A New Order in Liberia

Liberia’s violent fall and fragile resurgence illustrate all five characteristics of neomedievalism and shed light on the mechanics of the emerging world order. Liberia is a stark example of state disintegration; as Africa expert Peter Pham observes, “tragically, the recent history of Liberia has been a case study par excellence of a failed state.” In 1975, Liberia’s per capita GDP was greater than those of Egypt, Indonesia, or the Philippines and double that of India. By 2003, it was one of the poorest countries in the world and has remained at the bottom of most international health and development indexes. From 2000 to 2008, 83 percent of the population subsisted on less than $1.25 per day, and in 2008, Liberia had the second-lowest gross national income in the world.

By the time Charles Taylor left the country, Liberia’s economic collapse was complete and had been replaced by an illicit economy dominated by warlords trafficking in diamonds, timber, and other natural resources for personal gain at the country’s expense. After the war, foreign aid jumped from $106 million in 2004 to $1.25 billion in 2008; Liberia’s GDP that year was only $843 million. The country remains totally dependent on global largesse for its survival: five years after the ceasefire, foreign aid still accounts for a stunning 771 percent of government expenditure—the highest percentage of foreign aid to government spending in the world, with Guinea-Bissau a distant second at 221 percent. Not surprisingly, corruption is ubiquitous and so institutionalized that Liberians even have a verb for it—chopping—as ministers and executives are expected to chop money off budgets to feed their families and patronize their tribes.

However, Liberia’s economic woes are only a fragment of its statehood challenges. There are no functioning public utilities, and most Liberians have no access to electricity, water, sanitation facilities, or health care. Basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges—which aid workers, entrepreneurs, peacekeepers, and Liberians themselves all need, especially in rural areas—are in dire need of repairs. Years of civil war have left a generation of Liberians without a formal education and with a brain drain of those who do. Liberia has no effectively functioning judicial system, leaving it with a culture of impunity: most courts have been destroyed, and trial by ordeal is not unheard of outside the capital.

In another sign of the move toward neomedievalism, states did not manage the situation in Liberia; international organizations did. Liberia’s rescuers were not other states, as the Westphalian order demands, but the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional organization. Notwithstanding Blaney’s efforts to secure a battlefield ceasefire, the role of the United States was minimal. Its three warships and twenty-three hundred Marines sat off the coast of Liberia and did nothing to stop the fighting; a mere two hundred troops intervened only after Taylor departed. No other state military came to Liberia’s aid. By contrast, the ECOWAS peacekeeping mission provided security and humanitarian assistance in the immediate aftermath of the war and was replaced by a larger UN force a few weeks later.

The UN Security Council established an interventionist Chapter VII peacekeeping mission called the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). It was authorized to use “all necessary means” to support the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and the peace process. Led by Jacques Paul Klein, UNMIL was the largest peacekeeping mission in the world at the time, with fifteen thousand blue-helmet peacekeepers. A transitional (and kleptocratic) government was put into place to sate the Westphalian bias for national rule, but in reality, the UN administered the country. Taylor was eventually put on trial for war crimes but not by Liberia. In 2012, an international court at the Hague sentenced him to fifty years in prison for massive human rights violations.

As international organizations rescued Liberia, transnational actors keep it alive on life support. More than four hundred NGOs provide the bulk of services normally associated with the good governance of states: health care, food, shelter, education, security, water, sanitation, sewage, infrastructure, job creation, and general administration. For example, Save the Children provides free health care for 102,399 people, has vaccinated 40,670 children against deadly diseases, has sheltered 15,182 children from violence and abuse, and has helped 56,094 children receive an education. As NGOs provide substantially more public services than Liberia’s own government, many on the ground at the time quipped that it was a “republic of NGOs.”

Multinational corporations also contributed to Liberia’s recovery. After the war ended, Firestone Natural Rubber Company returned to Liberia, where it had operated from 1926 until 1989. According to Firestone, since 2005, it has invested more than $101.75 million to improve conditions in Liberia and “intends to invest tens of millions more.” As of 2011, the company had built or renovated 2,200 homes, with an additional 321 under construction. By then, the multinational corporation was operating twenty-six schools, teaching nearly sixteen thousand children, and was running nine health-care facilities, including a hospital. It distributed more than 2.21 million free rubber tree saplings to Liberian farmers to help rebuild the industry and ensure a future for thousands of families in the country. Firestone’s actions could prove to be trend-setting. Africa expert Greg Mills notes that low-income countries can prosper when their leaders promote private sector-led development in a “trade not aid” policy.

Underlying and enabling the efforts of both NGOs and multinational corporations is the technological unification of the world, which was involved even in catalyzing the international response. Globalized media streamed arresting images of the war’s carnage directly into living rooms across the world twenty-four hours a day, inciting international outrage and demand for humanitarian intervention. This outcry was answered when President Bush declared that “Charles Taylor needs to step down” on CNN, and Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, said that Taylor’s departure marked “the beginning of the end of the long nightmare of the Liberian people.” This sequence of globalized media igniting international uproar and prompting world leaders to take action is a self-feeding cycle sometimes referred to as the “CNN effect.” Polling data show that American support for a US peacekeeping mission in Liberia initially increased during media coverage of the war but remained mixed until President Bush announced on CNN that US Marines would be stationed off the coast of Liberia. This galvanized popular support for the policy. Without globalization, the world may have ignored Liberia’s plight.

Globalization also facilitated Liberia’s recovery. Once peacekeepers were on the ground, information technology and the globalized supply chain nourished the large peacekeeping mission. Satellite telephones, mobile telephone networks, and the Internet allowed for instant coordination between aid workers in the field and those at headquarters in New York, London, Paris, Geneva, Washington, DC, and elsewhere. The global supply chain made it possible to deliver humanitarian aid from around the world to Liberia in a timely manner. Such aid has accounted for an average of 50 percent of Liberia’s total aid, one of the highest shares in all recipient countries in 2004 and behind only Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia. In the months that followed Taylor’s departure, $109 million in humanitarian aid was flown, floated, or driven into Liberia; that number jumped to $177 million in 2004.16 Globalization also spurred the Liberian diaspora community’s return and reinvestment in the country: remittances rose from $0 during the war to $1,008,166 in 2009.

Finally, the new private military industry was essential to Liberia’s recovery, since it relied on DynCorp International to provide its military, paid for by the United States. The historic choice to outsource the making of a military was almost accidental; necessity drove the decision. Curiously, it was the State Department rather than the Pentagon that issued the contract. The State Department hoped that the US military would raise Liberia’s army, but after a brief trip to the country, the DOD balked because of ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Consequently, the State Department was left with a Hobson’s choice: either outsource the making of the military to a PMC or have no military at all. The State Department chose the former and made history without meaning to.

Buying a New Army

Like almost all things involving the US government, purchasing a foreign army is tediously bureaucratic. During the summer of 2004, the State Department tendered a request for proposal (RFP) to the private sector to rebuild Liberia’s armed forces. In the government’s contracting system, an RFP is an invitation to bid on a contract, and bids generally consist of two parts: a technical proposal and a cost proposal. The technical proposal explains the company’s plan to achieve the objectives outlined in the RFP, and the cost proposal estimates in detail—from airplanes to pencils—the projected cost in time, material, and labor needed to fulfill the contract. Typically, firms dedicate considerable, non-reimbursable resources to crafting detailed proposals and submitting them on time, as the government does not accept late proposals.

Only two companies, DynCorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers (PA&E), were allowed to bid on the RFP for the Liberia army contract, as only they had earlier won a five-year indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract from the State Department to support such efforts in Africa. IDIQs act as large umbrella contracts between the United States and the private sector that, as the name suggests, provide for an indefinite quantity of services during a fixed period of time. The government uses an IDIQ contract when it cannot predetermine the precise amount of supplies or services it will need for complex operations, such as peacekeeping.

IDIQ contracts do not represent a firm order for services. Instead, companies bid to be prequalified for future subcontracts that might arise under the scope of the IDIQ contract. In other words, IDIQs prequalify companies and streamline the process once a task order is issued, as negotiations are already (mostly) prearranged and such contracts are exempt from protest. Because IDIQ contracts are normally large in size and scope, they are usually awarded to multiple firms. In the case of Liberia, those firms were DynCorp and PA&E.

IDIQ contracts work in a relatively uncomplicated way. They stipulate a needed range of services over a period of time, starting with a base year followed by a number of option years, should the United States wish to extend the contract. They also guarantee a minimum and maximum amount of money spent on contracts overall, so that companies have an incentive to bid. The government makes no guarantee regarding the number of task orders it will issue under the IDIQ or the actual amount of expenditure above the guaranteed minimum value, but companies compete vigorously to obtain an IDIQ, because it gives them exclusive access to profitable agreements as a “prime” contractor to the government rather than as a subcontractor or “sub” to another firm acting as the prime. Primes become the coveted gatekeepers to lucrative government contracts for the rest of the private sector.

When the government needs services or supplies that fall under the IDIQ, it tenders an RFP, which contains a statement of work (SOW) explaining what the contract entails, to the pool of preselected companies on the IDIQ. Orders placed for supplies are called delivery orders; those for services are called task orders. Once the RFP is issued for either a delivery or a task order, the companies on the IDIQ contract bid for the work. Contracts are typically awarded under a best-value approach, and large orders are usually awarded to multiple firms, while smaller ones are not. Once the government selects its contractors, it issues them a notice to proceed (NTP), which authorizes them to commence work in exchange for payment. The delivery or task order normally requires deliverables from the contractor to the government, such as a delivery schedule and reporting requirements, to ensure accountability.

The IDIQ for Liberia had a five-year period of service, from January 1, 2003, to May 26, 2008, consisting of one base year and four option years, and drew funding from the State Department peacekeeping operations (PKO) account. It had a minimum guaranteed expenditure of $5 million and a maximum of $100 million, which was later expanded to $500 million. Although only DynCorp and PA&E could bid on the contract, MPRI joined PA&E as a subcontractor on the Liberia assessment mission, given MPRI’s background in restructuring military forces and PA&E’s lack of it. All in all, the costs of training the AFL by 2009 were an estimated $240.56 million, making it one of the most expensive per capita militaries in Africa.

After the war ended and the United States agreed to rebuild the Liberian military, it considered five options for who should do it and how it should be done: the US military alone, the US military with light contractor involvement, a contractor with light US military involvement, contractors alone, or no one (i.e., abandon the project). To help resolve this, I joined the assessment team as a contractor in 2004.

What we found was a palpably postapocalyptic country with widespread fear of the AFL, disarmed but not demobilized, and the possibility that war could reerupt in the months ahead. In addition to assessing the situation in Liberia, we also considered and rejected the British model of rebuilding military forces in neighboring Sierra Leone, which embeds British soldiers in Sierra Leone military units to mentor them. This was viewed as creating more problems than it resolved. First, placing mentors within existing units to train and equip them is insufficient for wholesale military transformation, which is necessary in failed states where militaries go rogue. Second, the old units were incorporated into the new security forces regardless of quality, experience, capability, and the country’s security needs; this created significant problems in quality control and sheer number of forces, which the government of Sierra Leone could not sustain.

Owing to this, it was agreed that the AFL required wholesale security sector reform (SSR) and not just a “train and equip” program. The envisioned end was an all-volunteer, ethnically balanced, properly vetted, professionally trained, civilian-led, and apolitical military capable of “defending the national sovereignty and in extremis, respond[ing] to natural disasters,” as called for by the ceasefire agreement.

To accomplish this mission, the team recommended a four-thousand-person force that could be scaled upward over time. It was acknowledged that this small number could not secure Liberia’s borders in a Westphalian war, which is about defending territory, but such a war has never occurred there. Moreover, a large force was seen as a threat to security rather than provision of security in Liberia, because unpaid and idle soldiers tend to stage coup d’états. Consequently, the army’s size was determined by the government’s ability to pay soldiers’ salaries regularly and on time instead of troop strength to man the country’s borders. Klein even suggested that Liberia abolish its military altogether, quipping that African armies “sit around playing cards and plotting coups.”

After the US Department of Defense declined to conduct the program, the State Department turned to the private sector. That summer, it issued an RFP, followed by a SOW that autumn ordering a new Liberian military. It was only seven pages long. The objective and scope were deceptively simple: assist the government of Liberia in recruiting, training, and equipping a new military, starting with two thousand troops.

After reviewing both contractor proposals, the State Department decided to divide the duties between the two firms, giving them different roles based on their expertise. PA&E, a security support company, would build the logistical infrastructure, such as roads and military bases, necessary to support the AFL and then supply the military once it was in place. DynCorp would build the army “from the ground up,” which entailed designing, recruiting, vetting, training, equipping, and fielding the new force. It would also create a new Ministry of Defense to manage the military. Absent from the initial plan was the demobilization of the old AFL, which was originally to be conducted by the Liberian government but later fell to DynCorp, owing to the government’s inabilities.

The State Department was quite specific about DynCorp’s role in raising Liberia’s new army. The original SOW called for the complete reconstruction of the Liberian Armed Forces, which it fixed at 2000 troops but scalable to 4300, if funding permitted. It provided guidance on the military’s force structure, the Ministry of Defense, and defense policies, but left the details to the company. It specified eight types of weapons the new army should be proficient in and nine missions it should be able to perform. It instructed DynCorp to recruit, vet and train the soldiers, and also procure all necessary weapons, ammunition and equipment for the army. In short, the SOW directed DynCorp to create a “Ft. Benning, GA” for Liberia. Fort Benning is a major US Army base located in Georgia that trains infantry, airborne, rangers, and other soldiers. In other words, the State Department tasked DynCorp to create and run a complete training base capable of raising an army. Incredibly, the SOW commissioning this army was brief—just six pages long—allowing the contractor needed flexibility to conduct a complex operation yet some might find its brevity disquieting for such a mammoth task.

By 2010, Liberia had a small fledgling army. It remains a qualified success compared with efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, Côte d’Ivoire, and elsewhere, where new security forces degenerated into incompetence, sectarian killing machines, or coup d’état makers. What makes Liberia unique is that a corporation raised its army, revealing some of the benefits, complications, and risks of today’s private military industry.


January 2003

DynCorp International (DynCorp) and Pacific Architects and Engineers (PA&E) are both awarded a State Department five-year IDIQ contract to support peacekeeping and security efforts in Africa (contract solicitation number S-LMAQM-03-C-0034. Its minimum guaranteed expenditure is $5 million, and maximum is $100 million, later expanded to $500 million.

August 2003

Charles Taylor flees Liberia, and 1,000 ECOWAS peacekeepers and 200 US troops arrive. The interim government and rebels sign the CPA. Gyude Bryant is chosen to head the NTGL under the title Chairman rather than President.

September–October 2003

US forces pull out, and UNMIL begins the peacekeeping mission, deploying thousands of troops and encompassing the ECOWAS forces.

December 2003

UNMIL begins DDRR for rebel combatants only. AFL personnel are disarmed, but not demobilized, rehabilitated and reintegrated. After riots at one DDRR site, UNMIL shuts down the program.

January 2004

US sends a six-person SSR preassessment team to Liberia, January 21–29. The United States is responsible for the SSR of the AFL, as agreed to at Accra during peace talks. The State Department is the lead agency within the US government.

February 2004

International donors pledge more than $500 million in reconstruction aid to Liberia.

April 2004

UNMIL commences the DDRR process, and it continues without serious incident. UNMIL also begins SSR for civilian elements of the security sector, such as the Liberian national police. State Department plans a SSR assessment mission to Liberia involving State Department, DOD, and contractors.

May 2004

State Department leads a 10-day assessment mission of SSR for the AFL. The team consists of experts drawn from State Department, DOD, and two contractor teams: DynCorp and PA&E. Additionally, PA&E subcontracts MPRI owing to its PMC expertise (PA&E is a general contractor firm, whereas DynCorp and MPRI are PMCs with relevant SSR expertise). DDR of the AFL is not considered, because the NTGL is responsible for this. A member of the assessment team is murdered in his hotel room while being robbed.

June 2004

DOD determines it cannot conduct the SSR program, and State Department decides to outsource the SSR program entirely to the private sector. Accordingly, it asks both DynCorp and PA&E to submit their assessments and recommendations for SSR.

July 2004

After reviewing the assessments, State Department decides to divide SSR responsibilities between the two companies based on their expertise. DynCorp is responsible for reconstituting the AFL and MOD. PA&E is tasked with constructing most of the military bases and also providing specialty training, equipment, logistics, and base services.

September 2004

State Department tenders a task order RFP and SOW to DynCorp and PA&E entitled “Liberia Security Sector Reform.” The SOW states that they must create a 2,000-person military, scalable to 4,300 personnel if funding permits, and a MOD.

October 2004

DynCorp and PA&E submit their proposals to State Department on October 7. State Department awards the task order to both companies, with a division of labor as outlined in July. DynCorp is required to be on the ground initially, with PA&E to follow once sufficient units are fielded. Riots in Monrovia leave 16 people dead; UNMIL says former combatants and AFL veterans were behind the violence.

January 2005

State Department authorizes DynCorp to deploy a small planning team to Liberia to engage stakeholders and design the SSR program. It becomes clear that the NTGL lacks the capacity to conduct DDR of the AFL and State Department asks DynCorp to take on this task.

UNMIL imposes a curfew on several southeastern provinces owing to ritual human sacrifices and cannibalism, including the involvement of provincial governors.

February–March 2005

Consultations take place with major stakeholders regarding the mission and composition of the future AFL. This includes civil society, the standing AFL, former warring parties and political factions, UNMIL, the NTGL, civil society through the NTGL, and other entities.

A comprehensive recruiting and vetting plan is devised, intended to screen out human rights abusers from joining the AFL.

April 2005

The NTGL releases its AFL Restructuring Policy. Consultations with stakeholders continue. Topics include mission and force structure of the future AFL, location of training bases, sensitization campaign for civil society, and arrears owed unpaid AFL veterans.

May 2005

The demobilization plan is drafted and presented to Chairman Bryant. He signs Executive Order Number Five on May 15, authorizing the full demobilization of all legacy AFL units as of June 30, 2005. State Department issues DynCorp a formal task order for the demobilization of the AFL, releasing full payment to the contractor. DynCorp makes preparations for DDR operations outside of Monrovia and plans to conduct the demobilization, recruiting staff both locally and internationally, and builds up its program (and presence) in Liberia. PA&E is to begin its portion of the program once training commences.

July 2005

DynCorp builds a demobilization site outside Monrovia. The demobilization and reintegration of the legacy soldiers commences.

The US government approves DynCorp’s blueprint for the new AFL’s force structure and TO&E in Washington, D.C.

Construction of AFL training facilities starts but is slowed by the heavy rainy season.

September 2005

The NTGL agrees to allow the international community to supervise its finances in an effort to reduce corruption.

October 2005

Recruiting and vetting for the new AFL begins. More than 12,000 applicants will be processed in the two years to come.

November 2005

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf becomes the first woman to be elected as an African head of state. She takes office the following January.

December 2005

Construction of the new training base remains suspended as Liberia, the United States, and UNMIL debate over its location, costing the program money and time.

January 2006

DDR of 13,770 AFL soldiers finishes. Recruiting and vetting begin at the Barclay Training Center (BTC) in downtown Monrovia.

Johnson-Sirleaf is sworn in as president, and the NTGL is no more. Brownie Samukai replaces Daniel Chea as Liberian Minister of Defense.

February 2006

The demobilization of the AFL is successfully completed, perhaps the first time in modern African history that an entire standing military was safely demobilized without significant incident.

March 2006

Johnson-Sirleaf calls for Nigeria to hand over Taylor, which it does. Upon his arrival in Monrovia, he is transferred to the custody of UNMIL and immediately flown to Sierra Leone to stand trial before the UN-backed Sierra Leone Special Court on charges of crimes against humanity.

April 2006

MOD transformation begins at BTC. A violent protest takes place outside the MOD by 400 to 500 former AFL soldiers claiming nonpayment of salary arrears and retirement benefits, and they clash with UNMIL peacekeepers sent to contain the unrest.

Taylor appears before the Sierra Leone Special Court.

May 2006

Samukai spends a week in Washington, D.C. with State Department, DOD, and DynCorp to discuss the progress of SSR and formulation of the Liberian National Defense Strategy.

June 2006

State Department issues an updated SOW. DynCorp assists the MOD in a first draft of the national defense strategy. It is written based on the concept of human security, seeking to align the AFL’s mission with the goals of development for durable stability and security.

Progress is limited because the NTGL, UNMIL, the United States, and others are delayed with the national security strategy. The UN Security Council eases a ban on weapons sales so that Liberia can import small arms for government purposes only. An embargo on Liberian timber exports is lifted shortly afterward.

A TRC is set up to investigate human rights abuses between 1979 and 2003. Tensions arise between the TRC and the SSR program as the TRC requests access to SSR vetting records, but the SSR team denies this request, since it might compromise sources and methods, possibly resulting in reprisal killings of victims who spoke to the SSR vetting team on condition of anonymity about human rights abuses of some AFL candidates.

The ICC at The Hague agrees to host Taylor’s trial.

July 2006

The first class of AFL basic training or IET begins at BTC. It includes 110 candidates, most of whom are selected for their leadership potential to fill the leadership ranks first.

The former US Voice of America transmitter site is finally selected as the AFL’s main training base, located at Careysburg and rechristened the Sandee S. Ware Military Barracks. DynCorp begins construction once the occupying UNMIL units move offsite. Construction is slowed by the heavy rainy season.

DynCorp begins the process of purchasing and importing arms into Liberia for the AFL.

Johnson-Sirleaf switches on generator-powered street lights in the capital, which has been without electricity for fifteen years.

August 2006

DynCorp orchestrates the first major shipment of arms, which arrives at Monrovia for the AFL. It is the first legal shipment in more than fifteen years.

November 2006

The first AFL basic training class of 102 graduates. AFL training of future classes is halted owing to US funding shortfalls.

March 2007

After a 17-week SSR program training course, 119 civilian MOD employees graduate. Following this, the MOD reform program is prematurely terminated owing to US funding shortfalls.

April 2007

The UN Security Council votes to lift its ban on Liberian diamond exports. The ban was imposed in 2001 to stem the flow of “blood diamonds,” which helped fund the civil war.

May 2007

The United Nations urges Liberia to outlaw trial by ordeal.

June 2007

Taylor’s war crimes trial begins at The Hague, where he stands accused of instigating atrocities in Sierra Leone.

September 2007

639 total trained. Owing to budget constraints, State Department shortens IET from 11 weeks to 8 weeks by cutting 3 weeks that were devoted to human rights, civics, and laws of war training.

January 2008

1,124 total trained.

April 2008

1,634 total trained.

September 2008

2,113 total trained.

July 2009

PA&E conducts unit training for the battalions.

The TRC lists Johnson-Sirleaf as one of 52 people who should be sanctioned for committing war crimes and places her on a list of people who should be barred from public office. She ignores the TRC.

December 2009

PA&E completes unit training, culminating in an ARTEP to qualify them.

January 2010

DynCorp and PA&E’s contract for SSR ends, and a team of 60 US marines begin a five-year mentorship program with the AFL in Operation Onward Liberty.

In a new task order (worth $20 million if all options are exercised), DynCorp is selected to provide the AFL with operations and maintenance services. This task order is awarded under the new five-year State Department IDIQ contract called the Africa Peacekeeping Program (AFRICAP), contract solicitation number SAQMMA08R0237. Awardees under AFRICAP include DynCorp International, PA&E Government Services, AECOM, and Protection Strategies Incorporated.


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