The Road from Calabar to Freetown: Building Durable Peace in Liberia


Ezekiel Pajibo


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 25, 2005

The Economic Community of West African States (ECCOWAS) recently made a very good decision. They would not countenance the coup d’etat in Lome. The pretenders to the throne in Lome have since begun to sing a new song. They have said that they erred and would correct their errant ways. This is a good thing and one gets the feeling that Africa can get it right one day. But getting it right one day is not good enough and this is why.

Let us take the case of Liberia. Again, courageously and correctly, ECOWAS played a leading role in assisting the Liberia people establish a foundation to build peace. However, Liberia needs sustained peace and the inherent return of dignity to its citizens. But ECOWAS cannot muster the necessary spine to have former Liberian ruler, Charles Taylor, surrendered to the Special Court of Sierra Leone. There have been public statements on the part of public and UN officials including Ambassador Jacque Klein, The Special Representative of the Secretary General, that Mr. Taylor continues to meddle in the running of the Liberian state in ways that undermine the peace process. Yet a clampdown on Mr. Taylor and his associates as articulated by the United Nations Security Council sanctions on Liberia has yet to happen. I need to know one ECOWAS country that has established credible mechanisms to ensure compliance by freezing the assets of those mentioned in the sanction list as well as vigorously and robustly enforcing the travel ban.

The logic that is informing ECOWAS behavior in regard to surrendering Mr. Taylor to the Freetown court is that it would undermine the Liberian peace process. At the same time the Liberian public is reminded at least monthly that Mr. Taylor is engaged in efforts at undermining the peace process in Liberia. Only recently a local daily ran a story in which allegations were made to the effect that Mr. Taylor is planning to assassinate a number of personalities. More importantly, Mr. Taylor and his associates continue to retain their assets that are arguably ill-gotten and almost certainly could be employed to undermine the Liberian peace process - not least by trying to influence the outcome of the October 2005 October Presidential and General Elections.

Democracy is not simply about having elections. It is about trying to employ state assets and resources to create an enabling environment that promotes improved standard of living of the people. Improve standards of living include affordable access to education, health, housing, electricity and water. Given our particular circumstances these services are needed now more than ever. That is why our election must assure us that the outcome will be sufficiently endowed with the means to accomplish these public policy measures. One way of doing this is to recover stolen wealth.

The Security Council sanctions provide the Liberian state with a framework –the freezing of assets of former government officials, supporters, friends and associate of Mr. Taylor - to pursue this important public policy concern. Once the assets are identified and frozen, the logical next step will be to investigate how these assets were obtained. In the event that it can be established that the wealth were ill-gotten they should be returned to the legitimate public institution and be used for the proper reason such as providing affordable access to shelter, food, education, freedom from fear and harassment, health, water and electricity. I think in development speak they call this human security and that is what Liberia wants and deserves. Indeed our Government is not even remotely concern about this issue and perhaps therefore ECOWAS is not either.

More troubling is the lack of public debate about how Mr. Taylor can be most incapacitated so that he would be unable to influence the political developments in Liberia. Here again, a framework has been presented to the Liberian state – surrender Mr. Taylor to the Court in Freetown. The State can pave the way to have Mr. Taylor appear in Freetown to answer to his indictment on crimes against humanity and war crimes. The infamous phrase attributed to Mr. Taylor when he disgracefully departed the shores of Monrovia for Calabar should not be allowed to come true. Then, Mr. Taylor said “God willing, I will be back.” Therefore, from a national security perspective, Mr. Taylor must be constrained by all existing international frameworks in order to build durable peace in Liberia. He must appear in Freetown and be tried for the crimes he has been accused of.

This will produce two results for Liberia. The first would be the making of a loud statement about accountability. Else, all the noise about accountability that is been foisted on Liberians, especially by our international friends including ECOWAS (but not necessarily restricted to them) is not only shallow but also a mere shrill to assuage perhaps a sense of guilt at the atrocities committed in our country. But one must move from feeling guilty to erecting mechanisms that would ensure the atrocities committed in Liberia are never ever repeated. Making sure that Mr. Taylor appears in Calabar is an important first step in concretizing accountability and providing the Liberian people with a tangible proof that the country is indeed on the path to durable peace.

This is very important, given the continuous instability in the West Africa region. Cote d’Ivoire has not yet resolved its two-year old conflict. Guinea has no clear succession in place, given the reported poor health of its leader and quite frankly Togo can go any way. For example, Eyadema II may employ all his father resources and win the elections in Togo. As the saying goes, “money talks and bullshit walks”. Those with the money will win elections in Africa for the foreseeable future unless the likes of Taylor and Eyadema are prevented from using their ill-gotten wealth to influence election in their respective countries. Therefore, for the Liberian state to not recognize this public policy measure and the lack of political will on the part of ECOWAS leader and the international community to have Mr. Taylor surrendered to the Freetown Court is exceedingly unacceptable.

In a letter dated 30 August 2004 and written to Mr. Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, New York, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan said “I, for may part, hold the view that the judicial process set in motion by this indictment and subsequent Court decision relating to the indictment should be respected and the law should be allowed to take its course…” It is thus befuddling why there has not being any noticeable public international diplomacy in this regard.

The second benefit of having Mr. Taylor appear in Freetown is to contain his diehard supporters in Liberia. They are going down fighting and fighting hard. They have gained wealth during the chaotically destructive years of Liberia and are most incapable of explaining the legal means by which they obtained their wealth. They are now deploying these resources to influence the state and thereby corrupting it. To have democracy, we must have justice and to have justice we must have accountability. All of Mr. Taylor’s associates and friends listed in the sanction list must be constrained in their myriad of attempts to influence the outcome of the 2005 elections. Having Mr. Taylor surrendered to the Special Court on Sierra Leone, would contribute to constraining his efforts at influencing the upcoming elections. An abiding commitment by the Liberian state and the members of ECOWAS to ensure compliance with the UN imposed sanctions on Liberia including the travel ban and the freezing of assets, would contribute to the inability of those who have amassed wealth illegally from influencing the outcome of the upcoming elections. Both measures will assist in the establishment of durable peace in Liberia. As Liberians would say “I rest my case.”

PS: As this piece was on its way to press, the European Commission issued a statement calling on Abuja to surrender Mr. Taylor to the Special Court in Sierra Leone. Bravo!