The Elephant Gave Birth To A Mouse

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

March 18, 2002

The Abuja meeting ended with the lamest recommendations. It called for a cease-fire that has been issued on behalf of the conference but not by the conference. Liberians came up with three major recommendations, that include the call for restructuring of the security forces, the setting up a truth commission and the presence of the foreign peacekeepers.

As usual, our politicians went to talk and made recommendations that would yield very little results. What ever comes from this meeting does not in any way bind Taylor and his government, because officially the government was not represented and therefore could not be bound by any decision reached in Abuja. Out of the 80 who attended the meeting, only 32 signed the recommendations. Some participants from Monrovia did not feel it would be safe for them to ask for “drastic measures” as calling for peacekeepers to take over from the army of child soldiers that has now grown into an army of looters. Others did not want to ever face a truth commission.

LURD did not attend. They were probably following the Bible, now that we have turned the country to Jesus, “He who guards his lips guards his soul [heart],” Proverbs13:3. They certainly have a game plan we would learn of later. By no showing up at the conference, they scored a major public relations victory against Taylor and others whom they termed as recycled politicians and warlords. They avoided falling in the trap of never-ending peace negotiations, something Taylor has mastered.

The meeting took place and now is the difficult part. How to get these recommendations implemented? How to get Taylor to accept the presence of a peacekeeping force in Liberia? Because that would mean taking away from him the last vestige of sovereignty and the only sign of respectability left to him. What would be the composition of that peacekeeping force? Would Nigeria commit troops and money to spearhead such a venture that could go on for years and cost billions of dollars like did ECOMOG in the 1990s? Would the UN foot the bill, with the understanding that ensuring peace in Liberia will ultimately bring peace in the MRU region, and save many lives down the lines? But so far, from experience, the UN and ECOWAS seem more interested in resolving conflict than preventing them, even when they see it coming.

The other important issue is the issue of the truth commission. This is an idea that many have pushed since the elections. Who would face it? What powers would it have? Would it have the power to subpoena Liberians all over the world? Would it be like the South Africa truth commission where people would come and admit their guilt, ask for pardon and walk away amid chants and mass hysteria we are so good at?

The restructuring of the armed forces and the security services is an issue that comes from the Abuja Accord that led to the elections of Taylor. It was the first thing he violated and there is no reason for him to go back to it.

The Executive Secretary of ECOWAS, Dr. Chambas, in his attempt to “make peace” in Liberia, made a serious mistake by organizing a conference overnight to deal with issues so important. The mere fact that LURD did not attend lessened the possibility of any positive outcome. This was the first time LURD was going to be part of any meeting and therefore more work should have been put into an agenda. What was the conference all about? Liberian politicians are so accustomed to ”peace talks” that they would walk into any conference room at this point without even thinking. It was incumbent upon Dr. Chambas to go around, solicit the views and concerns of all parties concerned, set up a timetable, come up with an agenda and then convene a conference. This conference was full of good intentions but empty on substance.

Dr. Chambas is not new to the Liberian peace process. He was a close associate of Jerry Rawlings in the 1990s and was among those who helped to tilt the balance in favor of Taylor. He was one of the architects of the 1994 Akassombo Accord that ultimately culminated into the Abuja Accord that brought the head of warring factions to power in Monrovia without disarming their fighters. It was he and Kojo Tsikata, Rawlings’s security advisor (closely linked to the Libya and Burkina Faso), who came to tell us in Counselor Banks' hotel room that whether we liked it or not, the warring factions would take over and that there was nothing civil society or weak politicians could do about it. Every decision Ghana made back then was greatly influenced by Libya, at the time the strongest ally and supporter of Taylor and the NPFL. We hope that Dr. Chambas has changed his approach to Taylor and Liberia since he now works for ECOWAS and no longer for Jerry Rawlings and Libyan interests? God Bless the Peacemakers!

Liberian politicians are too focused on elections as the solution to the problems the country is facing. They give the impression that the only thing they are interested in is to be elected president and do not seem to understand the magnitude of the task ahead of them. So far, they have talked at each other rather work together, with or against the government to arrive at a real consensus on a way forward. Somebody said that there are too many Liberians who feel entitled to the throne in Liberians but are not willing to work to get to coronation. Maybe the fact they feel entitled, they don’t think they need to work hard at things.

Liberia is faced with very serious and deep structural problems that go beyond the security issue for a candidate. Elections are not rigged on the day of the elections they are rigged long before and after. The Abuja conference is a sign of things to come. One does not solve national problems by attending weekend-long conferences with airline flight and job deadlines. It takes more than that.

The results of the Abuja conference can be used to a constructive end. It would mean that our politicians, rather than signing a release and going back to their normal occupations and expect the world to do their work for them, would take steps to ensure the implementation of these objectives. Nobody cares enough for Liberia now to be spending millions, flying around and calling meetings. The days when ECOWAS could send a delegation of five to nine ministers to the UN to discuss Liberia are over. The politicians can and must work together and travel across the continent and throughout the world to seek whatever remedy needed to implement the Abuja recommendations. It would mean working together as a team, setting up a consultative body and finding the funds to make all of that operational.

Other than that, the Abuja meeting would have just been another occasion to see all friends and exchange notes on current events. Something most Liberians do in the US or any refugee camp when they attend weddings and funerals.

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