Liberia is enjoying 10 years of peace, but pockets of violence still survive in the country, and the Special Representative of the Secretary General and head of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) Karin Landgren has alarmed that these violent incidents are concerns for the sustenance of the country’s won peace.
Two days of violent actions on Tuesday and Wednesday (Oct 29 & 30) in Monrovia by motorcyclists and state-run University of Liberian students left properties damaged and several persons, including police officers, wounded.
Motorcyclists on Tuesday set ablaze a transport bus after an accident in which one of their colleagues was killed, while UL students disrupted normal academic activities for two days, including rioting with the police, after the university closed registration following deadlines.
Landgren, in an interview with this paper five days earlier, said violence threatens peace. She called on Liberians to seek better means to addressing their differences instead of engaging into violent acts which undermine peace and stability.
UN peacekeepers have worked with Liberians to drive the country from slipping into another brutal rounds of conflicts after at least 14 years of back-to-back brutal civil war ceased in 2003, followed by two successful democratic elections.
The presence of a record 15,000 UN military peacekeepers has been diminished to lower than 6,000 as part of the UNMIL draw-down plan, with many Liberians claiming that the country is not yet prepared to sustain the peace without the presence of UNMIL, especially amidst rising violence.
Though Landgren told this writer that UNMIL is confident that Liberia will remain peaceful and stable, she expressed concern over widespread incidents of mob, domestic and gender-based violence — which could threaten the gains made.
“UNMIL has helped and monitored the peace and there are no more guns in the hands of fighters, but the cases of violence such as gender-base violence are still common,” she said in an October 24th interview in her office. “There are instances of mob violence and domestic violence all over Liberia, and this gives the need for concern for peace and stability in Liberia.”
In light of the 26th progress report of the Secretary-General on UNMIL (document S/2013/479) in September, Special Representative Karin Landgren said that, broadly speaking, the Liberia’s quest for “unified nationhood” was a “work in progress”, and small-scale outbreaks of violence were still common.
There have been instances of violent activities especially among aggrieved citizens including youth and students groups in addressing their grievances over the years.
Many of them, despite mounting calls for citizens to use the rule of law, often set road blocks, stage unauthorized street demonstrations, or engage into arson attacks in addressing their concerns. At least three police stations have been burnt in recent years.
Many of those involved in these acts have little or no confidence in the justice and legal system, which they claim is marred by corruption, although Landgren said UNMIL is working with the Liberian Government during the drawdown period to ensure an effective running justice system—which contributes to a peaceful society.
“UNMIL is also working with the government in rebuilding the justice and security sectors in particular,” she continues. “As we draw-down from places, we need the Liberia National Police to take over. They need to be deployed in the rural areas—outside of Monrovia. The Justice system also needs to function more efficiently.”
The UN Secretary General Special Representative maintained that UNMIL has had to work hard to support Liberians over the last decade of peace and “It is left to Liberians themselves to support peace for which UNMIL was deployed.”
UNMIL’s current mandate in Liberia stands up to July 2015 at which time the Mission will still have some 3,700 military force and 1,800 police in the country. Landgren said UNMIL’s presence will be that small (as Liberians argue) “because after 10 years of peace, Liberia no longer needs a huge UN military presence.”
With UNMIL’s mandate extended in September, and its three-staged draw-down endorsed by the Security Council, she noted in light of the completion of the first phase on 30 June (2013), the Mission no longer had a fixed military presence in four of Liberia’s counties—Grand Bassa, Grand Kru, Rivercess and Sinoe.
However, it had deployed formed police units to potential hotspots and to support the Liberian National Police. Landgren underlined the importance of a continued presence of formed police units, both as a back-up to their Liberian counterparts and to maintain public confidence in security during the transition.
She said the Mission, working in tandem with the Government, had handed eight locations over to federal entities. Demands on the Government would heighten as the transition progressed, requiring national security forces to scale-up their presence and effectiveness, even amid significant cuts in the police budget.
Recent past Internal Affairs Minister Blamo Nelson insisted that the peace won in Liberia remains fragile, and that issues of violence will have to be addressed to strengthen it. This, he said, will have to be addressed via reforming the institutions through which the country runs.
“We have now established the peace, but it’s fragile,” the former Grand Kru Senator observed. “We need to sustain it.”
He said “to sustain the peace, to make it to last, we have to undertake certain activities. The institutions through which we run our country need to be examined. Whatever flaws that are in these institutions that led us to war, in the first place, need to be corrected. We need to reform these institutions; we need to change the rule of the game.”
Like others, including Landgren, Nelson called for a strengthened police, and encouraged community policing in the country. “The presence of the UN created lots of confidence, so people did not run behind each other with knives and cutlasses. Now if this presence goes away, what replaces it is a trained police force. So we need to make sure that we have a trained police force.”
Nelson stressed the need for an excellent judiciary with trained judges and lawyers that can provide justice to aggrieved citizens. “We need to avoid the things that made us angry yesterday. We need to decentralize the government so that the people can begin to assume some responsibilities for themselves.”
Former Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods, II agrees with him, and noted that the security sector in particular faces a huge challenge.
“A complete reform of the security sector has not been completed—the army and the police—are still being trained,” the Liberian Human rights lawyer noted. “We’ve done well by sending our first peacekeeping mission [to Mali], but our security sector is not yet ready to take over, and they must be ready to take over when UNMIL leaves.”
Woods observed that the Police is still replete with corruption and human rights violations. “Institutions that are to deal with issues of transparency and accountability need to be strengthened. These factors are still issues that we have to deal with. These were some of the very factors that dragged us to war. These factors are still eminent threats leading to violence and war.”
He said Liberians “need now, while working with the UN, a clear and realistic strategy to begin to deal with these issues, otherwise, it will be a waste of time when UNMIL leaves.”
However, Liberia’s Deputy Information Minister Robert Kpadeh told this writer recently that there was no need for panic as UNMIL and government are working to address all matters related to security.
According to him, UNMIL has been a critical partner to help Liberian out of the dudgeon of crisis to peace, and the country was on a forward march.
“Government has been preparing to take over when UNMIL finally leaves,” he said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office. “UNMIL has been working to train the security to ensure that the country is safe when they leave. They have helped train the police, the army and the immigration to man our borders. The partnership is great.”
He maintained that “UNMIL has been a critical, reliable and viable partner and we cannot write the memoir of our country without mentioning the role the UN peacekeepers has played. They’ve given us peace, they’ve helped to build our democracy and after 10 years, Liberia is moving progressively. The sky is our limit; we are moving forward, backward never.” Writes D Kaihenneh Sengbeh, firstname.lastname@example.org, +231886586531/+231777586531