Liberia To Govern Its Own Security; UNMIL Downscale


Can Liberia maintain stability when  the United Nations Mission In Liberia (UNMIL) officially hands over security powers to the local Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL)? June 30th is set to be a pivotal day in the country’s history as it will regain its control over its own security governance following two bloody civil wars which ended in 2003.

Both UNMIL and the Liberian government think  adequate self sufficiency capacities have been achieved for the latter to acquire responsibility for the state’s security. However, whilst it can be considered a sign of achievement, it simultaneously conjures skepticism and pessimism toward the actual readiness of the AFL and government.

“More concerted efforts by the Executive and Legislature are required to ensure the urgent enactment and implementation of critical legislation relating to the security sector”, said Farid Zarif, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), at a recent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) briefing.

His statement, though, suggests that implementation processes are not fully ready, with less than seven (7) weeks before the handing over. This further questions the actual preparedness of  state apparatuses to adjust and function within the parameters of ‘critical legislation’ that has yet to be made into law.

In addition, the effects of continued corruption and an imminent general election in 2017 are potential constraints and challenges to the security system and the administrators.

Corruption claims involving senior officials

The government has been rocked with recent allegations of corruption by watchdog group, Global Witness, in a bribing scheme with UK mining company, Sable. The high ranking officials are inclusive of Fombah Sirleaf, son of the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is the head of Liberia National Security Agency.

The regime has since responded with proclamations of a full investigation. It knows this will be an initial test of its ability to ensure accountability and transparency ahead of the withdraw. This is potentially a pre-withdraw examination of the government to fully utilized the state judicial apparatuses to combat organized crime.

Elections in 2017 and countermeasures

With a looming presidential election in 2017, Liberia’s then newly local police and military could be tested beyond its capabilities. Should the electoral race generate contentious situations and the AFL fails to adequately handle it, certain sentiments of civic unrest and divide could pose a problem to stabilization efforts.

As a precautionary, the government has wisely requested UNMIL’s departure delayed until after the exam. The request is not ingenious, but rather logical as the elections could easily re-galvanize tribal and factional groups. Sources in the country have constantly declared many locals are still ardent supporters of former president and now convicted war crimes criminal, Charles Taylor.

Political affiliations and subgroup cannot be wholly assessed right now due to the longevity of UNMIL’s presence. Hence the post-withdrawn era will be crucial in attempting to incorporate and nurture any potential radical anti-government factions that pose a threat to general public safety.

After the June 30th drawdown, UNMIL will have 1240 peacekeepers. A UNSC meeting is arranged for December 2016 to decide the future of UNMIL, most notably, withdrawing completely. The government is steadfast on its ability but the request to delay the missions departure until the elections provides an alternative perspective that its apprehensive about its own ability to sustain the peace.

Michael Harrison
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