The Way to Lasting Peace in Liberia

A Presentation by Tiawan S. Gongloe At the International Republican Institute
Washington DC, USA on August 26, 2003

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 27, 2003


Tiawan Gongloe

With a peace agreement signed by the warring parties and representatives of the civilian population to end the on-going civil war in Liberia, many Liberians and friends of Liberia are hoping that the guns will be silenced and peace will return to Liberia. The question is whether if peace returns to Liberia as all hope, it will be durable or might just be a recess for another round of violence. It is this debate on whether or not there will be lasting peace in Liberia following the Accra Peace Agreement that I want to make a contribution to this morning. Therefore, I will speak to you this morning on the topic: The Way to Lasting Peace in Liberia

Over the past fourteen years, Liberia has experienced different stages of failure in its ability to perform as a sovereign state, beginning with its near collapse in 1990 and its systematic disorganization, over the past six years as a normal functioning state. The Constitution of Liberia, the statutes and enabling regulations that guided previous civilian governments in Liberia were largely not followed in the process of governance over the past six years. The process of governance, over the past six years, was instead done in a manner not consistent with the Liberian law. The key consideration in decision-making in public service in Liberia became doing what would satisfy the president. It did not matter whether in satisfying the president a vital interest of the people and the Liberian state would suffer. This key consideration in decision-making in public service was a controlling factor in the legislature, the executive and judicial branches of the Liberian government. This process of governance adopted by the Taylor government virtually converted Liberia into a private entity, not as a partnership, or a corporate entity but a sole-proprietorship, owned and operated by Charles Taylor as its president.

As a direct consequence of the governing process adopted by the Taylor government, Liberia, a founding member of the United Nations and most international organizations, lost its standing in the international community and became a source of shame for every self-respecting Liberian. This state of affairs cause Liberia to degenerate from being a cooperating partner in the international community to a rogue state, violating all standards of good governance, its international treaty obligations, particularly its general obligation under international law of respecting the borders of its neighbors and specifically the non-aggression pact among the Mano River Union countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The violation of the Mano River Union non-aggression pact is something that Taylor started, even as a rebel leader. For example, Taylor invaded Sierra Leone in April 1991 as head of the NPFL rebel faction and later organized the Revolutionary United Front rebel group (RUF).

Following his election in 1997 he miss-used his office as president of Liberia to support the RUF. With the support of Guinea dissidents and RUF, he invaded Guinea in the year 2000. Finally in the year 2002, he invaded Ivory Coast and took control of the border towns of Danane and Mah in support of two rebel factions in that neighboring country. Liberia under Charles Taylor became a source of instability of its neighbors and the entire West African sub-region. The totality of Taylor’s rule transformed Liberia from being a normal functioning state into a failed state.

In order to protect the pattern of governance chosen by the Taylor government it deliberately orchestrated mass impoverishment of the people by restricting their participation in the economy through the creation of private monopolies for major essential commodities such as rice and fuel using foreign business partners. The Taylor government also granted monopoly over the purchase of cocoa and coffee beans to a private business corporation thereby rendering the Liberia Produce Marketing company (LPMC) a government entity meaningless. These monopolies sold essential commodities at higher prices to consumers and bought cocoa and coffee, the two major cash crops grown by most Liberian farmers. Additionally government workers in Liberia remained in salary arrears for many months every year for the past six years. The net result of these activities was mass poverty for the people of Liberia.

Another method used by the Taylor government to secure the process of governance adopted by him was the creation of military and para-military forces with the primary duty of constantly and massively violating human rights, with impunity, as well as creating one crisis after the other to keep the people of Liberia in a perpetual state of fear and intimidation.
The creation of mass poverty was meant to keep the Liberian people in a constant state of necessity, always looking for the most rudimentary means of survival. In this situation the masses of the Liberian people became too weak to challenge the process of governance and remained deeply grateful for little handouts from the president whenever they were fortunate to receive them. The poverty factor coupled with the fear and intimidation factors created a state of silence unsurpassed by any period in recent Liberian history.

It is this gloomy atmosphere under Taylor that was exploited by another group of self-appointed liberators of the Liberian people to engage his government militarily. In the process there was massive destruction of life and property as well as violation of other human rights. The Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for democracy in Liberia (MODEL) the new redeemers, in contrast to what their names suggest engaged in massive abuse of human rights in the same manner as the government they claimed they wanted to liberate the people of Liberia from. To most Liberians, the victims of both the liberators and oppressive government, the groups are indistinguishable in terms of their methods and objectives-they want power and they must kill as many Liberians as is possible to obtain it.

The Way Forward

The question is what must be done to end the unending cycle of violence and human rights abuses which have, for fourteen years, been perpetrated by various Liberian groups, pretentiously in the name of liberating the Liberian people, but meanly for the purpose of attaining political power. What should be the approach to attaining lasting peace in Liberia?

Generally, I believe that the way to lasting peace in Liberia must begin by handling the process of peace-making in a different manner from the way the ECOWAS PEACE PLAN that ended the 1989-1997 civil conflict in Liberia was handled. In this regard, it is commendable that this time around instead of a mediating committee of heads of state, a more technical committee of mediators were established by ECOWAS and the international community to facilitate the meeting of the parties. The advantage in the latter approach is that, instead of a heads of state mediation effort, which is usually time-driven, mediation efforts led by technicians are agenda-driven. Thus, unlike the two-day meetings of the warring parties to the Liberian conflict held in Bamako, Mali in1990 and Lome, Togo in 1991 or the one day Yamoussoukro series of meetings etc. this time around the meeting of the parties lasted for 78 days and a detail negotiated agreement was signed. This mediation effort was, therefore, an improvement over the previous method used in the first Liberian civil war. Unfortunately, in spite of the differences in two methods of negotiation for peace in Liberia, the outcome have virtually remain the same.

The warring factions have, once again, been rewarded with positions in government for taking up arms against the Liberian people as was previously done. The irony this time around is that prior to the signing of the agreement the popular view in Liberia and the international community was that the departure of Taylor was the foundation for lasting peace in Liberia. The argument was that Taylor used banditry to gain and maintain political power and this time around everything should be done to end banditry in Liberian politics with the departure of Taylor. This view was preceded by open statements by LURD and MODEL operatives that they were not fighting for political power and that all they wanted was for Taylor to step down from power for free and fair elections to be held in Liberia. Therefore, the context within which the international community led by ECOWAS organized the peace meeting on Liberia and caused Taylor to step down from power and depart Liberia was that violence for political power is unacceptable and would no more be rewarded.. Contrary to this basic principle that gun for power is unacceptable the Accra Peace Agreement on Liberia rewarded the three armed groups with enormous political power in the transitional governance of Liberia. This is an unfortunate development.

It is, therefore, my view that the first step to preventing the use of force to gain political power in Liberia is to avoid rewarding any individual or group of individuals who use violence to gain political power with political positions in the process of finding peace. Rewarding Liberians who take up arms against the Liberian people with public offices is an incentive for more wars and greater suffering of the Liberian people. With this method of peace-making the violators of the fundamental rights of the Liberian people will continue to be the winners and the Liberian people, their victims, will continue to be the losers in the continuing cycle of abuse. However, since the underlying theory for giving political positions to members of warring factions is job for peace, the first step to lasting peace in Liberia must, as a matter priority and necessity, begin with the surrendering of guns for power before any other provision of the current peace agreement can be implemented. By this, I am recommending that as the first step to ensure compliance on the part of each armed party to the Accra peace agreement, each such party should disarm its combatants, record the list of its disarmed combatants and submit said list to the International Stabilization force before nominating anyone for its allocated positions in the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL).

In other words for LURD, MODEL and the GOL to fill their positions in government, they must first disarm. In the past warring faction appointed government officials have used their positions in government to strengthen their military capabilities thereby derailing the peace process. In the past we have seen disarmament and other provisions of peace agreements meant for the security and protection of unarmed civilians evaded by warring factions. The April 6,1996 outbreak of war in Monrovia among warring factions while fully occupying their seats in government is a vivid example of the danger that lies in allowing warring factions to occupy their positions without first disarming. It should be understood that the only reason for which warring factions, having subjected the Liberian population to pain and suffering have been given power is for them to allow the Liberian people to live in peace and security. Now that they have received their ransom I am appealing to the international community to make their voluntary disarmament a necessary precondition for allowing them to occupy their seats in the transitional government.

The second step on the way to lasting peace in Liberia is to institute a framework for accountability for violation of human rights and humanitarian law during the on-going civil conflict. Demanding accountability for past violations of human rights and international humanitarian law is the best way to guarantee lasting peace in Liberia, not pacification and cover-ups. There will be no lasting peace in Liberia until and unless justice is made an integral part of the framework for peace. The failure of the Liberian people and the international community to hold parties to the 1989-1997 Liberian civil war accountable laid the foundation for the 1999-2003 Liberian civil war. The fact that, even after the signing of the Accra Agreement, there have been continuing reports of fighting and violation of human rights, by fighters of the various armed parties to the Accra Agreement, is a warning for what lies ahead without ensuring accountability for heinous crimes committed by the various factions during the conflict. I am, therefore, recommending that the international community considers the setting up of a tribunal to try those who may be held responsible for gross human rights abuses and crimes against humanity in the current civil conflict, in addition to the truth and reconciliation commission provided for under the Accra Accord. I am recommending that the truth and reconciliation commission covers the period 1979 to 2003, a period within which massive abuse of human rights occurred in recent Liberian history and for which evidence can be found without much difficulty. The truth and reconciliation commission must have a mandate similar to that of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in order to allow for prosecution of individuals, who will show no remorse for their past actions, in local courts.

The third step on the way to lasting peace is for the international community to ensure that former president Charles Taylor is arrested and taken before the Special Court in Sierra to face trial for the charges against him for his role in the crimes against humanity committed by armed factions during the Sierra Leonean civil war. There is no moral or legal justification for not trying the man notoriously known by the whole world for organizing, financing and directing the RUF.Sierra Leoneans and all who closely followed the conflict in Sierra Leone will agree with me that if only one person is to be prosecuted for the tragedy that occurred in Sierra Leone, it should be Charles Taylor and no one else. A failure to prosecute Charles Taylor will certainly erode public confidence in the credibility and legitimacy of the court as a serious forum for ensuring accountability for the terrible crimes committed against the peaceful people of Sierra Leone by Taylor and his agents. I want to use this occasion to call on the International Republican Institute and other international civil society groups to support the call of civil society groups in Nigeria for the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to transfer Mr. Taylor, an indicted war criminal to Sierra Leone. There can be no compromise about this action. The Government of President Obassanjo must hand Taylor over Taylor to the Special Court, in fulfillment of its international obligation. Nigeria, as a leading country in Africa, should not set a wrong precedent of protecting a war criminal- a man who is personally responsible for killing the greatest number of Africans in recorded history and who has been indicted by a United Nations backed court. There is no moral argument for according Taylor the normal Africa hospitality in Nigeria, because by all accounts he is not a normal African-he is man who has brought disgrace to Africa by his inhumane actions against other Africans. By his past actions against Nigerians, Taylor has clearly demonstrated that Nigerians are not his brothers; hence, the Nigerian government should not harbor him using the argument that Nigerians are their brother’s keepers. Nigerians know their African brothers when they see them and from what I have read from Nigeria newspapers, so far, Nigerians have made it clear to their government that Taylor is not their brother.
Harboring Taylor in Nigeria presents another major problem in addition to promoting impunity. Without Charles Taylor being in ja, he can sit in Nigeria and undermine peace in Liberia by using telephone and the internet services. Taylor is one of the African leaders that have very loyal and committed followers who obey his orders in detail. He did not have to be physically present at all times with the RUF, but the members of the rebel group carried out his orders effectively, at all times irrespective of changes in its Sierra Leonean leadership. The attainment of peace in Liberia and the countries that border Liberia will be difficult as long as Taylor is a freeman in Nigeria. I have read the restrictions placed on him in Nigeria and the use of telephone and internet services are not contained in said restrictions. This issue must claim the attention of all concerned about peace in Liberia and the entire Mano River basin.

The fourth step on the way to lasting peace is the holding of a National conference in Liberia. The purpose of such national conference should be to fully identify and comprehensively discuss all of the problems that have undermined national unity, peace and prosperity in Liberia over the years and to develop a kind of road map that will be used as guide in the governance of Liberia. I am suggesting a conference that will develop a set of principles that will serve as a reference for national policy formulation for future governments of Liberia. In other words the national conference that I am speaking about will develop something in the form of a handbook for governance in Liberia in line with the general principles of governance enshrined in the Constitution of Liberia.

The national conference should be open to a broad spectrum of the Liberian people, including leaders of rural Liberia, political parties, civil society groups and Liberian specialists in of all fields of study in and out of Liberia. With this level of participation, the conference will benefit from a wide range of knowledge from all segments of the Liberian population.

I believe that the national conference should begin within three months of the seating of the transitional government and continue until the agenda agreed upon by the conference is fully exhausted. I am thinking of an agenda driven conference not a time controlled one. Given that the Inter-faith Council of Liberia is the one Liberian organization that has maintained a high level of integrity and very wide, if not unanimous acceptability among the Liberian people throughout the Liberian crisis, it would be advisable for the Inter-faith Council to organize such a conference.

A national conference on Liberia is important for both short and long term objectives. The short term objective is stimulated by the need to buttress the current peace initiative by complementing the Accra Peace Accord with a set of strategies that will strengthen certain key provisions of the accord and provide ways of dealing with certain fundamental matters that were omitted. For example the agreement contains no punitive clause for failure of a party to the accord to comply with provisions of the agreement and the provision on the responsibilities of the parties is weak. I believe that the agreement should have provided restriction on the kinds of contract the transitional government can enter into and the extent to which it can financially obligate the future elected government of Liberia. The provision on this issue as currently written is a signed blank check for the transitional government. The question of corruption and accountability, the common reason for which past governments of Liberia have violated freedom of speech and press, was left out of the accord. Additionally, it is difficult to understand why the accord did not obligate the transitional government to financially support vital commissions such as the truth and reconciliation commission, the human rights commission, the reform commissions but left the support for these commissions to the international community.

On the issue of election the agreement did not include the holding of national census; yet, the Constitution of Liberia makes it mandatory that both voter registration and voting must be done in constituencies and constituencies cannot be demarcated without the holding of census. The last census in Liberia was held in 1984 and since then there have been two civil wars. These are just a few of the areas of the agreement where the national conference will be of assistance. I think also that in the short term the transitional government should make primary and secondary education free and compulsory for all Liberian children. Many of the children who have been given arms to kill other Liberians are children who have had no means to go to school. This action is necessary, given that illiteracy and ignorance have greatly contributed to the Liberian crisis.

There are also long term objectives that a national conference on Liberia will need to place on the agenda. There are issues of security, peace, national unity and reconciliation, reconstruction and development, reorganization of government bureaucracy to enhance efficiency and productivity, embarking on rural development in a manner that will reduce the current level of rural-urban migration, the under-develop agricultural sector of Liberia, the issue of land ownership, the management of the economy of Liberia in a way that will be beneficial to all Liberians are all important issues for the national conference. Liberia’s poor relations with its neighbors and the international community and the need for appropriate representation of Liberia abroad for the improvement of Liberia’s standing in the international community could constitute a key agenda item. On this issue, I want to underscore that it was Liberia’s poor relation with its neighbor Ivory Coast, under the government of the Late President Samuel Doe that made it easy for Ivory Coast to be used by Taylor to wage war on the Liberian people. Both Guinea and Sierra Leone denied Taylor access to Liberia. There is an urgent need for the three Mano River Union countries to open membership in the union to Ivory Coast as a means of strengthening security within the four countries that have been affected by cross- border civil wars. Finally, there are constitutional reforms required to promote greater participation in government and decentralization of power.

In concluding this presentation, let me note here that the way to lasting peace will require Liberians advocating for accountability rather than promoting impunity. The way to durable peace will also require open and honest discussion of all issues, particularly the ones that may be considered sticky and embarrassing. Most of the conflicts in Liberia have been in response to the violation of basic human rights, especially the right to freedom of speech and press. Therefore, the transitional government should make the promotion of human rights its top most priority, with emphasis on the freedom of expression. It must provide substantial financial resources for its human rights commission and must not leave it to the international community alone to provide resources for the commission.

Because the issue of lack of respect for human rights has been at the core of the conflict in Liberia, the international community should condition its support for the transitional government on the government’s demonstrated commitment to the promotion of human rights. In this regard, I want to, in this public manner, express gratitude to Ambassador John Blaney, the US Ambassador to Monrovia for the priority he has placed on human rights issues since he arrived at that mission. His statements on issues relating to human rights have been clear and unambiguous. This diplomat has gone even beyond the call of duty to put his life on the line to rescue human rights defenders such as Hassan Bility, Aloysius Toe and others. He has put true human face to diplomacy in Liberia. I hope that others in the international community will buttress the effort of Ambassador Blaney in Liberia. I am and I believe most Liberians are encouraged by the initial positions that the current Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-general has taken on the Liberian peace process. It appears from his initial positions that Mr. Jacques Klien will proceed in the same direction with Ambassador Blaney. With a strong UN mandate and the full presence in Liberia of the UN troops requested by Mr. Klein, in spite of the weaknesses contained in the Accra Peace Agreement, I have no doubt that with the two gentlemen in Liberia for the next two years, the foundation for lasting peace in Liberia will be firmly laid.

I thank you.