Liberia’s ex-Public Works Minister, Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods, has told guests at this year’s Armed Forces Day commemoration in Monrovia that guns do not protect or promote democracy; instead, they terrorize democracy.
“We have all learned that guns do not protect or promote democracy. Guns terrorize democracy!”, he said on Wednesday, 11 February 2015 in a keynote address delivered at the 58th celebrations of Liberia’s Armed Forces Day.
Attorney Woods recollects that the Liberia Frontier Force or LFF, which preceded the Armed Forces of Liberia, was documented to have alienated itself from the people, and was used against them.
“The LFF did not serve the interest of the vast majority of Liberians. Instead, it preyed upon them. Its successor, the AFL did not do better. The military therefore, was seen as a vehicle of the political establishment, using brute force and naked power to penetrate the interior of Liberia,” said the Armed Forces Day Orator.
To justify his previous opposing stance against directing so much of government’s resources toward the national army, the human rights lawyer argued that the character of the military was then a place for societal rejects and way-wards, as its recruitment procedures were questionable.
He said Liberians were afraid of the national army because it visited upon them, mayhem and destruction, as demonstrated in the 1980 coup d’état conducted by the AFL, which he observed, resulted in a military dictatorship.
“It polarized our nation and people. Most, if not all of us, are witness to this history. We have all learned that guns do not protect or promote democracy. Guns terrorize democracy!” he said.
The former Public Works Minister linked the army to attack on academic freedom, and that it emerged as a faction during the Liberian Civil War and “reportedly committed equally untold atrocities as the warring factions.”
However, on the positive side of the past AFL, Mr. Woods said in 1962, the Engineer Battalion was created in order to carry out scientific and engineering duties and that the Battalion participated in building of Farm- to-Market roads sponsored by Government in the 1970s.
In 1981, he said Agriculture Battalion was also created in order to produce food not only for the Army but also for the entire civilian population, except that according to him, the great vision and ideas were not sustained.
He said though reforms were attempted in the last decades of the 20th century, the new AFL remained for long time a tool for regime, as opposed to state security.
Notwithstanding, Mr. Woods has commended the restructured AFL for the progress it has made thus far locally by intervening in assisting some communities and its latest triumph from star peacekeeping role in Mali.
He however advised the army that when it is applauded abroad, it also has to seek to win the hearts of its citizens at home.
Attorney Woods suggested that the recent Ebola out-break here necessitates the debate about the new role the military should play, urging Government to have the men and women in arms ready not only to carry guns but to have the brain power to assist people when they are victims of natural disaster, health epidemic or other forms of mishaps.
Having acknowledged that the new AFL is attempting to demonstrate its seriousness about reforms, redemption and reconciliation, Woods told President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and security authorities that the military will not be prepared to actively engage in humanitarian and disaster relief activities if the dreams and aspirations of the AFL personnel remain unfulfilled.
He said, “We must seek to ensure that their dreams of a better life, better pay, improved skills, decent houses and other benefits are improved, consistent with their dignity.”
By Winston W. Parley