Bleak and Dismal News From Liberia

By Theodore T. Hodge


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 10, 2004

Jacques P. Klein
Jacques Klein, the celebrated former US Air Force general turned diplomat, who presently heads the UN Mission to Liberia has been sounding some alarming bells lately. As we stand on the sidelines, we should note the considerable mood change of this present day governor of Liberia, from optimism to pessimism. When he speaks, we should listen, for good reason: He’s in charge; let’s make no mistake about that.

It will be recalled that Ambassador Klein had taken Chairman Gyude Bryant under his wings as he tried to convince the international community to give Liberia what could amount to its "last chance", as Colin Powell warned in February at the international donor’s conference in New York. All along, Mr. Klein has been quite optimistic about Liberia’s chances under Chairman Gyude Bryant to pull that proverbial rabbit out of the magical hat. However, lately Mr. Klein seems to have mentally metamorphosed - the constant bickering and chaotic conditions around him have dampened his usual gung-ho and optimistic mood, and turned him into a grouch.

Last week, Mr. Klein said: "We have here the coalition of the unwilling, that is a government that is quite often not interested in what we are." Continuing he said, "We are supposed to have an election in October 2005 and some people are thinking, why next year? I like being in my government job – what’s the rush?’"

Was this an indictment of the entire government or just certain elements dedicated to its derailment? It was hard to tell.

The Friends of Liberia reported in its latest newsletter: "The UN special envoy to Liberia has warned the government that political games and battles over power are irking donors who are withholding much-needed funds to rebuild the war-battered West African state." Again, Mr. Klein said, "Donor countries say they can’t put their money in chaotic places because they don’t think the money will be used intelligently or effectively."

Another contradiction to the earlier positive mood was exemplified when Klein again said, "UNMIL is not responsible to provide electricity to the city of Monrovia and its environs." According to Melissa Chea-Annan, reporting for All Africa, "Ambassador Klein’s latest comment is in sharp contradiction to an earlier statement attributed to him about ensuring that the city of Monrovia and its environs get electrified by UNMIL."

Are some of us reading too much into these latest utterances by Ambassador Klein? Is this a fundamental shift in the prognosis of our state of being? If so, why? Well, instead of blaming Ambassador Klein for deserting us in mid-stream, we must examine some of the personalities that seem determined to wreck the process. For the sake of fairness, I must state that I don’t think Gyude Bryant is blameless – after all, he is at the helm and the theory of absolute responsibility compels us to conclude that the buck stops with him. There have been too many cases of corruption attributed to people close to the chairman, in some cases, directly involving the chairman himself. One would be either naïve or strictly partisan to ignore these many allegations. After all, they say, "Where there is smoke, there is fire.

But although the Chairman must accept some blame if the process derails, it is important to observe that there are some major players that are the active culprits dedicated to destruction. For example, why does the organization LURD seem determined to undermine our peace process by constant internal squabbles? Do the Liberian people care who heads LURD? What is it with Sekou and Aisha Conneh that they crave the spotlight at our expense? They can have all their power struggles to determine who runs their motley group but when their struggles turn physical and violent and spill onto the streets, they are jeopardizing innocent citizens, not to mention the entire peace process.

Jacques Klein is correct to have remarked, "Each time people beat each other in the streets, the donors hold back their funds." There is logic to that kind of thinking. Whether it penetrates the ignorant heads of the LURD powerbrokers remains a mystery.

Sometime last year in an article entitled, "Debunking the Mystery of LURD", I wrote: "… And as I have suspected all along, it has become convincingly clear that these chaps are up to no good. The first thing that I became suspicious about was the name of the group: Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy. I asked myself, do these people really believe in unity? Is their true goal reconciliation? And do they have any intention of instituting democracy? You see, it is one thing to go around shouting revolutionary slogans - that does not necessarily make you a revolutionary. And just because you form an organization with a nice acronym does not make you authentic." A full year and a half later, the power mongers of LURD have reinforced my opinions.

The leadership of LURD pointed to the brutal rule of the dictator Charles Taylor to justify their struggle. Obviously, they used the issue as a pretext as I had originally thought. It’s been a year since Charles Taylor’s departure and the octopus known as LURD has turned against itself. Sekou Damate Conneh recently declared, "I am still the chairman of LURD and Janneh (the present Minister of Justice) and his cohorts are troublemakers who want to see this (peace) process derailed" Where is the unity, the reconciliation, the democracy? Need we remind them that Charles Taylor is gone?

But the internal squabbles of LURD are pale in comparison to the imminent threat posed by the so-called Speaker of the National Transitional Government of Liberian (NTGL), Mr. George Dweh. From the time the transitional assembly was formed and he was selected speaker, he has seen himself as no second fiddle to Chairman Gyude Bryant by virtue of the fact that he represented a military faction that saw itself as being responsible for the demise of the Taylor government. He and Foreign Minister Thomas Yaya Nimely, the chief representative of MODEL, the other defunct military faction, have undermined the authority of the chairman every step of the way, sometimes openly.

But it is one thing to be insubordinate and uncooperative, it is quite another to be criminal. Speaker Dweh crossed that thin line recently, if recent reports out of Monrovia are true. General Oforie Diah, Chief of Staff of LURD told a Monrovia newspaper, the Liberian Daily Analyst, that Aisha Conneh, the estranged wife of Sekou Damate Conneh, and Speaker George Dweh specifically instructed him to stage a coup and have Chairman Gyude Bryant assassinated. According to him, also present at the meeting with Speaker Dweh were Justice Minister Kabinah Janneh, and one Edward Farley. I read the entire interview in its gory details to my utmost astonishment and asked one question: What is the government prepared to do about this confession? Some of us will follow this story anxiously. Something must be done; the alternative is scary to contemplate.

The outspoken and provocative Dr. H. Boimah Fahnbulleh, Jr. has written recently in a piece entitled, Liberia: Matters Arising, "Politics in Liberia has ceased being about the public interest and the noble inclination of public spiritedness. With the trauma of the mass killing over the last fourteen years and the rewarding of offices to the perpetrators of murder, rape and pillage, it has become established in the warped minds of brigands that crime does pay and that ruthlessness is an asset in a society where failures, cheats and lazybones only have to demonstrate their craving for blood and murder to be accorded the status of leaders. This mindset is re-enforced by the willingness of the people to accept the perversion that politics is about the stomach and no matter how offensive the path taken to the satisfaction of the craving of the stomach, so long as one eats today, tomorrow doesn’t matter…

"With fifteen months to go before elections, everybody seems to be preoccupied with who gets to the Executive Mansion. This has become an employment opportunity for the many hangers-on, the rascals, the swindlers and the lazybones. One would have thought that in a society emerging from a destructive civil conflict, people who have a sense of public spiritedness and want to rule a nation would submerge their ambition for now and get on with the task of dealing with the urgent situation facing the refugees, the internally displaced, the traumatized victims of rape, brutality, torture, and abuse."

Suffice it to say, I couldn’t have said it better myself. It becomes a sad and painful ordeal to observe the fate of the Liberian nation being utterly destroyed by these fallacious leaders, leaders bent on serving their own self-interests to the detriment of the governed. As a matter of fact, it is a contradiction in terms to refer to these unscrupulous people as "leaders". Where leaders are generally magnanimous, these people are as misanthropic as can be. Their false logic dictates that they must become political magnates at all cost even if it means annihilating the common citizens.

While this outrageous comedy of the absurd takes center stage, the UN warns, "If the international community does not provide funds for the World Food Program in Liberia, rations will be cut to half sooner or later and may totally dry out by the end of October."

Many of us are hopeful that Liberia will not degenerate to that hopeless state of war ever again. But if the writings on the war are any indications of things to come, we could be in for a rude awakening. Meanwhile, the comedy in Monrovia continues and it it’s not funny. The people are dying and these clowns are plotting for power.