this Government for its role played in getting our country back on track. But there are some critical areas where attention is lacking, and the area of public relation focused on peace-building is no exception. It will be profitable for us were Government to embark on a sincere and well-planned peace building process, especially keeping in mind the young Liberian generation that was used by warmongers to persecute their wars. Keep writing.
J. Jaye Larblah at 11:10AM, 2015/11/04.
Mae Moore
No recognition should be given to Ellen and her gang. They have NOT in any way put the nation on track. Had they put the nation on track The presense of UNIMIL would be unnecessary at least during the first three years she stole the presidency.
Mae Moore at 12:40PM, 2015/11/04.
Kpanneh Doe
Mr. Moses, you couldn't have articulated this any better with such force and clarity. There is a preeminent existential threat to our national security foundations, even with UNMIL's presence, as the 'building blocks'are not there yet, and not strong enough to withstand a political crisis that could blow up in our faces, when they would be gone tomorrow. What this author has paper over with clever artistry as it was in the case of another author who tried to link pockets of emerging crises(i.e.,Butaw, Sinoe county; Ganta, Nimba county) to the lack of structures, i.e.psychological counseling for war victims, is really identifying the effect rather than the inherent cause of societal violence, which no Liberian wants at this time. I think the 'real demons' that was not discussed, and you highlighted are: Increasing youth unemployment, where young college graduates cannot find jobs, and non-college graduates lack the skills to gain employment in a new economy(Meanwhile, a Ministry of Education is overseeing an education system that is akin to the 50's and 60's based on a Farming/Plantation-style model); the deepening income inequality and divide, where a tiny minority of the population, the old and new political elite now control a big share of the nation's wealth, while the majority lives on less than $1.25 a day; and last but not least, the lack of opportunity to improve the living condition of a vast majority of Liberians trapped in poverty. Whether UNMIL stays or leave, we will continue to be haunted, if these conditions are not attended to with medical urgency.
Kpanneh Doe at 01:54PM, 2015/11/04.
Garsuah Gborvlehn
Kpanneh, your perspective on the socio-economic dimension is well taken, but probably your mentor Togba Nah Tipoteh who recently served as Chief Public Relations OFficer for Ellen's Poverty Reduction Scheme van proffer van effectively address your concerns.N
Garsuah Gborvlehn at 02:26AM, 2015/11/06.
Garsuah Gborvlehn
Abdoulaye Dukule, Liberia hsd all along been a stable and peaceful country even amid the heroic confrontstions of the 70's culminating into the legitimate dislodging of the TWP tyranny! It is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who brought her UNMIL to keep her in power after financing and formenting all the wars and stealing two elections! If Ellen had not brought her wars and brought in her UNMZiL to keep her in power for fear that the Liberian people who drag her from power, not even you would be writing about UNMI, for Liberia had always been s country without UNMIL presence until Rllen Johnson Sirleaf decided to use UNMIL to have her turn Liberia into a personal property for herself, her children, her family and cronies as you.
Garsuah Gborvlehn at 01:22PM, 2015/11/08.

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