August 26, 2003
Liberia is emerging from a traumatic civil war resembling the
total collapse of a failed state. It is characterized by sluggish GDP performance
during the past 14 years, non-empirical literacy rate below 30%, an unprecedented
displacement/flight of over 1,500,000 Liberians as IDPs and refugees in the
Diaspora of Africa, Asia, North America and the Out Back of Australia, collapse
of its physical structure for social deliverance (schools, hospitals, markets,
roads, waster, sanitation, etc.), and the list goes on.
This article is a concept paper intended to provide some thoughts, on the nightmare ahead in disarming, demobilizing, and reintegrating nearly 22,000 combatants including about 6,000 child soldiers.
MILITARY/SECURITY: Between 1978-1998, the Armed Forces of Liberia grew by nearly 300%, from a small brigade of less than 3,200 soldiers, to an army of about 8400 regular soldiers and an irregular ethnic component of about 4,000 individuals. The Table of Organization of Equipment (TO&E) of the AFL by 1988 included among other units, Seven (7) ‘skeleton’ Battalions (1st Battalion in Schefflin, 2nd B/N in Todee, and 6th B/N in TubmanBurg were active combat battalions; 3rd B/N based in BTC was predominantly ‘security’ unit protecting VIP houses and ceremonial duties, 4th BN was based in Zwedru, 5th B/N was stationed in Gbarnga, and an artillery unit based in Camp Nyamaa, Bong County). There were also the EMG B/N (Executive Mansion Guard Battalion), SATU (Special Anti-terrorist Unit), the Engineering B/N, and the Agriculture B/N. The most logical question is: What was the imminent threat demanding such large military machinery? Judgment on the rationale and professionalism of this ‘large deck of cards’ is part of the contemporary legacy of the Liberian civil conflict.
The US Military Mission in Liberia served as the primary source for the training and requisitioning of supplies and logistics for the Liberian Military. Between 1980 and 1989, the US Military Mission (MILMISH) may have trained over 200 NCOs and Officers, both in the U.S. and in Liberia, through its IMET (International Military and Education Training) Program, and its MTT (Mobile Training Teams) to enhance the professional competence, and proficiency development of the Liberian Military. The MILMISH instituted an aptitude test as part of its selection process for candidates being nominated for OCS (Officer Candidate School), OBC (Office Basic Course), OAC (Office Advance Course), CGSC (Command and General Staff College), among other programs. Between 1985-1989, the MILMISH program was greatly enhanced through the combined efforts of COL Staley, Chief MILMISH, his Deputy, Lt. Col. Newman (All-Year Ranger), and a team of dedicated and competent US Military officers.
The State of Israel also provided special training for the Liberian government in mid 1980, creating an elite unit called SATU (Special Anti-Terrorist Unit). In 1992, The Guinean Government, with ECOWAS knowledge, also trained a special unit known as “The Black Berets”, who later fought along side ECOMOG against NPFL rebels during Operation OCTOPUS in 1992-1993 (Black Berets were disarmed and demobilized in 1993).
Thus, the core leadership for nearly all warring factions in Liberia including AFL, NPFL, INPFL, ULIMOJ&K, LPC, LURD, LDF, MODEL, and Black Berets, were either trained, or benefited in some way from those trained by the Americans, The Guineans, as well as the State of Israel. Those trained in Libyan and Burkina Faso Camps not withstanding.
By July 1994, the Liberian National Police Force had about 2,300 personnel. Over two third of LNPF Staff were last trained during their initial entry to the Police several years back. Promotion was based on patronage, and there were more Police Officers than Patrolmen to perform any task. Nevertheless, among these were some dedicated and professional Police Men and Women, maintaining semblance of the ‘New York Cop’.
According to sources, in 1994, The Liberian National Security Agency (more like a CIA/FBI combination) had less than 43 professional Case Officers/Agents, excluding support staff (clerks, cleaners, and drivers) covering the country. However, by the end of 2003, there were less than 15 professional agents remaining, with over 560 individuals calling themselves Agents of NSA. Another Security Agency called the Ministry of National Security (MNS) was created in 1998/99 by former President Taylor (more of duplication). This Ministry was blotted with nearly 350 NPFL combatants and some AFL personnel. Assault rifles were introduced into the NSA and the MNS during the Taylor regime.
To compound all of this monstrous military and Para-military set-up, there were also the Special Security Unit, and the Anti-Terrorist Unit, comprising combatants of the NPFL, which were created during the Taylor regime. The Special Security Service (Secret Service) was also polluted with NPFL combatants.
IMMIMENT THREAT: The legacy of the Liberian conflict provides overwhelming evidence that the major threat to the stability of the Nation-State Liberia, its people and infrastructure, is the political propensity of the military and national security apparatus. Liberian Presidents have used these institutions against the people of Liberia rather than for external aggression.
Thus, even with the intermittent cessation of hostilities among the various warring factions, there must be credible (verifiable) disarmament, and demobilization of ALL Armed Combatants, Special Units, Para-military Units, any remnants of the AFL, as well as the national security apparatus, and all armed annexes, under whatsoever name, in order to reduce the propensity for re-igniting the civil war and perpetuation of ethnic-criminal violence in future.
There is overwhelming evidence that despite elections held in 1997, the Taylor regime immediately created recipe for reigniting the civil-conflict by unraveling democratic institutions, demise of accountable rule of law, rape and murder with immunity, racketeering through criminal enterprise, and economic corruption. And as Tom Clancy once said, “rational society is based on the rule of law, and lawyers administer the rule of law…” However, in the case of Liberia, bandits from the jungle governed with the law of the jungle.
DISARMAMENT AND DEMOBILIZATION: The process of disarmament and demobilization of all armed combatants must consider the reality that perception of high expectations from former combatants, short term shadowy programs, and discernment of future benefits from the State or Government, or International Organizations to former combatants, is recipe for future reliance on the barrel of the gun to achieve the unattainable.
As we move away from a dangerous armed society of drug addicts, former combatants should be made to labor for the reconstruction of our country. Disarmament and Demobilization of former combatants including the AFL could be based on the concept of “Civic Oriented Mission”. Disarmament and Demobilization must focus on removing those instruments of physical power used by armed combatants against the helpless civilian population. The energy of former combatants should be redirected through counseling and training; Training that will ensure that those disarmed and demobilized can acquire requisite skills to assist in reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, towns, villages, and respond to environmental emergencies. Their training must also embody the national consciousness of civility and rule of law.
The Disarmament and Demobilization of over 6,000 child soldiers and about 16,000-armed adult combatants, as well as their reintegration into civil society are enormous challenges with geometric financial implications. However, these numbers are also potential labor force in the immediate short term, with a multiplier dimension.
Past Disarmament Schemes
Various programs under Disarmament and Demobilization have been tried and tested with varying results: Food for Work (tried before and after Octopus, as well as 1996 crisis, achieved relative success); Voluntarily Disarm and Avoid Punitive Sanctions (1991-1994, after sudden increase in terrorism – grenade incidents and armed robbery); Buy-Back of Weapons with Cash or Incentives (tangible degree of success); Protective/safe Havens (1992 – 1996, weapons re-cycled to create additional factions); Weapons for Jobs (1991 – 1996 more factions emerged). Are there other alternatives?
The UNDP World Development Report for 2003 has reported that Liberia has a population of about three million (3million). Youth’s literacy rate between the ages of 15-24 over an eleven-year period 1990 – 2001 grew about 16%, from 57.2% to about 69.8% (UNDP WDR 2003). Nearly 39% of the population is under-nourished down from 33% ten years earlier 1992-2000. These figures are presumably urban based.
There was hardly sustainable access to healthy water source, as well as access to improved sanitation during the last 16 years. (Daily Observer reported in the late 1980’s that “MONROVIA STINKS”, and the paper was shut down, journalist jailed, and later their offices burned down – that was 16 years ago!!!!!! ). Roads are covered with tall grass, and public infrastructure (schools, hospitals, etc.) are physically bullet ridden and destroyed. There is a complete collapse of credible public and social services. Educational and Training institutions have been bombed and blown away. Monrovia alone seems to have structures, which once were working. It is logical and very likely that the concentration will be in Monrovia. This perception alone is a potential ground for urban discontentment, leading to civil unrest.
Are there alternative learning institutions and training environment for our young people, who during the last 14 years may have lost their sense of educational direction, and have little or no technical/educational endowment to earn a living? Are these alternative learning and training institutions likely to provide marketable dexterity to citizens, including former combatants as a way of drastically curtailing the cultural of economic dependency on the State, and away from political patronage?
TRAINING INSTITUTIONS: There are notable institutions in Liberia with a legacy of success. These institutions, though physically broken, include MVTC, BWI, ZTTI, VMHS, ZMHS, LVTC, and the list goes on and on. What about the concept upon which investments were made for their construction and use? Are they relevant to efforts in achieving disarmament, demobilization and reintegration! Is it conceivable that investments to decentralize the rehabilitation of these institutions could be costly in the short-term, but much more beneficial in the longer term for the stability of future democratic process? Would such an investment not be factored in as part of the rebuilding process? There is no doubt that formal education for many of these youths would be the best way to proceed. However, the reality of our situation clearly demonstrates the urgent demand for improved health, sanitation, water, social services, and rehabilitation of public facilities.
Disarmament and Demobilization must be ‘concomitant’ with the rehabilitation and redesigning of programs in our various Vocational and Technical Education Schools. We must not allow disarmed and demobilized combatants to linger around for too long. To wait for an elected government would be to shift the burden of heightened expectation, thus laying the basis for civil unrest in a democratic setting! The immediate elected government will face an economic challenge that will surpass its pecuniary ability to immediately deliver, thus pushing its population toward resentment.
The goodwill of the International Community should not only concentrate on laying the foundation for ‘democratic good governance’. There should be tangible investment in programs, especially for former combatants (who have known only war, rape, pillaging, etc. during the last 14 years) to acquire marketable skills through vocational and technical training. The International Community and the Liberian leadership must demonstrate an unflinching commitment to prioritize investment in programs to adequately demobilize and train former combatants. Half-hazard, ‘patch-it-quick’ initiatives will breed a fertile ground of ‘miss-fits willing to loot, rape and start another war.
Suggestions for a Successful Disarmament Program
Programs for Disarmament and Demobilization should be designed to provide technical dexterity to former combatants, and the skills acquired should be used in the reconstruction, and rehabilitation process. These programs may also provide skills and strategies in income-generating activities as part of the reintegration process. Such investments may ensure better prospects for the future of thousands of disarmed combatants, as well as other youths
I am inclined to suggest the following:
· The fundamental perquisite for the success of Disarmament, Demobilization and reintegration Programs, is the overwhelming presence of a credible International Intervention Force or UN Peace Keeping Force. This perquisite ought to be non-negotiable, given the history of previous programs in Liberia, and the lack of credibility of the leadership of the warring parties. The legacy of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration in Mozambique and East Timor is evident that the international community must be sufficiently engaged in this process.
· Disarmament and Demobilization should begin almost immediately after the cease-fire, signed peace agreement, and the installation of the Transitional Government. The momentum after the installation of the TG should not be lost. The immediate three-months up to 180 days thereafter are very crucial in beginning the process of arms-freed society. The contemporary history of the Liberian civil conflict, its pattern of illogical justification, criminal composition, and selfish ethnic component could guarantee resumption of hostilities.
· We must seize upon the momentum of the shaky cease-fire and Peace Agreement to begin the process of Disarmament and Demobilization. The command structure of the various warring factions must be disrupted and disbanded. Cantonment of former combatants is an expensive exercise in an environment which may re-ignite the command structure of former warring factions. Cantonment, even temporary, creates an institutional stigma on those to be reintegrated. Cantonment is not a direct perquisite for a successful disarmament program. Warring factions in Liberia are not liberation movements with defined political ideology. (They have been described as resembling disgruntled unemployed individuals, bound by common desire to acquire jobs, selfish interest under the disguise of democracy, ethnic alliance, and driven by the brutality of the notorious Taylor regime)
· Programs and packages for Disarmament and Demobilization must be realistic, visible and credible. They should be decentralized. Concomitant investment should be made for the refurbishing, rehabilitation and where possible construction of vocational and technical institutions as an integral part of the Disarmament and Demobilization process.
· Combatants MUST bring in their serviceable weapon. This should lead to preparatory enrollment in an organized program of Vocational/Technical Training away from the already congested capital city. Successful Completion of training should guarantee short-term employment, to utilize those same skills in on-going reconstruction and rehabilitation activities in the country. Consideration for creating a National Job-Corps may be an attractive option.
· The period of uncertainty and unnecessary expectation is from Disarmament and Demobilization up to entry in a training program leading to completion. This period may be utilized for counseling and preparation for reintegration. However, reintegration into society without a prospect for better survival may lead to proclivity for criminal activities. Food rations, Medical services and other livelihood assistance could be provided as part of the process of reintegration and survival.
· Investment in agricultural and initially, some form of communal activities, may help to jump start the process of providing cash-based activities for those already disarmed and demobilized. These agricultural activities may also include providing seedlings and other crops for cultivation. During the period of gestation, there should be programs to assist the population with Medical services and food ration. Animal Husbandry has benefits that are multiple-dimension: Cash-based, communal activities, employment creation, self-dependency, soil fertility, etc. Schemes should be designed and funding provided for re-purchasing production, and redistribution to other segment of the population, which may also have a multiplier effect for enhancing individual empowerment. The program design, its management, level of investment, scale of beneficiaries, natural environment, and feed back from initial investment, may determine the time frame for such a program.
CONCLUSION: Never rely on warring factions to voluntarily disarm their instrument of power. This would be a recipe for a failed D&D process. Warring factions must be evidently disarmed concomitant with the life-span of the Transitional Government to guarantee the success of Liberian political transition without arms.
The legacy of 1997 clearly demonstrates that the alternative to credible disarmament of all warring factions is to recreate the ‘Stockholm Principle’ (hostage mentality generating sympathy for their captors), as it was during the Liberian elections in 1997. The legacy of 1997 is crystal clear that warring factions rely on the outcome of the ‘Ostrich Principle’ to survive (hiding our ‘heads in the sand’ from the reality that warring factions are politically allergic to democratic openness and an arms-free political playing field).
Elections in an environment, with warring factions holding weapons in one hand, and voting with the other, must not be accepted. This would be a recipe for another disaster of unimaginable proportion. The principle of democratic good governance under the rule of law, without prejudice and immunity, must be upheld.
There are no guarantees that these initiatives are the panacea for the Liberian problem. However, as a concept, it may provide some thoughts into initiatives which may be considered, adapted and designed to achieve the objective of creating an alternative means of livelihood security for those to be disarmed and demobilized. It may also deliver an environment in which our society may conscientiously work along side those who brought death and destruction to our country. This legacy may well turn into a healing process, as well as, initiatives for rebuilding. The final objective must be a level playing field before elections 2005, as a basis for credible democratic good governance.