Liberia: The Commander-in-Chief and The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL)

By Masu Fahnbulleh


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 24, 2006


Political Landscape- The overriding legitimacy of building any military force depends upon its being executed in conformity with international laws. Moreover, to ensure international consensus and domestic political directives, which is critically important in a democracy, it is essential to build up forces within internationally accepted legal and political parameters. Though a military professional must be given the responsibility of structuring an armed forces, yet he must be fully aware that he has to respect laws and established guidelines of a democracy. Another aspect, which needs to be understood during structuring/restructuring a military force of a fragile nation, is the individual nation’s constitutional obligations/restrictions and political and military objectives.

Sustaining Internal Stability- Considering structuring or restructuring its armed forces, a democratic nation should focus particular attention to the wishes of its population and adequately balance appropriately with its socio-economic and other important factors. Subsequently, if the leadership of a country do not have the right policies, guidance, concept and right doctrine to match the wishes of its people while undertaking such a tremendous TASK-building an army from the ground up, domestic uncertainty too will begin to take center stage. These challenges do not only impact a country that has been at war for the past fourteen years, but also equally manifest itself as well in industrialized nations. There are many examples to highlight how domestic political imbalances have affected our sub-region today: Crossed-border conflicts along Liberia-Guinea boundaries, infighting in the Cote d’ voire and maintenance of an elusive peace in Sierra Leone. And primarily as a result of these looming problems, many countries, especially in Africa have unproportionately built up their armed forces and yet, continues to faced internally varying degree of problems such as: human right abuses, insurgencies, drug trafficking, tribal patronage and terrorism.

An Embattled AFL- Lack of appreciation for the unfolding political and civil disturbances of the 80’s coupled with the ghastly murdered of over 200,000 of our citizens by warring factions in the 90’s was in part due to mistreatment of members of the Armed Forces of Liberia. Certainly, many members of the AFL joined, allied and supported different factions: some along tribal lines, survival and other personal reasons. However, the appointment of a Nigerian General (Luka Nyah Yusuf) on February 11th, Armed Forces Day, as Commanding Officer-in-Charge of Restructuring the AFL by the Commander-in-Chief, is outright unconstitutional. Equally too, this appointment can be seen as a diversion to warrant untenable political precepts, and fear of former enemies by the Commander-in-Chief. One would caution that such a ‘Radical’ move by the Commander-in-Chief (CIC) could ignite and undermine the seemingly fragile peace that is enjoyed today.

More than anything, the Commander-in Chief’s appointment of a ‘General Officer’ to the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) must certified the provisions of The Liberian Constitution, as inscribed in Chapters IV-Citizenship (27) (a, b & c) and VI -Executive (54)(e) respectively. However, the appointment of a foreign general to the rank and file of the AFL, as a uniform member is Not one of those Constitutional Powers. Additionally, any foreign military personnel can served at the pleasure of the CIC, but only as an Adviser to the Ministry of National Defense. Yet, there are some very important questions that the Liberian

Lawmakers need to be asking the President:
(1) Is General Yusuf a Uniform and Commissioned Officer of the Liberian Armed Forces?
(2) What Military Command does General Yusuf falls under?
(3) Is General Yusuf punishable under The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) of the AFL?
(4) Was General Yusuf the Sector 1 (Monrovia) Commander, when a Nigerian Peacekeeper raped two little girls (under the ages of 10) in the vicinity of Monrovia City Hall in 2005? And not forgetting, this Nigerian Peacekeeper was redeployed to Lagos without facing any criminal charges under Liberian Laws (Civilian/Military). Why did I bring these points up? I’ve done so because military personnel on assignments must fall under a particular command structure, not just for mission success, but also for discipline within the ranks.

The question of citizenship and service in a foreign military has prevented many of Liberia’s Finest from serving their beloved country at this historic time. The most debated issues today occupying the Agenda of the Liberian Senate during this conformation process are the questions of Foreign Military Service and Citizenship-not Competence, Integrity and Human Rights record. Though our deposition is fraught with extreme uncertainties and apprehension, ‘Patriotism, Duty, Service and Honor to country can still be found in capable Liberians to lead this Restructuring. The likes of retired Generals: Sandii Ware, J. Hezekiah Bowen, Henry Dubar and Rudolph Kollako can be teamed up for this process.

Letting this appointment stand will further discredit and undermine the Liberian Armed Forces and foster greater ‘Tribal Patronage’ with unpromising consequences, while equally destroying the professional achievements of the Security Sector Reform (SSR) undertaken by our international partners. It perhaps was very clear in 1981(staged coup) after the killings of Thomas Weh Syen and (4) members of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC), that the military was shifting its Command-and-Control to tribal affiliation. This shift in ill-informed strategy-new dynamic- in ‘Tribal Military Alliance’ only became more evident after the failed coup of 1985 led by Thomas Quiwonkpa (the most admired Commanding General of the AFL).

Madam President, we are slowly edging to your administration 100-day in office, and the way forward for National Security, particularly the AFL, has all but been elusive. I like many of my fellow citizens were feeling very good after a year of bickering to began the Recruitment Process for a new army by DynCorp International-a US Security Firm. The pieces are fast falling into place as DynCorp International worked through the daily run of problem and crisis management: Background Checks, Medical Examination, Aptitude Battery Test…and the certification of requirements by recruits.

The way Forward- The Liberian Senate needs to act quickly to avoid a potential crisis from erupting with unprecedented and unassuming consequences, even long after the Nigerian General has relinquished his Command and returned to Lagos. This attempt by the Commander-in-Chief to marginalize the rank and file of those who served in honesty our country must be stop-all Liberians now must be moving forward with Reconciliation and Reconstruction –not Recrimination. Personalization and tribal patronage of the Armed Forces by past administrations gravely contributed to not just the demise, but largely to the resorption of an ‘Institution’ within our society and it must be discontinued.

A sensitive aspect to the Restructuring-and the entire force’s composition-realization is a mature understanding of the culture of this broken Institution: public perception and the political climate, and how to deploy the needed policies to safe guard against future disruption and untold human carnage.

The appointee to this very sensitive post must be able to demonstrate and establish a distinction between the civilian authorities at the Ministry of National Defense and those in Uniform. He must be able to carefully understand the culture within our Armed Forces and cognizance enough to connect the Armed Forces to our customs, traditions and political system, and the political system back to the -Citizen Soldiers. He must and always be reminded that a change in democratic government anchors within political institutions-and-hinges on the concept of ‘One man-One Vote’ and not through the barrel of a GUN.

Today Liberia enjoys a fragile and elusive peace. Let not your administration erect a barrier between itself and the AFL. For such a tendency has the potential to create the kind of avalanche that could result into political and civil unrest, culminating into violence and a change in government, shortly after the Restructuring and at the departing heels of the United Nations Peacekeepers.

I strongly recommend to the Commander-in-Chief to Commissioned a Military Advisory Council to work along side DynCorp International and the US Military Advisory Team to formulate Plans, Policies and Doctrine for the Restructured Armed Forces. Certainly, General Yusuf’s role becomes convincingly resourceful bringing to bear ECOMOG/ECOWAS Military Doctrine and Concepts-again as a member of the Military Advisory Council.

About the Author: Masu Fahnbulleh served in numerous Combat and Contingency Operations in the US Army as a Paratrooper. He is a War Veteran of over 11 years of military service. He recently served as a Logistics Coordinator for KBR-a Halliburton Company in support of US Military and Coalition Forces Operations in Iraq. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from The University of North Carolina @ Charlotte. He can be contacted at