Dealing with Taylor: We Must go Beyond Crying Foul
By Abdoulaye W. Dukule
May 18, 2001
Congratulations to the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) for its clairvoyant analysis of the current political, military and human rights situation in our country. Indeed, Liberians are lost and we all wonder where the solution would come from.
ALJA's call for the indictment of war criminals, including all warlords, past and present must be put into action. We must stand up and ensure that that those who killed thousands of people are brought to face justice. Those who stole from public treasury are to be made accountable in the same way.
We seem to get nowhere! Besides crying foul and pointing timid fingers at Taylor and Kromah, Boley and others, no one seems to be organizing to find a real solution to the problem. There are many issues one needs to look at.
Before going any further, I would like to comment on the issue of Alhaji Kromah and Islam in Liberia. The Liberian Journalists seem to confuse the political ambition of Alhaji Kromah and his tribal and religious affiliation. It is true that before merging with ULIMO, the former warlord was heading an organization called the Muslim Redemption Movement. That Movement which served him as a launching pad and a cover to raise money from some Arab countries never got off the grounds in Guinea. Beyond that point, nothing Alhaji has done or said during his tenure at the head of ULIMO and later in the Council of State had anything to do with advancing the cause of Islam. If many Mandingoes went to fight for him, it is simply because they were available in the refugee camps in Guinea and Sierra Leone. The young men and women who join him were the sons and daughters of NPFL victims. It's no secret that NPFL fighters targeted Mandingoes and Krahns when they first entered Liberia. Just as Taylor used the Gio and Mino fighters to topple Doe, so did Kromah with the Mandingoes to establish himself. Taylor never fought for the well -being of the people of Nimba and Alhaji never fought for Islam or Muslim people in Liberia. Taylor raised his money and trained his rebels in Libya, but that doesn't mean he was fighting for Islam. Alhaji never built one mosque or Islamic school anywhere in Liberia while he was in power. He was never perceived to be a savior or a political leader by Liberian Muslims. Blaming the ills of ULIMO - K on Islam is bound to create an unnecessary religious rift in Liberia.
There is no denying that many ULIMO fighters identify with Kromah but that does not mean that he was on an Islamic redemption mission. The atrocities committed by these fighters in Lofa were mostly in retribution for previous atrocities committed against the Mandingo people at the hands of the NPFL. If we want to close the cycle of violence, we must find the real culprits and stop making blanket accusation. It is this kind of simplification that got many Krahns people killed during the war. Not all Krahns benefited from Doe.
The second point I wish to address in the ALJA's statement is the issue of removing Taylor from power. That seems to be the focal point for many Liberians today and the sole agenda for both political and military oppositions. ALJA may be right in advancing that the likes of Charles Julu and others are not the solution. Those of us who were in Monrovia in September 1994 remember when Julu took position in the Executive Mansion and said he had seized power. That day, those who had been on the run during the Doe regime went into hiding, because they were scared to death that the Doe regime was returning, with a vengeance. Given a choice between Charles Julu and Charles Taylor, we would have chosen the latter.
Now, how do we get rid of Taylor? How do we bring him to justice, if that is what Liberians want? Who is going to do it? There are many scenarios one can think of to get us out of the current nightmare. I have thought of the possible ways in which the Taylor regime of terror and theft would end. Here they are:
1. A military coup d'etat, ... la Doe. Where a group of insurgent would descend on the palace and take over power, either killing Taylor or arresting him. Who would be that military man or woman? Can we trust another soldier in Liberia after Doe? As the army is currently structured with the many layers of security systems, is this a possible solution? Since most leaders of the military are former combatants of the NPFL who revere Charlie as their "pappy"[Pa], where will this true nationalistic soldier to come from to carry out a coup? That person must be brave enough to attempt a coup and nationalistic enough to return the country to democratic rule as soon as possible. Looking at the current military situation, this may not happen.
2. LURD and other armed dissident groups move into Monrovia. The scenario of 1990 is repeated. Taylor and his army have their back to the sea and start slaughtering every other person. He is finally killed. LURD takes over. Whoever survives the internal power struggle, becomes president, owing allegiance to Conteh of Guinea or Kabbah of Sierra Leone. In the process, thousands of innocent people are killed. The people of Nimba go back to Cote D'Ivoire and organize to return and avenge their dead. If, by chance, Taylor escapes and flies to Burkina Faso, he would head a second comeback. There will be no elections, no democracy and we will all be sitting here for another century. And our grand children will forget that we were ever in Liberia.
3. 2003. Elections come up. Taylor tells everybody that he does not control the countryside and therefore cannot guarantee the safety of any candidate beyond Monrovia. He blames the sanctions and LURD and Conteh and Kabbah. Elections are limited to Monrovia and it's surrounding. Tired of Taylor and his dictatorship, the people vote him out. An opposing candidate wins. Taylor retires from politics and moves to southern France, either in Nice or St.-Juan-Les-Pins. This is very unlikely.
4. A friendly country, appalled by the human suffering in Liberia, puts together an armed group which lands in Monrovia, carries out a surgical operation and removes Taylor, hands him over to a UN tribunal and puts in place a new national transitional governing body which works towards reconciliation and democratization. LURD is halted in its advance and forced to settle for a few cabinet position in a transitional government. Liberians return home and rebuild their home. Is there a country today in the world caring enough for Liberians and Africans to undertake such an action? This would only happen if our problems border on another country's national security - Guinea or Sierra Leone. Or would the United States send in Marines to save Liberia? This scenario is also unlikely.
5. Taylor goes into drug rehabilitation and one day decides to call a national peace conference. He cuts all ties with shady businessmen and asks for forgiveness. He completes his mandate and retires from politics, growing potatoes and tobacco on his farm in Gbarnga. New elections and new government... We all return home and celebrate peace at Kendeja Beach. First, Taylor has to admit that he has a drug problem and second, someone would have to convince him to seek treatment. Unlikely.
6. The Legislature impeaches Taylor, arrest him and send him to the War crime tribunal. The Vice-President takes over, reaches out to all Liberians and organizes elections after a short period of transition. Would Kekura Kpoto or Thomas Woewiyu do this? They probably remember how Senator Brumskine escaped.
7. The Unity Party (UP) people decide to avenge the death of Samuel Dokie. They organize mass rallies in the likes of what happened during the rice riot. LPP and UPP join them. The country is brought to a standstill and Taylor is forced out of power. This scenario is plausible but given the current political alliance and the bickering between political parties, coupled with the absence of a strong leadership for any of these parties operating on the ground, it may never happen.
One might laugh at any of these possibilities but they somehow summarize all the possibilities ahead of us.
We need to develop a new approach to our political future.
If we want the UN to institute a war crime tribunal to deal with
the Liberian situation, we must first put in place an institutional
framework. This means that we have to determine the crimes, the
names and faces of victims and the perpetrators. We need a mechanism
to collect the names of all the victims, how they were
killed, where and when they were killed and who killed them. We need all women who were raped at checkpoints during the war to come forward and give the names or their rapists. We need to know who stole what from the public coffers and where that money is kept. Some Liberians seem to find easy money to start a war, why can't we start looking at an organized judicial system?
We must go beyond crying foul.
Taylor survived sanctions imposed by the ECOWAS (in 1992) at the time the UN and others did not want to do so. These UN sanctions could be a blessing for him, if it weren't for LURD, because he could impose the state of emergency and simply not allow elections in 2003. And who, in the world would invade Liberia and capture Taylor? Liberia is not an oil exporting country, does not have a mega market of anything. We must remember that the current sanctions were not imposed to protect Liberians, but rather to force Taylor to leave Sierra Leone alone. Once he complies, he could do whatever he wants with Liberians, because he is the President Liberians voted for, whatever the reason may be. For the international community, he was the lesser evil in 1997 and could continue to be so, as long as he leaves Sierra Leone alone.
It comes a time in the history of a nation that violence becomes the only way out of violence. So far, Taylor has never given any indication that he can make structural changes that would benefit the whole country. He has proven himself to be a tyrant and a thief. It seems reasonable to believe therefore that armed rebellion is the only viable outlet. But this avenue must be carefully organized. Those who started it must come out and explain what they intend to do and how they intend to carry it out. We must not let the country fall in the hands of another small group, operating with impunity in the name of national salvation. The last thing we want is another group taking over diamond mines and plunging the country in another decade long nightmare while their leaders enrich themselves. Taylor is but one man who creates a structure of violence and theft around him. There is no reason why we can't reclaim our sub-region from him.
Editor's Note: Abdoulaye W. Dukule is a former Press Counselor at the Embassy of Liberia in Washington, DC