Reports that foreign troops will soon be deployed to ostensibly support national elections next year is clear evidence of a failed Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Liberia.
For more than a decade, millions of dollars were invested into training, restructuring, and equipping Liberian security apparatuses paid mostly by American taxpayers might have all gone in vain.
Sadly, the United Nations Mission in Liberia, the US government, and its Western allies have built a security sector marred by some of the same problems that crippled the security forces of the Doe dictatorship and the Taylor warlordship: cronyism, patronage, and incompetence.
There have been many recent glaring examples of the ineptitude of the security sector. The spike in armed robbery; the ill-fated intervention by the Armed Forces in West Point during the Ebola crisis; the response to unrest at Golden Veroleum concession in Sinoe; and the inadequate response to the mayhem at Arcelor Mittal facility in Nimba, to name a few.
Uniforming and rehatting old security assistance program masquerading as SSR has done an injustice to the Liberian people. A pig dressed up in lipstick; guess what, it’s a pig. The conspicuous absence of the governance elements of SSR, which is what makes security reform different from private security sector assistance, makes what took place in Liberia a joke.
Firstly, let’s look at part of what was done in the country in the name of security reform. A major player in the reform efforts was led by an American private security company – DynCorp – to reconstitute the Liberian Army and restructure the Ministry of Defense. The fact that one man has remained minister for nearly 12 years tells you the level of restructuring that occurred: zip, zilch, zero! The minister has outlived his usefulness and has run out of ideas and needs to leave before any real reform can take place if you ask me.
Secondly, there was no commitment from the principal funder to do any serious sector reform work. Outsourcing SSR to a for-profit entity like DynCorp was misguided. What the exercise did was fattened the bank accounts of the company’s shareholders and left many Liberian security bosses fabulously wealthy. Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, the USA has no strategic interest in Liberia, and thus the approach to reforming the country’s anachronistic security sector was poorly conceived coupled with malfeasance run amok, and a lack of political will. Now, the security establishment is portraying Liberia as fragile and unstable to garner more international goodwill and financial resources, which they will convert to their personal use.
Thirdly, security sector development and reform are insufficient if only cosmetic political change accompanies it. In Liberia, the consequence of a weak SSR agenda has created dysfunction, corruption, and impotent state structures, legitimized by elections.
Therefore, no foreign troops, no reform program will have any impact if the perception of the masses is that the justice or security systems are broken, unjust and biased. Impunity is the big elephant in the room, and unless it can be acknowledged and addressed, Liberia will remain on the brink of a failed state, to the fancy of government security kingpins.
Pic:1983-1985, Nigeria — General Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria — Image by © William Campbell/Sygma/Corbis