Liberian Defense Minister Discusses Success of Security Sector Reform

On Tuesday, November 10, the Africa Center hosted a roundtable discussion on Liberian security sector reform (SSR) with the Honorable Brownie J. Samukai, Jr., Minister of National Defense for the Republic of Liberia.

Africa Center Director Dr. J. Peter Pham welcomed participants and provided an introduction.

Samukai outlined the challenges facing Liberia at the end of the civil war in 2003, noting that not only was the country in physical ruins, the Liberian population also had no confidence in the government, police, or military forces. Successful SSR, therefore, required both building a credible and trustworthy military force, but also developing trust between Liberian citizens and government authorities, which involved broad reform across many different domestic sectors. Samukai also elaborated on the innovative vetting process used to review applications of potential Liberian military recruits and the importance of community feedback in the vetting process.

Africa Center Senior Fellow Dr. Sean McFate, a key member of the international team that designed and implemented the Liberian SSR process, responded to the minister’s remarks. In his response, McFate noted lessons learned from Liberia included structuring armed forces around protecting human security, rather than national security; integrating both sensitization and human rights considerations into the SSR process, conducting military training that focuses on civics and literacy, rather than exclusively military operations; and allowing the overall size and strength of the military forced to be constrained by the government’s ability to regularly pay soldiers. Samukai concluded the discussion by suggesting how these lessons might be applied to other post-conflict situations.

Samukai was accompanied H.E. Jeremiah C. Sulunteh, Ambassador of the Republic of Liberia to the United States. Also present at the discussion was the Honorable Bisa Williams, Deputy Assistant Secretary, US Department of State; Amanda Dory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs; the Honorable Jacques Paul Klein, former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to Liberia; the Honorable John Blaney, former US Ambassador to Liberia; and General (ret.) William E. Ward, former Commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM).