Darker Days Ahead

By James W. Harris

The Perspective

February 15, 2002

After almost three years of a kind of strange low-key but very brutal civil war, fighters of the so-called rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), are said to have lately run over several villages and towns in the Klay Junction area that were previously held by defending government forces, thereby inching ever closer to the besieged nation's seaside capital, Monrovia. In fact, usually conflicting reports suggest that LURD is actually about 23 miles North of the capital city, which is said to be fortified already.

Meanwhile, the country's despotic President, Charles G. Taylor, has said that his troops (many of whom are child-soldiers from his previous wars), supported by his vast security network, including the ruthless Anti Terrorists Unit (ATU) [now reportedly led by Chuckie, Taylor's infamous son], have the so-called rebels on the run.

Also, some people, including, Liberians, are very skeptical or suspicious about the truthfulness of claims and counter claims that are constantly being made by the two deadly opposing foes, the Taylor-led National Patriotic Party (NPP) government and LURD, in this unfortunate war. And because neither side wants to guarantee the safety of journalists, humanitarian workers, and others who may want to independently verify the real facts on the ground in the Klay Junction area as well as in other parts of the war-wrecked country, all we could possibly hope and pray for is a divine intervention to speedily end this senseless conflict.

Yet, there are those who are strongly convinced that it is the Taylor government that was carrying out the orgy of violence in the area under question and Duala (inside Monrovia) in order to draw sympathy and force the United Nations (UN) to possibly lift the sanctions, including, an arms embargo, that was imposed on the government there as punishment for President Charles G. Taylor's direct involvement in the internal affairs of neighboring Sierra Leone. That upheaval in Sierra Leone, unfortunately, left 50,000 or so dead and many more innocent people victims of mass amputations, rapes and mutilations, among other heinous atrocities, committed by the spineless so-called Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Mr. Taylor's well-known 'partners in crimes'.

Since neither side can be trusted to tell the simple truth as regards the overall situation in the war-ravaged country, we can only rely somewhat on the Amnesty International (AI) report that just came out. Among other things, the report said: "As the situation in Liberia verges on total chaos and with the government showing little resolve to protect civilians from the actions of rebel groups [ex. LURD] or their own security forces, the international community MUST [emphasis mine] play a stronger role to ensure that [the] civilians are protected."

But whatever the situation is presently in Liberia, ordinary Liberians, who obviously have no where else to run, are the ones bearing the brunt of this immensely sad and cruel war that was apparently launched to settle old scores at the detriment of the entire society.

It could be said, though, that they (Liberians) are partly to blame for their own plight. While the preceding statement may sound heartless, it is the painful truth! Had they not voted overwhelmingly in 1997 for a man like Mr. Taylor with a questionable character from the very beginning, perhaps (and only perhaps), things would have been a little bit different than today, even though he (Taylor) had threatened "to go back to the bushes" if he weren't elected as the President of the Republic of Liberia [his life-long dream).

Even after the people had given him and his NPP their popular mandate to rule the country for the past four years to hopefully make a difference, they certainly haven't delivered on their many promises to alleviate the suffering amongst the people and reasonably raise their wretched standard of living, I'm afraid. Isn't this the truth?

Granted that their (Taylor government) hands were tied by the various sanctions and embargos imposed on them by the international community, particularly, the United States (US) and UN; granted that there presently exists a growing rebel incursion, which started from the North (Lofa County) in the already ruined country, among other negatives, can anyone in this government (Taylor's) tell me why it is necessary for top officials, including, the President, to continue to live comfortably in luxury in the midst of wide-spread and severely grinding poverty amongst the citizens? Can anyone in this government tell me why a few officials, including the President, continue to misuse the country's scarce resources for personal gains? I'd really like to know, because these are just a few questions that are begging for sober answers. And worst of all, whatever Liberia is currently experiencing, it was frankly brought upon the country by Mr. Taylor, because he had no business meddling in the internal affairs of any other sovereign nation, especially, his neighbors.

But instead of facing up to the truth, they (Taylor and his NPP) have tried desperately without much success to wrongly blame the country's numerous problems on exile Liberians and the UN as if the world body just got up one day, and slapped a sanctions regime on the country for absolutely no reason. Certainly, this is not the case - it has never been the case! And that's the main problem with the Taylor government. It does not want to acknowledge the truth that the sanctions regime was placed on his government primarily due to Mr. Taylor's criminal activities in Sierra Leone. I'm sorry!

And in order to turn things around, he has to first acknowledge this fact. The only other alternative is to remain in a permanent state of denial like a drug addict or alcoholic, continually destroying himself, and the country for that matter, because of his senseless stubbornness.

That's exactly why Liberians need to WAKE UP! Like oppressed peoples everywhere, for example, the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, the Philippines, and quite lately Madagascar or even Sierra Leone, they MUST begin immediately to take their destiny into their very own hands and, most of all, demand a clean government for their perishing nation. No amount of foreign aid, handouts or humanitarian help can do it for them. They should strongly reject not only the Taylor-led NPP government, but also all other governments hereafter, including the LURD [if they do succeed in ousting Mr. Taylor and his gang through their chosen method, violence] that would deny them their basic rights or fails to deliver on their promises.

But it is frankly my personal take that Liberians collectively haven't come together to rid themselves of this government (even though the Constitution demands it), mainly because of the lack of leadership on the part of the apparently weak and fragile opposition. And those that are presently in the forefront of the opposition movement are definitely NO Wades [Abdoulaye of Senegal] or Kufuors [John Agyekum of Ghana], with the charisma, credibility and personal vision for their country. Maybe (just maybe) our [Liberian] women could do far better than men in the area of leadership, but they're kind of reluctant to step forward for one reason or the other. Didn’t Mrs. Ruth Perry teach us something? She sure did – brought an end to the devastating war when she served as the Interim President.

And what's actually coming out of the opposition camp right now is not encouraging at all. For example, why would Dr. Amos Sawyer and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf go to Burkina Faso to seek peace for Liberia, but not to France (from where Blaise Compaore probably gets his marching orders)? I thought that in order to solve a particular problem, one has to go directly to the source - maybe I'm wrong (who knows these days!). Or, why would Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine or Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh want to go back to the same-old ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) [whose previous role in Liberia is well-known] to mediate another conference regarding the present Liberian conflict as compared to lobbying the UN to sponsor one? Wouldn't the UN be more impartial in handling this particular conflict since it does not have any vested interest in Liberia compared to governments in the West African sub-region that make up ECOWAS? Taking into account ECOWAS's historical role in resolving the previous Liberian crisis, doesn't this seem to be the same kind of, what I would reluctantly call, error in judgment on the part of Cllr. Brumskine that caused him to join Mr. Charles G. Taylor's NPP, a decision he may now be regretting - and yet he talks about building a "New Liberia" on new ideas? Don't they (opposition) see what the UN was able to accomplish in Sierra Leone with the help of Great Britain? Well then! It seems like we'll never learn.

Yes, we, as a people, must forget the past. Yes, we, as a people must forgive each other, settle our differences and move on. Yes, we, as a people must seek help from our friends. But NO, we, as individuals cannot go on avoiding the painful truth about our recent past or continue to make the same silly mistakes that plunged us rudely in this mess today. Liberians better start reading between the lines and pay keen attention to what our would-be leaders are saying and doing. As it is said quite so often, ACTION, INDEED, SPEAKS LOUDER THAN WORDS!

And so far, LURD too has frankly done very little to gain full acceptance and respectability by the Liberian people, much less, the international community the country depends on pathetically to survive. Yet still, it has started to blame some people for criticizing them when their tactics seem to be no different from the government's in terms of avoiding the FURTHER loss of civilian lives and the continued destruction of state as well as personal properties. At best, LURD's leadership, motivation and future blueprint for the nation still remains unclear and shadowy.

I'm sure that many Liberians must have been disappointed when LURD's latest press release posted on the web. As opposed to presenting LURD as a viable alternative to Mr. Charles G. Taylor and his "stooges", the release really does raise more alarms, however unintended.

For a people that have suffered so much under President Taylor as well as other governments before him, the release just didn't provide the kinds of answers that they are now looking for to speedily resolve their country's ongoing bitter crisis, I'm afraid!

Let's take for instance at least two points that were mentioned in their (LURD's) press release. (a) That one of LURD's main goal is the "unconditional resignation of Charles Taylor [as an individual] from the Liberian Presidency and his unceremonious departure for a peaceful exile life in Taiwan until he [Taylor] repents", but they're willing to protect the rest of his family (many of whom, incidentally, are integral parts of his government) and everyone else, including known officials that are unethically corrupt. I mean, could they really be serious? How do they know that Mr. Taylor wants to go to Taiwan or whether or not the Taiwanese government would accept him? Aren't they supposed to be seeking JUSTICE against all those who have consciously harmed the nation? What do LURD mean by "the struggle is against Charles Taylor as a person, and nobody else?" You tell me!

And (b), that the group “officially” recognizes one Mr. William Hanson as its “authoritative channel for the expression of its policy decisions and day to day information dissemination”, except those requiring “certain crucial issues” [that would then be handled by “designated specific officials”, depending on “the subject matter and the expertise of said official”]. Well, for a little known organization, like LURD, that still has yet to gain the total confidence of the Liberian people and the international community, wouldn’t it have been better for them to make such pronouncements directly from a piece of territory under their control [say, Bopolu City, from where the release supposed to have originated], if for nothing else, to give the group a brand new image? I’m sure that could have easily been done by way of a press conference or one-on-one interview with a widely “credible” news organization, like, the Associated Press (AP), Reuters, BBC, etc., physically present there and Mr. Hanson personally in charge of the event, as compared to channeling it through e-mails to media houses. Does it make any sense at all? As I said previously, these are just a few observations from LURD’s recent press release that raises alarms in my mind - I surely don’t know about other Liberians.

Therefore, considering all the above, it is clear as daylight that something urgently needs to be done to save Liberia from the clutches of evil forces. In that regard, these are my humble suggestions for the possible resolution of the current Liberian quagmire; prevention of the further loss of human lives and to stop the on-going carnage there.

(1) URGENT HOLDING OF A NATIONAL CONFERENCE - Because Liberia, unlike many African countries, has had no “colonial master”, her case is rather unique. And personally, I wouldn’t want to leave this delicate situation exclusively in the hand of ECOWAS or other regional entities. I would rather the UN “urgently” convene a national conference (anywhere) on Liberia, involving all aggrieved parties. The UN should then guard them in sorting out their differences and working towards achieving lasting peace there. All topics should be put on the table, barring none! Meanwhile, an immediate ceasefire should be put into place to avoid further civilian casualties and the wanton destruction of properties. .

(2) INVOLVE THE UNITED STATES - The US could definitely play a positive role here and demonstrate its ability to lead the rest of the world towards total freedom and peace by being a facilitator and helping the UN to arrange such a conference, based not on its so-called “traditional ties” with Liberia, but because it supports freedom and ‘genuine’ democracy everywhere (although the system itself was tested when many blacks were disenfranchised during the last Presidential elections that was “given” to Mr. George W. Bush by the US Supreme Court).

(3) MAKE SECURITY ISSUES FRONT AND CENTER - Regardless of the outcome of such talks, the UN should act immediately to improve the country’s overall security situation by playing a more visible role, like, putting its own men (and women) on the ground to separate the two combating sides (the Taylor government and LURD). Simply calling on both sides to end the conflict (as Secretary-General Kofi Annan has done recently) without getting directly involved in the process to help end the war in Liberia just wouldn’t "cut it" this time. The UN must get seriously involved along with other credible parties. With regards to putting men and women on the ground, even AI has called for this kind of involvement in the country. So it really isn’t a new idea. If President Taylor, LURD or any other group wants to continue down the path of war, then the UN and US, acting on behalf of mankind, should not hesitate to hold ‘key players’ directly responsible for any human rights violation. Such a player should then face possible war crimes just as Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic.

(4) PUT TOGETHER A GOVERNING AUTHORITY - The recent war situation in Liberia, which is being used by the Taylor administration to finally declare a STATE OF EMERGENCY, leads one to believe that the country is increasingly becoming ungovernable. Therefore, if the UN should sponsor any such conference, the international community should try to pressure Mr. Taylor into either straightening out his acts or accepting a CREDIBLE interim government (one that would be acceptable to all sides and capable of keeping the nation stable, while drawing international support). The only other choice is to allow Liberia to degenerate into complete chaos and worsen an already serious humanitarian crisis there. Indeed, the world body could hardly afford another scandal, like, the ones that occurred in Kosovo and Rwanda, among other places that immediately come to mind.

Overall, the urgent need to hold a national conference to address the volatile crisis in Liberia can’t be sufficiently emphasized, if for no other reason, to put an end to the ugly war there and prevent the continuing loss of innocent human lives.

Finally, since the Taylor government as well as LURD seem to be determined to settle their differences (or whatever) on the battlefield as compared to getting engaged in an “honest” dialogue, it would really be nice if it was at all practical to put just them and any other persons choosing their route in a certain part of the country and let them fight it out to the very bitter end. In that way, they could kill up each other, for all I care, and leave the rest of us alone to try to salvage our battered country in peace. But that isn’t possible, therefore, the need for “open” dialogue.

Everyone knows that the talk about Mr. Taylor being “elected democratically” is nothing more than a cop out. When a government is “elected democratically”, it is expected to be answerable and accountable to its people. It does not mean that such a government should push the Constitution aside and automatically assume absolute power; trample upon the basic rights (including, freedom of expression, due process of law, etc.); mortgage the country through various criminal schemes; and undertake the looting and plundering of neighboring countries, among other irresponsible acts. NO, it doesn’t mean that! The case against the Taylor government is that it has not been accountable to the people that put it into power more than four years ago.

Under them, President Taylor and his NPP say that Liberia is a flourishing democracy - yes, right! If they’re really practicing democracy, then why is it that people are not able to talk freely there? Why is it that journalists are continually being harassed, even by the nation’s top cop, Mr. Paul Mulbah, just because their papers displayed a headline that the government evidently doesn’t like? Why is it that the Elections Commission (ECOM) is padded with President Taylor’s men, thereby giving him a BIG advantage over other likely contestants? And, where is Thompson Adebayor, by the way? Liberia is NOT a democracy under the present government, although it was supposedly “elected” by the “people”.

Instead, the NPP government has sadly turned out to be the Liberian peoples’ worst nightmare! And right now, there seems to be nothing on the horizon, but “darker days ahead”.

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