UN Tribunal and Taylor, Corruption, Elections and Other Matters

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

July 14, 2004

The peace process is now entering its most critical phase. Elections are drawing nearer but confusion as to what is priority on the national agenda has never been greater

1. Taylor will ultimately face justice
Long before it became fashionable, Rep. Ed Royce, (R. California) of the US Congress and Chairman of the House Committee on Africa called for the removal and indictment of Charles Taylor and has used every occasion on calling for him to face justice. He renewed this call again when, last week, speaking at the release of the Report of the Africa Advisory Panel Policy’s Report before his committee, he said that Mr. Taylor must be delivered to the international Court of Sierra Leone. He added: " I believe that President Obasanjo is coming to realize that to deal honorably with dishonorable men is to court disaster." Last week, the new American Ambassador to Nigeria disclosed that negotiations are underway between Nigeria and the US to deliver Taylor to the Court in Sierra Leone. In the US, a quiet but strong movement is lobbying to get the former Liberian dictator to face justice. Taylor will fight and kick and will find every weakness in the Nigerian politics and judiciary to stay free, but ultimately, he will land in Freetown, just as he landed in Calabar.

The UN and the US were both party to the negotiations with other African leaders that resulted in Taylor’s leaving Monrovia. Obasanjo will stick to the safety pf "African solidarity" as long as there is no direct threat to his presidency. A year ago, going into the Accra talks, the "African solution" planned by some quarters in ECOWAS was to give Taylor another two years at the presidency, with MODEL and LURD providing "vice=presidents."

Now there is an arm-wrestle involving Taylor and his lawyers with Obasanjo on the one hand and UN Prosecutor David Crane in Sierra Leone, US Congress and human rights organizations with the backing of the US government. How many more days or years of freedom Taylor would enjoy depend on the tenure of Obasanjo and… how much money he would have to keep paying lawyers.

Down the line, Liberians need to envision the possibility of a Liberian War Crime Tribunal. This government would not do it for the simple reason that one of its major components is made of Taylor followers and others are not too sure about their own records.

Then again, it is rather uncanny, that Prosecutor David Crane, former high level person at the Pentagon and working for the UN has to shout so much to get both the UN and US to hear his voice…

2. Corruption In Government
Recently, there have been many articles about corruption, all directed to the government. In most cases, the accusations are not substantiated. The best I read was from a writer who said: "corruption in Liberia was like pepper and pepper soup." In other words, you cannot have one without the other. That is a somehow pessimistic view of things. Some writers - like John Morlu II - called for the resignation of this member or another of the government.

One must not confuse the symptoms with the illness. Corruption exists in every society and under any type of government. What differs however from one country to another is the type of control mechanism or safeguards put in place to protect public interest. The cornerstone of Liberian political culture seems to have been set to protect the interests of those in power. This is primarily because the colonial state of Liberia "belonged" to a tiny minority that set everything up to protect itself and hold on to all riches in the nation. Ambassador Freeman wrote in his book that Tubman had hundreds of people on government payroll (PRO) just to lie on others. President Tolbert tried to fight corruption by dismissing lower level government officials and his political enemies while ignoring corrupt practices in his own immediate surroundings. Doe and Taylor took it to shameless, with the type of arrogance that impunity provides.

From the day Samuel K. Doe used "rampant corruption" to justify the assassination of Tolbert, those two words became a generic expression in Liberian life. While many today, and certainly rightfully so, raise their voices to condemn corruption, they fail to look at the whole political culture. Sometimes, issues are confused. A few weeks ago, Mr. Charles Bennie, a high-ranking member of LURD and functionary of the government raised alarms about corruption in government. Asked for proof, he said that government collected a certain amount of money. The problem is not government collecting money but rather how it was spent and by whom. Last week, our own colleague Dr. Allen E. William penned an article about corruption but spoke mostly about the number of cars in Bryant’s convoy. Whose cars are in the convoy and how did they get the cars?

These accusations could greatly help if they could inform the general public as to who took what from government coffers. Insensitivity is not to be confused with corruption. If government buys cars for its members and fails to spend money on schools, it is not being corrupt but shortsighted and insensitive. However, if someone from the government took kickbacks in the transaction process, there is a case of corruption. This does not absolve the government; the point is that accusers, for the benefit of truth, need to be specific in their accusations and substantiate their claims as Tarty Teh wrote last week.

In the absence of control mechanisms and a system of check and balance, there is little hope that the ills that brought Liberia to her knees would be corrected. There is a need for an overall review of the country’s political structures. General Mobutu of Zaire said that if one were to appoint Queen Elizabeth President of Zaire, she would be just like him, another Mobutu. Who ever win the next elections would be taking over a corrupt and decadent system. A new government would not mean a better-structured Liberian state. It could just be simply another group taking over from where Taylor left things.

3. Elections:
According to those who exaggerate everything just a tiny bit, there are about 43 men and women who have made it known to families, friends, and partisans that they intend to run for the presidency of Liberia in October 2005. While some may think that this number is horrendous, I welcome it, the more the merrier. It would only mean more T-shirts and more rice for the electorate. Many people think the elections commission should devise a mechanism to limit the number of candidates and parties and I ask why? If Flomo meets the requirements to run for president and has a million dollars he wants to spend, he should be allowed to do so. Nothing is more sobering than the morning after elections.

There is however the issue of the readiness of Liberia as a nation to embark on an electoral process, using the same recipes that gave birth to our "failed state." Furthermore, the sequels of the war and 25 years of military rule are far from fading away. The date of October 2005 has now become the magical cut-off point from whence Liberia would spring unto an era of peace, democracy and stability even if nothing were undertaken to clean the house. Roosevelt Quiah once told me that going to elections now is like rushing to move into a house that has all its structures rotten or burned by fire. I jokingly reply that maybe some people want to move into a house with rotten structures. The only positive outcome in losing a home to a catastrophe is the opportunity to build it anew, with better and stronger structures.

Recently, Brownie Samukai and Bai M. Gbala both came up with articles suggesting that some work needed to be done on the structures of the Liberian state before passing it on to another group of leaders. In an interview with us back in January 2004, Ezekiel Pajibo, of CEDE said that Liberians now have a unique chance to build a new country and implement that democratic agenda that has been eluding us for generations. A democratic agenda cannot be implemented by simply holding elections.

Some Liberians may already be tired with the transition and want new faces in the Mansion that they hope would be a reflection of their own values. International election makers will rush us into poll booths because that is what they do for a living; but Liberians owe it to themselves to take a step back and reflect on what has gone wrong with their country and how much of it can be fixed before the next deadline. There is no guarantee that democratic governance would come up simply because we go to the polls.

Elections are not a panacea for democracy. As suggested by some writers, a national conference could help kick off a national dialogue that is now totally lacking.

Issues pertaining to reparation and sanctions for wrongs caused during the war and how far back do we go in the search for truth, reconciliation and retribution need to be discussed before elections. There is a need to address matters beyond the scope of the CPA, including that of war crime tribunals or truth and reconciliation commission and what type of government for the future. Sticking biblically to the CPA would be like burying our heads in the sand, pretending that in the course of three months, a handful of Liberians meeting in Accra had resolved on paper all the problems. The solutions to end the war are not the ones that would build the new Liberian state.

The timetable for elections should be based on an agenda of reforms with specific goals to achieve. To paraphrase lawyer Tiawan Gongloe, the electoral calendar should be agenda driven and not time driven. In his argument, Mr. Gongloe says that such important matters such as a national census must not be brushed aside just because we want to meet a deadline. Nobody knows for sure how many Liberians died during the war and how many are alive today and where they live. Every number comes from statistics of international organizations.

Repatriation of refugees, resettlement of internally displaced people, comprehensive disarmament, expansion of the civil administration in every corner of the nation and more importantly, a national dialogue to rethink the structures of the state and our national state of mind are few of the steps that could be set as benchmarks.

Last but not least, there are probably close to half of Liberia eligible voters in exile, either in refugee camps - close 700,000 in West Africa - or in America - about 150,000 Liberians reside on the US East coast alone! Are there ways to make sure that these people take part in the future of their nation? Also, even in Liberia, should people in displaced camps in Monrovia decide local elections?

There is a cross-section of Liberians who want all these issues brought in the open to be discussed by all Liberians or their representatives. How to organize such a forum and who would start the process are another set of problems. The Commission on Good Governance may be a starting point, downwards to the legislature and the Executive branch of the government. Understandably, Mr. Gyude Bryant would shy away from anything that could be interpreted as an attempt to deviate from the CPA or prolong his mandate. The warring factions would also avoid any situation where they could lose control of the transitional process or could be looking at firing squads at the end of the process. However a national forum may be the surest way to start the healing process and pave the way to reconciliation and nation building. Former President Reagan said that good leaders do great things for their people but great leaders make their people achieve great things.

The interests and impatience of a handful of people who think it is their time to be president of Liberia must not dictate the future of the nation. As Varney Sherman said to us during an interview back in January, Liberians have a unique and historical chance to build a new country, the way they want to. The opportunity must not be wasted by focusing on elections as a magic wand to deep structural problems.