20 January 2016

Liberia: Threat Next Door - Unmil Liberia Pullout a Concern After B. Faso Hit

Photo: Liberia Government
Presidents Sirleaf and Quattara at epoch-making occasion in Cote d'Ivoire.

It is important that the United Nations responds favorably to Ivorian President Alhassan Ouattara's request for international peacekeepers' presence at least until after the 2017 presidential elections. It is important because last weekend's assault in Burkina Faso that left 30 people dead showed the extremes terror groups are willing to go to make their fanatic voices heard. That attack hits home to all not just one. It must be a wake-up call for all.

LAST WEEKEND'S Splendid Hotel assault in Burkina Faso which the terror group al Qaeda claimed responsibility for is the latest warning shot on the continent to send a strong message that a clear and present danger lurks and that attacks of such nature are no longer only confined to western nations.

THIS WEEK, Ivorian President, AlassaneOuattara, hosting the 2nd Joint Council of Chiefs and Elders Meeting (JCCEM) with Liberia, vowed to plead with United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon to look into the possibility of extending the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia beyond 2016 and at least until the 2017 elections are over in his neighboring country.

THE UN IS ALREADY in the process of winding down operations in Liberia, pulling out stations and troops from key border and entry points in the country.

LIBERIA SAYS IT is ready to fill the void left by UNMIL but lingering strains amongst the various security agencies are making it increasingly clear that the international community and stakeholders may need to rethink their position on Liberia.

POST-UNMIL LIBERIA SECURITY will require a lot of money to maintain the peace. The government revealed last year, a costly transition plan to facilitate its readiness for life after UN troops leave its shores, setting an implementation plan at US$104.848 million, much of which is expected to be mobilized by the Liberian government.

AT LEAST $US15 million of the 90 million for UNMIL drawn down is included in the 2015/2016 National budget, according to Deputy Finance and Development Minister for Expenditure, Dr. James Kollie.

UNMIL'S PRESENCE HAS IN THE PAST FEW years provided a cushion to facilitate the transition from war to peace. Two successful elections marred by tension and quarrels over results proved that Liberia, despite turning the corner, remains vulnerable and fragile. But can they continue the trend after UNMIL leaves and in the aftermath of what is inarguably the most important elections in the country's history without UN presence?

THAT'S THE question many, including Mr. Ouattara have about a region saddled with porous borders and becoming increasing vulnerable to extremists like Al Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram.

THE WEST AFRICAN SUB-REGION has seen a wave of chaos, and civil unrests in recent years.

IVORY COAST'S BORDER was the entry point of Liberia's bloody civil war in December 1989. Nearly a decade later, in 2010 political violence that erupted in Côte d'Ivoire, after incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in the general election was the source of violence that saw more than 200,000 Ivoirians flee to Liberia.

IN SIERRA LEONE, a civil war which ran from 1991-2002 began on 23 March 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), with support from the special forces of Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), intervened in Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the Joseph Momoh government. The strife lasted 11 years, and left more than 50,000 dead.

A SEPTEMBER 2014 REPORT by the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University and the peace-building NGO Conciliation Resources which took a look at the source of this mounting insecurity, its impact on people and on diplomatic relations between governments in the region reported that Policy Responses to Cross-border Dynamics on the Border between Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia, highlights the need to address refugee flows and asserts that security measures alone cannot tackle the underlying causes of the tensions.

WHILE WE WELCOME, the communiqué from this week's meeting in the Ivory Coast, in which leaders of the two countries resolved to strengthen their cooperation toward peace consolidation, stability and security in the cross-border area as well as their desire to take immediate steps to resolve all land occupation-related issues along the common borders; and cooperate with political and administrative authorities; this may not be enough to remedy the aftermath of international peacekeepers in Liberia.

IT IS IMPORTANT that the UN responds favorably to President Ouattara's request for international peacekeepers' presence at least until after the 2017 presidential elections.

IT IS IMPORTANT because last weekend's assault in Burkina Faso that left 30 people dead showed the extremes terror groups are willing to go to make their fanatic voices heard. That attack hits home to all not just one and must serve as a wake-up call to all.

IT TOOK THE intervention of French and U.S.-assisted operation by Burkina security forces to retake the Splendid Hotel and surrounding buildings following an attack last Friday night which targeted an area popular with foreigners. Eight Burkinabes, six Canadians, three Ukrainians and three French citizens were among the dead. Other bodies are still in the process of being identified.

AL QAEDA IN THE ISLAMIC Maghreb (AQIM) have identified three fighters it says were responsible for the attacks, giving their names as al-Battar al-Ansari, Abu Muhammad al-Buqali al-Ansari and Ahmed al-Fulani al-Ansari. The French troops involved in the operation against the attackers were part of a 200-strong force stationed in the country as part of a regional anti-militant operation.

AQIM CLAIMED A SIMILAR attack, on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako that killed 20 people in November.

THIS IS WHY, A POST-UNMIL Liberia must also tread carefully as one wrong move could spell trouble.

A REPORT THIS WEEK BY the international watchdog group, Transparency International, a U.K.-based research organization that tracks corruption and perceptions of corruption worldwide, gave every single African country surveyed (47 out of 54) a failing or near-failing grade when it comes to preventing graft in their defense sectors.

THE REPORT SUGGESTS that Corruption in Military Defense Spending Could Be Behind Rise in Africa Terror Attacks. The report noted that nearly 40% of the countries surveyed do not publish their defence budgets at all and those that do provide only highly aggregated figures. "The only countries that provide any useful defence spending information are Benin, South Africa, Tunisia, Ghana, Tanzania, Liberia, and Namibia. In those countries, the Ministry of Defence's (MOD) budget provides information on spending for training, construction, personnel, acquisitions, salaries, and maintenance, though the level of detail varies. Most countries provide no meaningful information on secret spending Only Sierra 2. Defence spending & oversight 2015 GOVERNMENT DEFENCE ANTI-CORRUPTION INDEX 2 Leone provides estimates of spending allocated to intelligence agencies. While only in 2 countries is Parliament given full information for the budget year on the spending of all secret items relating to national security and military intelligence."

IN LIBERIA, THE REPORT NOTED that a majority of defence and security spending procurement is exempt from legislation, as well as oversight by the Public Procurement and Concession Commission and the scrutiny of the General Auditing Commission. "Since 2008, the GAC has provided the legislature with over 70 audit reports; none related to the defence and security sector. The Ministry of Defence also provides only basic information to parliamentary committees," the report noted.

THE TI REPORT FURTHER NOTES that defense spending is on the rise across the continent, but warns that without better tracking on how that money is spent, there is little to ensure that it will go to the areas that need it most in a new era of terror attacks, namely counter-terror and security programs. "With such limited oversight on military spending, there are many opportunities for corruption and graft that can in turn contribute to rising insecurity in the region," says Leah Wawro, Transparency International's program manager for conflict and insecurity. Corruption, adds co-author Eléonore Vidal de la Blache, the Africa project manager, can lead to black-market arms sales to terror groups, or, in some cases, bolster funding for those groups.

WHILE WE WELCOME the decision by the leaders from Burkina Faso and Mali to work more closely to fight jihadists by sharing intelligence and conducting joint security patrols that approach must extend to other areas of Africa more vulnerable to extremists.

WE AGREE WITH Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that peace is not an option but constitutes a necessity and imperative in the best interest of the people of Liberia.

IN THE SAME VEIN, it also a necessity for leaders of not just the sub-region but the continent as a whole to step up their assault on terror by increasing intelligence and cooperation and enforcing border points to ensure no one country allows extremists and terrorists to penetrate another.

INTERNATIONAL STAKEHOLDERS must think through the Liberia situation clearly. It is in everyone's interest to see Liberia complete its transition from war to peace and from one democratically-elected government to the next without chaos and confusion.

IT IS IN everyone's interest to see a West African sub-region free of chaos, violence and confusion, the most delicate part of the road to peace, one less traveled but often underestimated by those making decisions that could ultimately decide the fate of millions.

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