columnBy Philip N. Wesseh
Why should Liberia send troops to Mali for peacekeeping? What is the significance of Liberia sending troops to Mali as part of ECOWAS peacekeeping mission? Is the Liberian Army adequately prepared to face the task of peacekeeping in Mali?
These are some of the questions that abound since it was disclosed by President Sirleaf, after attending the recent ECOWAS meeting in Ivory Coast that Liberian will be sending a platoon. Indeed, these are all genuine questions and concerns because this will be a new experience for the new Armed Forces of Liberia. It is an open secret that the Liberian security forces, including the Armed Forces were restructured, in keeping with the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed in Accra in 2003 to end years of conflict in this country. Part Four, Article VII calls for the disbandment of all irregular forces and the restructuring of the Armed Forces of Liberia, with a new command structure.
In that accord, the parties insisted that the new Armed Forces should consider the following principles in its restructuring exercises:(a) Incoming service personnel shall be screened with respect to educational, professional, medical and fitness qualifications as well as prior history with regard to human rights abuses; (b) The restructured force shall take into account the country's national balance. It shall be composed without any political bias to ensure that it represents the national character of Liberia; (c) The mission of the Armed Forces of Liberia shall be to defend the national sovereignty and in extremes, respond to natural disasters; (d) All Parties shall cooperate with ECOWAS, the UN, the AU, the ICGL and the United States of America.
Accordingly in keeping with this accord, the Liberian government, beginning with the administration of interim Chairman Charles Gyudy Bryant, with the help of partners, started the restructuring exercises. The process was consummated during the first term of President Sirleaf, with the training of about 2000 men and women for the new Armed Forces of Liberia. One thing that is glaring is that the restructuring exercise was transparent because applicants were vetted and scrupulously screened. More importantly, those in charge with the process also sought the involvement of the general public to ensure that only those with certain good records were recruited.
Indeed, that paid off well as the public, meaning, fully aware of the need of a new army with enviable records, participated.
But the major question being asked is whether or not the new army is adequately prepared for the peacekeeping mission in Mali. From all indications and considering the recruitment and training exercises, coupled with advanced international training, I am of the strong conviction that the new army is up to the task to perform in Mali.
Here in Liberia, there is no doubt that the new army continue to exercise professionalism in the country. Some of its members were deployed at the Liberian-Ivorian borders where there have been no reports, even from civilians, for any unprofessional act, or any act incompatible with their status as members of the Armed Forces of Liberia. With this record, it is logical to deduce that they will perform professionally and adhere to the "Chain of command," while in Mali. But this is not all about this peacekeeping mission.
The most important question is: What is the significance of this mission? As it is often said, "If your neighbor's house is on fire, it is good to join in putting out the fire," as not doing so may cause the fire to spread, thus affecting one's house. It is in this light that ECOWAS, based on past experiences is now acting to send peacekeepers to quench the fire in that country. Therefore, Liberia, which has benefited from similar decision by ECOWAS, with the coming of ECOMOG in August 1990, has all reasons to be a part of this decision.
As for me, I support the government's decision to join the peacekeeping efforts of ECOWAS, considering the issue of peace and stability in the region. It is important that Liberia joins this effort to show political solidarity for the restoration of peace in that country, yea, the region as a country which has benefited from ECOWAS' peace initiative, and based on its experiences of the consequences of war, Liberia, in its post-war status, is in the position to be a part of such effort.
Additionally, Liberia's participation is necessary as it will provide the opportunity to show how far the country has reached in terms of the restructuring of its security apparatus. When I speak of "how far" we have reached is to mainly show to the international community that indeed, Liberia has a professional army that is capable of being part of any international peacekeeping effort. That is, to show to our partners and others who assisted in the restructuring of the army and the restoration of peace in this country that their resources were not wasted.
Although Liberia has not taken part in peacekeeping operations since it did in the 1960's, I am confident that based on the training of the new army, the army is all set for such a mission. The government has announced this decision and what matters now is for those who will be on such mission to exhibit a high degree of professionalism to bring credit and pride to this country. Besides, they should be aware that "one turns deserves another," meaning that future mission depends on how this platoon will "justify their inclusion" on such mission. Again, thanks to President Sirleaf and her government for such a sound decision, as it is significant for Liberia to be part of such a peacekeeping mission.