The “Neutral Person” Theory Has Proved a Disaster for Liberia

By Winsley S. Nanka

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 1, 2004

Several failed attempts from the onset to resolve the Liberian conflict resulted in the application of a “neutral person” theory for political leadership in a care-taker government: The theory is that only a neutral person having no interests in or links to any of the parties to the conflict can provide the best interim leadership in bringing the parties together, resolving the conflict and ultimately restoring peace in Liberia. Much to the contrary however, time and experience support the conclusion that the “neutral person” theory has proved to be a disaster for Liberia.

The theory of a “neutral person” heading an interim government in Liberia is rooted in events before and after the bloody military coup that brought the regime of the late dictator, Samuel K. Doe to power. Political reform activists, the likes of Gabriel Baccus Matthews, Togba-Nah Tipoteh, Henry Boima Fahnbulleh and others were appointed to prominent cabinet positions within the military junta.

Expectations were high among Liberians at the time mostly because they believed the political activists would help to deliver a better and more equitable standard of living to the Liberian people. However, the political activists were unable to meet the expectations of the Liberian people due to various reasons including their inability to influence the military junta to adopt policies and programs along their lines of thinking.

The failure of the reform politicians to influence the military regime at the time was a major shortcoming. The citizens became disillusioned for what they perceived as the failure of these politicians to deliver peace, stability and a credible government during the turbulent decades of the 1980s. Consequently, the people became deeply mistrustful of these political activists, blamed them for the war, and always suspect them as having their “personal agendas”. For this, a consensus have always evolved in various forms so that only “neutral persons” are often selected by consensus to head an interim government even if such persons have had no prior experience in the management of public affairs.

In his article “Looking for A President” (www. October, 2003) columnist Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae advises us to rethink, because deep mistrust and fear of personal agendas have proved counter-productive in the war years, thereby frequently taking our country “from the frying pan back into the fire.” This indeed, is the exactly the product of the kind of interim government we have now. Weh-Dorliae observes that “We have taken our suspicions and mistrusts almost to uncontrollable levels where we take little or no care to search for the good in others; we reject our intelligentsia or the “book people” and draw destructive conclusions about them as if going to school were a crime ... and for almost any citizen of consequence whose name is suggested for the presidency, there is always an alternative” And to those who relied on the “neutral person” theory in selecting interim governments, Weh-Dorliae has this stately advice: “ The presidency is not a place for the best human being. It is a place for the best executive politician”.

The stakeholders to the Liberian conflicts have actively advocated the “neutral person” theory without examining its inherent weaknesses:

· The “neutral person” selected can be easily controlled and cynically manipulated as indicated by Charles Taylor and Wilton Sankanwulo.

· The “neutral person” can become virtually ineffective because he does not have a natural political constituency to serve as his/her power base. Therefore, he becomes an agent of the most powerful belligerent force.

· The “neutral person” tends to promote the political and economic agenda of the most powerful force in the political arrangement. For example, The remnants of the Taylor regime and MODEL supported the Gyude Bryant for the interim chairmanship because of their belief that he would support their corrupt agenda.

The evidence that the “neutral person” theory has proved a disaster for Liberia is abundant. Wilton Sankanwulo and David Kpormakpor were selected interim heads of state in the 1990s because they were ‘neutral persons”. Therefore, they were expected to bring the belligerent forces to the Liberian conflict together and end the Liberian crises. Instead, the interim administrations of Wilton Sankanwulo and David Kpormakpor proved to be the most inept in Liberia’s interim political history. Wilton Sankanwulo ended up as a praise singer for Charles Taylor and Liberia experienced complete paralysis during the tenure of David Kpormakpor.

August 2003 provided Liberians yet another opportunity to choose an interim government after the collapse of the Taylor regime. The stakeholders to the Liberian conflict again never considered the failure of the “neutral person” theory in Liberia. The stakeholders again jumped on the “neutral person” bandwagon. Enter Gyude Bryant, the “successful businessman” in a country where business and politics are just some other words for dishonesty and double-dealing. In contrast, the two Liberian politicians that served as interim heads of government in the 1990s were relatively successful. They achieved two major accomplishments: (a) Amos Sawyer brought freedom of the press and freedom of association to Monrovia, even facilitating Charles Taylor’s ruthless propaganda machine; and (b) Ruth Perry a former senator, presided over Liberia’s transition to its first multi-party electoral democracy.

It is a dangerous preposition to entrust Liberia’s future to a person that has not been tested politically. It is equally dangerous to entrust Liberia’s future to a person Liberians do not know which direction he/she intends to take the country. A government operation is a complex interplay between political forces competing for the best alternative course of action. Therefore, it is politically naive to assume that a “neutral person” would be an effective leader.

Liberians have made a mistake by advocating the “neutral person” theory in Liberia over the years. Gyude Bryant’s selection as the “neutral person” to head the Liberian government was based on the narrow self-interest of stakeholders to the Liberian conflict. Gyude Bryant’s priorities are inconsistent with the needs of the Liberian people. For example, he cannot afford to reopen the University of Liberia but can afford to spend three million dollars on vehicles for the contingent of hustlers in Monrovia masquerading as government officials. Liberians must realize that the future of Liberia is too important to relinquish it to individuals that have no track political history or nobody knows which direction they intend to take Liberia.

Many Liberians are beginning to rethink their support for Gyude Bryant’s selection as the interim leader of Liberia. After less than a year in office, the evidence is mounting that his selection as another “neutral person” is proving to be disaster for Liberia.