opinionBy Philip N. Wesseh
As I stated recently, as part of its tradition, the new Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) in observance of activities marking the annual Armed Forces Day, always hold a one-day symposium to discuss specific topics on the future of the military. This year, the symposium was held under the topic: "Training, Regimentation And Maintenance: Fundamental Necessities For The Armed Forces of Liberia Being Operational by 1014."
The Deputy Force Commander of UNMIL, Brig. Gen. John A. Kwasie, served as keynote speaker, while I along with former Chief of Staff of the AFL Gen. Henry Dubar and Col. Randolph White of the American Embassy served as discussants. Dr. Thomas Gaye, Dep. Director for Research at the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Center in Accra, Ghana moderated the symposium.
Initially when I received the invitation to be a part of the discussants in the future of the Armed forces of Liberia, especially the military, I pondered as to what to really say. As I internalized on the issue, I got to realize that I could share my experience as a journalist, or someone who has been observing things around for many years. As for the military, its activities were not strange to me and as such, I find myself in a position to throw lights on some issues to make the military a professional one as we all wish in this new dispensation.
Being fully aware of some of the reasons why there were incessant and clamoring calls for the restructure of the Armed Forces of Liberia, I took as one of my focused points the issue of recruitment of the people into the new army. My desire for this matter was based on the fact that in the past, the way and manner in which some individuals were recruited into the military was not proper. In some instances, some people saw the military as a ground to employ relatives, friends, and loved ones, something that really undermined the building of a professional army. This manner of recruitment in the past built a strong opinion during the peace talks in Accra, Ghana in 2003 for the building of a new army.
In my compendious presentation, I raised the issue of recruitment. First, I hailed the recruitment procedures that characterized the building of the new army. I took note of the vetting process by which the present men and women of the army were recruited. In expounding this, I urged those responsible for the recruitment exercise to follow the procedures laid down in building the present army so that the army will remain a professional body that will command the respect and admiration of the people and the country they "dare" to protect.
Furthermore at the time, I stressed that never again should this country resort to the old recruitment procedures of not checking the educational backgrounds or behavior of individuals wanting to join the military. Besides, I also said the military should not be seen as a place of employment, but "service to country," as this will avoid attrition. Notwithstanding, "service to country," should not be misconstrued as suggesting that the military should not be taken care of properly. NO!!! This is not what I meant. As we cater to lawmakers, cabinet ministers and others, so, should we do with the military whose personnel have no means of prerequisites.
I am reiterating this issue of recruitment procedures last week during the regular press briefing at the Information Ministry last Thursday where Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai, who addressed the forum, spoke of the issue of the next recruitment exercise of the military and vowed that the procedure that was used to recruit men and women of the new army will be the same procedure that will be used as the yardstick in the next recruitment exercise. At the briefing, he spoke of the vetting process and said that this exercise will not be done exclusively by the Ministry, but that others, including some of our partners will be a part of it.
Minister Samukai, as the one who sits in the driver's seat, is in the position to making sure that the same process that characterized the recruitment exercise of the present army be adhered to. As he emphatically stated at the briefing that nothing will be done to contravene or depart from the set criteria. He even cited how someone presented fake documents to be recruited, but was later discovered. This is the kind of check one expects in the next recruitment exercise.
I am not against people wanting to see their brothers, sisters, or relatives in the military; my concern is that they should undergo the proper procedures as others will do. No time for favoritism, tribalism and nepotism. Let us keep building the merit system for a better society and country. Predictably, if these laid down procedures are circumvented, we will return to the ugly past to the detriment of the country and its people. This is my trepidation and concern.
Again, the ball is in Minister Samukai's court; the way and manner in which he plays the ball will determine the fate of the team. Additionally, he must keep an eagle's eye when the process begins, being fully aware that if things go wrong, the master will be held liable for the acts of his men or servants. As a student of law, I always remind leaders of the legal doctrine of "Respondeat Superior." (According the Black's Law Dictionary, this is a doctrine that holds "an employer or principal liable for the employee's or agent's wrongful acts committed within the scope of the employment or agency."
In closing, as one of the discussants or someone who continues to follow the activities of the military, I hereby volunteer to also monitor this upcoming recruitment exercise. I will do this "pro bono publico," a Latin which means, ("for the public welfare." or "for the public good".)