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Liberia: Uneven Progress in Security Sector Reform
Liberia: Uneven Progress in Security Sector Reform
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Liberia: Reconciliation and Reform
Liberia: Reconciliation and Reform
Report 148 / Africa

Liberia: Uneven Progress in Security Sector Reform

Since independence and for fourteen years of war, Liberia’s army, police and other security agencies have mostly been sources of insecurity and misery for a destitute people. The internationally driven attempt to radically reform the security sector since the war’s end in 2003 is a major chance to put this right and prevent new destabilisation.

Executive Summary

Since independence and for fourteen years of war, Liberia’s army, police and other security agencies have mostly been sources of insecurity and misery for a destitute people. The internationally driven attempt to radically reform the security sector since the war’s end in 2003 is a major chance to put this right and prevent new destabilisation. Security sector reform (SSR) programs have been unprecedented in ambition but with mixed results. Army reform, entailing complete disbanding of existing forces, has made significant progress despite lack of proper oversight of private military companies (PMCs) and of consensus on strategic objectives. But police and other security reforms are much less satisfactory. The bold approach to army reform was possible due to strong national consensus and the presence of a large, liberally mandated UN presence. Government and donors must sustain their support to maintain hard-won momentum in army reform and, once clear benchmarks are set, give a floundering police force more resources. The drawdown of the UN force, begun in the second half of 2008, underlines the urgency.

SSR began in 2004 with the first reforms by the UN peacekeeping mission (UNMIL) of the Liberian National Police (LNP) and exploratory missions by U.S. officials and private military contractors, one of which, DynCorp International, was subsequently awarded the army contract. Specific planning for army reform began with a calculation of what was economically viable (the number of soldiers to whom Liberia could afford to pay monthly salaries) and moved forward from there. While such an approach had obvious limitations, it made sense in the context of the post-war transitional government. Much donor money and Liberian revenues were being lost, and few actors appeared committed to the country’s long-term stability and well-being. There was little trust between donors and government representatives, many of whom were subsequently indicted for stealing government funds.

Even under such difficult circumstances, economic discipline should have been considered in tandem with a thorough assessment of the probable threats to which the security forces would have to respond. The lack of clear strategic vision is most evident in the confusion surrounding the biggest security threat to the nation: there is no consensus about who, if anyone, would respond to any new outbreak of insurgency warfare. Such an insurgency could arise from discontented groups, possibly drawing on support from outside Liberia, as has occurred in the past, or from a spread of unrest with numerous root causes, including land disputes and violent crime. The newly formed paramilitary police Emergency Response Unit (ERU) may be best placed to take on this task, but recruitment and training continues to be delayed, and its role is still not fully clarified. Better strategic planning and clear division of roles and principles for communication between different intelligence and security bodies is vital.

Private military companies are key players. They have been subcontracted by the U.S. government to train and vet the new military as well as the ERU. The Liberian experience is instructive about both the advantages and disadvantages of using PMCs for such work. The oversight structures employed by the U.S. State Department have been shoddy, but the results so far have generally been good. One explanation is that a few key oversight personnel have been able to exercise inordinate influence to keep the relatively small SSR project on course.

Army reform appears to be a provisional success. Liberia now has a pool of nearly 2,000 rigorously vetted and well-trained privates. The vetting process in particular has been a notable success – the best, several experts said, they had witnessed anywhere in the world. The challenges ahead, however, could prove overwhelming for an army that presently has only 110 officers (98 Liberian and twelve from other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries). The new soldiers are trained only at individual and small unit levels and will not be prepared to act as unified companies, much less a brigade, until late 2010. There is still much to be done (including specialist, company and brigade-level training) before the army can work together. The development of a capable managerial and leadership core within the military is an organic process that must be nurtured by both the Liberian government and its international partners.

More worrying, the police are still widely considered ineffective and corrupt. Both ordinary citizens and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf have blamed a recent spate of armed robberies on their poor performance. They have been recruited, vetted and trained to a far lower standard than the army. Training of the paramilitary ERU may address some problems, but others have more to do with basic issues of poor management, lack of equipment and dismal community relations. There also appears to be inadequate realisation that successful police reform can only be sustained if it is linked to an effective judiciary that enforces the rule of law fairly and effectively to protect individual rights and assure citizen security.

This has led to the growth of vigilantism and disrespect of police in Monrovia and elsewhere. The police desperately need a combination of managerial expertise, strategic vision and (only then) a major increase in budget. The challenge facing the government and donors is the transition from external partner to sovereign state responsibilities. To this point, the Johnson-Sirleaf government has been largely happy to leave the reform of its army and police to others, occupied as it is with economic recovery. Domestic ownership of the reforms has become urgent, but it must not entail the overly hasty exit of international partners. Unless in particular U.S. and UN efforts to make Liberia more secure and stable are sustained over the next few years, the investment made since the end of the war could easily unravel.

Dakar/Brussels, 13 January 2009

 

Podcast / Africa

Liberia: Reconciliation and Reform

Titi Ajayi, West Africa Fellow, talks to Gabriela Keseberg Dávalos, Senior Communications Officer, about lessons learned from the last electoral process in Liberia and what the country should do to consolidate peace and democracy.

In this podcast, Titi Ajayi points out the lessons learned from the last electoral process in Liberia and what the country should do to consolidate peace and democracy. CRISIS GROUP