In Search of Wisdom

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted July 17, 2002

One thing I remember from Gordon Somers, the UN man everyone blames for our failed peace process is that he always said that nobody in this world would tell Liberians to stop killing each other. President Soglo of Benin also used to say that if we were stupid enough to want to destroy our own country, there would always be smart people to take our diamonds, iron ore, gold dust and timber in exchange for guns and bombs. Of course, there were others like President Banana who said that we needed to learn to trust each other and General Daniel Opande now in Sierra Leone never stopped repeating that peace could only come if Liberians decided to take a leap of faith.

There was also Desmond Tutu, with whom we flew to Gbarnga to meet with Charles Taylor. He too said that if Liberians cannot find enough love and confidence amongst themselves to have peace, there would never be peace. And when we met Nelson Mandela in Pretoria after he was inaugurated President, he said that he feels sorry for the children of Liberia and that adults have the responsibility to ensure that the next generations of Liberians do not live through the trauma that hatred and mistrust had created amongst our people.

Every time we returned to Cotonou, fighting each other for ministerial positions in the transitional government, Soglo would point to drawings of the slave trade that he had brought home from the US. He would lecture us and remind us that people who founded Liberia were men and women who thought that they could create a land where Black people would never be subjected by anyone and then he would say, it looks like they were wrong.

Taylor wants to call a conference in Monrovia, inviting Mandela, Kaunda, Banana and everyone else to tell them that he was opening a dialogue with his people and that he was embarking on the road to reconciliation. He thinks that these honorable men and women would leave their countries and jump on the plane, to go to Monrovia and grace the occasion. They might do so, perhaps, thinking that it may be a last chance to salvage Liberia from “somalization.” Mandela the tireless prophet for peace and non-violence might show up and call on Liberians to give peace a chance. President Banana might also show up, because he covered so many thousands of miles, between Monrovia, Geneva, Abidjan, Yamoussoukro, Gbarnga and Cotonou, trying to bring Liberians together. All these honorable people might show up at the conference in Monrovia and grace the opening of the national reconciliation conference.

However, no matter who comes to Monrovia from the other end of the world, there would be no reconciliation and no peace as long as long arrogance takes precedence over humility, as long as greed takes over sobriety, as long as certain Liberians keep thinking that the country belongs to them alone and that it is their God given right to use it as their personal property, turning every living Liberian into a refugee, a prisoner, an IDP or a rotten corpse under six feet. There would be no peace or reconciliation if Taylor does not open a real dialogue with those he perceives as his “enemies”, be they armed or not.

The tendency in the face of this myopia is to get angry and break glasses. “How could they?” But one must not give in. The removal of this state of affairs will need methodical work, serious thinking and coherent approach from all.

It is sad, very sad for the country that a man like Cyril Allen could turn out to be the voice of wisdom and cool temper and then be silenced. It is rather sad, that those who have no respect for human life and dignity become the policy makers of the land. That they will arrest innocent citizens, subject them to torture, kill them and justify their actions by using the words that have become cool elsewhere. “Terrorists,” unlawful combatants,” and other expressions of the American politics of war against terror constitute now the new vocabulary of the decadent regime of Monrovia. As if, by using the same words president Bush uses, they feel justified in what they are doing.

The conference in Monrovia is a silly enterprise. It is another misplaced priority and bad reading of the international political scene. But those who blind themselves to the bold letters of history would never get it right.

Taylor and his cohort want to invite Nelson Mandela or Kenneth Kaunda and President Banana to treat them to champagne when the rest of the country is starving. All they need to do is open the doors of the myriad of prisons, stop the terror machine and people would go home and reconciliation would take its course. Then, one day, Mandela might stop by and do what he has wanted to do ever since he left prison: go to Monrovia and thank the people of Liberia for supporting him and his friends during their struggle against the violence, humiliation and hatred of the apartheid regime.

No political regime can hold a country in perpetual bondage. These are simple and naïve truths of history. Samuel Doe, Mobutu, Idi Amin, Jean Bedel Bokassa, and others have tasted the dust they once walked on.

What a shame ! A dog biting its tail can only hurt itself.

From Abuja to Bethesda to Ouaga, opposition politicians have now come to speak with one voice, if at least it means unity of purpose. Of course the division would be there as always, because everyone belongs to a different political entity, formed most of the time to nurture the ambitions of one person. The call for peace and disarmament, thus a return to the tenets of the Abuja Accords is clear more than ever. There is no way around disarmament and the restructuring of the security forces. Anything else would be a farce.

The greatest problem for the opposition is to convince other leaders in Africa as to the urgency of the situation in Liberia. The leaders of Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Guinea, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire need to know as urgently as possible what Liberians want. They must be made to take a leadership role and made to understand in no uncertain terms the potential dangers brewing in Liberia that could again set ablaze the sub-region.

In the international community, the most important ally remains the United States. The United States has spent more money in Liberia in the past two decades than it probably spent in the whole of Africa on humanitarian assistance as well as facilitating the transfer of Liberians to safety on its shore. The US must realize that it would be much more profitable to be involved actively in Liberia in peace building than providing charity and sanctuary to displaced Liberians. The US policy towards Liberia unfortunately has never been an active one since the end of the cold war. The combined efforts of African leaders and the Liberian opposition would amount to very little without the active support of the US government. Their political will can only be concretized with the logistic support of the American government. A visible role in Liberia would help greatly enhance the image of the US in Africa.

Liberian Diaspora needs to get its voice heard also. Grass-root movements in support of peace building are needed to create awareness in the public. Liberia is currently traversing it deepest humanitarian crisis, probably even worse than 1990. More than 2/3 of the Liberia population is now displaced internally or in refugee camps. Monrovia has become a huge ghetto, where unemployment and the total lack of resource led to dehumanizing living conditions, with their corollary social ills. A whole generation of children is thrown in the streets every day. If no action is immediately taken to remedy this situation, the city could explode.

The government is becoming more and more desperate. Confusion and fear have now become the order of the day. Killing as in the old days of the NPFL and the last days of the Doe regime is now again on the rise. The regime has fallen under the control of its worst elements. Arrogance and stupidity are now the leading factors in governance. The Taylor government needs help to be saved from itself. Liberia needs help to be saved from a decaying system. The country has never been so much in need of wisdom.

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