Liberia: Unfulfilled and Unrealized Promise

By Mohamedu F. Jones, Esq.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

July 22, 2003


Editor's Note: On July 19, 2003, Cllr. Mohamedu F. Jones served as Guest Speaker of the Liberian Association of Northern California in observance of the 156th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Liberia. Below is the full text of Cllr. Jones' speech:

Mr. Interim President and Mrs. Berry, officers and members of the Liberian Association of Northern California, American and other nationality friends of Liberia, my fellow Liberians, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. I ask you rise in silent memory to all who have died in Liberia as a result of political violence in Liberia since 1821. May they rest in peace. Amen.

It is a great honor and privilege to serve as your guest speaker at this program in observance of the 156th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Liberia.

As we mark this anniversary of Liberia’s independence, we should bear in mind, that regrettably, we have nothing to celebrate. For to "celebrate" in the context of such an observance means, "to honor." My friends, there is nothing about Liberia today to honor.

I need not go into the details of the conditions and circumstances prevailing in Liberia, as we well know what the situation is. My fellow Liberians, our country has deeply failed. We have shown ourselves to be incompetent at self-government; incapable of protecting the lives of our citizens; inept at providing for the well-being and future of our children; inefficient at managing and developing the resources of our country; and ineffectual in building a society grounded in the constitutional rule of law, which offers equal opportunities for all Liberians. Our independence, our nation, our country, our republic, has evolved into but unfulfilled and unrealized promises, and a place of despair and despondency.

For nearly 25 years, we Liberians have been at war. One of the great historical errors of Liberia’s political chronology, and there have been many major historical errors, was the military coup d’etat of April 12, 1980. I do not suggest that before April 12, 1980 Liberia was this wonderful place, as much as some of us like to think and say so. It was not! It was a country that systematically deprived the majority of our citizens of their constitutional rights and societal opportunities.

Surely, under the True Whig Party regime, Liberia needed major political, social, economic, legal and administrative reforms. But the results of the misguided, malicious, murderous and malevolent overthrow of the then government of Liberia, and the mean-spiritedness that was introduced into the body politic of the country (and which has now boiled over into group enmity), is plain for all of us to see. The coup was a fundamental political blunder for which we are paying dearly. Clearly, we could have and ought to have reformed our country without this - especially since it has never reformed, and is measurably worse off then before that fateful day - April 12, 1980.

As we gather here today, Liberians are again deliberating the governance and future of the nation, just as they did 156 years ago. In Accra, Liberians are negotiating peace and deliberating about how to institute acceptable governance of Liberia. It is important that as they deliberate, the men and women engaged in this historical endeavor undertake their solemn responsibilities with reason, and be reasonable; with principles, and be principled; with compromise and cooperation; with collegiality and in coalition. And above all, we hope that they will be guided to act only in the supreme interests of the long-suffering people of Liberia. Recent reports today indicate that Liberians are again dying needlessly even as we gather here tonight. This must not continue to happen. This cannot continue to happen.

Mr. Interim President and members of this community, I submit that as Liberians in Accra are deliberating the immediate future of our country, they ought to consider the situation with a worldview; a view that is prospective, bold, inclusive, expansive and charitable. There is a multiplicity of issues before Liberians in Accra; I offer to share with you my perspective on a few of them.

The indictment of President Charles Taylor
As to the matter of the indictment of the Liberian President by the International Tribunal sitting in Sierra Leone, it ought not to be on the agenda of negotiations among Liberians, including when negotiating with representatives of the Liberian government. This is not a comment on the legality, morality or merits of the indictment, but rather to call to our attention that the issue of the indictment of President Taylor is separable and distinguishable from the question of whether he should resign the presidency as part of the peace process. The matter of President Taylor continuing in office is relevant to the negotiations, and this is where the focus should be directed, and not that he has been indicted, and whether it should be lifted, waived or ignored.

Clearly, the question of whether or not the President remains in office is a substantial subject for consideration under the circumstances, but this would be the case even if he had not been indicted. His indictment and whether he is tried is a matter for President Taylor to resolve with the international community and not for Liberians to negotiate, especially since Liberia has no role in the proceedings of the tribunal. Therefore, Liberian negotiators should refrain from negotiating among themselves in respect to the President’s indictment, because it is not germane and serves to detract from those issues that are within the control of Liberians.

Constitutional change
In June, the Liberian President offered to leave office; Liberia and the entire world accepted his offer. Mr. President, it is an elementary rule of contract law that when an offer is duly made and accepted for consideration (the consideration in this case being peace in Liberia), the promise must be fulfilled. President Taylor must live up to this undertaking he made with Liberia and the international community and leave office.

As part of the process of achieving peace in Liberia, and instituting a new administration in the country, I offer to you the proposition that we should endeavor to undertake this change in constitutional form. Fundamental to this proposition is that only the Executive Branch should be susceptible to change in its entirety in this process.

As part of the political resolution of the civil war, once the parties have agreed who should next head the executive department in Liberia, they should act to comply with the Constitution. Articles 63 and 64 offer provisions that they should consider. An example could be that President Taylor would already have resigned as he has promised and is expected to do. Vice President Blah would assume office under Article 63(b). If he is not the one agreed to head the new administration, then President Blah’s sole act would be to nominate the person (to head the next administration) as agreed to by the stakeholders, to be Vice President, as provided for under Article 63(d). The Legislature would act to approve the name.

Once this person assumes office as Vice President, President Blah would then resign and this person would assume the presidency, and nominate the person also agreed upon as Vice President as constitutionally provided for. All of this would be agreed upon and arranged to occur coordinately. The new President and Vice President should also obligated themselves as part of the process of designation that they will not stand in the next elections for any office. This should form part of the peace accords.

The new president would then appoint the cabinet and sub-cabinet officers that stakeholders have agreed to. It ought not to be the case that any person who serves in an appointed position in the Taylor administration should mechanically be excluded from the new administration. In addition, I hold the view that the next administration should actively seek international expertise in administering the country, even including appointing non-Liberian citizens, such as international civil servants from the United Nations, World Bank or other international bodies, as ministers, deputy ministers and assistant ministers.

In respect to the Legislature, the current members of the Legislature should remain in office. However, the offices of Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, as well as all chairs of committees would be declared vacant (but the present holders of these offices may remain members of the body). The Legislature under the Constitution and its rules would then elect new leadership and appoint new committee chairs. It is highly improbable that any person currently holding leadership position in the present Legislature would be elected or appointed to any future leadership position.

Perhaps most important, even if the stakeholders in Accra reject the executive and legislative change framework outlined above, they should leave the current Judiciary in place regardless of any changes in the political branches (executive and legislative) they may agree to. The Judiciary is not a political branch, and leaving it in place would be to recognize that it is not. By leaving the present Judiciary in place, we would offer an historic opportunity to institute an independent Judiciary. If there is credible evidence of wrongdoing on the part of specific judges, the Legislature could act to remove any such judges in the manner as provided for under the Constitution.

Yes, what I propose to you is complicated and complex, and requires a level of good will and integrity that is sometimes not manifested in Liberian political dealings. But such a scenario as I have outlined may be the beginnings of inculcating a new sense of constitutional rule and constitutional change in Liberia. I believe it would offer for the first time in living memory, the opportunity for an independent Judiciary, and for a Legislature that is not beholden to the sitting President for their seats in the body. It would avoid a constitutionally ambivalent “interim” government and the role of the Constitution in this period would not be ambiguous. Most importantly, we would be acting to preserve the Constitution, which we have failed to ever allow to work since we proclaim a constitutional republic - and this is true both for the 1847 Constitution and the 1986 Constitution.

It would be a grave mistake if a date certain for elections to be conducted were set in Accra at this time. This would be a repeat of one of the fundamental flaws of the mid-1990s peace arrangements, which is part of the reason that Liberians are again negotiating peace. What the Liberian stakeholders and the international community ought to consider is agreeing to what conditions precedent must exist prior to elections, that is those circumstances that must prevail in the country before elections could be held, rather than setting a calendar date for holding elections.

If we set an arbitrary date for elections (and setting any date at this time would be arbitrary), with the view that things should be put right before that date, this would be a serious mistake, and presents the risk that we would be faced with elections again before the country is ready, with all the adverse implications that such an outcome carry. We must not forget that elections as part of the process of ending a civil war should be the end result of the process, as we forgot in 1997, rather than the starting point of the process. I suggest to you my fellow Liberians that we should be very weary, even suspicious, of politicians who are calling for early elections; perhaps they are too anxious to take political power. We should also resist pressure from the international community to hold early elections, as has been proposed by the United States government for 2004.

Whatever framework Liberian and international stakeholders decide in respect to elections, I believe that the following are fundamental to any electoral process in Liberia, irrespective of when elections are held:

1. The United Nations should conduct the next elections in Liberia;
2. Disarmament and rehabilitation must occur before elections; and
3. An internationally trained Liberian security apparatus, including the military and the civilian police agencies should be in place before elections are held.

My fellow Liberians, as we live the true “reality show” of the existing state of affairs in our country, on this the 156th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Liberia, we are faced with critical challenges - challenges that literally mean life or death for many ordinary Liberians. We ought to be extremely concerned and apprehensive as to whether we have the leadership, the wisdom, the selflessness, the vision, and the patriotism represented in Accra to do that which is right for our country. Actually to achieve what is necessary for Liberia, the Liberian stakeholders in Accra may truly have to take unprecedented, and even out-of-character directions. I pray and hope that they do, for the consequences are considerable and potentially further calamitous.

We thank the international community for its continued assistance and we hope that President Bush and the American people will join the international community in helping us in this period of national crisis.

May God bless Liberia
May God bless the people of Liberia
May God deliver us from evil
May God bless you
I thank you