Liberia: From Worse to Ridiculous

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 25, 2005


Why is it that Liberians do not learn from experience? This habit of forgetting our past is what made it possible for Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) to commit all sorts of heinous crimes against the Liberian nation in the name of liberation. Ironically, despite this horrendous record, Taylor later transformed his terrorist outfit into the National Patriotic Party (NPP), ran for the presidency and was overwhelmingly elected. Although it is generally assumed that the Liberian people elected him out of fear that he would continue to wreak havoc on their nation if he stays in the bush, it did not matter as he continued with his orgy of violence and destruction after assuming power. After the election, Taylor became obsessed with power. He was not only His Excellency The President, but also the Defense Minister, Finance Minster, the Justice Minister and many other things. The more power he accumulated, the more corrupt he became and as he entrenched himself deeper in the Executive Mansion, he became absolutely corrupt.

President Taylor’s reign of terror germinated rebel groups such as LURD and MODEL that sought to unseat Mr. Taylor and claim the prize. The ostentatious lifestyle of Mr. Taylor and his kitchen cabinet whetted their appetite for power and became their driving motivation to grab it. Once again, they also claimed that they were fighting for a noble cause of liberating the people from a village dictator. It has now become apparent that what they fought for was not for the benefit of the Liberian people. They fought for egoistical and selfish interests.

These so called “wars of liberation” had devastating impacts on the peace, security and stability of the entire sub-region. Consequently, the leaders in the region got together, along with the international community, to find a quick–fix solution to our problem. This approach brought together the Taylor government, the two rebel factions and civil society to the peace conference in Accra, Ghana, which established the present National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL). These leaders took a decisive action after realizing that the international community would be reluctant to intervene in Africa to protect civilians suffering from a collapsing state; just as it had failed to stem genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and wars crimes in the 1989-1997 Liberian civil war.

While there was an urgent need to find a solution to the Liberian crisis, the 2003 solution was not the best because, in my opinion, it rewarded the impunity of the Taylor, LURD and MODEL factions. These are the same groups that had abused, assaulted, harassed, destroyed properties and killed innocent Liberians and foreigners. How can a fox that has a penchant for feasting on chicken be put in charge of the hen pen?

Establishing a government and handing over to these factions was tantamount to rewarding them for the atrocities they committed against the Liberian nation. Three months after this historical mistake in Accra, positions were put up for sale. Most of the positions went to the highest bidder and the biggest contributors in their fight to unseat Mr. Taylor. Self-interest, once again, replaced the interests of the Liberian people.

One Liberian who visited Liberia recently described the government of Chairman Gyude Bryant as “a game in which every participant want his share before the game is over”. In such a short space of time, the level of corruption that has taken place in the NTLG prompted a Liberian businessman to say, The Charles Taylor government is the worse government in recent Liberian history, but the Gyude Bryant government is the most ridiculous Liberia has ever had – past or present”. He went on to say, “The government is ridiculous on all accounts”.

Liberia has not only become a disgrace to the sub-region, it has earned its share of notoriety for corrupt practices internationally. In a recent interview Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods had with the Daily Observer, he said, "Corruption has become a popular culture thus our leaders and citizens indulge (in it) with impunity. The present leadership lacks both the legal and moral authority to end this trend". In the same interview, the human rights activist referred to Liberia as “…an unrepentantly corrupt state”.

Corruption has become so rampant that ordinary Liberians are referring to the NTGL as: “Now it’s Time to Grab and Leave” or “Never Trust Government Leaders” in the same way the PRC government of Samuel K. Doe was referred to as “Plenty Rice Coming”, “People Ruled by Children” and “People Repeating Corruption”.

I honestly believe that the selection of warlords and their associates to head the Liberian government was the wrong thing to do. To me it was like rewarding Adolph Hitler for exterminating 6 million Jews. Regardless of the rationale for taking this “quick-fix” decision, it was simply a reward given to the warlords for raining terror on our people in the name of getting rid of a tyrant only to replace him with themselves, who can’t do anything right.

While we welcome the report of the Special Committee headed by Representative Isaac Mannah, the leadership of the Liberian parliament (the National Transitional Legislative Assembly - NTLA) did not have the legal authority to indefinitely suspend Speaker George Dweh, Deputy Speaker Eddington Varmah, Rules and Orders Chairman Edward Kpulun, and Ways, Means and Finance Chairman Tapple Doe, and to subsequently replace them without due process of the law. These acts were in flagrant violation of their constitutional and civil rights.

In the first place, how can individuals accused of committing crimes (rampant corruptions), be suspended indefinitely, and subsequently replaced (March 17, 2005) without having their day in court to face their accusers? I am not a lawyer but from a layperson’s point of view, this act is a miscarriage of justice. These are some of the practices that many Liberians, including me, have spoken against –Abusing and misusing state power (authority) for personal gains. Thomas Paine’s warning is applicable here: “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent which will reach himself”.

I believe there are laws in Liberia that are supposed to protect the rights of the accused person, but Liberian “leaders” are so accustomed to “taking the laws into their own hands” to the point that they now institutionalized the practice of finding accused persons guilty first before proofing them innocent. In most cases, the accused persons are beaten, injured, and their properties are confiscated or destroyed. What kind of legal system is this?

For example, in the United States, from which Liberia borrowed their legal system, a person who commits murder in broad daylight, is entitled to a lawyer, and is considered innocent until he/she is found guilty in the court of LAW. This is why the United States calls itself a “land of the rule of law.” In order for justice to take its proper course, there must be a rule of law, which must be respected by both the rulers and the ruled. What has happened in Liberia is a miscarriage of justice and if not checked would institutionalize misrule of law. George Dweh, Eddington Varmah, Edward Kpulun, and Tapple Doe must be given their day in court, and if they are found guilty, they should suffer the consequences. It should not be treated like the police director who was suspended and replaced, and nothing has been done since – whether criminal charges were filed against him or not!

In the year and a half that the NTLA has been in office, there have been too many corrupt practices that have been reported in the media, and no action has been taken. Now that the NTLA has begun to “pull rope, rope must now pull bush”. By this I mean the NTLA must begin to look into these corrupt cases reported in the media in order to have them disposed of properly, instead of burying them under the GOLD DOME. For instance, the NTLA needs to investigate:

1. The National Bank money fiasco, which involved the former Governor, Elie Saleeby and associates,
2. The recent sale of the Liberian Embassy in London
3. The money from the sale of the iron ore in Grand Bassa
4. The incident that took place at the Liberia Agricultural Company (LAC) in Grand Bassa County and,
5. The contract awarded to Mr. George E. Haddad, a Lebanese businessman, through which the NTGL purchased 76 Grand Limited and Larendo Cherokee vehicles in 2004 at the cost of US$2,649,248.70 of which Mr. Haddad only received US$1.5 million while US$1.15 million is outstanding, should be revisited.

A good place to start with the house cleaning, which is overdue, will be with the cases mentioned above. The Liberian people should not allow those who are supposed to serve their interest, to use their resources to enrich themselves, their families and associates. Government officials must be made accountable to the people; and elected officials must protect the constitutional and civil rights of ever citizen, including the accused. A future stable, peaceful and prosperous Liberia depends on establishing NOW a rule of LAW and a government that respects the LAW and selflessly serves ALL of the PEOPLE.