Thanks Ambassador Blaney, Please Remember The Others
By: James W. Harris
December 23, 2002
For those of us that have been relentless in calling on the repressive Taylor regime to either free the then jailed Liberian journalist, Hassan Bility, editor of the local Analyst newspaper, or simply take him to court, the sight of him smiling apparently after being released recently as posted on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)'s website, truly brought a big sigh of relief.
But frankly, this is no time to celebrate mainly because many others were left behind! While many deserve the credit for his eventual release, the US Ambassador accredited near the now battle-scarred capital of Monrovia, John William Blaney, as well as his government, should be highly commended for making Hassan's freedom possible again.
Although Bility's release has been widely welcomed in various places, but we would like to strongly appeal to the Ambassador not to forget those that are still being incarcerated illegally by this government that has apparently run amok. The names Aloysius Toe, Sheikh K. M. Sackor, Ansumana Kamara, Mulbah Kamara, Varmuyan Dulleh, immediately come to mind. And there are countless others that really don't belong in King Taylor's dungeons, but can't help otherwise.
As everyone should know, prior to Ambassador Blaney's intervention, the Taylor government or even the President himself seemed to have been determined to silence him (Bility), despite calls from many quarters, including the highly reputable, Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), etc., to set him free or bring formal charges against him as the existing Liberian Constitution CLEARLY requires.
Even though some Liberians have begun to question the way that Bility's release eventually came about, particularly, the supposed "agreement" between the despotic Taylor regime and the US Embassy there, we should still be happy, nevertheless, that Hassan has been given a 'new lease' on life unlike many others that are still being held wrongly in Taylor's dungeons incommunicado. Sadly, some of them may not even be able to make it out alive if timely action is not taken on their behalf since they do not have the high profile as Bility by virtue of his chosen profession.
Therefore, it would only be wise that Ambassador Blaney follow up on his latest act of goodwill by taking the lead from AI, or even better, his very own conscience to ensure that the lives and freedoms of all Liberians are protected going forward. In welcoming the journalist's newly won freedom, AI said in a press release: "The release of Hassan Bility is a significant step in the right direction, but the [ruthless] government of Liberia must go further, however, and release [the] others who are held solely because of their criticism of the [bankrupt] government and their condemnation of the persistent violation of the fundamental human rights of the [already traumatized] Liberian people."
Personally, while I'm naturally ecstatic about Hassan's inevitable release from Taylor's dungeons of pure hell, I'm somewhat deeply disturbed by what seems to be the failed National Patriotic Party (NPP) government's new policy of "forced banishment" - basically forcing Liberians out of their own country or face death at the hands of Taylor's severely cruel and ill-trained security thugs - a true reminder of South Africa's ugly apartheid days.
But AI went even further than that by stating: "The release of those human rights activists who remain in detention, including Sheikh Sackor and Aloysius Toe, should be immediate and without conditions. It should not be dependent on the intervention by other governments or their removal from the country." Of course not!
I certainly don't think that it was either right or legal for Bility to have been forced out of his war-torn country against his will as it has been reported by some news outlets. It really isn't! And for the government to say that it surely can't guarantee his safety is outright ridiculous and nothing but hogwash. After all, Liberia definitely isn't the EXCLUSIVE DOMAIN of Charles Taylor and his alleged criminal gang!
For example, this is what Taylor's war-time public relations (PR) man, who is now his long-serving (mis) Information Minister, Reginald Goodridge, had to say upon Hassan's release according to the BBC: "The important thing had been to make sure [that] the journalist left Liberia... because of people's anger at what he and his conspirators had done." Can you believe this? And what "people's anger" was he talking about?
Honestly, instead of the "people's anger" turning on Hassan as the president's blind servant [s] would wish, Liberians would do well to openly express their anger, outright disgust and frustration at their failed government for conniving with international criminals, thereby, making their once peaceful country a pariah and rogue state that no one really wants to touch, except professional crooks. This brings me to the whole question of "security" and "human rights" there as the besieged Taylor government continues to clamp down wickedly on its perceived enemies to survive.
Some Liberians, notwithstanding, would want the world to think that the country is safe and secure for everyone, but it is not! The recent illegal arrest and detention of some prominent citizens from Grand Bassa County, namely, Byron Brown, local chairman of the Liberian Unification Party (LUP), a George Gayebueh, Emma Morris, secretary general and local chairwoman of the New DEAL Movement's Women Wing, as well as Mrs. Estella Kilby-Pailey, the former local chairwoman of the ruling NPP's Women's Wing, clearly attest to this fact. These recent instances of harassment and intimidation on the part of Taylor's despotic regime are not isolated either. There are countless other cases that we don't even hear about!
That's why it's particularly disturbing when prominent politicians like Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh utters remarks or do things, intentionally or unintentionally, that makes it seems like the security situation in Liberia is normal. It isn't! Supposedly addressing a government sub-committee hearing on Foreign Relations December 13, Taylor's mouthpiece, allaboutliberia.com, quoted him (Dr. Tipoteh) as saying that "there was an appreciable level of security in the country." I dare not disagree with him since I'm not on the ground, but I'm sure that it's true for some people as opposed to the general population
According to the government's website, Dr. Tipoteh was responding to a clause in the concept document of the proposed International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL), which called on the international community to "support the effort to restore security to Liberia", with at least one Liberian lawmaker raising concerns about the usage of the word "restore". As far as the lawmaker is concerned, the word "restore" implied wrongly that the country absolutely lacked security, which is arguable depending on what one means by "security".
In the most elementary sense, "security" means the quality or state of being free from fear or distrust; free from danger. Therefore, given this definition, Liberia is far from it!
That's why there is a very urgent need for some kind of "stabilization force" to be placed on the ground in the battered country as soon as possible - to ensure that the tyrannical regime there respects the basic human rights of all Liberians so that they can truly be free to live in their own country without molestation.
But the idea of deploying such a force in Liberia has definitely become somewhat of a hot issue amongst Liberians and others, even though, it would be the best way forward, especially with regards to addressing the diminishing human rights situation as well as preparing for the up coming elections there, if or whenever it occurs.
While Dr. Tipoteh seemingly would welcome the need for such a force, according to allaboutliberia.com, he, however, wants it to be done with the NPP government's approval - something that just may not happen. "Prominent Liberian politician Togba Nah Tipoteh [has] told a sub-committee hearing... that the legitimacy of the incumbent Liberian government was unquestionable and any action aimed at bringing peace to Liberia must be done with the full participation of the Liberian government and people", the website also quoted him as saying.
Frankly, I agree with the "full participation of the Liberian people" part, but the alleged criminal regime in Monrovia? Give me a break - I thought that we have had enough of this seriously failed NPP government! And I also agree with Dr. Tipoteh when he says that "an international [ly] approved military force could facilitate a meaningful ceasefire" in Liberia and possibly bring about people. But would Taylor allow such a force that could possibly break his security grip on the now dead country? And the answer is probably no.
As for the question of Taylor's legitimacy as regards putting a "stabilization force" on the ground there, I sincerely believe, like many Liberians, that he has already lost not only his legitimacy, but also Liberia's hard won sovereignty as a former credible member of the world community when he abandoned his Constitutional duties to the Liberian people and nation, choosing instead, to get into bed with predators, like Niko Schefer, Victor Bout and Sam Bockarie, among other alleged international criminals and gangsters.
And here's a clear portrait of this bankrupt government that some Liberians would want us to continue to do business with as if it has not damaged the country sufficiently. In a detailed report labeled "How to Con Greedy Investors", a highly credible group, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), recently described what one Niko Shefer, a South African Jew and a man that's well known to both Taylor and Goodridge, had to say about his dealings with the sitting crooked government in Monrovia: "I move with cash. I can buy the [Liberian] president a Mercedes 600. How can a normal company justify that? How do they explain that to the [ir] shareholders? I do not need board meetings. I AM THE BOARD [emphasis mine]."
But the most disturbing or intriguing aspects of the ICIJ's revelations about senior officials of the Taylor government were these: "Shefer was in an expansive mood. It was December 1999 [about two years after "Ghankay" was supposedly elected by popular vote], and he [Shefer] had just earned millions of dollars from a series of business ventures in Liberia, claiming to have got [ten] the better of Liberian President Charles Taylor... During his trips to Monrovia [the nation's ruined sea-side capital city], Shefer would spend many hours at Taylor's residence, where he said, Taylor sometimes received him in pyjamas. When asked in 1998 [roughly a year after "Ghankay" ascended to the Liberian presidency] about the government in Liberia, Shefer quipped, 'WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT'" [my emphasis]. Isn't this sufficient to make any group of 'conscientious' people angry, especially so, when majority of them continue to live in abject poverty and squalor, while their 'rulers' live elegantly in luxury with darkness and hopelessness all around them?
And as for Reginald Goodridge, the report specifically said: "Scores of Liberian officials, anxious to benefit from Shefer and his company [Greater Diamond], would navigate Monrovia's potholed streets in luxurious SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles) to meet with Shefer in his ground floor office. One regular [visitor] was Reginald Goodridge, the [then] presidential press secretary, who had the easily identifiable license plate 'Media 1'".
Now, here is a classic case of someone attempting to sell his country to the highest bidder for selfish personal gains as we are seeing repeatedly with this tyrannical government. Why would Goodridge be "navigating potholes" to meet Shefer, except to lick his fingers too [to put it in Liberian parlance]. Amazingly, nothing seems to have changed if the latest UN Experts' report means anything - it's absolutely business as usual with this particular group of destructive Liberians. And some Liberians still want to deal with them!
For those of you who have the time and patience to read the whole report, you can go to allafrica.com's website and type "ICIJ" or "How to Con Greedy Investors" in the search field. I can assure you that it'll certainly be worth every bit of your precious time!
Now, let the local press pass the exact information above regarding Shefer's interview about Liberia, Taylor and Goodridge, on to the Liberian people in every spoken language or dialect throughout the country, using every possible media [radio, television, etc.] and see how they'll react when they find out that their "democratically elected" government is being run seemingly by a tight coalition of con artists, justifiably giving the nation a bad rap. It would also be a good way to test whether or not the local press is truly independent and functional as some people say it is!
But why should Liberians and the international community expect anything good from the present regime in the first place? Isn't it already obvious that when you have the likes of Charles Taylor, Goodridge, Theophilous "TC" Gould, Paul Mulbah, Sando Johnson, Victoria Reffell, Blamo Nelson, Cyril Allen, Bacchus Matthews, Tom Woweiyu, among others, running a country, it is literally doomed? What's there not to understand? If you have reasons to believe otherwise, then just ask anyone who knows these people intimately. Or better yet, look at their individual records over the years and you'll definitely find a trail of opportunism, greed, dishonesty, moral deficiency, naked deceit, etc., in their dealing with others. Moreover, they'll actually do just about anything to cling on to power - and that's the most scary part about the unfortunate Liberian drama that is constantly unfolding! Unfortunately, that's the true nature of the government that Dr. Tipoteh and others still want us to condone.
I mean, the world already knows that when one is outspoken on burning issues regarding war-wrecked Liberia these days or even 'objectively criticizes' the morally and ethically bankrupt NPP government, one doesn't have a chance of staying alive there. Not one bit! So, what kind of "security" are we talking about? The unresolved cases of Samuel S. Dokie, Jackson F. Doe, Enoch Dogolea, etc., are prime examples of how one ends up when this lawless regime considers you as a direct threat to its rule, thereby, branding you as a 'security risk' or 'unlawful combatant'.
Disappointingly, this was not the kind of government that Liberians had envisioned when they voted overwhelmingly in 1997 to give Taylor the opportunity to run their war-weary country, regardless of all that he had done personally to destroy it. Certainly, this was not what they had hoped for! They thought that by putting him (Taylor) in charge, he would have abandoned his war-mongering and primitively repressive ways. But evidently, they (Liberians) were mistaken again as they've been on many, many other occasions. Sadly, we're still waiting for someone else to save our now ruined country.
And to hear some Liberians talking about elections in trying times like these as if conditions, especially human rights - those fundamental rights that ALL Liberians are automatically entitled to - have improved by any means is mind-boggling. But again, we do know what the hidden intent is of all those that are preparing for the so-called elections come 2003 in spite of the horrendous security situation on the ground: They primarily want to get their share of the loot, period, and continue to "sweet talk" the people. Else, they must be out of their minds to even talk about elections when things are so bad throughout the war-torn country! But that's the way Liberians think generally.
It should be clear by now that elections alone won't change a thing in Liberia. The situation there calls for vigilance on the part of each and every Liberian, buttressed by a leadership of trust and integrity that the international community can deal with without suspicion. A leadership that has a clear vision, agenda and strength to save our now worthless nation.
In fact, if Liberians were really smart, they could save themselves a lot of trouble by completely shutting out many of those clowns masquerading here and there as political leaders. How do we do this? By stubbornly denying them the forums to be heard. Such stringent action would not be done purposely to disrespect their views, no matter how shallow they are, but basically to let them know in no uncertain terms that they really have nothing NEW to offer the country.
It's simple as that, unless Liberians just want an artificial change by replacing Taylor with another of his kind. Unfortunately, that surely won't be good enough for Liberia that has already undergone so much devastation - thanks to those weaklings that had supported Taylor from the very start. Additionally, some of our so-called "leaders" [whether opposition, civic, the church, etc.] are already showing signs of being dictators themselves! Now, do we want another dictator or a genuine leader? This is a question that all Liberians, irrespective of their diverse ethnic, religious or tribal backgrounds, among others, will hopefully decide sooner or later; one way or the other.
Recently, I read a News [Monrovia-based newspaper] editorial on the 2003 elections. The editorial titled: "Kick Off Pre-Electoral Activities", seems to be very hopeful and optimistic that elections would be held next year. "It is about time that the Government provided the needed requirement [s] to kick off the pre-electoral activities", the editorial concluded. But here's my problem. Why can't we [Liberians] take the logical step of ensuring FIRST and FOREMOST that this brutal regime adheres to national and international standards on human rights at least before even talking about elections or getting prepared for it? Why can't we address the security situation first? Isn't it like putting the cart before the horse holding elections under the same dreadful circumstances before seriously addressing the security issue, which is THE most pressing problem confronting the nation today and threatening the democratic process there? Come on, just think about it!
As long as the aggravating security problem in the country is not resolved, it's reasonable to say that Liberians who are now scattered throughout the West African sub-region and far beyond would not feel safe enough to return home to cast their votes. Who then do we expect to participate in the elections and under what conditions? It seems that those Liberians that are fixated on elections without first having the desire to resolve the security question in the country want exactly the same replay of 1997 to me, except that this time around, there would be no ECOMOG or Sani Abacha [the deceased Nigerian military head of state, who many thought may have forced the elections on Liberia] to blame for the mess. This time, we'd definitely have to blame ourselves because we just can't learn!
But again, we're talking about Liberians. I mean, how can you hold elections in an environment where people aren't free to associate; converse with each other; move around; among other known impediments? How can we talk about elections in an environment in which a local reporter, Throble Suah, of the INQUIRER newspaper, was brutalized by Taylor's security forces to the point of urinating blood for no apparent reason? It's inconceivable to me! Yet still, some people think that elections can still be held on schedule, regardless.
To them I'd simply say then don't come calling on the international community for help again when things go wrong, because we should have learned some valuable lessons by now from the 1997 experience. That's how people make progress - learning from past mistakes and avoiding them in the future! But this doesn't seem to apply to Liberians at all.
That's the main reason why the discussion on security, or the lack of it, is very crucial to the success or failure of democracy in Liberia. Only security on the ground, especially provided by the UN and/or some other friendly countries as in neighboring Sierra Leone, could guarantee the people their right to determine who they want inevitably to lead them going forward, albeit the contrary view held by some. Personally, I don't see how a force put together by so-called ECOWAS countries could be any different from the ECOMOG that led the country (Liberia) to what it is right now; a force that many believed deliberately helped to plunder Liberia.
My biggest opposition to a "stabilization" force led by ECOWAS is that I deeply feel that the organization is not up to the task simply because many leaders of this grouping of countries basically shot their way to power themselves just like Taylor, a fact that seems to be lost on many persons advocating such a thing. But as I've said, Liberians are really a 'strange' bunch of people!
If at all the country can't get a force similar to the one in neighboring Sierra Leone for reasons of 'traditional conventions' or whatever, then it would only be sensible for Liberians and others that are interested in helping to save the country, to begin to look at other alternatives, like, ways to prevent the disaster that was ECOMOG.
Seriously, the twin issues of "security" and "human rights" or the sitting government's violation of them, are ones that no Liberian should be indifferent about, regardless of our personal biases. When the rights of one person is violated by this ruthless regime, we should all consider it as a violation of our own. That's why I was personally disappointed that none of our so-called leaders showed up at the Liberian Embassy in Washington, DC, when we were there for Hassan Bility in spite of his Mandingo ethnicity that some people may have had problem with. But that's rightfully their business, because they will have their consciences to live with! The bottom line is that we are all Liberians and certainly should not wait until the victim is one of our very own before we act, because that is plain wrong. Moreover, that kind of attitude definitely will take us nowhere but keep us divided continuously as a people!
Right now, though, the international community just doesn't seem to have the WILL power to take on the Herculean task of putting a credible stabilization force or whatever on the ground nor have Liberians shown the courage and guts to make unusually hard decisions in critical times like these.
In the absence of some kind of force being on the ground, I'm afraid that Ambassador Blaney will just have to prepare himself to make many more visits to the Executive Mansion [because they will be needed] to plea with Taylor to free his own people as well as improve the dismal security situation in the country.
The game of hauling Liberians to jail for no real reason other than to play cat and mice just like Saddam Hussein must come to an end no matter how it is done. Liberians too should immediately refrain from turning a blind eye when the NPP government commits atrocities against our compatriots. Instead, they should continue to speak out forcefully against such actions and find ways to end them.
But whatever the case is, Ambassador, please don't forget the others that are still being locked up tightly behind bars in several of the discredited president's dens.
After all, when asked by the BBC why the Liberian regime had released Bility after stonewalling for the past five months or so, "Reggie" Goodridge pitifully admitted: "It is difficult for a small country like us to say no". His rather sad but frank remarks were in direct reference to the fact that a big nation like the US, probably through its Ambassador, James W. Blaney, had ask for Hassan's release and was successful in securing it, leaving Goodridge's ruthless government with no choice, but to let him go.
So, Mr. Ambassador, there you have it!