While Liberia Bleeds

By Tarty Teh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 4, 2003

Of all the countries in Africa, Liberia has the second longest history of nationhood. Therefore, any data extracted from Liberia's social and political history can soundly support any prediction of the behavior of the country's social and political elite. But the behavior in question is not such a strange phenomenon. Anyone with any measurable amount of knowledge of the sad foundation upon which Liberia was founded will understand the fervor with which some elements of the Liberian society stake their claims to political power.

Sadly and conversely, there is an underlining assumption that failure is guaranteed whenever people who are not steeped in the culture of Liberia's self-appointed political and social elite undertake any endeavor of national scope. Unless, of course, the central role in such enterprise is reserved for those who regard themselves as born to lead Liberia. That postulate, however, has not been fully tested.

Regarding the current drive to end the war in Liberia, I am not sure what Liberia's brand-name politicians are saying to the West African patrons for peace regarding what or whom it will take to restore order to Liberia. But placing a bet now will condemn the premise of my own argument.

However, I can sense certain things easily not because I studied Liberia, but because I was born a Liberian. In fact, it would not have been enough to be born a Liberian, if I were not a member of Liberia's cultural majority. This membership, by the way, was not by subscription. One is born into a circumstance and from that point tries to make the most of it. This, of course, was not meant as an apology but as a counter point to any argument that being born a tribal person in Liberia is an affliction from which one must seek to recover.

From this point on, I will assume that Liberians of all stripes are equal and should therefore aspire equally to any heights. With that in mind, I must add that the current conflict in Liberia was begun on a premise that concedes supremacy to a small group of Liberians from whom we chose our leaders for more than a century and a quarter. That being the case, any suggestion that seeks a conscious balance of the elements that constitute Liberia's political leadership should not therefore be regarded as driven by prejudice.

Because being of tribal extraction in Liberia was never thought of as a suitable platform for acquiring social and political refinement, Liberian tribal virtues were never seriously considered in the creation and maintenance of political institutions. Even while we tribal Liberians were being encouraged to unlearn our otherwise natural tribal-ness, Liberia's social and political institutions were in the hands of those whose had no means or saw no reasons for relating to Africa. Therefore, for instance, to pursue a career in broadcasting in Liberia, one would have had to profess ignorance of any tribal language in Liberia.

However, such ignorance that was once cute has now become an acute obstacle to understanding Africa. How will one know why Africa cries if one does not understand any of her languages? It is therefore easy to destroy Africa if one cannot or does not wish to relate to Africa. This explains the death of 220,000 people in Liberia when those who hired Charles Taylor in 1989 decided that ten years was all they would allow themselves to be out of power in Liberia. Being on top of the majority of the African population in Liberia was all they knew, so they would not settle for anything less.

But Charles Taylor also killed Nigerians, Sierra Leoneans, Guineans, Senegalese, and Ghanaians. He killed only a half dozen American nuns. While he was on this killing spree, we acceded to his wishes through peace agreements - 13 of them - that we negotiated with him. He signed but accepted each accord long enough for him to regroup his forces and position himself to make another demand of the terrified Liberian population and the equally dumbfounded West African armies that had gone to keep peace in Liberia.

That was six years ago. Death is now a slow leak in Liberia, but we have determined its cause. It is Charles MacArthur Taylor. We have decided that we will risk a new beginning rather than live with death, however slowly it comes to us by Taylor's executive fiat.

That much is obvious, but the real danger lurks just below the surface. In 1990 Liberia lay bleeding - freshly wounded - while the cabal that had planned an executed the attack on her met in Banjul, the Gambia. They selected one of their own members to become interim President of Liberia while Charles Taylor, the man they had hired out of prison to destroy Liberia, was still on the rampage. Their conference site was out of reach of many Liberians, even if they were aware of what was being crafted there.

The cabal has convened again. They are talking, as before, about: interim presidency, powering sharing, and an intervention force for Liberia. These are the same ingredients that ignited the flame that is still consuming West Africa: an interim government, a joint presidency with Taylor, and a supposedly more tamed version of ECOMOG, euphemistically called "an intervention force." But those who are pushing what they believe is a new scheme are deadly serious. They are already in Ghana to deliver their plans to the International Contact Group. They only need to sell the plans to that ad hoc group, not to the Liberian people, and they will have us by the balls again. We must therefore be even more determined to foil their plans this time around.

So, the conference in Ghana should be about removing Charles Taylor, not how much longer he should remain in power. Even more so, it is not about supplanting him with seedlings from the nursery from which Liberia grew its leaders for the past 150 years. The one thing we have not tried in Liberia is something made of Africa. The people who started the military movements that have forced Charles Taylor to the negotiating table - notably Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) - must have had (should have had) something in mind. We need to know what it is. Most of all, we must try it because, at this point, nothing can be worse than Charles Taylor as president of Liberia or whatever else his handlers have concocted lately.