Disarmament Day Two

By: Ezekiel Pajibo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 17, 2003


On the evening of Tuesday, December 9th the Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), Charles Gyude Bryant in effect declared a state of emergency only slightly less than two months into his tenure, when he imposed a curfew from 10:00 P.M. - 6:30 A.M. This declaration underscores the difficult task in bringing peace to Liberia and the need for due diligence, careful planning, deliberative consultations and participatory processes to animate the implementation of the Comprehensive Accra Peace Agreement (CAP). The transitional government can ill-afford the placement of a monkey wrench in the implementation of this important Agreement.

The imposition of a curfew is in response to the behaviour of militias, most of whom are believed to belong to exiled Liberia dictator, Charles Taylor, military outfit, who went on a "shooting into the air" spree, thereby creating fear and despondency In Monrovia. Groups of armed fighters were parading the streets in the areas of Congo Town, parts of Sinkor, Paynesville , ELWA Road and elsewhere brandishing their weapons and commandeering the vehicles of peaceful commuters. Mr. Bryant threatened arrest and imprisonment of any violator of the curfew.

But I am not sure this policy measure, which is punitive to peaceful citizens is a sufficient respond to the difficulties we have experienced in the last few days. These events cannot be fully blamed on the warring factions. The Government and UNMIL are culpable. The NTGL has not demonstrated sufficient public concerns about the urgency of the disarmament process. The Government does not appear to be playing a central role; rather it appears as a mere appendage and a signing board for UNMIL. Perhaps this is due to the personalities leading both entities but this can and must change. A central role that government should play would be to undertake a massive public awareness and community outreach program not only to educate our people about the DDRRP but also to galvanize them in order that they can assist in the process of creating a "gun free" Liberia.

Our national leaders must be part of public events during which time issues related to disarmament will be debated, discussed and agreements reached in order to have an effective disarmament. Some ways in which this can come about include the following:

1. Community Visits: Since the full deployment of UNMIL peacekeepers throughout the country has yet to happened and thereby making it impossible to do any nation-wide tour, our national leaders should make periodic visits to all Liberian communities, where, their personal security would not be at risk, to explain to the people the need for them to be active participants in the implementation of the disarmament program. Community residents should be told why disarmament is necessary and what benefits would accrue to all Liberians once we can create a truly gun-free society.

2. Leafleting: The government should undertake to inundate the city with leaflets explaining essentially the DDRRP and the necessity to see it fully and effectively implemented. UNMIL helicopters could be used to drop leaflets in the most densely parts of the city.

3. Broadcast: Our airwaves must be continuously flooded with messages of disarmament - how to go about it and the benefits this might bring to individuals as well as the general public.

4. Broad Participation: The government should include national and international NGOs and civil society actors in a massive public awareness scheme around the DDRRP. Civil society organizations and actors must enter into a critical relationship with the government to ensure full compliance by all signatories to CAP.

As for UNMIL, there is clearly a need to beef up its intelligence gathering methodology. For example the Liberian people are entitled to know what intelligence informed the establishment of cantonment cites; what are the infrastructure in place to accommodate all those bearing arms and want to turn them in; what kind of intelligence gathering is required to establish the actual strength of the number of persons in arms. A respond to these questions should lead one to conclude that as a fundamental necessity UNMIL must employ reliable and trustworthy Liberians to gather intelligence about the actual size of the various warring factions and their whereabouts. This information is necessary in order to ensure adequate infrastructure at cantonment sites. Figures about actual number of men bearing arms which have been or would be presented by the various warring factions should be subject to scrutiny and be verifiable. Community persons and leaders will be effective in this regard. UNMIL cannot gather unfettered intelligence if it does not include Liberians.

In the same vein, the participation of Liberians, the national leadership and the civil society organizations and actors must be allowed and enabled to fully and critically participated in all aspect of the implementation of the DDRRP.

The events of the last two days must be seen as an indication of what not to do and what has to be done. This is not the time for name calling, dodging the issues or apportioning blame. Rather, all Liberians and the international community must engage in an honest, frank and mutual partnership in order to ensure the scrupulous implementation of the peace accord. The heavens know Liberia deserves peace and the world knows the UN can use it as a success story - it is part of my activism to see endurable peace in Liberia while setting the basis for the UN to cite Liberia has a success story, as a place where by work with and alongside the people, the basis for a stable political order and a prosperous economy was firmly established.

Ezekiel Pajibo is a freelance political commentator in Monrovia.