Top Liberian and UN officials saluted 13 years of partnership after Liberian forces took back responsibility for national security, but experts say the west African nation faces huge challenges.
At a rain-soaked ceremony in the country’s capital Monrovia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and UN Special Representative Farid Zarif paid tribute to the domestic police and military services which were rebuilt from scratch after 14 years of bloodshed.
“We have talked a great deal about Liberia being a post-conflict success story. This transition is an important element in ensuring that this success story remains true,” said Sirleaf, thanking “all who have worked so hard to get us here”.
During Liberia’s 1989-2003 bloody civil war, some of the worst abuses were perpetuated by government forces, who are still accused of being politicised.
Sirleaf added she knew “that we have not accomplished all that we had identified to be done”, with setbacks to the initial timeframe for the security handover caused by a devastating Ebola outbreak.
But she noted the government “understands the importance of security, knowing that without the basic level of citizens’ security, there can be no enduring social and economic development”.
Farid Zarif, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Liberia, described how his troops had diminished from 16,000 uniformed personnel at their peak in 2007 to the 1,240 military and 606 police personnel that will remain in a support role, saluting the “exemplary” work of the Liberians forces.
However, he cautioned that the Liberian people needed to be able to hold security forces accountable, saying more needed to be done in that area.
“Effective community engagement and civilian oversight are cornerstones of building trust between communities and security institutions — which is critical to the long-term success of the security transition,” the UN top official said.
Dr Thomas Jaye, Liberia security sector reform expert, told journalists that the country would face an uphill challenge without the presence of United Nations Mission in Liberia troops.
“For a country like Liberia that depends or relies heavily on donor support for almost everything it does, the capacity and ability to provide internal security becomes burdensome, difficult and almost impossible,” he said.
With police salaries of around $160 a month, many struggle to survive without resorting to some form of corruption, Jaye said.
Meanwhile, the top brass remain overly influenced by government.
“The history of the Liberian security sector is the history of political interference and lack of independence,” he said.