Damate Barks Again!

By Woplah Kambor


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 11, 2003

The big kahuna of warlords in the Liberian political jungle, Damante Conneh, has fired another salvo at the tenuous peace arrangements. Conneh’s beef: additional government slots for the LURD. Behind this not unexpected power grab, falsely cloaked as reason and legitimacy, is a cruel threat to checkmate the fragile peace. The big kahuna wants his palms greased some more in exchange for the slow chariot of peace to retain its lease on life, and for Liberians to be spared another horrible dimension of bloodletting that, in some spheres of informed opinion, approaches Rwanda.

Already in its account, because of the Faustian bargain cobbled in Ghana, LURD has key government functions that render it disproportionately influential, based on the political arithmetic. Perhaps it is this calculus that drives Conneh’s invariable assault on peace. Or is it an attempt to dampen the heat on Conneh from LURD mercenaries eager to cash in the notes earned in the slaughterhouses and killing fields, where productivity is reportedly quantified by the extermination of defenseless civilians? In the main, women, children, the elderly, and sometimes aid workers and religious missionaries. Under the frightening logic of this compensation scheme, the accepted military doctrine of minimal civilian deaths was overthrown by a macabre operating principle: a massacre, a better payday.

When asked if he had any moral compunctions about the carnage he spearheaded, Conneh replied he had none and that he was “entitled” to a government job. The premise of this “right” to a government job must be exclusive, since no Liberian enjoys it. Conneh’s privilege to serve in future governments is perhaps legitimate if the court of public opinion does not look askance at such appointment. If the reception received when he last publicly visited Monrovia is an indicator , the big kahuna should consult the gods again.

Some LURD benefactors are finding Chairman Conneh’s public ranting distasteful, to say the least. An ongoing internecine conflict in the Liberia strains meager regional resources, weakens governments and bodes larger hazards for the West African security system. Just ask the Ivorians. The tyranny in Conakry aspires political pulchritude to woo foreign investment and drink copiously from the aid spigot. To be perceived as working cheek by jowl with LURD in stonewalling a laudable UN enterprise in Liberia is the moral and political equivalent of biting the hand that feeds you. Being seen as an ugly duckling to the global investor class is a portrait Guinea does not crave.
LURD’s post-Taylor jihad and Guinea’s strategic ambitions may be mutually exclusive.

Before Conneh’s very eyes, the contest for power has changed. The competition must now be won in the theater of ideas with a large serving of compromise. Conteh of Guinea knows this. Will Conneh of Liberia embrace this inevitable and win/win alternative? Will the big kahuna resist the instinct of viewing politics through the parochial lens of tribe and a culture of terror? Can Damante successfully reinvent himself ?

How Damante balances his quest for power against the noble interest of lasting peace will largely determine whether or not he joins Taylor in the trash can of history. Damante Conneh will do well to heed Santayanna . Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.