He commands the United Nations Multinational Forces in Liberia. Tagged the United Nations Mission In Liberia, UNMIL, the mission is presently under going a draw down, with security now fully in the hands of Liberians. Major-General Salihu Uba has brought his military prowess into UNMIL. Inspite of the draw-down, he is up beat that there will be no security gap, as allayed by many. In this interview with ABUBAKAR HASHIM, he spoke about UNMIL progress report, the draw-down, his achievements and challenges
Q: Liberia is celebrating 169th Independence Anniversary. The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is here and has done a lot, despite the current draw-down. What has been the journey so far with UNMIL?
Thank you very much. The relationship between UNMIL and Liberia has been a long story. It started way back in 2003 when UNMIL came fully on board to Liberia, principally, to provide peace. Since then, UNMIL has been in Liberia in every nook and cranny of the country. In all the ministries and agencies of the government, trying to provide the peace, strengthening the peace and now, how we can consolidate the peace. Like you said, we have drawn-down significantly. We now have just a residual force, overshadowing what is going on, for possible assistance, in whatever capacity, particularly the protection of civilians, if the need arises. Also we provide security to the UN agencies here. That is what we are doing now in Liberia.
UNMIL has really drawn-down its operation. Do you think there will be a security gap, if so, will the Liberia security bodies man this gap?
That’s a perception question. Many people ask the question. We discussed this extensively at the force level, it was also discussed at strategic level and also discussed at the governmental level. So all these levels came up with an assumption that all will be well. And all will be well in the sense that a lot has been injected into the security system of the government which include training, selection of personnel and equipping the personnel that will provide security services to the nation. Like you are aware, there is a complete new Armed forces in Liberia, which was disbanded completely because of the crisis. The same thing with the Liberian National Police. There is now a new Liberia National Police. All these security agencies have been nurtured to provide security support to the people of Liberia. So, I’m not sure there will be any security gap. A lot of perceptions are there. People think differently. But I think there will not be any security gap with UNMIL draw-down.
General, what is your most outstanding achievements and challenges so far and how long have you been here?
That’s beautiful. I came to Liberia in 2015 as the force commander of UNMIL. When I came in, the draw-down was on course. We have to move in full gear, to conclude the draw-down process. In the process, we have achieved a lot significantly, particularly from the Liberian security services. That desire to excel, we have seen it. That desire to take over the destiny of this nation, we have seen it. And that desire to perform, we have seen it. So if you translate all these desires, I can say Liberia is on the right trajectory towards development, peace and stability. More importantly, the security transition was designed by the Liberian government, which UNMIL support.
There are specific benchmarks and milestones which the security transition will achieve. To a significant extent, these milestone have been achieved. On the 1st July, we handed all security aspects to the government of Liberia. As we speak, full security is in the hands of the Liberian government, including military, civilian security, state services, just name it. All our personnel have been moved out from where they were. We have handed over all the camps, all what we have been doing to the security agencies of Liberia. It was concluded 1st July. The celebration was well attended by Madam President, all UN agencies and government functionaries.
The transition had achieved a lot, particularly in two areas. The UN has done its bit, as enshrined in the various UN security council resolutions. The second one is that the government of Liberia and the Liberian people have done their own bit by ensuring that security is paramount in the country. There had not been any security breach for quite a long time. So that resilience by the Liberian people had been enhanced. That need to forge together by the Liberian people had been achieved.
The challenges so far, are more of perception. Initially, there was not the belief that UN will go. But, the UN has to go because this is a force that came for a particular purpose. And the purpose has been achieved. This psychological perception has been doused through various media programs of the UN and the government of Liberia to sensitize the people and instill confidence in peoples’ perception.
In one word, what is your memorable event during your stay in Liberia?
The most memorable event in my mind is June 30th when we concluded security transition and July 1st when we formally handed over all aspects of security to the government of Liberia. The mission is, however, much around as a residual force. A strategic review of the force will be done in September this year by the UN security council in New York on the way forward for UNMIL. Due to the draw down, UNMIL’s present strength comprised 1,240 military personnel and 606 police, from our initial 15,000 personnel. This is a dramatic down sizing. Meanwhile, all UN agencies, like the UNDP, UNICEF and the rest, will still remain in Liberia.