Warnings of Security Threats Undermine National Security & Reconciliation



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
May 28, 2007


Justice Minister
Frances Johnson Morris
Last February, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf accompanied by an array of government officials and business leaders participated in a well attended and successful private sector forum on Liberia in Washington, DC. The main objective of the meeting was to attract investors to Liberia and the central theme was that Liberia had found peace and stability after decades of turmoil. For the past two weeks, President Sirleaf, Vice President Joseph Boakai as well as Minister of Defense Samukai crisscrossed the US and carried the same message to Liberians in the Diaspora as well as to potentials investors. On her way home, the president stopped over in Germany and France where she repeated her quest for investment.

However, as the president spends weeks and months on the roads propagating her message, it seems that her efforts are being undercut by her own security apparatus at home.

A recent issue of the New Democrat newspaper carried excerpts of an interview by the Honorable Minister of Justice Frances Johnson Morris. The Minister, who was acting as head of state in the absence of President Sirleaf, confided in journalists that the government was aware of the activities of certain disgruntled politicians aligning themselves with former AFL soldiers in order to create chaos and bring instability in the country. She pointed fingers at the opposition who lost the elections.

Looking at the recent history of the country, this is a very dangerous pattern. Those who lived under the past dictatorships remember the times when everyday (just about), there were accusations levied against one group or another for attempted coup. These accusations created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and led to a general state of instability. Under both Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor, security people created and maintained this climate of suspicion where anyone disagreeing with the “president” was perceived as a threat to national security. Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has also been a victim of these accusations that made her to spend many years in exile.

Under these past regimes, people feared for their lives and had no recourse to the rule of law. The only option was to run into exile. Once in they found safety in foreign lands – Guinea, Sierra Leone, US and Côte d’Ivoire - they regrouped, organized themselves to return in force. It happened to Samuel Doe and it happened to Charles Taylor. In both instances, people accused of attempting to destabilize the country and create chaos went into exile, recruited other Liberians and returned to … create chaos. Generations of Liberians will have to pay for the consequences of the actions of a few over-zealous security people.

After the 14-year long nightmare, Liberians went to the poll and elected a new government, peacefully. They accepted the results of the process. This situation was to be different. But it seems that security people in the country have yet to learn to live in peace with other citizens. They seem to cultivate the same atmosphere of fear and intimidation that Liberia has lived under for more than 150 years.

Both Samuel Doe and Taylor had reasons to be fearful of the enemies they created on their way to power. Their priority was to crunch their real or perceived enemies because of the way they reached power.

A democratically elected government needs not have the same fears. There is no reason to start making enemies. The UP got about 60 percent of the votes, that means there was 40 percent of the electorate who did not accept the ideas of candidate Sirleaf and cast their ballots otherwise. That does not mean that they are enemies of UP-government. Minister Frances Johnson Morris and her agents must be careful at not turning political adversaries into deadly enemies.

In the course of the past year, more than once, every time the president was about to travel, people in the security issued “warning to would-be troublemakers.” Do they realize how much their utterances undermine the recovery process? While the president is going around the world, sleeping on airplanes and in strange beds every night, trying to woo investors to come to the country and to convince them that Liberia was safe and open for business, security people are saying just the opposite.

Last week, during Minister Samukai’s visit in Atlanta, a young man stood up and said that he was proud of this government because when the AFL widows blocked the streets in Monrovia, he was there but nobody tried to force them off the road. Rather, he said, the president stopped her convoy to talk to them. On many occasions, the president has reached out to members of the opposition for dialogue. It seems that peace and dialogue do not serve the interest of security people, who have to create enemies when there is none.

Without dismissing outright the existence of threat - there are always crazy people around - the security people should take into account the fragile context Liberia is now traversing, not only in terms of its need for peace, stability and rule of law to appeal to investors but also for the purpose of national reconciliation. National reconciliation should be the one most important agenda item for this government. Liberia is in transition and many of the officials in this government do not seem to understand that fact.

If the Attorney General knows of threats to national security and subversive activities, she must investigate, find proofs and expose the culprits so that the nation and the rest of the world would know. Now, from what she said, by pointing accusing fingers to “those who lost elections and disgruntled elements of AFL” there is a blanket of suspicion and paranoia in many circles. Fear is not good for peace. Intimidation is not good for reconciliation. Who are the losers of the elections? Alhaji Kromah? Varney Sherman? George Weah? Charles Brumskine? John Morlu? Winston Tubman, Togba-Nah Tipoteh?... And who are the disgruntled elements of AFL? The former Nimba and Lofa child soldiers of Charles Taylor or the AFL of the NDPL government? The minister must clarify and lift the veil of intimidation.

The choices are clear for the government. President Sirleaf is saying to the world that there is peace and stability in Liberia but her security people have now taken the reckless habit of saying that the country could be plunged into chaos tomorrow. Who is going to invest money in that climate? If the Minister has proofs and knows who is undertaking subversive activities, let it be known to the people. The stability and peace of the country are not just for the benefit of the government.

Minister Johnson Morris must stop the issuance of vague but dangerous threats that undermine every effort the president is making in convincing the world that Liberia is again a nation at peace and open for business.

In 1993, at the Liberian peace talks in Geneva, Charles Taylor asked that a whole battalion – about 1,000 troops - of Senegalese peacekeepers be affected to his personal security. Houphouet-Boigny said to him that his best protection and security come from his people, not from armies of policemen and soldiers. Ironically, in 1989, in Yamoussoukro, the same Houphouet had told President Doe who had warned him of the possibility of Liberian dissidents using Côte d’Ivoire to invade Liberia that the greatest mistake the Liberian leader had made was to frighten his political adversaries so much that they had to go into exile. Because, Houphouet allegedly added, “they always come back, and not always in peace.”

The security of Liberia can only be guaranteed by the people of Liberia. The best protection for the president is the people of Liberia, living in peace, without fear, intimidation and humiliation. No amount of police threats and military might would guarantee stability. Both Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor invested heavily in security apparatus but that did not stop rebel groups from chasing them from power. Security agents must not use fear and intimidation to assert themselves in the governance process, to acquire visibility and reap financial benefits as has been the case in the history of Liberia.

It is time that the Liberia security people learn to live by the rule of democracy and transparency and understand the situation at hand. Their job is to protect the entire nation, including the president. They are slowly but surely undermining peace and stability when they start accusing groups of people of posing threats to national security without proof. The justice ministry has a gigantic task before it in re-organizing the judiciary and does not need to add another dangerous and uncontrollable dimension.

As the primary law enforcement agent and member of the cabinet, who constantly acts as Commander in Chief when President Sirleaf is out of the country, Minister of Justice Frances Johnson Morris is an essential part of the reconciliation process and the chain of command. She is expected to carefully weigh her words rather than throw out threats and unproven accusations that could take Liberia back into chaos. By speaking as she did last week to the New Democratic, she has become the greatest threat to national security and reconciliation.

© 2007 by The Perspective
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