Cry West Africa:Taylor's Domino
- A Commentary -
Issued By The Liberian Democratic Future
Indeed what many have been fearing-an inferno spreading from Taylor's Liberia that will consume West Africa with catastrophic dimensions-is slowly emerging. From every indication, the current standoff between Liberia and Guinea is a ghastly timed bomb that is bound to explode, and explode with disastrous proportions. Time is now the only holdup, with Conakry vowing to retaliate for the killing of 28 of its citizens allegedly by Liberian soldiers of Charles Taylor. Taylor, on other hand, declares he "who is down fears no fall", convinced that nothing left in Liberia, including life, is of value if war comes.
Even as West African leaders gather to find a "peaceful solution to the crisis, another cross border raid again by Liberian soldiers, was reported in Guinea, a country now crying for vengeance. Taylor, in his customary manner, is telling Guinea he is prepared for war. "Conteh must make no mistake", he declared, Liberia is "not vulnerable."
Conteh is said to have insisted that a summit to resolve the crisis would be useless without the participation of Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, two of Taylor's backers responsible for large shipment of arms into Liberia and subsequently Sierra Leone. The position of Ivory Coast in this imposed misery in West Africa is callous, to say the least. While Abidjan is launching glossy advertisement for its economy in Time Magazine, it is ensuring that neighbors remain in chaos which it continues to benefit.
Thus West Africa is set to explode with players like Taylor, Campaore and Bedie determined to continue fanning the flames of terror at no one's advantage. Few can now see the hidden and escalating dangers in the current war drums sounding from Taylor's capital of darkness and country of misery. Neither can many see the catastrophic extensions of the attack on Lofa County, northwestern Liberia, along with the subsequent cross border raids Conakry says were carried out by Liberian soldiers into Guinea. Prior to these, Guinea had conducted a series of raids into Sierra Leone in pursuit of RUF rebels accused of attacking Guinean towns and killing scores of villagers.
These developments clearly show the volatility of this sub region. Furthermore, what they reveal is that those who have questioned and doubted Taylor's wisdom in transforming Liberia into fiery incubator of mindless rebellions in West Africa, adamantly backing the ruthless RUF of Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone, can now begin to open their eyes and see why Taylor was determined to ensure RUF's military/political success in Sierra Leone. This adventure, with all its destructive underpinnings, is paying off to the bewilderment of even Taylor himself. Now, its is Guinea's turn to enter the web of horror and misery. Whose foundations were laid from December 24, 1989 when Taylor launched his invasion of Liberia with Ivorian and Burkinabe backing and marked two countries as his Achilies' heel, Sierra Leone and Guinea as imagined obstacles in his campaign for crude power consolidation and wealth accumulation.
Taylor's political and therefore material survival, clothed in unending paranoia that demands elimination of perceived enemies near and afar, meant that he had to spread the terror to each of these countries one at a time. But his invasion of Sierra Leone was made easier by the fact that he and Foday Sankoh had trained together in Libya and lived in Burkina Faso in preparation for their West Africa military offensives which had candidates from Guinea, Ghana, The Gambia, etc. Liberia would be the launch pad for a wider terror net, and once it fell, it would serve as the base for extending the war to subsequent countries in Taylor's domino dream. Though many, including a number of ECOMOG commanders and prominent West African actors in the crisis, warned about the danger Taylor posed to the sub region, others simply dismissed the claims as mere propaganda against a man they increasingly came to love and therefore misunderstand. (Guinean troops, along with those from Nigerian and Ghanaian, actively backed Taylor's attempt to flush out his perceived remaining military threat posed by Roosevelt Johnson and the Krahns in April 1996 which resulted in 3,000 deaths and destruction of most private and public facilities in Monrovia.)
Just as his invasion of Sierra Leone, Taylor's dream of infecting Guinea with his terror and theft virus did not just begin now. As he gained a series of military victories in Liberia with the help of Sankoh and other Sierra Leonean, Gambian, Ghanaian, Guineans, etc., recruits, his focus turned to Freetown, but with Guinea in mind. It would be easier for Guinea to fall if Sierra Leone first did. . But there was an additional and enticing attraction in Taylor's mind to letting Sierra Leone fall first: its diamonds. According to records, Sierra Leone, the poorest country in the world by UN classification, was experiencing capital flight to the tune of US$500 m. a year since the war, with Liberia, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, all major backers of the RUF, becoming major diamond exporters although they have no significant deposits. That the Sierra Leone Government was forced to concede the management of its diamonds to the RUF rebels in return for peace makes this element in Taylor's calculation very clear. It was therefore no surprise when Sankoh, after the Lome peace talks, decided to travel to Abidjan, Tripoli, Monrovia, Ouagadougou to thank Taylor, Bedie and Quadafi respectively for their immense help in making it all possible. They made him and his rebels a factor requiring more than gratitude.
That Taylor's military campaign against Sierra Leone innately corrupt and inept political establishment, clothed in revolutionary rhetoric that, like in Liberia, appealed to popular sentiment, began in 1991 with bands of NPFL fighters crossing into that country, is today a buried fact. Sierra Leone, like Guinea, was contributing troops to the West African peacekeeping force ECOMOG which was then denying Taylor a military victory. This, along with the fact that the rival armed faction ULIMO emanated from there, gave him the further justification he needed to invade the militarily unprepared country. Although Alhaji Kromah operated from Guinea, Taylor must have realized his inability to fight a two frontal war with rag-tag, drugged teenagers. Nevertheless, Guinea would taste its dose of disaster once he consolidated in Liberia and fastened his grip on Sierra Leone. This is what has happened and the consequences are yet too complex for many West Africans to grasp until disaster unfolds with ghastly political and humanitarian dimensions. A peace treaty army emerge from current talks in Abuja but this, like the 1998 Jesse Jackson Conakry non-aggression treaty signed between Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, will only delay Taylor's decided plan on Guinea. "I will get that tobacco-chewing Mandingo a...s", Taylor boasted to confidantes now in exile immediately after his election. Since then, he has launched a series of threats and accusations against Guinea for its alleged backing of his rivals. Guinea, determined to prove its innocence, declared Alhaji Kromah a persona non-grata, a decision Taylor interpreted as a weakness. Meanwhile, with better opportunities for arms purchase and shipment now that he is president, the RUF military standing and performance on the battlefield improved dramatically. Guinea, the only neighbouring country in which he had no military allies and loyalists in the form of the RUF, lingered on Taylor's mind as Sierra Leone disintegrated under his terror. But he had to wait until he made his marks in Sierra Leone, now in total disarray as the RUF spread its campaign of terror, amputating children's hands for political concessions. The obstacle now was that he could not extend himself while the situation in Sierra Leone remained fluid with his RUF/AFRC allies on the run, pursued by ECOMOG and the Kamajors.
In December 1998, while Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabba, also an admirer of Libyan leader Quadafi, was flying to Monrovia to alert Taylor of an alleged plot by Liberian dissidents to topple Taylor's government, the warlord was putting together the finishing touches to his Sierra Leone encirclement that would leave about 20,000 dead, 5,000 of them in the capital, Freetown, which was left in ruins. This was just around the time when Jesse Jackson, known for his pro-Taylor rhetoric, was dragging Conteh and Kabbah into signing a much publicized non-aggression and cooperation with Taylor in Conakry after the American convinced Freetown that Taylor meant well for Sierra Leone. Thus Taylor's calculations paid off, in that his December 1998 war, its intensity and brutality, forced the release from prison of his ally Sankoh and established the RUF/AFRC alliance as a political force beyond context. From the onset of the December invasion, Taylor insisted that Freetown must concede military defeat and share power with his allies. He became a "dove" in the Sierra Leone war, repeatedly insisting that negotiation and power sharing were the "only" options for the elected government since, he added, a military victory by either side was unlikely. With Abacha's death and the political change in Nigeria, the enthusiasm for Taylor's "peace" formula of power sharing became an irresistible alternative. Nigeria lost about 700 men in the invasion, along with its embassy building and other facilities. Although the Nigerian ECOMOG Field Commander, Major-General Timothy Shelpidi, warned that the invasion was the beginning of a greater scheme from Monrovia to destabilize West Africa, the mood in Lagos was to get out of Sierra Leone and appease Taylor as they did in Liberia. Many again saw Shelpidi's warning as a propaganda against a man he disliked..But only time will prove this view so true. By then, West Africa will be buried in another round of crisis beyond its capacity to solve all because one man is misunderstood and taken for granted.
In this entire scheme for anarchy, Taylor has made one giant leap forward, now that the RUF/AFRC will be participating in the government. His dream of having a buffer in Sierra Leone, loyalists who would execute his orders and represent his interest, has been realized beyond his own imagination. Tenacity and terror have again produced remarkable results and, there is no seeming end. When PANA quoted a diplomat in Sierra Leone as saying that Taylor has many faction leaders in Freetown loyal to him, that was an under statement. Before and since 1998, Monrovia has served as the RUF's open operational base. This fact came into the open after the RUF/AFRC fled Freetown and reemerged in Monrovia under Taylor's personal protection. AFRC's leader and former junta leader Jonny Paul Koromah, now resides in Monrovia, periodically giving military orders from Taylor's bunker. Sam Bokarie, alias Mosquito, according to Africa Confidential is known for years to reside in Taylor's Congotown compound. Thus for all intent and purpose, the RUF/AFRC is an extension of Taylor's NPFL.
Stage one of Taylor's plan, that is power sharing with rebels in return for their guns, is slowly coming to reality. The RUF/AFRC may share power, but as events indicate since the Lome Peace Agreement, they are less willing to give in their guns. Furthermore, even if they did, their supply line extending from Monrovia to Vahun and Kailahun in Sierra Leone remains open and available as long as Taylor is in charge in Monrovia.
Stage two, the Sierra Leone rebels eventual seizure of power after the Nigerians complete their withdrawal as promised, is only a matter of time. This is when the Guineans must begin seeking blessings. Of all countries that sacrificed men and resources in ECOMOG, Guinea is emerging as the one next to inherit Liberian terror. Despite initial rocky relations between Nigeria and Taylor, ties are now stronger than ever before, now that the Liberian warlord has a believing fellow Baptist (President Obasanjo) in Abuja to judge him in accordance to the "scriptures" by John the Baptist, although other Baptists, like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, may now be having second thoughts in being so believing in dealing with the Baptist Taylor.
Now with a foothold in Sierra Leone beyond contest, Guinea is sitting like lame duck for the taking. Sierra Leone's fall means Conakry is effectively surrounded by two and half enemy states, the half being the Ivory Coast. Remember the historical suspicions and rivalry between Guinea and Ivory Coast, an unbending backer of the RUF and staunch ally of Taylor. Those who know Taylor's knack for theft and terror have no doubts that with Freetown gone, Conakry is next. Sierra Leone's proximity to Conakry makes any military attack on Guinea from there, however led by rag-tag, looting and marauding gangs, very fearful. When Taylor warned this week that any attack from Guinea on Liberia would be to the regret of Conakry and Africa, he meant it because he is prepared for it.
Abacha may have calculated that by making Taylor President, he and Libya were teaching Washington a lesson. But in fact, the late Nigerian dictator, in complicity with many West African leaders who refused to see the anathema to peace that Taylor is, simply placed a torch on the sub region that will be difficult to extinguish. They, too, could be direct or indirect casualties of their duplicity.