30 June 2016

Liberia: Ready or Not? As UN Peacekeepers Turn Over Security, Liberia's Readiness Put to the Test

Photo: Staton Winter/UNMIL
UNMIL Peacekeepers backing the Liberian National Police.
editorial

WHEN FARID ZARIF, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in Liberia addressed the United Nations Security Council recently, he remarked that June 30 would mark the completion of the security transition of one of the most significant milestones for Liberia and the international community since the end of the country's civil war and the signing of the peace agreement in 2003.

TODAY, UNMIL is marking the beginning of a new phase in its engagement in Liberia, one that climaxes a rather mixed bag of turbulent misfortunes and fond memories of an era which saw the international community come to the aid of Liberia which had been through a devastating civil war that killed scores of its citizens and sent thousands others into exile.

UNMIL, HAS SINCE the end of the civil war in 2003, been supporting the West African nation to rebuild its institutions so it can maintain stability without its presence.

WHILE MANY AWAIT THE TURNING over of security to Liberian forces today, UNMIL is expected to remain in some capacity. The international force has already consolidated its 13 county field offices into five regional ones and will reduce more than 30 per cent of its civilian staffing over the next two years.

THE REDUCTION OF UN staff comes as Liberia and next door Ivory Coast have agreed to reopened their borders which have seen a series of recent activities reminiscent of a previous era of violent with skirmishes of fighting reported on both sides of the border.

TO SAY THAT UNMIL was without difficulties during its time in Liberia would be a misrepresentation of the facts. Some bad apples within the force were involved in acts unbecoming of peacekeepers amid reports of isolated cases of sexual assaults against women.

A 2012 survey revealed that some 44,000 women in the greater Monrovia area alone had engaged in transactional sex with UN personnel. The study authors estimated that the median Monrovian woman's chance of reaching age 25 without engaging in transactional sex would be nearly 50 percent greater if there were no UNMIL troops.

THESE ISOLATED CASES dampened what was otherwise a life-saving operation by the international community to restore hope to a nation on the brink of collapse.

UNMIL took over peacekeeping duties from ECOWAS forces on 1 October. Some 3,500 West African troops who had been serving with ECOMIL vanguard force were provisionally "re-hatted" as United Nations peacekeepers.

BUT MUCH MORE remains. Liberia which has expressed its readiness to fill in the void after the departure of UN peacekeepers has its work cut out despite its declaration that it would need US$104.848 million, much of which is expected to be mobilized by the Liberian government to pick up the slack.

THE PLAN UNDERSCORES the need for the Executive and the Legislature to prioritize security sector funding and ensure adequate and guaranteed national budgetary allocations, for a 3-5-year period. But it is clear that in order to be effective, the post-UNMIL security sector will have to improve financial management, transparency and accountability; effective use of existing resources; as well as coordination and cost-savings among agencies as this will assist the sector in reducing corruption and costs, improving efficiency, and targeting resources to priority needs.

ALREADY, REPORTS of skirmishes of violence reported on plantations in Nimba, Sinoe and Grand Bassa which saw late arrival of security forces to calm the tension shows that logistical lapses remain a challenge for Liberia.

BUDGET CUTS TO THE security sector is also a factor and the uneven disbursement of funds amongst the police and the army is something that must be addressed going forward.

LIBERIA OWES MUCH to the United Nations men and women who risked their lives by leaving their friends, families and loved ones behind to ensure that Liberians sleep well at night and go about their daily lives. But the reality is, UNMIL cannot expect to be in Liberia forever, looking over our shoulders.

LIBERIANS OWE IT to themselves to pick up the slack. The 2017 presidential and legislative elections will mark a crucial test for Liberia and Liberians looking to complete the transition from war to peace.

WE OWE MUCH to the international community who have stood beside us and came to our aid when everything was falling apart.

TOO MANY LIVES HAVE been lost and too many have found new lives in exile, eagerly anticipating a day when they will feel comfortable returning to the land of their birth.

FOR THIS we must all rally around the government and the international community in ensuring that the peace that has been served stays until eternity.

THE REEMERGENCE OF our democracy sojourn must be heralded and trumpet in all parts of the nation and we must all work and do all we can to ensure that we do not return to an ugly chapter and a past that saw us lose our sanity and put us on the brink of extinction.

WE MUST ALL TAKE A BOW and pay homage to the men and women of UNMIL who despite some isolated instances, helped save lives and preserve what was left of our political and economic sanity.

Liberia

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