ECOWAS: The End Of The Line

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 5, 2002

The ECOWAS Committee on Conflict and Mediation decisions on Liberia at its recent Dakar meeting should bring some kind of closure to certain aspects of our political debate. These decisions were difficult to swallow. In many of our villages or traditional settings, the goodness of a medicine is measured by its bitterness. Country medicine comes with no sugar coating. So was ECOWAS’ stand to throw out demands by Liberian politicians and put LURD in a corner. In as much as some may disagree with the handling of this matter, ECOWAS is doing us some good.

The demands made in Abuja by some of the most enlightened political minds of the country, although going in the right direction were formulated with so little thought about the mechanisms of implementation that there was only one way to deal with them: ignore them. There was no way that ECOWAS could ask the government of Liberia to implement any of the demands of the political leaders and some civil groups.

The group called for the creation of new “ECOMOG” to replace the “armed groups” that are roaming the country. They went as far as giving a name to the group, International Security Stabilizing Force. Does this mean that the group no longer has confidence in ECOWAS and rather than re-deploying ECOMOG, they were now calling for an international security force, meaning a Western-UN security group, to take over Liberia? Does that mean we no longer trust ECOMOG and want some type of a Big Brother, like Britain, in our case US, to come and send a few Marines to Kolahun, Vahun and Waterside, so they can supervise our police, military and customs as ECOMOG did in the 1990s?

The great difference between Liberia and Sierra Leone is that there are very specific British mining and military interest in Sierra Leone. In fact, almost 85 per cent of Sierra Leone usable land is leased to some British or South African conglomerate. Only Firestone has a real estate interest in Liberia and the company’s interests are not threatened. During the war, it paid taxes to both Taylor and the Interim Government. No need for them to call the Marines to protect their investment. The British intervention in Sierra Leone had very little to do with salvaging democracy in that country. Since no one has any such vested interest in Liberia, we should not expect any great intervention from the outside world. General Ibrahim Babaginda had very personal interests in salvaging Doe and that led to the creation and deployment of ECOMOG. Those conditions have equally changed. Liberia is on her own, and that is what was signaled by ECOWAS in Dakar.

For the outside world, Liberia is just another African country, with a government that is lightly worse than others, but nonetheless a government. For ECOWAS, Liberians have allowed the present conditions to prevail and ECOWAS’ major priority now is to ensure regional peace and stability. The political leaders went to elections knowing very well that conditions were not there. Others helped to kick ECOMOG out after elections. All in al, it is our national mess and we must clean it.

In as much as issues of governance are relevant to the overall peace and stability of the region, ECOWAS may not see them as priorities. If ECOWAS could live with Abacha and his reign of terror in Nigeria, there is no reason why they wouldn’t live with Taylor. It never moved a finger when Conte changed the constitution to stay in power or when Eyadema locked up opposition leaders. The belief that ECOWAS would put together or suggest to the international community to put together an international security force and dismantle the military force of Taylor in Liberia is but a wishful thought.

The ECOWAS’ pill is bitter but it forces Liberia into political maturity. It brings Liberians back to where they ought to be: home. Examples abound where people of a country can, when armed with nationalism and a sense of duty, come together to solve their problems. As much as it may sound like a very bad example, the Taylor war of 1989 seemed like a courageous and salvaging act back then to many now criticizing it. The coup of Samuel Doe in 1980 seemed like the salvation for the “country people” and “progressive forces” until everyone start to run away and look for a solution.

Once again, Liberia may be at the same point it was in 1989. The possibilities are numerous. There are easy ways: There could be a military coup and one of the former fighters, surrounded by senior members of the ATU and Small Boys Unit could take over the country. We could find ourselves supporting another armed struggle, raising money to support the likes of LURD and see Charles Julu, Joe Wylie or Sekou Damate Konneh in the Mansion.

Or Liberians could take the hardest way, the most dangerous one and the least likely to succeed. That road is to work in Liberia, create avenues for changes, make compromises and take risks as a few people are doing today for the national good. The example of Cote d’Ivoire, next door is worth being mentioned. Using his incumbency and his control of the military and the judiciary, General Robert Guei tried to perpetuate himself in power. The opposition was able to wrestle him and send him packing. In Madagascar, there is a stand off between the incumbent and a self-declared president who claims to have won the elections. The country is stranded in a bizarre situation where the self-proclaimed winner is slowly taking over the government. In Zimbabwe, opposition did not bulge and opposition leaders did not flee the country when accused of plotting to assassinate the dictator. This kind of fight is the hardest way and it will result in creating a political atmosphere where people learn that the guns are not the only and best instruments for change.

1980 brought to the surface the deep-seated anger, mistrust and the veiled hatred that characterized social relationships in Liberia. The easiness with which some of Tolbert followers ended up in Doe’s surround or the quick compromises made over the years since Doe all point to the fact that politics is for many a game of personal convenience. The same people who were known to be Doe’s closest advisors are now in the inner circle of Taylor. This breeds irresponsibility and dependency, two characteristics of Liberian politics. The strange one-way parental “special relationships” with the US is just another example.

The international community will not reform the security in Liberia except if and when Liberians, the government and the people decide to invite the international community to do so. The international community will not reform or re-structure the elections commission only Liberians and their government can reach a compromise on the issue. Again, elections are not rigged on the day of balloting they are rigged long before or after.

As Dr. Carlon put it at the MDCL conference in January 2002 in Silver Spring, Maryland, the choices are limited but real. However, if these choices exclude violence, the only durable solution remains the democratic fight on the ground. This battle will not be fought nor won in the corridors of the US State Department or Congress or NSC, at ECOWAS in Abuja or at the OAU (AU) in Addis Ababa. Political responsibility and independence are costly because they are homegrown.

Leadership is a costly venture and in Liberia, with Taylor at the other end of the challenge it is a life and death issue. Removing Taylor will be as costly as removing Doe and Tolbert combined, maybe even harder, because it has to be done without shooting. But the issue goes beyond replacing one leader with another one. It is the first chance Liberians have to work in unity to expunge a political system that brought nothing but death, destruction and despair to the country.

Campaign themes against Candidate Taylor are abundant. A corrupt and inept administration that has bankrupted the nation, a weak leadership that has no understanding or respect for human dignity, a government whose operations border on criminal enterprise should not be difficult to challenge. Liberia could not have been more isolated than it is today. Corruption could not have been higher. All that is needed is a serious and credible challenger.

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