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Photo: Peacekeepers of the U.N. Mission in Liberia’s Ghanaian battalion participate in a medal parade, Buchanan, Liberia, Nov. 16, 2012 (U.N. photo by Staton Winter).

This article was originally published by World Politics Review.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Mission in Liberia, or UNMIL, ended its security mandate and handed over security responsibilities to the Liberian government. In an email interview, Brooks Marmon, a program officer with Accountability Lab in Monrovia, Liberia, discusses the security situation in Liberia.

WPR: How stable is the security situation in Liberia, and what are the current threats to stability?

Brooks Marmon: The security situation is characterized by volatility, but the government generally appears to have the ability to keep any threats from escalating to the highest levels.

The greatest threat appears to emanate from sporadic cases of mob violence. A number of riots across the country last year demonstrated the weakness of the Liberian National Police. Last April, a police station on the outskirts of Monrovia, the capital, was burned by irate motorcycle taxi drivers; in late September, citizens in Ganta, Liberia’s “second city” near the border with Guinea, rioted following the discovery of a body believed to have been killed for ritualistic purposes. The latter disturbance resulted in significant damage to public and private property and at least one fatality, and a curfew was required to bring the situation under control.

Elections scheduled for the end of 2017 and the indictment of several prominent politicians on corruption charges are also creating a fragile environment. Among those indicted was the speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler, who recently defected from the ruling Unity Party and whose continued leadership role has created significant tension. The issue of community land rights and the perception that natural resources are not benefiting local communities is another source of instability and has resulted in sporadic outbreaks of violence.

A senior U.S. State Department official recently warned that Liberia should be wary of the threat of Islamic militancy. Hotels frequented by foreigners have adopted increased security measures, and a push to declare the country a Christian state, in spite of the presence of a sizable Muslim minority, has spurred several protests.

WPR: How prepared is the Liberian government to assume the security responsibilities previously handled by UNMIL?

Marmon: In their final report, the United Nations Panel of Experts noted that the government’s security apparatus remains weak. Budgetary constraints and a lack of adequate equipment will undoubtedly have a significant adverse impact on the capacity of the security forces.

These concerns are borne out by the fact that, in the face of recent tests, the performance of the security forces has arguably been lacking. Members of the armed forces fired into a crowd protesting an Ebola quarantine in 2014, killing a boy. Protesters were also fired on during the 2011 elections, resulting in fatalities. The recent convention of the Unity Party was marked by errant gunfire, apparently the result of security officials fighting over a woman.

The Liberian National Police sporadically conduct operations designed to reduce the presence of illegal street vendors. These operations, which are characterized by officials randomly destroying market goods and assaulting citizens with sticks and switches, are likely a key driver of the increasing incidents of mob violence. The investigative capacities of the police are severely limited, and there has been little progress in resolving the mysterious deaths of several government critics.

While the army appears to have benefited from extensive training programs and deployment to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, the professionalism of the police appears to lag behind. Both the police and immigration forces are perceived by many as being notoriously corrupt.

Despite notable shortcomings, however, security forces should be in a position to effectively ensure that the general security environment remains stable.

WPR: What role will UNMIL continue to have in Liberia, and what other political and economic challenges are facing the country going forward?

Marmon: UNMIL maintains a presence in Monrovia and in the capitals of five of Liberia’s 15 counties. From a peak force of approximately 16,000 in 2006, just under 2,000 military and police personnel remain on the ground. Its current mandate expires at the end of September. A number of national and regional actors have urged UNMIL to remain in Liberia through the elections next year, a scenario that seems likely.

Economic challenges are also significant. The government slashed its budget in January due to declining revenue, and the legislature attempted to jail the finance minister when he proposed trimming their allowances. The twin shocks of Ebola and the collapse in the price of iron ore and rubber, Liberia’s main commodities, have placed a significant strain on the government, even as the slow pace of enhancements to public services has created significant public discontent. Electricity is scarce and highly expensive, while late last year almost all of Monrovia went without pipe-born water for several weeks, an embarrassing development in the aftermath of the Ebola crisis.

A key political challenge will be the implementation of pending legislation to decentralize government, which includes the election of local officials, though there is no clear timetable for its implementation, and there is practically no chance it will go into effect before next year’s election. Presently, local officials are appointed by the central government, vesting significant power in the executive branch. As the 2017 elections approach, attention is also likely to return to issues of transitional justice. The international community does not favor a number of key political figures who have ties to former President Charles Taylor or to various armed factions that were involved in the civil war, and their success at the polls could strain Liberia’s foreign relations.