Liberia News: A ‘Force For Good’ A Reminder To The Soldiers

Monrovia-February-15-TNR:For the first time since the restructuring of the new Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) after the 14-years civil conflict, official ceremony marking the 67th anniversary of the AFL was cancelled due to what has been described as a “mutiny,” staged by wives of soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). The AFL Commander-In-Chief told citizens since the eruption of the protest he has been in contact with Liberia’s strategic partners including the United States and other regional stakeholders on the severity of the recent protest.

The Commander-In-Chief of the AFL, President Joseph Nyuma Boakai later ordered roadblocks be cleared, while agreeing to hold talks with the protesters about pay and conditions of service for Liberia’s soldiers, appointing a special independent investigator to probe Monday’s disruption of Armed Forces Day.

This latest fracas involving the national army comes hard on the heels of growing instability in the West African sub-region triggered by military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, neighboring Guinea and Niger. Next door in Sierra Leone, there was an eruption of violence reportedly emanating from within the ranks of the country’s military which was later described as a coup attempt, claiming the lives of many and wounding of other civilians.

In a radio and television address to the nation late Monday evening, President Boakai said, “I have appointed a special independent investigator to probe into these grievances and report to me within two weeks. We have also activated the Board of Inquiry to look into the case of several soldiers who were discharged from the AFL for various serious crimes but were said to be undeservedly pardoned and reinstated.”

Before Monday’s rift in the new military/defense structure, the AFL had enjoyed a towering image among Liberia’s security apparatus, with most local and international surveys rating them high. And the new AFL has become widely known and admired for being a “Force for Good.”

The disarmament, demobilization and deactivation of the 100,000 combatants (including the old AFL and rebel forces) began in 2003 in Liberia under the Accra- Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), thus beginning the building of a new Liberian army. The recruitment was aimed at building a 2,000-strong post-war army.

Liberia’s traditional friend, the United States took the lead in training and funding the restructuring of the new AFL, taking the responsibility to subcontract DynCorp and PA&E in 2005, two private American firms that work in coordination with the US military personnel.

Despite the training and to the disbelief of Liberians, earlier on Monday, February 12, 20234, some elements of the army were said to have put their spouses in the front staging protests at barracks and blocking major roads in the country. Some position wood in their hands as guns sitting on vehicles during the hours of protest with one of the demands being the removal of the newly appointed Minister of National Defense, Retired Major Gen. Prince C. Johnson, III who was until recently AFL Chief of Staff.

As the tension unfolded, Rtd. General Johnson later wrote his letter of resignation to the new Commander-In-Chief who later on Monday accepted the resignation of his new Defense Minister who was only confirmed by the Liberian Senate last Friday.

On Sunday, February 11, President Boakai received in audience wives of some members of the Armed Forces of Liberia who expressed their concerns on several issues. These issues included poor living conditions, high tuition fees for their children, lack of adequate medical care, and low salaries, among others. The women stated their most important demand was the removal of Retired Major General Prince C. Johnson, III, as Minister of Defense.

I thought to historicize the issue of the AFL because Liberians considered the new Liberian Army as a beacon of hope and a force for good considering the level of training the army received immediately after the nearly 14 years of civil unrest turned the national army into a rebel faction during the war.

We do not want the national army to be fractionalized or turn into a political tool this time around. The army must be able to protect the peace Liberians have yearned for and received since 20 years after the end of the civil war which devastated every fabric of our nation.

While we are in sympathy with the plights of soldiers of the AFL as listed by their wives, we call on the Liberian army to be the protector of peace and not to be drawn into politics. It is a known fact that our country has suffered for too long because of division and politicizing everything about our country. The army is the army with a direct Order to OBEY, OBEY and OBEY.

What we witnessed few days ago completely contradicts the kind of army that was trained to be a “Force for Good.” As I said previously, before Monday’s rift in the new military/defense structure, the AFL had enjoyed a towering image among Liberia’s security apparatus, with most local and international surveys rating them high. And the new AFL has become widely known and admired for being a “Force for Good.”

While we agreed that there are issues confronting the national army that need government’s attention, I feel that the manner in which the soldiers sent their spouses on the streets is counterproductive to the towering image our army has built over the years as a force for good. In all fairness, the barraged of issues faced by the army have been there for many years. These are not the making of Rtd. Gen. Johnson or President Boakai who just took over in less than a month.

Solving these problems requires dialogue with the new administration since these problems were inherited by the Boakai administration. These issues are not even the making of former President George M. Weah so, engaging the Boakai administration in finding amicable solution to some of these issues would’ve been the best thing to do in preserving the towering image of the Armed Forces of Liberia rather than sending their wives on the streets in total violation of others’ rights under the Liberian law.

In all fairness, the issues raised by wives of the Liberian soldiers are all genuine issues that the government must speedily address to avoid any eventuality like the recent protest staged by wives of the servicemen. But what I frown on is the manner in which the protest was staged by violating other people’s rights as many were deprived of booking their flights due to roadblocks set up by women believed to be wives of the servicemen.          

Let the Liberian army distinguish itself as a force for good that Liberians can depend on to protect our over 20 years of uninterrupted peace. The Army is not a political institution and therefore, must not be controlled by politicians as we witnessed in the past. The action of the servicemen’s wives is no doubt a form of munity staged by the army something that is counterproductive to maintaining the peace of our country. Remember that the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) is, and must remain A FORCE for Good!

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