MONROVIA – As Liberians prepare to go to elections in 2023, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Force of Liberia (AFL), Major General Prince Charles Johnson III, says for first time in the last 12 years, the Liberian army is more than prepared to protect the nation and its people, given the increased support that the Government of Liberia under the George Weah administration has channeled to the AFL.
“As we approach the 2023 elections, the Joint Security under the Chairmanship of the Justice Minister, and co-chaired by the Minister of Defense, our security is prepared for the major challenges. I will tell you there are challenges, and we are working with the government on how to mitigate some of those challenges. One thing is the issue of the numbers, our strength. And today as I speak, the AFL, finally, in almost 12 years, the first time that our budget jumped by almost 30% increment; and we are allowed to recruit.
“Can you imagine we have not recruited in the last six to seven years, and we are about to recruit? That will give us the disposition to position our forces strategically as we prepare for 2023 elections,” the army chief of staff stated confidently when he appeared Monday, September 26, 2022 on KMTV’s Diaspora Talk program to discuss the progress and challenges of the AFL.
Expounding further, General Johnson said the Liberian Army under his watch is more concerned about the conduct of its personnel, especially during the critical 2023 elections period.
“So, when it comes to security I talk about the issue of conduct. We as an institution that has a major stake, as we approach 2023 elections, our conduct matters. And I have in my hand our own Code of Conduct for Armed Forces of Liberia personnel for elections. This document came out in 2017 February and it was put together by our current Minister of Defense when he served as the Chief of Staff. This is our own guideline that we have. It’s a pocket-size, foldable document that we are going to issue again. We are going to conduct training among our personnel on how to conduct ourselves. One very important thing, we told our personnel not to cast their ballot in uniform; that it is prohibited. We are also telling our soldiers at our bases that no one is allowed to bring into the barracks political campaigns, party symbols, t-shirts and paraphernalia.
“This book also guides our dependents. For example, it says: “any AFL member’s relative aspiring for political position shall not reside in the barracks during the time of electioneering period”. So, we’re not stopping them from participating in electioneering as they are civilians; we cannot impose our regulations on them. If a military’s wife wants to contest, it is her right. But she will have to leave our barracks. We are looking at the independence of our institution, General Johnson averred.
Militarization of Political Parties
Touching on a critical issue that also deals with electioneering, the army Chief of Staff appealed to political parties to stop their stalwarts from wearing military uniforms similar to the AFL or the police, an act which he believes compromises the independence of the AFL due to the wrong signals sent to the public that the army is providing security protection for political parties and candidates.
Major General Johnson said the Liberian law states that a person can wear a military uniform without a badge or insignia like the flag. “It’s no violation. It’s just like the US where you can wear a full ACU or camouflage and walk around the streets of whatever state you’re in. It’s no violation. But when you put an insignia (the rank), and you put the US flag or the Liberian flag and a name tag; if you do this, you are impersonating, because you are not in the military. But when you remove all these insignias that I talked about, there is no violation in our country.
“During campaigning, we received numerous calls from people that an AFL soldier was providing security to an aspirant. The people don’t understand this uniform when they see you wearing it; they assume it is the AFL,” General Johnson averred.
He further informed that the Minister of Defense has recommended and the Legal Advisor to the President is saying that the President of Liberia should issue an Executive Order as the country goes to election, where people will not be allowed to wear military or paramilitary style-uniform, just to prevent the wrong perception from the public.
“This is why I am appealing. When we see you wearing it, we will not bother you. But guess what, you may be elected, how do you feel seeing the integrity, the independence of the military being compromised by people who are not military but wear military uniform? The average man will not understand.
“That’s why we are making the appeal to their leaders. Please, if you’re forming your private security and you want them to wear something, find something different from what the police or the military are using. You know the police uniform is deep blue with deep military-style pockets. We’re telling you to find something else to wear instead of wearing these military uniforms. That’s what the appeal is all about, because the average man will not understand who that person is wearing a camouflage. They will assume it is an AFL personnel, which could compromise our own independence. That’s why we are making the appeal,” General Johnson reasoned.
Trending “Fake” video and the 600-man AFL strength misinformation
Providing his views on the recent trending video making the rounds on the Internet, in which it is stated that terrorists are reportedly in Liberia with the backing of the government to among other things influence the result of the 2023 elections, especially in the wake of the Liberian army having only 600 personnel, General Johnson urged Liberians not to credence to the video, which he said is a poorly scripted propaganda piece.
“It’s a fake video. What is amazing is just the fact for anybody to just sit and think about producing such disinformation, misinformation, that the current strength of the military is the number for which they mentioned in the video, is unfortunate. Like I said, it more of stupidity at the highest, because just the fact of mentioning that you got some terrorist group operating in your country, they just don’t understand what they are saying. You are in a western country, just get on your feed, your Instagram or any social media platform and keep mentioning some of these things, I tell you whatever device or IP you’re using will definitely start to be monitored just for mentioning that.
“I will give you an example. The last time I was flying, just the fact of two individuals that entered the aircraft, just their dress code they wore, as soon as they passed the aisle to get their seat, everyone turned around and started to look at those individuals.
“Politicians or whosoever that is involved in that video do not understand the security implications. Just by announcing to the world that you have these groups operating in your country; they just don’t understand. And they know they cannot do that in the West. They know that in some Western capitals you don’t even mention those names in public places. And people get up and just go and make a video. I don’t think we should give those things credence. Thank God not many people are talking about it; I believe it has gone down.
“I will advise, make an appeal to those who did that video to definitely try and delete it. That was complete stupidity at the highest. But of course, we expect these things as we approach the 2023 elections. But please, I want to appeal to those who are propagating this video around. We cannot be that desperate to come out and give fake news especially looking at your security. I know a lot of them did not understand the security implication for which they mentioned some of those things in that video, but we need to stop that misinformation.
Even in the great United States we are seeing the report on a lot of major cable networks about the January 6 Capitol Riot incident. If a country like the US, with all of the sophistication, found it difficult to protect the first branch of government because of misinformation, guess what will happen if people continue on that route in our country, with the limitations we have. They should just think about it that way,” Major General Johnson cautioned.