The Urgency of Debating Liberia’s Future Before 2005

By J. Yanqui Zaza

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 6, 2003

As Liberia slowly moves towards 2005 when elections are expected to be held, it seems a national debate on governance is necessary so as to set the pace for a departure from politics of personality that has taken the country where it is.

With fresh memories from the worst-misrule, reaching a national consensus on where to go and how to correct the past mistakes, all for sustainable peace, it is necessary to begin a soul-searching before the scheduled 2005 elections. This exercise should take a nationwide dimension, involving the entire population, and it should dwell in part on how we can effectively and efficiently govern our country devoid of personality, religious and ethnic favoritism, and political, economic and sexual prejudice. History is replete with lessons that should remind us that our nation-state might once again be exposed to the ugliness and viciousness of a military war for greed and power, if we failed, as we have failed in the past, in providing a good environment for investment opportunity, decent wage-paying job, good education, and economic and social safety net.

We have already begun to witness a crude misrepresentation of facts and truths by some of the very beneficiaries of our misery, and due to countless reasons, including the lack of functioning political vehicle, Liberians have surrendered the debate of the roots causes of Liberia's problems and solutions to few scholars and experts. Recently, The New York Times carried Tim Weiner's September 3, 2003 article called "LIBERIA'S MANY SORROWS, AND THEIR ROOTS" in which Gloria Scott, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia (Charles Taylor's appointee) along with another interviewee blamed the social, political and economic advocates and 1980 coup makers for the sorrows of Liberia. "The population was coming together in the 1970's," said Justice Scott. A second interviewee stated that, "The aborigines, led by Master Sgt. Samuel Doe, overthrew the government in 1980," and "the world turned outside down, the bottom on top." Presidential Candidate, Charles Walker Brumskine, then an ally of rebel leader Charles Taylor, started during the 1997 Elections to set his agenda straight: they want their country back. The "they" is no longer in question as recent events have shown. He meant the settlers were ready to take back their country from the aborigines and the 70's advocates.

Justice Scott is also quoted in the NY Times as saying, that she has a lot of respect for the settlers for making Liberian system operate, like the system of the United States of America. Really! Is the Chief Justice referring to the US that I live in? Where is the comparison between the US and Liberia, a failed state which the settlers, more than any single group of people, helped to ensure. Unfortunately, as Taylor's Chief Justice, Ms. Scott did not distinguish the difference between the tyrant's wishes and the law. She was his loyal servant and that is well documented.

NY Times' Tim Weiner's third interviewee, "one of Liberia's prominent lawyers," disagreed with Justice Gloria Scott and said that the source of the civil war was because the settlers practiced the South Africa apartheid type system in Liberia. "The settlers made two set of laws: a civil law for the civilized, an indigenous law for everyone else," and "civil rights, including the right to vote, were not granted to indigenous until 1963," said the third interviewee. He further added that the settlers' mishandling of the country since 1847 resulted into this vicious civil war.

Prior to the 9/03/03 NY Times article, the debate about who is responsible for the woes versus who is a better manager of Liberia took a center stage in Accra, Ghana, during the recent Liberian Peace Conference. News emanating from the Conference indicated that representatives of the current ruling government, a government dominated by settlers, did prefer a settler while LURD's and MODEL's representatives, primarily indigenous, opted for an aborigine to become the interim leader for Liberia. Oh yes it was business as usual despite the 10 year-civil war launched, supposedly, to institute democracy.

I do share some of the views expressed by the interviewees. Individuals or groups of individuals, for example, were/are partly responsible for many of the ills of the third world Countries, including Liberia. Had William V. S. Tubman designed and implemented few of his successor's i.e., William R. Tolbert's policies, maybe Liberia would have been like Tanzania, a stable and peaceful society. Or had dictator Mobutu Sese Sekou of Zaire, not succeeded in assassinating his predecessor, former Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, Zaire would not have had the current civil war. If the late philosopher, Aristotle's statement is true that, poverty and ignorance are the root causes of violence and insurrection, then, conversely, meaningful education and economic development promote peace, stability, and tranquility. The lack of vocational high schools, safe-drinking water, roads and public clinics in the rural towns, as well as in cities where Americo-Liberians resided made the April 12, 1980 event inevitable.

However, in analyzing the demise of third world countries, one should review the motives and means of unscrupulous corporations, diamond and goal smugglers, drug dealers, money laundering and criminal organizations, organizations trafficking in human organs, etc. Unscrupulous corporations, with enormous resources, and searching for higher profits, usually prefer and promote weak or anti-democratic leaders of developing countries in order to, for example, extract mineral resources for little or nothing and, or suppressed workers' inalienable rights. Or, multinational investors, aware of the high cost of labor associated with an educated workforce, usually support dictators who invest more funds in military hardware and fewer funds in educational programs. Also, developed countries searching for markets for their agricultural produce, protect and promote leaders of developing countries who encourage their citizens to shift their resources away from producing food and move toward producing rubber latex, cocoa, coffee, etc.

With the introduction of globalization in countries like Liberia, profiteers do not necessarily need benign dictator (i.e., William V.S. Tubman) or brutal dictator (i.e., Samuel K. Doe/Charles Taylor) to exploit resources as they did during slavery, colonial period, and neo-colonial period. Their prime strength lies in a failed state in which anything goes, where there are no laws, only the ability to destabilize and run away with the millions as we have seen with the Lebanese and others. Globalization becomes rewarding when the participants have equal or comparable resources or connections. Obviously, but regrettably, the rules and tools of globalization favor unscrupulous corporations because these corporations have access to capital, influential investors and worldwide connections. Large farm corporations residing in developed countries, for example, use government's subsidies and impoverished farmers in developing countries, said Thomas Friedman, (NY Times, 9/25/03). Or, John Snow, the Treasurer Secretary of the United States of America is bringing pressure upon developing countries, Japan and China to value their currency in order for US manufacturing corporations to sell their products for profits.

So, whether it is protecting corporations in developed countries at the expense of corporations in developing countries, or Wall Street and, or World bank is unfairly increasing the cost of borrowing of resources by developing countries, or Wall Street is unilaterally reducing the price of coffee, cocoa, rubber, etc. paid to farmers in developing countries, or multinational corporations are exposing poor workers to hazardous working environment, globalization is now the invisible tools profiteers and unscrupulous corporations use to bankrupt developing countries. The negative and painful effects of globalization do not only affect weak countries, but affect even countries, which have democratically elected officials and do follow the structural adjustment policy of the International Monetary Fund. Investors on Wall Street, for example, have and continue to use currency evaluation, one of the tools of globalization, in coercing officials of developing countries in redirecting resources from genuine programs to unnecessary projects.

Liberia, a failed state, with war-weary and traumatized citizens, with a significant number of its technocrats in refugee camps and exiled abroad, and the lack of useful institutions, is vulnerable to the effects of globalization and the greed of profiteers. In addition, friendly governments as well as philanthropic organizations, although willing to re-allocate portion of their appropriated humanitarian contributions to Liberia from other needed projects, might not tolerate any further bickering and infighting. Therefore, it is imperative for Liberians to begin discussing the ills of society and the way forward as part of the efforts geared toward galvanizing the populace for a new Liberia.

Most importantly, we should use the deliberations at those conferences/seminars to be held throughout the country to begin to lay the foundation for building or establishing the different political institutions/organizations. The building and sustaining of political institutions might help all of us to gradually improve the process of selecting elected officials based on merits and less on religious, ethnic, regional, or economic affiliation. I reason with those who believe that the wounds from the civil war are too fresh and painful for the citizenry to begin discussing any meaningful issues. However, this period is appropriate for all of us to visit the past and discuss the future since we have a burning desire to see our country prosper. The sooner we begin to talk, the more we will understand and appreciate the strength and weakness of each of us.