Avoiding ECOWAS' Executioner's Knife

The Perspective
April 11, 2001

All signs point to disarray within West Africa's regional organization, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), as leaders converge in Nigeria to ponder on the crisis unfolding within the Mano River states (Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone). Both Presidents Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and Lansana Conte are boycotting the conference. Their reason: Liberia's Charles Taylor destruction of their countries and ECOWAS' nonchalant and partisan position.

It is difficult for a humane mind not to endorse the grievances of these two once brotherly neighbours sharing so many ethnic groups and commonalities with Liberia. Both countries sent soldiers who died in defense of Liberian civilians when Charles Taylor was unleashing horrors on them. Unlike Ghana, Senegal and a number of African countries that contributed troops largely due to donor dollars, these two countries, amongst the poorest on earth, wasted much needed resources in defense of humanity in Liberia when Charles Taylor was prepared to wipe it from the face of the earth because of his desire for the presidency.

More than ten years after their sons and daughters died on Liberian soil, unbelievably and appallingly hypocritical West African states that have not lived and experienced Liberia's exported horrors can afford to be magnanimous. Nigeria, Ghana, and others, have no common border with Terror. So they can afford to be "understanding" as Guinea and Sierra Leone burn. They can afford to lecture Kabbah and Conte on African brotherliness even if thousands of their citizens are wandering with cutoff limbs, even if their economies have been destroyed, even as the seeds of political instability have been sowed within their countries by states like Burkina Faso and Cote D'Ivoire under past regimes, two of Charles Taylor's biggest fans and supporters.

Charity, as the saying goes, begins at home. In the case of Ghana, Liberian refugees encamped outside Accra because they cannot return home, have been subjected to some of the worst unpublicized abuses imagined. Over 15 of them remain in prison on claims they were armed. Several are said to have been killed in the camp in silence. For days after a recent clash with Ghanaians and their Police, the refugees hid indoors, afraid to come out as their food supplies ran out. What would have happened if Ghana was Guinea, whose towns and villages have been wiped out, thousands of their people butchered, tens of thousands transformed into displaced people, and burdened with multiplying refugees? Would this Ghana, among those lecturing about peace, have exercised the restraint that Guinea has for over a decade?

But despite the convincing evidence that the winds of regional destruction are blowing from Taylor's Liberia, West African states, in self-interest, and believably controlled by Libya, decided to lobby the UN to save Liberia. With such a horrific slap in the back, they now expect Conte and Kabbah, wounded, angry and feeling rightly betrayed, to sit and dine with them while their people die, while refugees and the displaced multiply by the hour, while their citizens are reduced to living in the Middle Ages because of the greed of one despicable individual, Charles Taylor, ECOWAS is determined to save and sell him as a redeeming figure. Better and honest minds have an understanding of the regional cancer. This is why we applaud US Congressman Ed Royce when he says:

"Charles Taylor is a menace to West AfricaIt is not just Sierra Leone that is imperiled. The survival of Guinea is on the line. Its government has woken up to this reality, as Charles Taylor wages war on Guinea with his proxies. Conakry has requested U.S. military aid to bolster its armed forces' ability to secure its border. The U.S. must strongly consider providing that aid nowInstead of waiting two months, the Security Council should have imposed these sanctions now, as well as a ban on Liberian timber exports, as it was considering. Some reports have the timber trade being more valuable to Taylor than his illicit diamond trading. What is clear is that Taylor is instigating an environmental calamity. The Liberian virgin forest is critical to the environmental health of West Africa. Taylor's timbering, done in cahoots with foreign companies, is of no economic benefit to the Liberian people. It's also unsustainable and threatens to devastate the rain forest within a decade. "

We commend Presidents Conte and Kabbah for seeing through ECOWAS' executioner's knife and avoiding it in a timely manner. Slowly, the truth that Taylor only negotiates to buy time for more terror is coming to pass. Only when this man, whom President Conte correctly described as a "rogue" and a "murderer" not talk with, is exposed and deprived of his tricks will genuine peace return to the Mano River states. With him, sadly so, death and anarchy will intensify. Without him, children will return to school instead of being child soldiers, and farmers will return to the land instead of being fed by donors. We hope Presidents Kabbah and Conte will not be hoodwinked into shaping their own executioner's knives by believing ECOWAS' game plan.

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