All Eyes Are Watching To See Which Option Liberians Choose


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 3, 2003

As the humanitarian, security and political situation in Liberia slides further and farther into the abyss of catastrophe, the country once again finds itself in the international spotlight. But this is not new to the average Liberian who has endured under the wretched conditions caused by Charles MacArthur Taylor for the past 13 years.

These wretched experiences have become almost a daily ritual of Liberians running for their lives since Mr. Taylor decided to hijack the political process in Liberia and vaulted his way to power at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia.

For nearly 14 years, the Liberian people have been on the run from the killing orgies, unleashed by Mr. Taylor and an assortment of rival political power seekers. Today many are unwanted refugees in neighboring countries, coping with the harshest of circumstances for survival while a herd of others are classified as internally displaced people (IDP's) in their own country, rendered totally incapable to provide the basic necessities of life for themselves.

In fact, as their struggle for survival continues and any hope for immediate amelioration in their condition seems increasingly precarious, the main culprit of Liberia's agony, Charles Taylor and his associates, indulge in opulence. And not only has he completely abrogated the rule of law, discarded the important democratic requisite of independent judiciary, free press, freedom of speech, he has also looted the country's resources for personal enrichment. And he has done so with total impunity.

Thanks in part to the international community, mainly the United Nations (UN) that has become only a tool for protecting Western interests at the expense of African nations such as Liberia and others caught in an intractable cycle of violence, and seemed incapable of untangling themselves.

From the vantage point of many Africans, the efficacy of the United Nations is questionable. The continent's problems - and no doubt they're complex, deep-seated and multiple - often are relegated to the backburner of United Nations' debates to the detriment of African peoples.

One particular case in point is Liberia, where a score of greed-driven characters, including its current ruler, have been waging a ruthless, forgotten war for a decade now.

Except for humanitarian assistance and occasional renewals of ineffective, toothless sanctions against the Taylor regime, the UN has essentially turned a blind eye on Liberia. Its main rationale has been that regional groupings, in Liberia's case, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), should take the lead in solving regional problems.

All this sounds reasonable on the surface. But this argument is flawed in many aspects. For one thing, this policy is an affirmation that the United Nations is no longer the primary instrument for international peace and security if its conflict-resolution mechanism is to rely on regional organizations. What this tells us is that those capable of making meaningful impact in stopping world conflicts have decided to skirt that responsibility and delegate such function to the least prepared.

To argue that regional organizations are more suited to deal with regional conflicts without adequate need assessment of each situation before making that decision is a dereliction of the concept of shared responsibility and collective security that was the core foundation upon which the United Nations was founded. As we have seen, this assigning of conflicts to regional governments has crystallized the imbalance in the way the UN operates today. It indeed has shown which conflict gets immediate world's attention and which does not.

This rationale or practice has made Africa the main victim of international abandonment. The continent is mired in conflicts. Its citizens are ensnarled by the worst poverty in the world with all its attendant miseries: ignorance, disease, malnutrition and death. In point of fact, the continent of Africa is the most afflicted by wars, yet the least capable of resolving its crises without international assistance. As a result, Africans are direct victims hurt by the UN's policy of benign neglect.

For example, "The Africa can wait" policy was seen recently when British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had to cancel his announced trip to West Africa, a region engulfed by civil strife, so he could be available to take care of pressing issues dealing with Iraq. These instances of Africa's neglect abound.

This life reality should remind all Africans not to delude themselves that the world community is apt to rid the continent of dictators and scumbags as it has freed the peoples of the Balkan and Iraq of some of the world's hideous tyrants.

The Western powers who have the means to effect meaningful change on a global level, including Africa, have to have a "reason" before they can commit their political capital and resources anywhere. And that "reason" is euphemistically called "strategic interest". What this means is they commit their resources only if there is something in the area or country that the powerful countries need in return. Their need takes precedent. Therefore Africans should not forget that and be fooled otherwise.

This brings us to the ongoing situation in Liberia, where thousands of people are enduring some of the worst conditions that mankind can withstand. For more than 13 years, thousands of Liberians have been slaughtered by the Taylor regime and various warring factions, while the rest of the world pays little or no attention to their plight.

After all, Liberia is a small, impoverished nation in West Africa that does not engender compelling "reason" for the rest of the world to be concerned about its situation. There is nothing in Liberia that can be in the "strategic interest" of the world's powerful nations. So Liberia's tragic civil strife is not on anyone's radar screen. The distressed population is left at the mercy of the marauding perpetrators, both state and dissident forces, each of which is purely motivated by greed and driven by sheer madness.

Regrettably, the Liberian situation is mentioned in international debates only as a function of the civil war in Sierra Leone, which benefits from the dubious distinction of being a former British colony. Unlike Liberia that has no former colonial master to come to its aid in time of trouble or possesses some rare natural resource to be eligible for "strategic interest", Sierra Leone has the United Kingdom. And peace and stability in Sierra Leone is in Britain's strategic interest.

For that matter, it is time for Liberians to see their situation from where they stand and begin to take charge of their own affairs. Depending on others to end the lunacy that has decimated their homeland has not produced the desired result. So Liberians must seize the opportunity in Akosombo, Ghana, to stop the national hemorrhaging.

After all, this is their future that is being destroyed by a consortium of ruffians, who have neither a pro-active national paradigm for reconstruction and reconciliation nor subscribe to any set of core democratic values. As evident throughout the Liberian experience, those who use violence as a vehicle to power are nothing more than a mortal enemy of the state irrespective of slogans.

So what are the chances of success in Ghana? To answer this question, one must take a look at the key players in the Liberian dilemma. The major players are Taylor, the dissident groups and civil society, comprising credible opposition political parties and various civilian institutions. If experience is any guide for prediction, then prospect of success in Ghana seems rather bleak.

For Mr. Taylor, this is a familiar arena in which he had skillfully displayed his mastery of chicanery and repeatedly frustrated the besieged Liberian people. As usual, his aim at this meeting would be to use all the tricks and deceit, which would guarantee his grip on power without significant change to the status quo. In other words, if Taylor gets his way at Akosombo, it's the Liberian people who will remain stranded with the inestimable ruins of his actions as the suffering continues.

Similarly, the dissidents are not going to Akosombo with any meaningful democratic solution to the Liberian crisis. Instead, their aim is to join Taylor, or rather supplant him, in the national loot of the country. They have brought as much death and destruction to the innocent civilian population as Mr. Taylor. Like Taylor and Doe before him, the dissidents, too, do not believe in the basic elements of democratic governance.

During the onslaught on Liberia in their quest to oust Mr. Taylor from power, the dissidents failed to protect innocent civilians or articulate any concrete positive policy vision for the country. And so no one is surprised by this failure to spell out any objectives, since key people in these movements are retreads from former warring factions of 90s, who helped to create this nightmare. These are not liberators. The dissidents have committed their share of atrocities for which they must be held accountable.

For all practical purposes, Mr. Taylor and the dissident groups would wield more power at the bargaining table this week in Ghana. They would do so simply because they have the gun pointed at the head of the Liberian people.

But logic and common sense are on the side of civil society that has consistently advocated for a peaceful resolution of the Liberian crisis. It's the one group with the least power to influence the outcome of the talks.

So as Liberians and friends of Liberia go to the negotiations in Ghana, they should all resolve not to fall for Mr. Taylor's empty rhetoric of peace and reconciliation. Instead, all stakeholders must realize it's time to put an end to Liberia's long national suffering.

In this regard, find below our recommendations:

1) That there should be an immediate ceasefire of hostilities by all forces, to be accompanied by disarmament and restructuring of the armed forces of Liberia.

2) That an interim government be chosen to start work in January 2004 at the end Taylor's current term to govern the country for two years be before general elections can be held. Such a governing body will be charged as its primary responsibility of organizing elections, resettlement of returnees and displaced people; providing basic essential services for the citizenry; that those who serve in the interim government are barred from standing in the next general elections.

3) That an international stability force be deployed in Liberia to facilitate the smooth implementation of disarmament and decommissioning; and to provide security for the general population for the period stated above.

Finally, we urge all the participants to exercise prudence and be motivated by nationalism to do everything in their grasp to end the suffering of the Liberian people. Taylor and the dissidents have all the necessary power to determine the future of Liberia. Hence all eyes are watching to see which option they choose.