UNMIL Alone Is Not Enough! Let's Involve The People

By Gbe Sneh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 15, 2003


Disarmament is a nationwide campaign. Several articles by various writers articulated the importance of the involvement of the public in the process. Already we have seen the result of downplaying or perhaps ignoring this pivotal instrument of the engagement to get the ex-combatants to tender their weapons.

Leading to this stage in the troubles facing the nation, it was a common saying by elements in the international community that Liberians need to take care of their own problems. That the unarmed populace should take up their "fingers and toes" to quell the brutal uprising being waged by factional fighters brandishing AK's. But what we are seeing now is a complete about face from this earlier promulgation at a time when it actually makes sense. Who has the best insight to answer the following questions? Are there any ex-combatants still possessing weapons in your area? How are these fighters getting their ammunitions? What are they saying as to the source of their hardware?

It is the general public that has the inside track on answering these questions correctly!

Why then do we leave the job of disarming these fighters solely to those who can only play the guessing game. What follows I could not write any better than Mr. Ezekiel Pajibo, alluding to the interview of fighters tendering their weapons. Therefore, with all credits due him, I quote, "Liberians know each other. A capable Liberian, and there are many around, especially with high unemployment in the country, are most enabled to conduct interviews with combatants. They know what kinds of questions to ask. They know when the responses are untruthful. They know their communities and they know who the combatants in their communities are. They know and can interpret the body language, gesticulations and all."

The international community often means well when it comes to the aid of a troubled nation. It usually brings in a military force that substantially keeps the peace to a large degree. But force alone does not have the answers to attain total peace. Force is only a security provision to create the conducive atmosphere in which to process peace. In military terms, we speak of the terrain, logistics, factors indispensable to winning. These reduce force to only a piece of the total puzzle. Parallel to this axiom is the task at hand.

In other words, UNMIL's force presence while absolutely needed, must master the terrain and avail itself to local logistics. It must work with the civilian sector to be successful in achieving full disarmament of the fighters.

As it has come down to a trade exercise - arms for money, rest assured that there are conning displays ahead waiting to be deployed. One fighter one weapon is what is anticipated, and perhaps deemed adequate. But whether that accounts for a fighter's total arsenal in possession is another issue waiting to pop up later. Readiness to deal with such issues rest with the general public. They know these fighters; they live with them. Here, I will repeat an excerpt from an earlier article that information centers be set up to receive tips from the populace regarding hidden caches of arms. Educate the public on such a policy, and give incentives for tips that lead to successful recoveries of hidden weapons.

It is common knowledge that several fighters from previous wars turned in single AK's while they held back others that have been reportedly used in carrying out armed robberies throughout the country, especially in Monrovia.

Public awareness and participation is crucial to the disarmament exercises. Pubic tools to use in this process are numerous - the radio waves, local NGO's, Women's organizations, Political Parties, Church pulpits, the classrooms, the publishing media, the "sidewalker". These are all centers for disseminating the disarmament policies.

The mistake of its exclusion has crammed the process. But it's not late. Let's put this piece where it belongs in the puzzle. Let's INCLUDE THE PEOPLE.