Peacekeeping: Rebuilding The Problem

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September 9,2008:  The first battalion of the reconstituted Armed Forces of Liberia has been activated. The U.S. provided $210 million to recruit, train and equip the new army. This task has been contracted to DynCorp, a security firm staffed by former military personnel. The new army will be ready in two years. Basically, the new force  will be an infantry brigade, with two infantry battalions, plus support units (the largest being a 220 man engineer company and a Military Police company with 105 troops).

The biggest problem is finding senior officers (brigade and battalion commanders, plus a few senior staff officers) for the brigade. There are few acceptable candidates in Liberia. Anyone who participated in the civil war is out, and that leaves only a handful of candidates. These require six months or more of professional training (which the U.S. and Britain are willing to provide), and not all the candidates may be able to complete it. One suggestion is to have U.S. Army officers of Liberian ancestry assume the senior positions for a few years, until Liberian candidates are ready. Ultimately, the idea is to set the army, and its senior officers, up as a professional organization. That is, a Liberian Army that will not, as so often happened in the past, get involved in politics. Given that tribal affiliations are still so important in Liberia, and the culture of corruption is still thriving, this will not be easy.

There are already over 3,000 trained members of the National Police on duty, backed up by 15,000 UN peacekeepers. The peacekeepers  are about to be withdrawn, in a process that will take 2-3 years. By then, the new army should be ready to take over the task of dealing with mob violence situations. Regular policing here is primitive, mainly because there is so much crime, and little money to equip the police to Western standards. Vigilante justice still occurs, and even the new police tend to steer clear of the vigilantes, especially if they have the backing of tribal elders.

For the last three years, Liberia has been recovering from twelve years of civil war. There is still unrest, largely because over 80 percent of the population is unemployed (not counting some small scale farming and gardens), and about the same proportion lives in abject poverty. There are still thousands of guns out there, and anyone so inclined can get a knife or axe. About a third of the population lives in the capital, Monrovia. It's the UN peacekeepers that have kept the place from falling into anarchy.

What will really save Liberia is economic growth. Timer, diamond, iron ore and rubber exports have long been a mainstay. There is a surplus of iron ore on the world market, but the other three commodities are still in demand. Reviving domestic agriculture is difficult, because one people have come to the city, they don't want to go back to the farm. The civil war all but destroyed the educational system, so most of the available workers are illiterate. The lack of infrastructure and security makes it difficult to get many international companies to move in.

 


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