Guinea: Curse for Ignored Prophecy
By Tom Kamara
February 19, 2001
With the disintegration of Guinea proceeding as planned, and West Africa's success in averting deserved sanctions on Liberia, the UNHCR High Commissioner, Ruud Lubbers, burdened with ever-increasing numbers of refugees and the displaced in the midst of donor apathy, says Charles Taylor holds the keys to regional peace. In clearer words, this Taylor is responsible for the cancerous regional anarchy now described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Without qualms, the ex-warlord has acknowledged the diagnosis, wasting no time in issuing his first set of public preconditions if he is to quarantine his virus of death and destruction - 1) the release of Guinea's Opposition politician Alpha Conde, and 2) the disbandment of his rival ex-armed faction ULIMO which he claimed is backed by the Guineans. These are clearly Taylor's first negotiable items, just as he has repeatedly demanded the release of RUF pal Foday Sankoh, the expulsion of British troops, while accusing Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of "stupidity" and "foolishness" for arresting the rebel leader. As events unfold, and with Taylor now emboldened by UN sanctions reprieve, fears are that Guinea may soon be another Sierra Leone, if not worst. This birth of greater calamity hanging over the sub region is in part possible because Conakry ignored a prophecy emanating from Liberia.
Already, ECOWAS, after an ill-conceived Liberian PR operation, is falling apart, with Conte accusing the regional organization of a "conspiracy against Guinea" since Mali's Konare decided to head a PR crusade for Taylor without regional consultation, without regards for the views of all member states. With Guinean officials charging that the UN sanctions reprieve only gives Taylor more time to purchase more weapons, regroup and launch fresh attacks, the planned deployment of ECOWAS little border patrol, for which they are begging for Western money, may be buried in suspicion and mistrust. But the injection of ULIMO as a factor in settling the Sierra Leone conflict, along with Taylor's demand for Conde's release, are indicators for the mess Konare and his Libyan/French Club members within ECOWAS have tied around their necks. The UN reprieve is intended to give Taylor time and an "honorable" way to leave Sierra Leone diamonds and the RUF alone. Suddenly, he is tying Guinea to Sierra Leone and making new demands, certainly demands endorsed by another Libyan fan, OAU Secretary-General Salim A. Salim, who says Taylor has "legitimate concerns" to be addressed.
Long before it became the home of herds of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans, the regional "Oracle" had spoken. Guinea would be the next prey, after Sierra Leone, in the unfolding domino of terror made and packaged in Liberia with Libyan, Burkinabe and Ivorian ingredients. Taylor had prophesised that Guinea "would lose" in a war with him. Recently, he again warned that if (Guinean President Lansana) Conte "feels he can destabilize Liberia and get away with it, he must know that the baby that says its mother will not sleep, will itself not sleep." As his military band thundered in the background, instilling in him phantoms of invincibility, he told ever-cheering followers to "go sleep; they thought they could use Guinea to topple this GovernmentZero! I am a tough guy"
In his usual evasiveness and bravado, he feels confident to begin circulating preconditions for "peace" in Guinea, just as he has done for over a decade in Sierra Leone with terror as the by-product: "There is a political problem in Guinea and it has to be solved. President Conte has to solve the problem. President Conte is responsible for this crisis", he says. Taylor's calculations, therefore, indicate to him that, "80 percent of (Conte's) problem" is political. "The political issue in Guinea surrounding Alpha Conde is Conte's problem. He must take responsibility".
For the Doubting Thomases and zealous fans, here is a man who consistently denies meddling in neighbours' affairs. And because he wants Conde (a man said to have similar values and tastes as his) released, along with the expulsion of Mandingoes he has driven into Guinea he believes are ULIMO, over 1700 people have been killed, tens of thousands displaced, colonies of refugees wandering in the forest with no where to go, millions of dollars worth of properties destroyed in a country at the bottom of world human development index. It is Sierra Leone all over - the identical scripts, the same cast.
Conde's release is not however a baseless demand. For years, there have been consistent reports of military-political links between Taylor and Conde and other Guinean dissidents, including the son of late President Sekou Toure, Ahmed Toure, who feels he is heir apparent to the Guinean throne. The leader of a Guinean Army mutiny after Conte came to power, Gbagbo Zoumaniqui, fled to Burkina Faso, one of the states Conte blames for fomenting his country's woes. Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore and Taylor are long-time allies of destabilization accused of backing the RUF and Guinean rebels.
Hence, that Taylor, (who has promised confidantes that he would control the region within 10 years), is publicly stating his regional political demands if he is expected to halt his bandwagon of destabilization and refugee production, is a healthy sign, for at least we now have an admission and some preconditions. Key among these demands is the release of Taylor's comrades, (his perceived safety valves) with whom he feels comfortable and without whom wars must continue. He says 50% of Sierra Leone new Army undergoing British training is made of his opponents. For this, he needs the RUF as a counterforce. He claims Guinea is backing his opponents. For this, Conde must be released and perhaps made President to avert more death and destruction. Mandingoes must be thrown into the sea to assure Taylor of his personal security and life presidency.
But would it serve any purpose if Conakry or Freetown similarly reminded Taylor that his political problems, amongst them repeated incursions since he was crowned by Abacha's Nigeria, are the direct result of his violent meddling in Sierra Leone, plunging that country into a decade of horrors? What if Conte told him that 100% of his problems are in fact political, and that he must begin by releasing dozens of Krahn political leaders he threw in jail after an absurd Inquisition? Couldn't he be reminded to stop his insane witch-hunt around the region, as indicated by his letter dated March 3, 1999, signed by Benjamin Yeaten, (his operative who arrested and spearheaded the mutilation of Sam Dokie, his wife, and two family members) and sent to "all embassies" instructing them to arrest and take to "the nearest police post or border checkpoint" 24 of his opponents, amongst them Lavalla Supuwood (his former Justice Minister), Tonia King, Harry Yuan, Shad Doe and Prince Y. Johnson? Perhaps not, for the Liberian President who is known for consistent denials. Hidden in this instruction is summary execution if any of those listed is caught. Should he be reminded that Mandingoes and Krahns are in Liberia to stay, and that long before his fore fathers settled in this part of Africa, these hated tribes were rooted there?
Perhaps not. It is of no use, for he has made up his mind. For him, as an experienced criminal, no evidence is strong enough for an admission. A good criminal sticks to his or her story. Thus he has succeeded in shelving the UN Panel of Experts report through the help of like-minded ECOWAS friends in Mali, and Niger, among others.
As these machinations proceed with regional backing, some of Guinea's major towns are disappearing, with residents and refugees fleeing towards the capital Conakry, one of the main remaining safe havens, at least for now. And as the international community adopted its now common nonchalant attitude towards African problems by giving Taylor more time to plan and implement his crusades of horrors, UNHCR's Lubbers, visiting the region, sang the now so common song, that of blaming diamonds, gunrunning, criminal gangs, and regional leaders for the region's rapid and now clearly unstoppable disintegration. But Lubbers did what dubious West African politicians have failed and are incapable to do - seeking the interests of the helpless refugees and placing blame where it belongs. "We are already now in the process of the boycott (on Liberia)... and I do not hesitate to make a judgment to the international community to be even tougher on that," Lubbers said optimistically as UN Security Council members bowed to the intrigues of West African politicians and extended Taylor's time of operation by two months.
Meanwhile, Guinea continues to labour under coordinated attacks on two fronts - the Liberian and Sierra Leone borders ruled and settled by the RUF, Guinean dissidents and Taylor's rebels. Now convinced that the best defence may be an offence, the Guineans are threatening taking the war to its home - Taylor's Liberia. "If we take the war to Liberia, we will go in a long way. Why? Because they have brought war to our country", vowed Guinea's Army Chief Kerfalla Camara. With this, the chips may soon fall into place with greater regional implications.
Despite his verbose public posture and utterances of military invincibility, Taylor knows that if Guinea were to launch an offensive, his days would be numbered, since Libya and Burkina Faso, his two staunch benefactors minus Cote D'Ivoire, itself now crumbling, are unlikely to commit ground forces to defend him. The chief of his shattered army of tattered ex-rebels, following Guinea's warning, appealed to "our brothers of Guinea to retract their (threat of war) and enter into dialogue with us. Let all of us be reminded that no problem has ever been finally settled on the battlefield. We must talk and continue to talk. We must not wait until lives have been destroyed, cities burnt down, economic resources depleted and properties lost before we do what should be done." Indeed, "We must talk and continue to talk", a typical Taylor strategy ("We will talk, and talk, and talk, and talk about the talks", he said during the Liberian war, indicating he would settle for nothing less than the presidency.) of deception that worked with his inept opponents now elevated to a regional level. Taylor had already told Conte that, "He who is down fears no fall", meaning that unlike Guinea, there is hardly anything in Liberia to be destroyed. He had already done that. All he has to protect is his little pitiful Monrovia mansion consumed in squalor.
By comparison, Guinea has a bigger army with a far better economy. Conakry has earmarked about $75m to handle the incursions, regrettably money that should have gone to more productive use. Taylor's entire revenue collection as he recently reported is about $85.8m., although this ignores collection from the underground economy and Sierra Leone's diamonds.
What is called the Liberian Army remains in shambles, and to address his distrust and fear of the regular "Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL)", he has created the Anti-Terrorist Unit (made of the most loyal and insane members of his rebel force), which was once led by his son. At a recent military parade, the distinction between the AFL and the ATU was enormous, for only the latter were best dressed and armed, while the former were in torn, faded uniforms of ridicule. The frightened Minister of Defence justified this by saying that this is so because the ATU is responsible for presidential security while the AFL is for external aggression. Thus a force designed to fight Guinea (or any other country) is far less equipped or trained than a force created to protect the President, leaving no doubts that the President's security supersedes national security. Moreover, added to his vulnerability, there are simply thousands of his former fighters, now abandoned, waiting for an opportunity to get even and reap payday. It was therefore not surprising that during Lubbers' visit, Taylor called for UN troop deployment throughout Liberia, despite the fact that he drove ECOWAS' troops out of the country following his election, and regardless of the fact that the UN's Sierra Leone mission is crippled and short of men.
But Taylor's plea for UN troops, added to his appeals for ECOWAS' border troops deployment, must also be viewed against his crumbling economy and the unprecedented corruption. Even without UN sanctions, the country's maritime fleet, the "Flag of Convenience" and one of its main foreign exchange earners used to finance his personal security and military adventures, is losing ships and therefore money. UN sanctions would have made his timber enterprise, again used to finance his security infrastructure, wither or become more expensive to maintain. Sierra Leone's diamonds are now the focus of international attention, although the stones are still being ferried to Monrovia since the RUF remains in charge of Sierra Leone's diamonds creeks in control of Liberia's borders with Sierra Leone. Sanctions will help to cut him off from the precious stones and therefore deplete his coffers, which could mean losing many members of his international team of military advisors and mercenaries in Liberia only because of the diamonds and the timber. Although official reports indicate that more than 300,000 cubic meters of round logs valued at US$37.5 million were exported within a period of six months, salaries remained unpaid. Water, electricity, education facilities are lacking. With such a chaotic economy, the difficulties confronting external attacks can be seen, and this makes the UN report, stating the Oriental Timber Corporation is paying his soldiers in return for forest depletion, relevant.
Nevertheless, there are key questions needing answers as to why Guinea now appears so helpless, at a mercy of a man it helped to create through its role within the peacekeeping force ECOMOG in Liberia? Why did Guinea's political and military leaders wait for the war to begin eating the country's nerve centres before awakening from their slumber? Why did they ignore the prophesy of doomsday, from Liberia? The whys and whys are just too many in coming to grip with the slowly but sure withering of this once stable country hosting about a million refugees from chaotic and misruled neighbours, a country that has played a key role in Liberia's stability dating from 1979 when it sent troops to save a falling President William Tolbert. Is it a case of generosity turned sour, or ethnicity, naiveté leading to anarchy? Or is it, as Taylor claims, (perhaps correctly since he is known to be an ally of the Guinea Opposition) a case of internal political feud? But the fact is that internal political feuds, present in all countries, are insufficient in sparking such terrible wars. Without Cote D'Ivoire, there would have been no such war in Liberia. Without Liberia, there would have been no such horrors in Sierra Leone and Guinea.
On the other hand, to try to understand its inactivity, could it be that Conakry may have been counting on that amorphous court of public opinion as its defence? This entails that once the world knew, (as clearly stated in The UN Panel of Experts report and from Taylor's own accounts and admissions) that Liberia was the processing plant for regional woes, Guinea could rest since it had a case. But a case against whom? And who cares? For years, the world had known Taylor's machinations within the region and yet West African leaders, led by the late Abacha, made him President. The fact that Taylor's rebels bundled up and butchered scores of West African citizens, Ghanaians, Nigerians, Sierra Leoneans, etc., sent no signals of conscience that West African politicians were dealing with a fatal Evil. They went ahead with their Faustian pact. In West Africa's political wisdom, as regional leaders were arriving in Monrovia for Taylor's inauguration, he was arming the RUF across the border in Sierra Leone, where more West African troops would perish. "I will keep them (ECOWAS, mainly the Nigerians) busy in Sierra Leone," Taylor had promised and delivered. Yet, the idea of even punishing him with sanctions has failed, thanks to the same actors in this tragic comedy within West Africa.
But that Guinea has relied on public opinion as a weapon against a man contemptuous of public opinion may be its fatal mistake as the country crumbles. As the saying goes, success has many parents; failure is an orphan. And Liberia is a classic case of how true this idiom is, for despite Taylor's enormous atrocities, his barbarism, his "success" brought him many admirers, including several liberal Americans now ashamed to have their names linked to his.
To compound Guinea's dilemma, there is an emerging view that Liberia's ex-rebel club the United Liberation Movement for democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), is fighting against the Guinean Government, its former allies in the Liberian war. If true, this means that Guinea is being stabbed in the back by a militia it helped against Taylor's rebels. But claims of ULIMO complicity against Conte must be verified beyond news dispatches. What seems to be likely now is that if this is true, it is a major aberration in the region rebel alliances.
There is another notion that ULIMO is backing the jailed Guinea opposition leader Alpha Conde, a Mandingo opposed to Conte, a Sousou, and Taylor's demand for Conde's release is a point to note. Mandingoes who fought in ULIMO are from Guinea's "Forest Region", considered lesser Mandingoes by Conde's Mandingoes in Guinea's so apparent ethnic dichotomy. If anything, these two Mandingo ethnic groups are opposites, and a convergence of political interests between them is most unlikely. So why would ULIMO Mandingo be fighting to make an enemy Mandingo president?
The most plausible truth, again backed by his public rebuke of Conte and demand for Conde's release, is that Taylor may be planting his Mandingoes, Conde's Mandingoes, as ULIMO fighters to free himself from blame. Guinea has said dissidents backed by Liberia are fighting to topple the Government. These dissidents may in fact be Mandingo, but they are most likely to be Conde's Mandingos, not Liberia's ULIMO or "Forest Mandingoes".
Apart from this ethnic jigsaw, which even some Guineans may find too complex, one of Guinea's troubles is that its political leadership miserably failed to diagnose and understand the outcome of Liberia's military-political contest. Although Conakry played a pivotal role in the Liberian conflict, it failed to complement its military participation with political participation, largely surrendering major political and military decisions to Abacha's Nigeria and Ghana, its Anglophone allies. Its additional misfortune is that it aligned itself, for national security interests, with individuals lacking the capacity to have halted Taylor's murderous political agenda. In the end, Conakry left major decisions on Liberia to Nigeria and Ghana, two countries with no common borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone and therefore were prepared to adopt opportunistic positions without risking their national security interests.
If only Guinea had learned from Rwanda and Uganda now engaged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, not because they love or hate Congolese political leaders, but to protect their national security interests. This was not done. Conakry played to the gallery, going along with whatever Abacha's Nigeria decided and at times adopting a rather simplistic attitude in Liberia's chaos. For example, during the 1996 war against the Krahns, Guinea sided with Taylor's NPFL-ULIMO-K coalition and bought whatever their ally, ULIMO-K chief Alhaji Kromah, was telling them. Thus Guinean officers and diplomats in Monrovia clearly saw ULIMO-J (the Krahns) as the enemy, and not Taylor. It was useless trying to convince them that by subscribing to Kromah's vanity, they were inadvertently investing in their own ultimate destruction. April 1996 alliances were some of the convincing cases of how self-interests can be misunderstood in augmenting the strength of the enemy and therefore personal destruction.
So when Taylor prophesised that Conte would lose in a war with him, he was already convinced of his military advantages based on concrete plans. Hundreds of Guineans dissidents were already training in various Liberian military bases. The London-based Africa Confidential reported that late President Sekou Toure's son, Ahmed Toure, along with Conde, were based in Liberia. With this, the entire Liberia-Guinea and Sierra Leone flank was under Taylor's effective control. From the border towns of Foya, Voinjama, Pamalep, Forecaria, Kambia, combined RUF/NPFL rebels could easily mount raids into Guinea and retreat into Liberia and Sierra Leone. Infiltration was easy because Taylor repeated his Liberian war strategy - infiltrating hundreds of rebels as refugees, market boys and girls, etc. This point was emphasised when President Kabbah told the BBC, concerned about the safety of civilians, that a good number of the refugees along the Sierra Leone-Guinea border were RUF recruits or supporters. Ukrainians flown helicopters supplied these infiltrators, many of them RUF/NPFL recruits loyal to Taylor. Foreign military advisors could be flown in from bases in Liberia. In short, Taylor could attack Guinea from two fronts under his total domination - Sierra Leone and Liberia. When a blind man's issues threats of throwing stones, he ensures that the stones are already firmly in his hands. With such a vast and convenient frontline and two "armies" Taylor is relying on, even the best Army would be spread so thin as to make it ineffective. This is Guinea's curse. It should have known, and should have prepared for the prophecy. It did not. It must therefore pay the price.