LIBERIA: The Failure of Africa and United States Leadership

By Chinua Akukwe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

July 25, 2003

For the past few days, I have looked repeatedly at the picture shown by BBC and other news agencies of the young man carrying his probably pre-teen dead daughter on his back after her death from the ongoing madness in Liberia. For that young man, life may never be pure and legitimate again. As I look at the picture, one thing clearly comes to mind: the failure of African leaders and President George Bush to end the madness in Liberia. A bloodthirsty tyrant in the guise of a president has literally pushed that once peaceful and proud country into unimaginable abyss since 1989. That young man in the BBC picture and his dead daughter dangling on his shoulders represent the present helplessness of Africa to resolve its problems in a timely fashion.

During President Bush visit to Africa, and while he had landed in Nigeria, the BBC World News TV program has asked me what I thought of the situation in Liberia. I indicated that I was surprised that President Bush had not sent an emergency peacekeeping force to save lives in Monrovia especially in view of the historical relationship between US and the United States. It is still unfortunate that President Bush is yet to deploy a peacekeeping force to Liberia.

However, my greatest regret is that once again, Africa is showing that it cannot preempt, manage or solve its problems. Since 1989, Charles Taylor and his acolytes have been at the root of most inter and intra state wars in West Africa. Since his “election” as president in 1997, Charles Taylor has run a state based on fear, primordial terror tactics, and bastardization of government resources. Yet, Charles Taylor became a regular member of the presidents’ club in both West Africa and Africa. In addition, Charles Taylor, in the spirit of the times, became a “born again” leader while state sanctioned killings, abductions and disappearances continued unabated. From time to time, again in line with the times, Charles Taylor mouthed off regarding his “belief” in democracy, rule of law and globalization. In the theatre of the absurd, Charles Taylor is a high priest.

Today, hundreds of Liberians have died and many more will die in the coming days because of one individual. Many young men and women will once again hurriedly bury their father, mother or child because African leaders cannot chase out a diabolical tyrant from office. Tomorrow, many children will succumb to Cholera and other highly avoidable diseases in Liberia because Africa is still waiting for the West to solve its problems.

Will Liberia be free after the inevitable exit of Charles Taylor? You better hold your breath. All the usual suspects who have contributed to the suffering of Liberia are now circling the wagons. These individuals include “Prince” Yormie Johnson and Roosevelt Johnson. Others are more sophisticated with their fancy degrees and Western connections. As far as these “leaders” are concerned, the race is on once again to become the “president” or “vice president” of Liberia. The long term suffering of Liberians is not an immediate issue. What is important is the consolidation of power, bringing “stability” and “respect” to Liberia and enthroning “democracy” or if I may add, the African version “demo crazy.”

African leaders and their wannabes perfectly understand that there is very little retribution or justice for abominable acts in the continent. As Liberia “leaders” gather to wine and dine during “national” “conferences,” plan for impending “elections” and plot on how to occupy the palatial and opulent presidential mansion that Charles Taylor will soon vacate, there is no guarantee that in two or three years that ordinary Liberians will not be running for their lives in the streets of Monrovia or seeking shelter in the increasingly unsafe American Embassy as “new” rebel movements emerge from the shadows.

In Liberia as in most parts of Africa, the average Liberian is a pawn in the chessboard of their unrepentant leaders who have little faith or regard for the sacred covenant between the ruler and the ruled. The immediate and remote issues that led to Master Sergeant Doe Military Coup is unlikely to be a major preoccupation of Liberian elite as they celebrate Charles Taylor’s exit and plot their way to power. Again, the next Liberian republic may come to fruition without any serious attempt to resolve critical national and county issues in Liberia.

I call on Liberians in Diaspora, many of whom have suffered a lot in their host countries to come together and salvage their country as soon Charles Taylor moves into exile. The biggest mistake Liberians in the Diaspora can ever make is to allow the likes of Charles Taylor or his co-travelers to terrorize their beloved country once again. Liberians in the Diaspora should work closely with those that stayed behind to choose political and economic leaders that will restore the cradle of Africa’s democracy to its rightful place.

About the Author: Dr. Chinua Akukwe is a member of the Board of Directors of the Constituency for Africa and a former Vice Chairman of the National Council for International Health (NCIH), now known as Global Health Council, Washington, DC. Dr. Akukwe has written extensively on health and development issues in Africa.