Leading up to the 2023 Legislative and Presidential Elections, EISA Long-Term Observers (LTOs) have noted the public display of militant supporters by several political parties and independent candidates during rallies and meetings in Liberia. The use of militants is prevalent in counties where parties or candidates are looking to consolidate a support base or weaken a competitor’s popularity. This is exemplified by the heightened campaign tensions in Lofa, Nimba and Montserrado. While parties and candidates argue that the use of militants serve as political mobilizers, it’s crucial to consider Liberia’s history of violent conflicts, as well as existing research and observations made by EISA LTOs during the pre-election period. These factors strongly suggest that such groups associate the use of violence with electioneering, posing a significant threat to both national and regional security.
As indicated by the principles of social reinforcement, the likelihood of future aggression depends on the consequences of past aggressive behavior. Research illustrates that individuals have the capacity to acquire aggressive behaviors by observing models engaging in such behavior and this can significantly impact their attitudes and perceptions towards aggression. Considering Liberia’s history of violence and the observed behavior by EISA LTOs of some political party militants in the pre-2023 elections, it is foreseeable that such groups may not only jeopardize electoral security but also pose ongoing threats to national security through engagement in criminal activities when their financial support from political parties or individual candidates diminishes.
❖There is a clear display of militant supporters by several political parties and independent candidates during rallies and meetings.
❖The Liberia National Police (LNP) faces ongoing challenges related to capacity and resources.
In addition, if unchecked the presence of armed or militant groups at polling stations can undermine electoral integrity by coercing and intimidating voters, compromising their freedom to vote without fear. Furthermore, these groups can disrupt election activities, potentially disenfranchising voters.
What are some of the dangers of political party militancy in national security?
Liberia’s civil war experiences raise some significant, multifaceted dangers that can be associated with militancy. These dangers include:
- Reversing Disarmament: Healing the scars of Liberia’s two decades of civil war included concerted efforts by international and local actors to encourage individuals and members of rebel groups to surrender their weapons, especially guns. This was a largely successful part of forging peace and encouraging trust in the State’s capacity to protect citizens. EISA LTOs in Montserrado noted that the discovery of military arms that were unaccounted for in January 2023 has heightened fears of looming danger during the election period and may unravel the gains made in disarmament.
- Destabilization: Militant factions associated with political parties often resort to violence and intimidation as acts of political spectacle, leading to political instability and insecurity in a country. Undermining peacebuilding efforts can contribute negatively towards the nation’s ongoing challenges with governance and stability.
- Human Rights Violations: Militant actions frequently result in human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and threats to freedom of speech and assembly. These violations can have a detrimental impact on citizens’ lives and well-being. Women and marginalised groups are often the worst affected by violent conflict, facing the danger of physical and sexual violence being used as a weapon of war. In Liberia, these scars remain fresh, and the fear of a return to those dark days runs through communities still traumatized by the war.
- Undermining the Rule of Law: Political militancy erodes trust in the rule of law as armed factions challenge the authority of the state. This weakens institutions, hampers law enforcement efforts, and leads to impunity.
- Economic Consequences: Persistent political violence and instability deter foreign investment, disrupt economic activities, and hinder development efforts.
- Humanitarian Crisis: Political strife and militancy often exacerbate humanitarian crises, leading to displacement, food insecurity, and lack of access to basic services for the population.
- Regional Instability: Political party militancy can spill over into neighbouring countries, potentially destabilizing an entire region. This can lead to regional conflicts and displacement of refugees.
Although the Liberia National Police (LNP) is currently receiving capacity support through coordination with the Joint Security Council (JSC), it’s important to acknowledge that the security sector faces ongoing challenges related to capacity and resources. To ensure the effective performance of security actors during the electoral period, there is a need for the Government of Liberia to place a higher priority on planning and allocating resources. Addressing these risks requires a concerted effort, both domestically and internationally. It involves promoting political dialogue and political tolerance, strengthening institutions, and fostering a culture of peace and non-violence. Liberia’s war period serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to address the perils associated with political party militancy in the pursuit of national security and stability.
About USAID Support to EISA-IEOM to Liberia: The USAID-funded EISA International Election Observation Mission (EISA-IEOM) Activity seeks to enhance the integrity of the 2023 Liberia Presidential and Legislative elections through the deployment of an independent international election observer mission (EOM) to monitor, assess and report on all phases of the electoral process in accordance with international and regional benchmarks. The IEOM is implemented in close coordination with the financial support of USAID/Liberia and will complement the efforts of other electoral stakeholders.