The debate that is raging in many parts of Monrovia and indeed around the country is whether there is any logic behind the decision of the Unity Government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's decision to send Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) troops on a peace keeping mission in the conflict-torn Mali. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are divided over what they call the unilateral decision that has been taken by Madam Sirleaf to commit troops without the prior approval of the senate.
According to Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson, the senate is not aware of government's decision to send Liberian troops to Mali, as part of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) member state's initiatives to bring peace to Mali. Among prominent voices being heard on the issue is that of Senator Johnson of Nimba. The general consensus among lawmakers is that it is unconstitutional for the president to have acted unilaterally on the issue.
The issue of AFL's participation in current efforts to unify Mali, after half of the country is being occupied by Islamist rebels that have strong links to Al-Qaeda, is taking a center stage on the minds of many for several reasons. There are those who feel that as much as such an initiative would help boost Liberia's image as a country that has made significant post conflict recovery strides, it would at the same time be better to consider the hole that would be left in the National coffers as a result of the gesture.
The cries of the lack of money looms everywhere, especially in the face of the several ongoing ambitious development projects that are being implemented across the country. Government has made matters worse by officially putting a hold and restrictive measures on requests for funding from the national budget often made by ministries and agencies of government.
Another source of discomfort for the country's scarce budget had been the deployment of Liberian troops to patrol the Liberian side of the Liberian – Ivory Coast border for reasons of mitigating the post-electoral crisis in that neighboring country making a spill-over into Liberia. It is assumed that keeping AFL troops to patrol the long and porous border area with the Ivory Coast alone cost Liberia several millions of dollars
Indeed there are many who can still recall the events of the 1990s when Liberia was destabilized by a fratricidal war, with the AFL, often tagged the government troops battling it out with the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebellion led by Charles Taylor who was later democratically elected President of Liberia. At that time supporters of the rebellion argued that there was no reason why West African leaders, under the banner of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) should assemble and send troops to Liberia.
ECOWAS leaders were however convinced of the need to send troops to restore order and constitutional government in Liberia, given the humanitarian catastrophe that engulfed Liberians especially in Monrovia, the capital. There was nothing like respect for the rule of law as both government troops and the rebels followed their own jungle laws, often killing their victims at random, and without mercy. There was absolutely no food around for civilians except in rare cases.
Indeed although the NPFL rebellion branded ECOWAS as enemies for their military intervention in Liberia at a time Taylor was about to consolidate his grip on power few kilometers towards the Executive Mansion, the overriding concern of ECOWAS leaders that prompted the intervention was that 'if you see a neighbor's house on fire and stay aloof without helping to put the fire off, it can be very likely that the fire may jump into your own yard'.
It was the strength of the above logic that propelled Presidents Joseph Saidu Momoh of Sierra Leone, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida of Nigeria, Lansana Conte of Guinea, Sir Dauda Jawara of the Gambia of the Gambia and the Ghanaian President of the time to assemble and send ECOWAS troops known as the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to Liberia with the clear mandate to only shoot at instances when they are being shot at. Much later Mali and other French-speaking countries also in one way or the other including at the diplomatic forum played important roles in bringing to an end the Liberian civil conflict.
One thing that should also not be forgotten by critics of government's decision to send troops to Mali is that peace and stability is the foundation on which all other aspects of life is cushioned. The conflict in Liberia evolved in such a way that real peace only began to take shape with the arrival of the multinational peace-keeping troops, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) as despite the election of ex-President Taylor to head a unified government, pockets of armed rebellion against his rule persisted there seriously hampering all previously investments and sacrifices made by Liberians and foreign nations to cultivate a climate of peace and stability in Liberia.
This is why we view Liberia's decision to participate with a platoon of AFL troops in the ECOWAS peace initiatives in Mali, as just one of few reciprocal gestures that this country will make to show their profound gratitude to the many sacrifices made by West Africans, Africans and the entire world to bring lasting peace to Liberia. It will, for example, be difficult for either Liberia or Sierra Leone to fully reciprocate Nigeria for the many Nigerians that perished and the billions of U.S dollars that that country was dishing out from its national coffers to finance the cost of keeping Nigerian troops on peace missions in war-ravaged Liberia and war-ravaged Sierra Leone few years ago.