Hats Off To ECOWAS & ECOMOG
Due to recent developments in Liberia regarding the accelerated pace of disarmament and demobilization of combatants, we have decided to devote this space to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and its peace monitoring group, ECOMOG, for the incredible efforts they have made in Liberia.
Over the past several years, the people of the West African nation of Liberia have been besieged by a civil war in which the citizens have neither the capacity to defend themselves nor the means to flee the horrendous atrocities inflicted upon them by the various warlords. Since 1989, these pseudo liberators have unleashed a massive destruction of volcanic proportions upon the country, during which Liberians could not extricate themselves without outside help.
In the intervening period, the civil war degenerated into tribal and ethnic warfare, pitting the two principal tribal groups which were instrumental in overthrowing the elitist establishment in 1980. In the battle to settle score and gain control of the country, the ordinary citizens became victims of this wretched endeavor in the pursuit of power by a cadre of individuals and groups with questionable background.
As they executed their war of attrition against the Liberian masses, the international community stood idled as ordinary citizens were massacred and the natural resources plundered. Thousands of people lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands were made homeless and became refugees scattered around the West African subregion. Many more were internally displaced, unable to provide for themselves and their families the basic necessities of life. Unknown number of people die daily from diseases, malnutrition and bullet wounds, while the perpetrators and their supporters plan strategies to force the resilient citizenry into compliant subjects.
During this course of tremendous hardship in which our people became the prey of ruthless warlords and their sycophants, many Liberians resigned themselves to the inevitable reality that their country had been abandoned by the world at large and they were doomed for annihilation.
But as Liberians were contemplating the worst, occasioned by their precarious and intractable national tragedy, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) came to the rescue to redeem the hapless, unarmed people of Liberia from the despicable, criminal vultures who consigned the nation to ruin. And as the song goes, "Africa is shaped like a question mark, and Africans have the answer." In Liberia's interminable civil war during which the international community has shown an attitude of benign neglect, it's only West African leaders who have put forth concrete peace initiatives, along with the human and material resources necessary to bring the crisis to an end.
During the seven years of factional fighting in which the average Liberians lost all hope, West African officials have worked strenuously and steadfastly in the pursuit of, and they maintained a spirit of hope for, a peaceful political resolution of the Liberian conflict. But peace has eluded their efforts until now.
Indeed, we are encouraged by the momentum that has culminated into the surrender of substantial arms and munitions, and the dissolution of the various warring factions.
However, we call upon ECOMOG to seize the initiative to consolidate its military power to seek out those who fail to adhere to the particulars of the peace agreement. This includes common criminals and deceptive erstwhile warlords who, having failed militarily, will try to use sleight to destabilize the process.
In addition, we appeal to the international community, especially the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, to bring pressure to bear on the former merchants of death, now posing as politicians, to allow democratic experiment to work.
And in recognition of their resolve and the risk they have taken to save a beleaguered people, we have decided to a pay special tribute to those African countries which have had the political fortitude to withstand tremendous internal dissension and make enormous sacrifices of both their meager economic and human resources to confront the Liberian madness. Their decision to put their sons in the frontline, in harms way, in order to prevent Liberians from self-destruction, provided hope where there was despair. These brave sons and daughters of Africa often prevented rampaging guerrillas from extorting and slaughtering the innocence wherever possible.
They suffered casualties as they performed this risky duty in the spirit of African solidarity. But this did not deter them from their commitment to bring sanity to chaotic frenzy of violence which was consuming Liberia. Throughout the course of the civil war, ECOMOG has remained poised and resolute as its leaders sought a peaceful political solution to the problem.
Despite the numerous breaches of peace accords by the warlords, which could have occasioned the withdrawal of peace-keeping forces from Liberia, ECOWAS maintained a posture of maturity and responsibility: it refused to do the warlords' bidden, especially that of Mr. Charles Taylor, who regarded the peace-keeping force as an obstacle to his seizure of power. And for seven years, ECOMOG was the only voice of reason for the besieged and overwhelmed Liberians.
Unlike the bewildered ordinary Liberian who has lost hope, who could not defend himself against the tidal wave of violence which has consumed many of his friends and relatives, these West African leaders never lost hope for Liberia. They continue to seek new channels whereby they could convince Liberian guerrilla leaders that it's in the warlords' vested interest to give Liberians the opportunity to decide their own destiny. West African diplomats have consistently and tirelessly urged the warlords to disarm their combatants, thereby removing the grip of terror that has engulfed the citizenry for seven years.
And because of all the good things they have done for our country, The Perspective wishes to extend congratulations to their representatives in Monrovia, Maj. General Samuel Victor Marlu and his staff, for their diligence and commitment to the peace process. Please convey our sincerest gratitude to the respective ECOWAS heads of state for their magnanimous effort in Liberia.
We wish to note with profound appreciation the leadership role that the government of Nigeria has played in the West African sub-region. The Perspective salutes the Nigerian head of state, General Sani Abacha, for exercising prudent judgment and firm commitment to seek a peaceful resolution to Liberia's nightmare.
But while we are overwhelmed by joy for recent developments in Liberia regarding disarmament and demobilization, we want to urge ECOMOG to be vigilant in its drive to rid the country of guns. No effort should spared to go after those who fail to honor the terms of the revised Abuja accord.
Certainly, the warlords and their ragtag militias did not become voluntary converts to the peace process overnight. There are plenty of criminals in that company who are enemies of the peace initiative. They will do everything within their means to wreck and undermine this critical endeavor.
It must be recalled that prior to the last ECOWAS meeting in Nigeria, which brought forth the revised Abuja accord, guerrilla leader, Charles Taylor, had traversed ECOWAS countries in support of his partial disarmament proposal. At that time, he argued that total disarmament and demobilization of fighters before election was not possible.
The only rationale that we could determine - and we pointed it out in previous articles - was that Mr. Taylor, who is a master of chicanery and sleazy manipulation, wanted to maintain part of his ragtag militia which could use to coerce the population to support him during the election.
Notwithstanding the enormous advantage of ill-gotten resources to finance a political campaign, Mr. Taylor is leery of the democratic process. And for this reason, he has put in place a group of people who, by every indication, are not ardent supporters of democracy; but whose primary purpose is to compromise the electoral process. The goal here is what Mr. Taylor could not obtain by waging war must be taken by subterfuge.
The history of the Liberian conflict is replete with poignant reminders that the warlords cannot be trusted to uphold any agreement, especially Mr. Taylor who has not been only calculative in his chicanery, but has also manipulated the process over the past seven years. No doubt, Mr. Taylor will attempt, through stooges, to wreck the electoral process or severely undermine the integrity of its result.
That's why The Perspective calls upon ECOWAS leaders and the United Nations to be actively involved in designing the mechanism necessary to make any elections in Liberia open, free and fair. Like most Liberians, Mr. Taylor has concluded that he cannot win an open and fair election in the country. This conviction led him to continue the military option. Now that the military choice did not fare too well, his next strategy is to circumvent the process and rig the outcome.
That process of manipulation started long time ago, when Mr. Taylor demanded and got two strategic agencies of the so-called of council of state arrangement: 1) The Elections Commission and) The Supreme Court. These are key agencies whose decisions could determine the future political landscape of Liberia, if left unchecked.
The election commission will determine the rules of the game, conduct the process, control polling places and ballot boxes, tally the numbers and announce the results. On the other hand, the Supreme will adjudicate conflicts arising from the results. Both are dominated by warlords' surrogates. This is like the "inmates" running the asylum. What a scary proposition!
In order to rectify what appears to be a major flaw in the current arrangement regarding the composition of the elections commission, and who will adjudicate disputes arising from election results, the United Nations has proposed, among other things, that both the U.N. and ECOWAS be included in those bodies which will oversee the electoral process. The Perspective embraces this concept as a reasonable offer, which will guarantee public confidence in this essential, concluding aspect of the Liberian conflict.
But no sooner than the ink on the proposal dried, Mr. Taylor issued his objection to the U.N. in a letter to the Secretary-General. And in his public comments he said he did not want the United Nations or other international agencies "promulgating laws for Liberia which will contravene our constitution."
The Perspective is troubled by Mr. Taylor's refusal to allow the U.N. and other reputable international agencies to be involved in setting up necessary mechanism for those elections. If Liberia is to have a credible, open election - and every Liberian believes we ought to - then it's important to have neutral overseers. In that light, we strongly urge the international community to ignore his protestation, and broaden those election oversight agencies. It's time for democracy, not dictatorship.
Mr. Taylor is trying to use the constitution as a reason for objecting outsiders' involvement with our elections. Perhaps, he is oblivious of some important facts which we should point out to him. The fact that he and other possible war criminals are sitting on a council of state, running the affairs of government, while holding the people hostage by military might, itself contravenes the constitution. This should also remind him that Liberia is ensnared in an abnormal situation. And he ought to know.
Moreover, Mr. Taylor must understand that he and others are possible target for prosecution for crimes against humanity. Most Liberians have concluded that justice must precede reconciliation, and that there will be no true reconciliation until the perpetrators in the Liberian crisis are brought to justice. All criminals must account for their actions.