Wednesday, July 21, 2010



NOTE: This article was first published in the April 2010 Issue 1 of Conflict Trends by the African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) in South Africa. Any reference to this article should mention that issue because it is the sole property of ACCORD.

The end of the civil war in Liberia in 2003, and the
subsequent free and fair democratic elections of 2005,
signalled the emergence of peace, stability and sustainable
development to the country. Reaping benefits from
the cessation of hostilities and the ensuing democratic
environment, Liberians needed to make necessary
adjustments to accommodate decisions stemming
from the 2003 Peace Accord. The National Transitional
Government of Liberia (NTGL) and the United Nations
Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) worked together to ensure that
the Peace Accord was decisively pursued and scrupulously
implemented. Subsequently, the first post-war democratic
regime assumed power in 2006, and continued the
collaboration with the UN Mission to ensure that the
country’s reform peace agenda was implemented.

Paramount among the reform recommendations
was Security Sector Reform (SSR). This issue sparked
major debate amongst the country’s actors. Warring
factions wanted to feature their generals in the reformed
(new) army, while civil society activists and political
parties argued against the recruitment of “rebels” into
the military. The outcome was an agreement that the
new army would accommodate members of all warring
factions in its ranks, including the moribund Armed Forces
of Liberia (AFL) and forces loyal to the government of
Charles Taylor1 at the time of the signing of the peace
agreement. The reform programme was ongoing until
31 December 2009, when the United States turned over
the Armed Forces of Liberia’s SSR programme to the
democratic government of Liberia.

This article is an assessment of the SSR programme
in Liberia since the end of the civil war. It also looks
into the challenges faced by the stakeholders in ensuring
that Liberia gets trained security institutions that are
responsive to the people and are not agents of abuse and
blind state loyalists, as was seen in the past.

The Context of Post-war Security Sector Reform

SSR is a concept that was introduced in international
development discourses in 1998, in a speech delivered
by the ministerial head of the British Department for
International Development (DfID), Clare short. Issues
concerning the building of democratic security institutions
and the need for a viable and comprehensive security
sector had featured earlier in development discourses,
but it was short’s speech and the policies promulgated by
the DfID that made the concept of SSR a relevant concept
in international peace, security and development2. Since
then, it has been applied to countries emerging from
wars, and nations that are either failing or weak and
fragile. Specifically, development donors have argued
that assistance must flow into secured environments and,
as such, the necessary security architecture must be in
place to ensure successful and peaceful implementation
of such development aid. Security reform has mainly been
applied to help countries that are transitioning to peace
and rebuilding state institutions.

The concept of SSR is now widely accepted and
popularly used, even though there were proposals of
different phrases to represent the concept when it was
introduced to the development debate. These proposals
included that of the Bureau of Crisis Prevention and
recovery (BCPR) of the united Nations Development
Program which, in 2003, began to promote similar ideas
but with different terms, like “justice and security sector
reform” (JSSR)3.

SSR is now understood to refer to a programme of
reform of a country’s security system, which involves the
transformation and restructuring of the military and police
forces, and any paramilitary organisations controlled by
the state. This process has to do with the restructuring
and empowering of security-related institutions for
effectiveness, discipline and capacity-building for
community development initiatives. In some instances,
judicial or judiciary reform initiatives are considered under
SSR programmes.

When a country goes to war or becomes embroiled in
internal civil strife, and its legitimate security institutions
(the military and police) divide into factions with belligerent
motives, peacekeeping activities become difficult, civilians
are abused, more warring parties emerge, and the entire
nation degenerates into disorder. In such a scenario, when
the violence subsides and peacebuilding programmes
are being implemented, reform of the security sector is
essential to restore the state’s credibility and to reassure
the citizenry of their security.

Liberia’s security sector has been no exception to the
above. During the country’s 14-year-long civil war, all of
the security forces and institutions joined warring factions,
and the institutions became factionalised. As a result, the
citizenry lost faith in these security institutions. reforming
the sector in the post-war era was thus critical to ensure
the security of the people of Liberia, and not merely the
protection of short-term regimes.

Political and Legal Background of Security Sector
Reform in Liberia

Even before the plunder and devastation of the civil
war (1989–2003), Liberia’s security institutions were
heavily politicised by officials of government, and
survived on patronage. Its personnel were poorly trained
and had no special civic education programmes. Security
personnel saw themselves and their political patrons as
masters of the people rather than protectors and servants
of the people. They became unpopular for their lack
of professionalism, corruption, frequent human rights
violations and their exploitation by their political patrons
to intimidate – and, at times, terrorise – the people. In
1980, the military seized power in Liberia and, in 1985,
transformed itself into a civilian government. From 1980
onwards, Liberia’s security forces were part of the political
process and thereby lost their neutrality and relevance
as enforcers of the law and protectors of the people.
The ruthlessness of these forces was seen during the civil
war, when most of them joined factions and led campaigns
of terror against the civilians. After the civil war – and with
virtually no reliable security institutions left in the country
– it became politically necessary to reorganise, train and
rebuild an effective and well-trained pro-people security
regime for the country, as part of the post-war governance
reform process.

Liberia’s SSR programme was conceived to address
the above historical faults, and “to create a secure and
peaceful environment, both domestically and in the
sub-region, that is conducive to sustainable, inclusive,
and equitable growth and development”4. In the Poverty
Reduction Strategy of Liberia (PRS) of 2008-2011, the
government articulated issues of peace and security
as a first priority, without which there could be no real
development in the country. The first pillar of the PRS was
therefore “consolidating peace and security”.
Liberia’s SSR programme is legally empowered by
three enabling, but complicated, instruments. These are
the Comprehensive Peace Accord of 2003, the Constitution
of Liberia, and the united Nations security Council
resolution 1509 of 2003.

The Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA)
The CPA was signed in 2003 in Accra, and set the
platform for the end of the war. It provided for several
institutional reforms – including those in the security
sector – to guide the peace process and lead the transition
to a new democratic dispensation. It was operational for
two years, and was the foremost legal instrument for the
NTGL of 2003-05, since certain provisions of the 1986
Constitution of Liberia were suspended to accommodate
the compromises and reforms needed for the country’s
stability and recovery. Part four of the CPA – security
sector reform – first called for the disbandment of all
irregular forces in the republic of Liberia, to set the stage
for total reform in the security sector. The real process of
reform is outlined in Articles VII and VIII of part four of
the CPA.

In Article VII, the CPA called for the disbandment of
all irregular forces, and the reforming and restructuring of
the Armed Forces of Liberia. It also requested substantial
support in material, capacity-building and other technical
support from the united Nations (UN), the economic
Community of West African states (ECOWAS), the African
Union (Au), and the International Contact Group on Liberia
(ICGL), with a call to the United States (US) to play a lead
role in reforming the Armed Forces of Liberia. To that end,
the US contracted the services of private companies –
including DynCorp and Pacific Architects & Engineers, or
PAE – to take charge of the training process.

Article VII also set out the criteria by which personnel
should be recruited into the new armed forces, and it laid
emphasis on education, medical fitness, professionalism
and one’s human rights record. Article VII (c) clearly
outlined the mission of the new Armed Forces of Liberia
as “to defend the national sovereignty and in extremis,
respond to natural disasters”5.

In Article VIII, the CPA called for the restructuring of the
Liberia National Police and all other security forces in the
country, including the Special Security Services, as well as
the “ruthless” Anti-Terrorist Unit and the Special Operation
Division of the Liberia National Police – both of which were
created by the regime of Charles Taylor and had developed
fearsome reputations for human rights violations. The two
were disbanded in 2003 and their members demobilised.
In restructuring the police and other security services, the
CPA laid special emphasis on democratic controls and
values, and the respect of human rights by these forces,
There shall be an immediate restructuring of the
National Police Force, the Immigration Force, Special
Security Service (SSS), custom security guards and
such other statutory security units. These restructured
security forces shall adopt a professional orientation
that emphasizes democratic values and respect for
human rights, a non-partisan approach to duty and the
avoidance of corrupt practices6.

The Constitution of Liberia (1986)
The Constitution of Liberia gave the executive and the
legislative branches of government a broad mandate on
security issues in the country. under the Constitution, the
president as commander-in-chief “appoints members of
the military from the rank of lieutenant or its equivalence
and above; and field marshals, deputy field marshals,
and sheriff”7. In addition, issues of defence and security
management are implemented by agencies in the executive
branch, headed by the president.

The Constitution empowered the legislature to “provide
for the security of the republic, defend, declare war and to
order the executive to declare peace, and to make rules for
the governance of the Armed Forces of Liberia”8. At the
inception of the SSR programme, all the provisions of the
Constitution concerning the powers of the executive and
the legislature were suspended, and the only legal national
instrument was the CPA of 2003.

Upon the election and subsequent inauguration of
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2006, all suspended
provisions of the 1986 Constitution were reinstated, and
the Constitution regained its position as the supreme law
of Liberia. This Constitution has been very relevant to the
post-war security reform process over the last years.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1509
UN Security Council resolution 1509 of September
2003 provided a legal framework for the SSR programme
in Liberia. It mandated UNMIL to assist the transitional
government in monitoring and restructuring the police
and military forces, with an emphasis on democratic
values. The security Council also mandated UNMIL to
monitor and facilitate reforms in other areas, including
the security sector, where it required that UNMIL “…assist
the transitional government of Liberia in monitoring and
restructuring the police force of Liberia, consistent with
democratic policing, to develop a civilian police training
program, and to otherwise assist in the training of civilian
police, in cooperation with ECOWAS, international
organizations, and interested states”.

For the AFL, it mandated UNMIL “to assist the
transitional government in the formation of a new and
restructured Liberian military in cooperation with ECOWAS,
international organizations and interested states”9.

What Progress?

Since 2004, stakeholders in the Liberian peace process
have been engaged in a public campaign to recruit young
Liberians into the police and military forces, as well as
such paramilitary groups as immigration and correctional
services. Restructuring of the Liberian National Police
(LNP) began in 2004, with the help of the UNMIL. This
reform has gone beyond a mere recruitment of officers
to a process of institutional capacity-building, with
reforms in the rank and file of the police service. Monthly
salaries for the lowest rankings in the police have been
increased over 100% during the last four years. In the
areas of infrastructure and institutional reform, the LNP
has undergone considerable restructuring. The position
of police director has now been changed to inspector
general, and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is
now called the Crime Service Department. These changes
in names are intended to reflect the modified missions
and purposes of the positions and departments within the
police. For example, a Women and Children Protection
Section has been created within the LNP as a first line of
response regarding women’s and children’s issues.

Other institutional rebuilding initiatives that have
taken place include the development of a LNP duty manual
and the establishment of a Police Promotion Board, and
new police stations (depots) are being built around the
country. Currently, the police have trained and deployed
over 3 500 personnel. In the area of emergency response
to armed robberies and riots, the LNP has established an
Emergency Response Unit (ERU). This unit is intended to
be a specialised, armed anti-crime unit in the police, and
it now has 287 personnel toward a target of 500. There is
also a Police support unit, which has trained 148 officers
toward a target of 60010.

With regard to the military, the AFL is currently the
main spotlight of the country’s SSR programme. Liberians
fear the military, due to its brutal roles in the civil war
and its general violence, indiscipline and human rights
abuses. Reforming the AFL is popular with the people of
Liberia, and the process has involved individual citizens
and civil society organisations – citizens have the right
to challenge and vet new applicants to the army. During
the recruitment process, photographs of applicants are
displayed in community centres for citizens to review and
to object, should candidates have a record of indiscipline,
crime and human rights abuses. Besides this process,
background investigations are conducted on individual
applicants in their communities and schools. The
target for the reformed AFL in the PRS is 2, 000 soldiers.
Successfully, through the support of the US government
and other development partners of Liberia, the AFL has
trained over 2 000 personnel, who have been deployed to
various barracks.

The AFL is also undergoing institutional and human
capacity-building. The reform process is serious about
having a literate army. This new AFL is now comprised of
personnel with at least a junior high school education, and
it also has in it many high school and college graduates.
The “new AFL”, as it is called, has over time been involved
in community services, including the construction of
roads and bridges, medical assistance to hospitals, and
community clean-up efforts.
The US and other partners have aided the government
of Liberia in rebuilding barracks and providing logistical
support to the new army, and four barracks have been
refurbished and made fully operational11. The Liberian
Coast Guard unit of the AFL has also trained about
40 officers, and this unit has a mandate of improving
coastline management, controlling smuggling and illegal
fishing. There is also a new bureau for the welfare of
retired AFL servicemen, called the Bureau of Veteran

Other security institutions have also been reformed
and reactivated, including the Bureau of Immigration,
Bureau of Correction and the National Fire Service. A
general review process of all of the security institutions
has taken place, and the government has adopted a
National Security Strategy as the working tool for peace
and security in the country.

Factors Impeding the SSR Programme

Liberia’s security reform programme, like most post-conflict
governance reform initiatives, is faced with the
perennial challenges of inadequate resources and limited
human resource capacity to improve and sustain the
integrity of the programme and the effectiveness of the
security institutions. All of these are faced with logistical
challenges in the discharge of their duties, and these are
further exacerbated by the level of underdevelopment in
the country.

The ineffectiveness of the LNP to respond to
emergencies in the country has been attributed to a lack
of equipment – including radios, vehicles, handcuffs and
raincoats (for the rainy season). These shortages are also
common to the Bureaux of Immigration and Correction,
and the National Fire service. The integrity of the police
system is highly criticised in the country, resulting in
some citizens describing the police force as “a new wine
in an old bottle”. The police have been seen engaging in
violations, including brutality against civilians and bribery.
These attitudes of indiscipline, while publicly condemned,
discourage a populace already weary of insecurity
and corruption.

The country is also still struggling to deal with the
ex-servicemen of the AFL, who have staged numerous
strikes for benefits and re-enlistment into the new military.
Some of the demobilised soldiers still allege that they
are in the army, claiming that the CPA called for the
restructuring of the AFL, and not its disbandment. The
new army has retained some staff from the old army
and re-enlisted them into the force. The government has
tried to respond to the concerns of the disbanded soldiers
by paying arrears of US$4.1 million – including US$228
000 to AFL widows – and has promised that any further
assistance to the disbanded soldiers will be directed at
jobs and training opportunities as a means of ensuring
sustainability in benefits12.


Liberia’s current security system is a considerable
improvement over the pre-war untrained and highly
politicised security institutions that were used to
intimidate citizens and maximise the power of the security
forces. Significant gains have been made through the
training and/or retraining of officers for the AFL, LNP,
Immigration, Correction and other security institutions. As
the training of security institution personnel – particularly
in the armed forces and the police – grows in terms of
numbers, donors are gradually leaving the process to the
Liberian government.

As for the AFL, the us government has already turned
it over to the Liberian government. It is now time for
the country to protect its citizens by maintaining trained
and equipped security institutions. The need to train
and deploy more police officers around the country is
critical to sustaining the integrity of the SSR programme
and promoting internal security. The need to open
educational and training opportunities for personnel of
the security institutions to advance themselves cannot
be overemphasised, since there is a yearning for a literate
security regime with civic and democratic values. Equally
important to the process is the need to improve the
salaries and benefits of servicemen and women in security
institutions, and to maintain the standards of training
introduced by the development partners at the inception
of the SSR programme.


1 Forces loyal to the government of Charles Taylor included the
Anti-terrorist unit, special Operation Division, the militia, and
other paramilitary forces.

2 Brzoska, Michael (2003) Development Donors and the Concept
of Security Sector Reform. Geneva Centre for the Democratic
Control of Armed Force (DCAF), Occasional Paper No. 4, p. 3.

3 Malan, Mark (2008) Security Sector Reform in Liberia: Mixed
Results from humble Beginnings., strategic studies Institute,
US Army War College. Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

4 Republic of Liberia (2008) Consolidating Peace and security,
Chapter 6: Poverty Reduction STrategy

5 Comprehensive Peace Accord of Liberia, Part Four,
Article VII (c).

6 Comprehensive Peace Accord of Liberia, Part Four, Article VIII,
Section 1.

7 Constitution of the republic of Liberia, Article 54, January

8 Constitution of the republic of Liberia, Article 34 (b) and (c),
January 1986.

9 United Nations Security Council resolution 1509, September

10 Annual Message to the 5th session of the National Legislature
by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 25 January 2010.

11 Griffith, Cecil (2010) Initial report on Liberia’s SSR Program.
Civil society SSR Working Group.

12 Annual Message to the 5th session of the National Legislature
by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 25 January 2010.