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Security Sector Reform in Liberia: Mixed Results from Humble Beginnings

Security Sector Reform in Liberia: Mixed Results from Humble Beginnings - Cover

Authored by Mr. Mark Malan.

March 2008

99 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The author presents an explanatory overview and analysis of progress made with the process of security sector reform in Liberia--with particular reference to the armed forces and the police. The auithor begins with a concise review of what the theory of SSR and its application in the Liberian context and follows with a description of Liberia’s post-war security architecture and the urgent need for a comprehensive and sustained process of reform. An overview of the legal and conceptual framework for engaging in SSR in Liberia is provided as further backdrop to substantive sections dealing with the reform (or re-building) of the Armed Forces of Liberia and the Liberia National Police. The author concludes with a critical analysis of the SSR process and recommendations for further action.


After 14 years of civil war in which human rights were widely and seriously abused by all sides, there is a clear and urgent need to comprehensively reform Liberia’s entire security sector. Outside of Europe, a whole-of-government approach to security sector reform (SSR) may be conceptually valid, but it seems to be unworkable in practice. In Africa, donor countries have not had the fortitude to see comprehensive processes through, and recipient countries have not had the financial and human resource capacity to implement or sustain ambitious, overarching SSR programs. Where United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions are deployed, SSR continues to slip into a systemic funding vacuum, with the Security Council mandating missions to conduct SSR and hoping that a “lead nation” will step forward. The lead nation for Liberia, because of its “special relationship” with the country, is the United States.

Responsibility (including financial support) for the reconstitution of Liberia’s security sector is shared among the U.S. Government, which is leading the reform of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the Liberian government (Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Justice), and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which is implementing police reform. Both the UN and the United States have made a promising start with police and military reform, but they have not done nearly enough towards accomplishing the SSR goals laid out in UN Security Council Resolution 1509 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement for Liberia.

Since 2004, UN Police officers (UNPOL) have assisted the Liberian National Police (LNP) in trying to maintain law and order, at the same time as they were mandated to restructure, retrain, and reequip the police service. However, UNMIL had no money to fulfill its mandate to rebuild the police from scratch. Instead, UN police vetted and recruited a few hundred new police officers from the dismantled LNP to work alongside them. The United States subsequently provided $500,000 for training 3,500 new officers at the Liberian National Police Academy. By August 2007, 3,522 officers had graduated from the National Police Academy and are being deployed country-wide. But the LNP remains ineffective, largely because of critical shortages of essential police equipment—from vehicles and radios to handcuffs and raincoats (it rains 50 percent of the time in the country). Donors have provided assistance to the LNP in dribs and drabs, and invariably very late. Improving funding and addressing urgent leadership and management challenges will improve the present low morale and poor discipline of the LNP.

Progress with military reform has also been relatively slow. Liberia still has no operational army. What remained of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) after the war was effectively a force constituted of loyalists to deposed President Charles Taylor. The United States pledged $210 million to the task of creating an effective 2,000-strong Liberian army, contracting DynCorp and PAE to help dissolve the old army and recruit and train a new force. While the DynCorp-led recruiting, vetting, and training process is ongoing and some recruits have completed a basic training course, they are not yet integrated into units under effective command. Weak and erratic funding from the U.S. Department of State is the main cause of the slow pace of AFL development. Liberia needs an operationally proficient army. In a region “awash with small arms,” there is a constant need for effective patrolling to deter the cross-border movement of weapons and recruitment of mercenaries. The 14,000- strong UN force should therefore not be reduced below a strength of 9,000 until the AFL is operational.

Moreover, the UN should ensure that future benchmarks for the drawdown of UNMIL police officers and military forces are determined by qualitative criteria, not based on numbers trained. This will require enhanced efforts to produce reliable crime statistics and the conduct of victimization surveys among the population of Monrovia and the rural areas. It should also entail a shift in mindset from quantity to quality of human resources, including the development of personal performance appraisal systems.

It is further recommended that the UN and the U.S. Government, in close consultation, robustly advise and support the Government of Liberia with the process of drafting and adopting a comprehensive national security strategy and policy—as a matter of utmost priority within the wider governance reform agenda. This would provide a legitimate policy framework within which to get the AFL fully operational without further time slippage so that it can conduct operations alongside UNMIL before the final drawdown and exit of the UN force. It is also essential that the U.S. Congress provide sufficient funding to the SSR Program to keep the buildup of the AFL, UN planning for the drawdown of UNMIL, and ultimately the peacebuilding process in Liberia all on track. At the same time, Congress should insist on more credible measures to ensure that civics and human rights become a central element of the U.S. training program for the AFL.

Ultimately, the U.S. Government should move beyond the current short-termism of the SSR Program; it should transform it into an approach that embodies a “sustained injection of technical and financial support” and includes the integration of active duty U.S. military advisors into the AFL, as well as closer coordination with and support to UNMIL and the LNP. To consolidate democratic gains and avoid a relapse into armed conflict, the UN and the United States, as well as other significant donor partners, need to stay the course in Liberia as they have done in Kosovo. SSR is a long-term process, not an ephemeral event.

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