Crime, Treachery and West Africa's Destabilization
By Tom Kamara
Even as West African rulers, bruised from acrimonious shouting matches during the just ended ECOWAS summit in Abuja, prepare to storm derelict Freetown in their infinite "search of peace," clouds of instability loom over one of Africa's epicenters of horrors. The bickering Abuja Summit only unveiled the abyss to which politics has sunk within the region, making it difficult to reach sustained solution to the plague of rebel leaders transformed into national figures with tragic implications for millions of defenseless poor, the real pawns in this game of crime called politics.
So the political landscape is pregnant with more chaos as the drums of war thunder. Sierra Leone, for years under Liberian scourge, now says its restraint in attacking Taylor has been due to ECOWAS' pleas, but warns that it may be reaching its breaking point as Taylor insists on deciding who rules Sierra Leone. If Taylor continues to back the RUF, warns the country's Deputy Minister of Defense Hinga Norman, the war will be taken to his doorsteps.
Freetown has also accused Liberia of hiring mercenaries from the now disbanded South African security firm, Executive Outcomes, as well as from nearby Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso to defend Taylor's diamond and political interests in Sierra Leone, while Taylor is warning against British training and arming of the Sierra Leone Army. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone's pro-Government militia, the Kamajors, claimed this week that hundreds of Liberian and Burkinabe mercenaries have been ambushed and killed along the Liberian-Sierra Leonean border.
On the other hand, Liberia is claiming that about 7000 of its "dissidents" have gathered in the Ivory Coast, Guinea and Sierra Leone to attack the country, although there has been no independent confirmation of these claims which have been made in the past. The listing of Ivory Coast, Taylor's center of support during the Liberian war, point to changing alliances and the emergence of new enemies in this orbit of chaos. Reports indicate that the Liberian leader is not comfortable with Ivory Coast's military leader Gen. Robert Guei, in a not so surprising twist due to the personal, including business ties between Taylor and the exiled ousted president Konan Bedie.
To further complicate this labyrinth of alleged plots, invasions, and subversions for criminal political objectives, Guineans have been told of a plot to invade their country from, again, Liberia.
Thus here we are. The orbit of instability is expanding, a factor sending fears in neighboring countries where the word "Liberian" is now synonymous to rebel, thus posing personal security problems for many traumatized Liberians who have left home and have refused to return despite "democratic elections." Senegal's President Adbuolaye Wade is reported to be concerned about waves of Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees who, he reportedly claimed, are finding their way in his country's Cassaman's rebel group. With hundreds of thousands of refugees roaming within the sub-region in rebel-affected collapsing economies, Wade's fears are real. Anyone offering these canon fodders a dollar and an AK-47 is viewed a redeemer. This was the case with Taylor's rebel force which was composed of Samuel Doe created refugees
But this chorus of instability, now focused on Sierra Leone,
presents a challenging task for ECOWAS whose leaders are attempting
to arrest the anarchy against the odds. This is what six West
African leaders, entrusted with solving the Sierra Leone crisis,
will attempt to achieve in Freetown since they failed in Abuja.
Among them is Charles Taylor, whose entry into Freetown will be
a spectacular affair; something similar to Hitler's entry into
Nazi conquered Paris during World War Two. At the Abuja Summit,
Taylor, seeing himself increasingly as an invincible guerrilla
leader and therefore an unchallenged center of authority, demanded
a total freedom for Sankoh. He warned his friends against isolating
and detaining the rebel chief because, he lectured - using his
deeds as yet West Africa's best-known rebel leader, commands from
a detained guerrilla leader cannot be obeyed. A rebel leader must
operate in "a natural" environment, he declared. And
even if Sankoh has been giving disobeyed commands since the signing
of the Lome Agreement, the Liberian president's message was clear:
"no peace without Sankoh and the RUF as long as I am around".
Bitter over such threats, Nigeria's President Obasanjo, known
for his affinity to Taylor, exploded in rage, according to the
Nigerian paper THIS DAY:
"When the matter came up for debate, Taylor was very forceful in his objection to foreign custody for Sankoh. He urged his fellow Heads of State to take into consideration the fact that Sankoh still had men under arms, saying as their commander he had to get in touch with those men presumably under a natural situation. Taylor said as former guerrilla leader himself, 'I will have problems; I will have some difficulties obeying an order given to me over a radio by my commander who is in foreign land. I will have problems with that.'" Sources told THIS DAY that the implication of this assertion so infuriated President Obasanjo that he practically almost exploded in a fit of rage. Banging the table a couple of times (he), replied to Taylor's assertion thus:
"If you know how to fight as a guerrilla leader and fighter, as a senior and experienced military officer, I know how to deal with a guerrilla leader and fighter. I have fought against guerrilla leaders before who had to run in defeat."
The paper said Obasanjo reminded Taylor of ECOWAS' "overindulgence of Foday Sankoh who had taken the magnanimity of ECOWAS leaders for granted" He added, "as long as we continue to condone the behaviour of Sankoh, we would continue to be embarrassed."
The Nigerian leader further noted, "we all bent ourselves backwards by refusing to have him tried for crime against humanity. I believe we should also say ah! Sankoh, you are wrong; you must implement the Lome Accord." Reports revealed that Taylor, who actually never intended to hurt Obasanjo's feelings, immediately sensed the danger signal and did not pursue the issue any further. But in a patronising tone, President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo endorsed Obasanjo's proposals and admonished Taylor to understand that the crux of the matter is the threat to the ECOWAS sub- region. That truly, the threat is real.
With treachery, now compounded with crime, so common in African politics, many believe the Liberian solution (installing the rebel leader best capable of atrocities president as insurance policy for peace) which Taylor recently demanded, would have to be applied to Sierra Leone if ECOWAS had its carte blanche as it did in Liberia.
In early 1990, while Ibrahim Banbangida's Nigeria was determined to stamp out rebel wars for material and political conquest as the norm in West Africa, other West African states, such as Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, were arming and providing mercenaries for the NPFL. International actors, principally the Americans, succeeded in labeling the original ECOMOG a partisan force because it was cooperating with factions more determined for peace in order to force Taylor to disarm. Now, in an all familiar picture of Western hypocrisy in handling African crisis, the UN and the British have co-opted less dangerous forces against the RUF. In the Balkans, they also saw reason in dancing with the Kosvo Liberation Army (KLA) against the Serbs. This, in their eyes, was non-partisanship. In Liberia, it was enough to surrender to an individual (Taylor) the British now call "The Sloblodan Miliosvich of Africa."
This trail of crime, in which destabilization agents clothed as "presidents" are key, is getting longer, leading to places like South Africa in a fascinating drama of horrors. Taylor, who had previously rejected any idea of West African soldiers training Liberian soldiers as stipulated in the Abuja Agreement that ended hostilities, announced recently that the South Africans had agreed to transform his rebel force into a conventional and professional army. The Washington Post reported months ago that South African neo-Nazis, among other international criminals, had established a base of operations in Liberia, and that they were involved in the training of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Former South African President Nelson Mandela, during the Cairo African Summit, condemned America and Britain for appointing themselves "world policemen." As if Africa's humane gods had had enough of self-serving empty rhetoric from politicians, these "self-appointed world policemen" are now begged to remain in a country like Sierra Leone if the population is to survive a day longer against amputating rebels. (Not surprising, Libya's Col. Gaddafi, the darling of Liberian and Sierra Leonean rebels, spoke the same language, warning the West to 'Leave us alone".)
A woman regarded as Mrs. Sankoh was recently in South Africa purportedly to attend an arts festival. Sierra Leone media reported that this same woman, whose marriage to Sankoh was reportedly arranged by Taylor since she is an America citizen believably capable of extending American citizenship to the detained rebel leader, has been visiting Sierra Leone under the cover of working for under privileged children. Could she have been in South Africa to sell the diamonds needed to recruit more mercenaries? The woman, described as "dangerous" by Sierra Leone sources, was allegedly recruited by Taylor to augment Sankoh's business links and smoothen his rugged personality as a "wife", never mind that the rebel chief was already married with several children. South Africa is a favorite spot of both Taylor and Sankoh, with the former receiving "medical checkups" there periodically with lavish state banquets.
Common agendas, interconnections pose problems in understanding the nature of decisions made within the region's political circles. President Kabbah, declared in the 60s as unfit to hold public office by the Sierra Leone High Court due to problems of probity, rebuked the Freetown media for reading evil into Taylor's mind, arguing that Charles Taylor, who organized and dispatched the RUF across the border into Sierra Leone in 1991, was serious about peace in Sierra Leone. Ghana' President Jerry Rawlings, whose citizens form part of Taylor's mixed bag of dissidents, was the first president to visit Liberia after Taylor realized his dream of becoming president. Rawlings and Taylor then proudly announced that they were the "new breed of African leaders." And why not? "New Breed" Rawlings executed quite a few number of opponents, including judges, to baptize "Ghana's democracy". Taylor needed the services of 15,000 child soldiers, according to UN estimates, and 250,000 dead to christened "Liberian democracy" and become a new breed leader indeed. Sankoh sits in waiting to join the "New Breed." Guei praised Taylor as "great warrior" during a state visit to Liberia after he overthrew Bedie.
But what is now abundantly evident is that without addressing the root causes of destabilization, that is the criminal transformation of politics in Liberia and Burika Faso with strong possibilities of spillovers in neighboring states, solutions are inconceivable. Like the current orgy of intervention by neighbors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we could see allies such as Burkina Faso and Liberia intensifying destabilization plots. Guinea and the Ivory Coast, now in the midst of internal political wrangling, could be the next centers of instability with horrible humanitarian crisis since these two countries now harbour the bulk of Liberian and Sierra Leone refugees.
Speaking on CNN recently, Sierra Leone's Deputy Minister of Defense, Hinga Norman, asked international actors to warn Liberia's President Charles Taylor against continued backing of the RUF because, he added, his country does not want war with Liberia. Mr. Norman blamed President Taylor for his country's war, urging that Liberia's support for the RUF be terminated.
Meanwhile, the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington, D.C., in a press release last month, claimed that, "Taylor's objective is to conquer Sierra Leone so that (it) could be used as a stepping stone to destabilize and seize much of West Africa as possible for the establishment of rogue states that could earn millions of dollars fraudulently, and otherwise through illicit activities, to destabilize the West and other societies. Sierra Leone, will then become key sanctuaryfor international Mafioso to launder money, grow, process and package and export narcotics, perpetuate immigration and insurance frauds and other financial scams against Western democraciesWest Africa will centrally become a center of small arms manufacturing and shipment to destabilize the rest of black Africa."
Based on persistent reports in the local media early last year, the Liberian Central Bank denied reports of money laundering, but warned banks to desist from fraudulent banking practices. The Dutch daily, Het Parool, in a 1998 investigative report, said an international drug syndicate based in Monrovia was active and targeting American and European markets. The Washington Post similarly reported that Mafioso and South American drug barons, along with South African neo-Nazis have been active in Liberia in various ventures, including logging, diamonds, arms trafficking, and the training of Taylor's security apparatus and the RUF. The paper said President Taylor's son, Chukie Taylor Jr., now said to be a businessman, was the main liaison in the operations.
Fears of regional destabilization are buttressed by President Taylor's admission last year that Liberians were fighting "on all sides" in the Sierra Leone war. Although he gave Liberians mercenaries an ultimatum and amnesty to return home, there are no indications that thousands of NPFL fighters and those from other factions returned. Following the Lome Agreement, thousands of RUF fighters returned home from Liberia, according to UN sources.
Liberia's Information Minister declared recently that his country had "intelligence reports" that Liberian dissidents were fighting along side Sierra Leone Government forces. This, he emphasized, was a "security threat" to Liberia.
Observers believe President Taylor's adamant opposition to the training of the Sierra Leone Army by the British, is based on his fears that a militarily stronger Sierra Leone could pose a threat to his grip on power. "This explains why Taylor is anxious to send troops into Sierra Leone under the cover ECOWAS. They will be there to hunt down alleged dissidents and these dissidents could include Sierra Leone Government soldiers. One could not imagine a messier scenario", said a former Liberian security executive now living in the United States.
Without honest leaders capable of telling the difference between a bandit and a leader, the coming horrors in West Africa are too ghastly to contemplate. The Nigerians may have considered themselves victorious when they created the environment that propelled a vicious rebel leader as a legitimate leader. But soon, the spreading fires, and the fanatical desire for destruction, will come closer to home.
For subscription information, go to: www.theperspective.org
or send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org