The Liberian president has been forced to launch a special presidential task force to clean up Liberia’s filth-strewn cities.

Liberian journalists demand government assistance to keep the industry alive. By Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia.

Seventeen years after the Liberian conflict ended, victims are still fighting for justice. By Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia.

More than a quarter of a million people were killed and a million others displaced during the 14-year, back-to-back civil wars that ravaged the fabric of Liberian society following Charles Taylor’s insurrection on Christmas Eve 1989.

Suspected Sierra Leonean warlord Gibril Ealoghima Massaquoi is facing trial in Finland, where he now lives, for his role in the conflict, but victims are asking why nobody has been tried in Liberia itself – 17 years after the war ended.

Fighting in the West African republic ceased the moment Taylor stepped down from the presidency and took refuge in Nigeria on August 11, 2003.

His replacement, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, vowed she would use ‘motherly sensitivity’ to settle the issues haunting the post-war country.

However, Sirleaf did not commit to prosecuting those involved because she was herself connected to the violence.

She admitted to a post-war Truth and Reconciliation Commission to lending financial assistance to Taylor to unseat the country’s former dictator, Samuel Doe.

Modelled on that of post-apartheid South Africa, the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission drew up a long list of recommendations, including prosecution for those bearing the greatest responsibilities for the killings. But the recommendations have never been implemented.

Even the election of international football star George Weah has not led to charges being levelled against anyone for their role in the conflict. Weah, who insists he didn’t have a hand in the war, was expected to take on the task of establishing a war and economic crimes court to deal with the country’s immediate past.

To the disappointment of victims, the country’s chief prosecutor, Solicitor-General Seyma-Syrenius Cephus, is quoted by the online publication Info.Net as declaring the government was more interested in stability than setting up a court to try war and economic criminals.

This was echoed by Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie, who said in a radio interview that the government didn’t have the resources to set up such a court.

But rights groups have countered these assertions, insisting once the government exercised the needed political will, its international partners would provide the necessary assistance to get the court going.

Hopes of post-war justice were also dashed when President Weah, in his address to the UN General Assembly in 2019, rejected pressure on his government to take the lead in setting up the much-requested war and economic crimes court.

‘Why now?’ he asked, later repeating the rhetorical question to journalists on his return to Liberia. ‘I don’t understand what you all want,’ Weah said.

‘Since we came to power, I have not one day called for [a] war crimes court… When we have economic issues, we’re trying to develop our country, why focus on war crimes court now?’

In 2018, a member of the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, Daniel Donovon, sponsored a resolution for Liberia to set up a court for war criminals.

He tweeted that the Committee had passed the resolution ‘supporting full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, including the establishment of an extraordinary Criminal Tribunal for Liberia’.

He added that ‘stopping war crimes before they happen is just as important as to ensure that justice prevails afterwards. Without justice, there cannot be healing for the victims and the circle of turbulence will become anew’.

The announcement again raised the hopes of war victims, but it is not clear where the US Congress now stands on the matter.

One of the chief campaigners for a war and economic crimes court in Liberia is Larry Youngquoi, an outspoken Member of the House of Representatives from Nimba County, in north east Liberia, where the insurrection started.

He has been making frequent radio appearances in the capital, Monrovia, to present his case.

‘Liberia needs a war and economic crimes court so that the ugly chapter of lawlessness and impunity in our country can be closed,’ Younquoi told NewsAfrica.

‘Keeping alleged war and economic criminals untouched and seeing them in high places in government and other public offices, while their victims live with the scars of the harm done to them by these perpetrators, is a prescription for future conflict.’

He added: ‘Whenever human right abuse takes place with impunity, the international community looks at such country with disdain. It also sends a wrong signal to the young segment of the population that crimes can be rewarded with good jobs and all the goodies that go with them.’

The killings in the Liberian crisis were on a massive scale. They included an attack on a church occupied by displaced people in Monrovia, where government soldiers in July 1990 killed between 600 and 1,000 people.

Massa Washington, a newspaper journalist who went on to serve on the post-war Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was among Red Cross workers visiting the massacre scene.

She spoke of the bodies of people hacked to death.

‘I saw the scene and kept saying to myself, “why, why, why?”’ Washington said in an interview to mark an anniversary of the killings.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented hundreds of other massacres involving fighters in the conflict. Some of the survivors of those massacres have formed themselves into an advocacy group called Liberia Massacre Survivors Association, which travels the country unearthing mass graves of war victims never documented.

To mount pressure on government and seek international attention and assistance in ensuring the court gets established, rights activists have been reaching out to places where some of the worst killings of non-combatants happened as rebel rival forces clashed for control of towns.

Adama K Dempster, secretary-general of the advocacy group Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, has just visited a town in central Liberia where, in September 1994, more than 800 people fleeing fighting between rival rebel forces were killed and most of their bodies dumped into an open well.

Dempster took photos of a rock in the middle of town on which, survivors say, victims were beheaded.

He quoted locals in the town as saying the killings were so gruesome, with the flow of blood running into a creek, that it ‘turned the creek bloody, and the creek is today named the Bloody Creek’.

There was a sombre ceremony 10 years ago to bury the remains of those killed in the massacre.

The killings, which have become known as the ‘Kplokpai Massacre’, were blamed on fighters of the inappropriately named Liberia Peace Council (LPC), one of seven warring factions existing at the time.

The displaced people had run from clashes between Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front rebels and rival rebel groups in the central town of Gbarnga, and were resting in the coffee-growing town when LPC fighters came across them.

But in his appearance before the post-conflict Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the defunct LPC’s George Boley, a current MP, said a lot of false allegations were made against people and groups during the civil war because Liberians ‘are gullible people’ who believe all they hear.

As a new Netflix documentary puts illegal fishing under the spotlight, Britt Collins reveals the devastating impact China – and the EU’s – supertrawlers are having on Africa’s coast.

While West Africa has been pre-occupied with the pandemic, its waters have been secretly plundered by Chinese trawlers.

Though Chinese and European supertrawlers have been moving untracked in the continent’s seas for decades, taking advantage of the weak government enforcement, encroachment has intensified over the past few years, exhausting wild fish stocks, polluting the continent’s waters and seriously threatening food insecurity for poor coastal communities.

‘Africa’s waters have become a free-for-all,’ said Ali Tabrizi, the British filmmaker whose hit Netflix documentary Seaspiracy uncovered shocking revelations about the multi-billion-dollar seafood industry.

‘West Africa is home to one of the last strongholds to life in our oceans, teeming with rare marine wildlife, a refuge for mating and feeding. These massive trawlers are like floating slaughterhouses.

China, in particular, is invading the waters of other countries without detection and stealing the fish.’ 

‘Since the WHO declared Covid-19 as a pandemic, we've assisted our government partners around the continent of Africa to arrest 17 vessels for illegal fishing, three in Benin, two in Gabon, six in the Gambia and six in Sierra Leone,’ said Captain Peter Hammarstedt, the director of campaigns at Sea Shepherd, a global marine conservation charity.

‘Of those vessels, all but one were either flagged to the People’s Republic of China or had beneficial ownership [there].’

The plundering of the African coastline is just the continuation of centuries of exploitation of the continent’s natural resources.

Supertrawler.jpg

Subsidised Chinese and European Union (EU) fishing fleets are cornering one of the most pristine, wildlife-rich seas, wiping out countless fish species and killing thousands of dolphins and whales as bycatch.

About 200 of Europe’s taxpayer-funded fleets are currently prowling its shores, via the EU’s opaque ‘Sustainable Fishing Partnership’ agreements – denounced by politicians as little more than license to steal from some of the most impoverished communities on earth.

The EU, alongside Japan and China, is one of the world’s top three fishing subsidisers.

These massive government incentives given to an industry keep prices artificially low that means local business can’t compete. 

Without subsidies, these distant-water fleets wouldn’t be economically viable. 

Long accused of ‘looting’ Africa for oil, precious metals and the endangered wildlife its safari industry relies on – rhinos, elephants, lions — China is by far the worst offender of illegal fishing, plundering the continent’s seas with its vast armada of super trawlers (pictured below in Zhoushan, China, in 2011).

In the belly of the beast - Trawlers in Zhoushan, China, August 4, 2011.jpg

Just one of these industrial trawlers can have a colossal impact, capturing over 12,000 tons of fish a week – more than twice the sustainable catch for a country like Liberia, Mauritania or the Gambia. 

As the world’s biggest seafood exporter, China accounts for more than a third of all global fish consumption.

Having long exhausted the dwindling reserves in the South China Seas, the Chinese fleets have been moving further out to sea in recent years to exploit the distant waters of other nations, particularly along the West African coast. It has forced out local fishermen and ravaged the region’s once-abundant stocks.

Captain Paul Watson, environmental activist and founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, warned that the crisis in West African waters will have dire implications for the entire planet.

‘We’re strip-mining life from the sea. Marine eco-systems are collapsing and that will lead to the inability of oceanic eco-systems to support life on this planet.’ 

What this massive die-off means for the future, he said, ‘is a rise in piracy by impoverished African fishermen just like the situation in Somalian waters. It will mean a rise in poverty and starvation in these affected countries and it will lead to social chaos and possibly violent revolution.’ 

Fisherman off West African coast.jpg

West Africa, with its rich marine biodiversity, is a hotspot for what is known in the industry as Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Europe and Asia have been benefitting at the expense of some of the poorest nations, where enforcement tends to be weaker as governments lack the resources to police their waters.

Such illegal fishing is estimated to cost West African countries about $2.3bn each year. IUU fishing in West Africa accounts for 40 percent of all illegal fishing globally.

Senegal, which has an exclusive economic zone of around 200 nautical miles (370km) teeming with a diversity of species from sharks, tuna and swordfish, is one of the African states most targeted by foreign pirate fishing fleets from Europe and Asia. 

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has taken on a daring mission to end this.

The international non-profit, set up in 1977 by Paul Watson, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace, focuses on the protection of marine wildlife using aggressive yet non-violent tactics, that have shut down hundreds of illegal operations. 

In a sweeping effort to crack down on trespassing foreign vessels and illicit activities, Sea Shepherd has partnered with eight African coastal and island states to conduct joint at-sea patrols.

Recently, in less than two days, armed Sierra Leone Navy sailors stationed on board the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker carried out a series of at-sea raids on illegal fishing vessels in the waters of Sierra Leone, detaining five trawlers, almost all of them Chinese-flagged, for fishing without a license or in the inshore exclusion zone reserved for artisanal fisherman.

As Captain Hammarstedt explained: ‘Sea Shepherd provides a vessel that operates as a civilian offshore patrol vessel along with fuel and a ship's crew. The government partner provides the law enforcement agents with the authority to board, inspect and arrest illegal operators.

'Offenses range from fishing without a license or in a prohibited area (either a marine park or an inshore exclusion zone reserved for artisanal fishers) to fishing using prohibited gear; to the taking of endangered species such as sharks and rays; and to other convergence crimes, such as fraud, forgery and tax evasion.

'To date, 68 vessels have been arrested through these partnerships.’

Coastguard Boarding-Hai-Lung-017_R0A0823 (HR).jpg

Seaspiracy star and director Ali Tabrizi joined the Sea Shepherd during one of their sea patrols off the west coast of Africa and documented the illegal fishing on an industrial scale in his vivid exposé.

‘West Africa is like a gold rush for countries, especially China, where they’ve already depleted their own local stocks, and are using more and more sophisticated technologies. It’s here that the intersection of wildlife loss, international corruption and human impact are most clearly seen.’

Lamya Essemlali, the French-Moroccan campaign coordinator and president of Sea Shepherd France, believes West Africa’s fisheries are at serious risk of collapse from the Chinese fleets. 

‘It’s the area of the world most targeted by illegal fishing. Most of the fish stolen from Africa ends up on the plates of much richer countries that otherwise applaud themselves for the crumbs of charity that they throw to African nations.

‘Countries like Senegal do not need charity, but rather the kind of justice possible only through effective law enforcement patrolling.’ 

LiberiaCoastGuardTraining-004-GL6A1706.jpg

Some African countries are starting to assert themselves.

Senegal and Liberia’s decision to deny fishing permits to Chinese industrial trawlers last year marked a turning point in the region. But incursions by Chinese supertrawlers are getting more frequent and aggressive.

Trawlers are destroying the coral reefs that aquatic animals rely on to live and breed, and, in the process, contributing to ocean acidification, warmer seas and reduced oxygen levels in the water. 

Severe overfishing and destruction of the reefs is also ravaging coastal communities that depend on these waters for their livelihoods and survival.

‘The fishermen, who’ve lived here since time immemorial, are starving,’ said Tabrizi.

‘They’re risking their lives going further out in the ocean in small canoes, without life vests, because the illegal commercial fishing vessels are scooping up all the fish. West African canoe fisherman now have the highest mortality rate of any job on the planet.’ 

Unloading the catch at Kayar, Senegal's largest fishing harbour. Alamy.jpg

Such intensive fishing operations are not only wiping out the fish, but also destroying economies, according to the film director.

‘One of the causes of the Somalian pirates was actually illegal fishing. They were once humble fishermen working to feed their families. But when Somalia fell into civil war, foreign fishing vessels, the real pirates of the ocean, invaded their waters and began taking fish, giving Somali fisherman no choice but to move into another line of work.’ 

Interestingly, the EU likes to boast about its role in monitoring and thwarting unregulated fishing in the region, but it continues to be part of the problem.

With its multibillion-euro fish subsidies paid for by the bloc’s taxpayers, it helped create the Somali pirates.

As the Somalian civil war broke out and warlords scrambled to rule, the longest coastline in continental Africa, at over 2,000 miles (3,300 km), was unprotected, and illegal foreign trawlers moved in, stealing millions of tonnes of fish.

Even before the country collapsed in 1991, foreign vessels were routinely encroaching on their coast to fish.

The piracy started off as a protest against foreign fleets coming in and trying to take back control of their waters.

Beyond Somalia, the effect of foreign trawlers on the indigenous African fishing industry has been catastrophic, with over half the fish stocks along the coast between Nigeria and Senegal categorised as ‘overfished’.

There are also widespread reports of local fishing nets being cut by foreign trawlers, who unload their enormous catch directly onto container ships where they are transported back to Europe or Asia, bypassing inspections. 

West African governments have been urged to band together to protect millions of Africans and their fragile economies from the ceaseless onslaught.

According to Tabrizi, the key lies in ending harmful subsidies, which he said is ‘propping up one of, if not the most, destructive industries on earth – to the tune of $35bn a year. It’s unacceptable, especially as, according to the United Nations, $30bn would solve world hunger.’ 

A committed vegan, Tabrizi believes the single most effective thing individuals can do to protect the reefs from trawlers is to stop eating fish and seafood.

It’s a view echoed by the Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson, who added: ‘There’s no such thing as sustainable fishing. The amount of fish being taken out of the ocean is absolutely stunning, five million fish a minute.’

MR-LABIKO2-Boarding_Arrest-FUJI0986.jpg

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone on edge over fears of Ebola return. By Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia.

It has been five years since the deadly Ebola virus was beaten out of the Mano River Union countries.

The countries, which have suffered countless wars and political unrests over the past three decades, still bear the psychological scars from the pandemic, which claimed more than 11,000 lives and caused widespread fear throughout Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The return in February of the much-feared disease to Guinea, which is where the 2014-2016 outbreak started, has sent a wave of panic across the sisterly countries that have a lot in common, including poor healthcare delivery and poor infrastructure.

Re-emerging from the same Guinean Forest Region where the last pandemic began in 2014, the disease has already claimed five victims with hundreds more under surveillance within the first two weeks.

Swift international intervention included the dispatch of anti-Ebola vaccines.

The World Health Organization’s representative in Guinea, Alfred Kizerbo, emphasized the importance and efficacy of the vaccines in saving people of dying from Ebola.

And the global vaccine alliance, Gavi, revealed it had half a million doses ready to deploy if needed.

But this was not without resistance from people who, despite the devastation of 2014 – 2016, still doubt the existence of the disease.

Guinea’s minister of health, Remay Lamah, who hails from the Ebola-affected area, has lashed out at people who promote ‘fake’ ideas about the vaccine.

He told the BBC: ‘This vaccine is not a poison. This is why we are administering it in public so that you yourselves can see the reality.’

Despite Guinea’s porous borders, Sierra Leone and Liberia have not reported any case at the time of going to press.

Sierra Leone’s president, Julius Maada Bio, however, was not leaving anything to chance.

On hearing the Guinea re-emergence, he instructed his new health minister, Dr Austin Demby – who was in country with the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention during the last Ebola outbreak – to take immediate action and ensure the country’s emergency response system was increased to Level 2. This would ensure enhanced surveillance, active case finding and robust community engagement.

Liberia’s President George Weah reacted to the new Guinea outbreak by ordering health authorities ‘to heighten the country's epi-surveillance and preventative activities’.

Coincidentally, the 54-year-old footballer-turned-politician was in the region that borders Guinea, as part of his three-year anniversary tour of Liberia, when news of the resurgence broke.

A senatorial aspirant at the time of the 2014 Liberia outbreak, Weah had teamed up with the Ghanaian singing sensation, Sidney, to create an Ebola awareness song during the last outbreak.

Now president, he has instructed health officials to ‘immediately engage communities in towns and villages bordering Guinea and increase anti-Ebola measures.’

Amid the panic, Liberian health authorities reported one suspected case of Ebola in a woman with malaria-like symptoms who had been to the Guinean town of Nzerekore on February 12. The country’s minister of health, Wilhelmina Jallah, later confirmed that the woman had tested negative for the disease.

The outbreak of Ebola in Liberia in March 2014 exposed the weakness of the health sector of Africa’s oldest independent republic.

A lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) caused healthcare workers to succumb to the disease in that outbreak, and led to hospitals and clinics turning their back on potential Ebola patients out of fear.

The 2014-16 outbreak overwhelmed Liberia.

Burial teams were unable to cope with the number of dead, and a large Indian-owned crematorium in a township southeast of Monrovia had to be opened. Meanwhile, thousands of non-Ebola patients died of curable diseases for fear of being diagnosed with Ebola if they reported to hospital.

Since the defeat of Ebola, the Liberian government has not said what it intends to do with the ashes and remains of victims of the 2014-16 outbreak.

There are suggestions that those who had been buried hurriedly in shallow graves prior to the introduction of cremation could be exhumed and reburied in a more dignified way.

Before the February return of Ebola to the sub-region, people from the Mano River Union countries nervously monitored news from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which was combating its own Ebola outbreak.

The outbreak is the DRC’s 12th since Ebola was first discovered in 1976 in isolated villages on the banks of the river after which it is named.

The latest DRC outbreak comes less than three months after a separate outbreak in the western province of Equateur officially ended in November 2020. 

The country’s Nigeria-born anti-corruption head has been forced to quit after allegedly faking his own ID. By Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia.

Liberia’s strict immigration laws have come under scrutiny, after the head of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission was forced to quit after allegedly falsifying his Liberian citizenship.

The West African republic has a number of regressive citizenship laws, which prohibit dual nationality, ban anyone who is not of ‘negro’ descent from Liberian nationality, and make it illegal for non-nationals to hold senior civil service jobs.

While the laws have been repeatedly denounced by President George Weah, the president was forced to accept the resignation of Nigeria-born Austin Ndubusi Nwabudike over allegations regarding his immigration status.

Born in Nigeria’s Delta State, the former lawyer practised with the Liberia National Bar Association, something non-Liberians are prohibited from doing, before being promoted to various high-ranking positions following the 2017 election of the footballer-turned-politician George Weah.

The charismatic barrister, who claimed to have been naturalised as a Liberian in the 1980s, was appointed by Weah to head the Governance Commission, a key role tasked with maintaining stability in the country, which suffered a genocidal civil war between 1989 and 2003.

After more than two years at the Governance Commission, Weah appointed Nwabudike chairman of the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission in October 2019.

Weah’s promotion of the Nigeria-born lawyer caused unease within the cabinet.

However, Nwabudike would probably still be at the helms of the Anti-Corruption Commission had the president not given him a new – and more politically sensitive – position as chair of the National Elections Commission ahead of crucial mid-term senatorial elections.

It was during Nwabudike’s appearance before a senate committee to confirm this new role that he failed to prove he was a naturalised Liberian.

He compounded the confusion by presenting five different dates of birth, according to senators and members of the country’s association of lawyers.

President Weah, who was facing public criticism for choosing a foreign-born lawyer for a top position, yielded to pressure and withdrew Nwabudike’s nomination.

He, however, retained him as head of the anti-graft body.

Sensing blood, civil society groups mounted fresh pressure for the removal of Nwabudike from the Anti-Corruption Commission, while the National Bar Association announced Nwabudike’s expulsion, from the legal fraternity, citing: ‘The doubt raised by the Senate over the citizenship of Counsellor Nwabudike.’

A statement by the lawyers added that the allegations against Nwabudike ‘cast a very dark cloud over the integrity and credibility of the Liberian National Bar Association and the Judiciary’.

Its Grievance and Ethics Committee found out from court records that a ‘purported certificate of naturalisation presented to the Liberian Senate by Councillor Nwabudike showed that he was issued by Criminal Court “B” at the Temple of Justice on May 13, 1982, when in fact that court was called the People’s Criminal Court “B” [at the time].’

The statement added that Nwabudike’s various passports showed five different, and conflicting dates for his birth, while the name on his passports was slightly different to the name given to them.

The Bar Association also revealed that the date of birth on Nwabudike’s Liberian ID card was different to the date given on his handwritten wedding certificate – with a different day and different year cited – and that he recorded his citizenship as ‘Nigerian’ on the marriage certificate, despite allegedly being a naturalised Liberian for almost a decade at that point.

Under pressure, Nwabudike submitted his resignation letter to President Weah, stating: ‘The monumental progress made by the government in the fight against corruption, both in the public and private sectors, is being marred by public debate of my person rather than what contribution I can make towards the economic development of our country. It does not serve the overall strategic interest of your government and our people if I were to constitute a distraction from the national agenda.’

Since being forced to resign on February 26, Nwabudike has refrained from media comments.

However, he denies any wrongdoing.

Some supporters of the ruling party claim the campaign against Nwabudike runs contrary to the purpose for which Liberia came into being – as a place of freedom and opportunity for black people and Africans.

But opposition supporters believe the Nwabudike affair highlights the problem with corruption in the country.

‘That a man would fake all legal documents to end up chairing the Anti-Corruption Commission is in itself corruption,’ remarked a government critic on a radio programme.

Outspoken opposition leader Simeon Freeman has called for the prosecution of Nwabudike, arguing that President Weah failed to do due diligence before elevating a man who had only claimed he was a Liberian.

UN praises West African peacekeepers as Mali’s Islamicist insurgency hots up.

Liberia has committed to doing more to help solve Mali’s deadly Islamicist insurgency, after two more international peacekeepers – both from France – were killed by terrorists in January.

The pledge to increase Liberia’s presence in the region was made by Israel Choko Davies, one of the country’s UN representatives, shortly after the organisation praised the West African republic for its dedication to the Mali mission.

No stranger to conflict itself, Liberia hosted West Africa’s first-ever peacekeeping force 30 years ago, which intervened to stop the genocidal bloodletting between Liberian dictator Samuel Doe’s government troops and Charles Taylor’s invading rebel forces.

Keen to repay the debt, Liberia has sent numerous peacekeeping missions to Mali and other neighbouring countries over recent years, as part of a UN mission established in 2013 to tackle the security crisis in Mali.

The country has been beset by turmoil since a 2012 coup, carried out by soldiers opposed to what they saw as a weak response to a growing separatist insurgency in the country’s north.

‘The insurgents were armed with weapons flowing from nearby Libya, following that country’s 2011 civil war,’ according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an American think-tank that specializes in US foreign policy and international affairs.

As with other foreign forces deployed in Mali, Liberian troops have come under frequent attacks from Islamicist guerrillas.

‘We have had one soldier killed in action and two wounded in action – all in May 2017,’ Liberia’s army chief, General Prince Charles Johnson III, told NewsAfrica.

The Liberian army has conducted six successful rotations in Mali and has extended its peace support operation to Sudan and South Sudan. 

‘This is a remarkable story for the people of Liberia,’ General Johnson said. 

He added: ‘Morale among personnel deployed in Mali is very high and we are not afraid [because] this is what we are trained for: to support the international peace support operations in Mali.’

The US-trained Liberian army has been nicknamed ‘Force for Good’ as a way of differentiating it from dictator Samuel Doe’s brutal armed forces. 

General Johnson has a vivid reflection of how the name came about.

‘Force for Good,’ he said, ‘came as a result of a conversation between former US Ambassador [to Liberia] Linda Thomas Greenfield and Liberia’s ex-Defence Minister Browne Samukia.

‘The nickname was recommended by the US ambassador,’ Johnson said, and Liberian authorities see it ‘as a brand for the Liberian people, rebuilding and regaining the confidence of both national and international partners.’

When former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf first announced Liberia was going to participate in the Mali UN operation, sceptics and critics in Liberia questioned the new army’s ability. 

But deploying close to 200 personnel of the new army in Mali without significant difficulties has raised the profile of a country which became a regional embarrassment after dozens of peace accords could not end its own civil wars. 

People heaping praise on Liberian troops in Mali include the director of the United Nations Office of Peacekeeping Strategic Partnerships (OPSP), Major General Jai Menon, who has recently described Liberian peacekeepers there as ‘trained, disciplined, and ideally fit for service’. 

Menon, according to reports published in the Liberian media, said he was greatly impressed and proud of the skills and alertness of Liberian troops, particularly as he carried out a tactical military drill with them to test their proficiency and vigilance in line with their scope of duty.

Frequent media reports from Mali about insurgents’ attacks on foreign troops, including the recent attacks on French peacekeepers, give reason for concern about the safety of troops from less well-armed places like Liberia deployed in the vast desert terrain. 

But while United Nations officials visiting Liberia are optimistic that with collective effort, the insurgents will not prevail, they admit the situation in the Sahel is fluid and much more complex than dealing, for example, with the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. 

‘In Liberia [and] in Sierra Leone, you had a classic civil war with known factions, known leaders – leaders that you could deal with,’ said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the UN Special Envoy for the Sahel, when he visited Liberia last year.

‘And ultimately there was a line drawn. Those leaders would come on board – and those who resisted, you’d know who the enemy was and you would target them.’   

He said the case in Mali is different. ‘The enemy is faceless. These areclandestine leaders and they have links with international terrorist groups.’ 

Chambas called for a greater regional involvement to tackle the situation in the Sahel, warning the insurgents were engaged in ‘crimes against humanity’.  

Many in the diplomatic circle believe keeping Mali under an informal administration longer would further frustrate intervention to stabilise the region.

Late last year, the heads of states and governments of West Africa were unanimous in declaring that Mali needed an elected government to foster stability.

The mysterious deaths of some of Liberia’s most high-profile financial professionals in October have gripped the tiny nation of less than six million people.

The publication of an official report into the killings was delayed last month, leading protesters to cry foul over the mysterious circumstances in which the four men died.
 
The dead include the head of the Internal Auditing Agency, Emmanuel Barthen Nyeswa, who was reportedly leading a team looking into the government’s handling of Covid-19 funds.
 
Nyeswa’s body was found beneath his balcony on October 10, just eight days after the bodies of two other senior auditors, Albert Peters and co-worker Gifty Lama, had been discovered in Peters’ vehicle in the busy banking district in the capital, Monrovia.
 
Nyeswa’s family described the senior civil servant as a man who fought tooth and nail to assist the government in clearing its payroll of ghost workers.
 
They described Nyeswa’s death as ‘sudden and tragic’, adding: ‘He was selfless; spent a lifetime of service giving back to the people of Liberia.’
 
The other dead auditors, Albert and Gifty, both staffers of the government revenue department, known as the Liberia Revenue Authority, were also said to have been engaged in the audit of government accounts at the Central Bank when they met their end.
 
A large crowd of curious people gathered as police removed the bodies to a hospital and then to a mortuary.
 
Confused and grieving familymembers including Peters’ wife Beatrice and Gifty’s husband Sylvester cited foul play and accused state security of initially denying them access to the bodies.
 
‘They were murdered,’ Sylvester Lama told the radio phone-in show 50-50.
 
‘And our request for an independent autopsy has been denied.’
 
When Lama insisted an independent autopsy be done on his wife’s body, the government said that Lama would have to foot the $30,000 bill.
 
His inability to pay meant government-hired pathologists conducted the examinations.
 
The police’s preliminary investigation into the deaths had barely progressed when news broke that another staffer of the revenue department, George Fanbutu, had been killed in a car crash in the eastern suburbs of the capital.
 
Police said it was a normal road accident.But a Facebook post that went viral immediately after the incident quoted eyewitnesses as saying the man had been attacked with machetes by two menchasing him on a motorcycle.
 
Conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths of the four men have been heightened by the government’s failure so far to release the outcome of autopsies done on the bodies.
 
Police spokesman Moses Carter said it was going to take two weeks to release the reports to the public.
 
But while a government statement announcing the autopsies had been completed and reports sent to the Minister of Justice, the findings have yet been made public as scheduled.
 
Information Minister Ledgerhood Julius Rennie was quoted by state radio on November 19 as saying officials were in the ‘concluding stage’ to release the much-anticipated autopsy reports.
 
There is public anger that the autopsy reports had not been released prior to families interring the remains of the dead.
 
The head of the Internal Auditing Agency and auditor Albert Peters’ bodies were buried on November 14.
 
The other bodies were interred by relatives.Last year, a senior analyst with the Central Bank of Liberia was found dead ahead of an investigation into government’s use or misuse of $25m withdrawn from the country’s national reserve.
 
A police investigation said the man, whose body was found next to his vehicle, had been killed in a hit-and-run.Investigation into how the $25m was actually spent has remained inclusive.Concerned Liberians have taken to the capital over the deaths.
 
On November 16, riot police were deployed at intersections and strategic places in Monrovia to prevent a protest by a pressure group called The Council of Patriots, angry about the government’s failure to release the autopsy reports.
 
Police authorities said the organisers had not been granted permit to gather in the streets. However, protesters argued that the constitution allows for free assembly of citizens to vent their frustration in a peaceful manner.
 
Security analysts believe the unexplained deaths could hamper Liberia’s chances of attracting foreign investments at a time when youth unemployment is at a historic high.
 
The mysterious deaths have also raised serious concerns among human rights’ groups about Liberia’s future.
 
‘It’s very unfortunate that after over 13 year of peace under a democratic government, Liberia is facing again a state of insecurity at this time,’ said Adama Dempster of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia.
 
‘The general security situation in the country is totally fragile.’
© 2021 TruPoint Media Limited