A War of Convenience: Who Benefits from the Carnage in Lofa?

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

February 4, 2002

At one point in the senseless war of the past decade that ravaged our country, the warlords had reached some sort of consensus that allowed them to reap every potential benefit of being in power without making any concession to peace. George Boley, Alhaji Kromah, Roosevelt Johnson and, of course, Charles Taylor partitioned the country like a birthday cake and took over the political leadership in Monrovia. While Liberians and the international community negotiated with them in good faith, they enriched themselves while their unpaid and untrained ragtag armies ransacked the countryside to survive. We have come a long way since then and now have to deal with only one of them, Charles Taylor.

Charles Taylor does not know much about nation building and he is all about self-enrichment. A master trickster - he would do things that are beyond our common understanding. He loves chaos and creates one when there is none.

The Lofa war fits well in the Taylor plan of governance. The NPFL/RUF never disarmed at the end of the war. Most of the LPC (Liberia Peace Council) of George Boley went back to the AFL, along with some elements of ULIMO-J. ECOMOG was tipped that Alhaji Kromah was hiding arms in his home and that took care of ULIMO-K and some of its men found their way into Guinea and joined LURD. It appears that Joe Wylie and others managed to put together LURD, navigating between Sierra Leone and Guinea. Guinea is said to have resisted being dragged into the conflict until the NPFL attacked its border towns. After that Conteh allowed the LURD to operate from Guinea. But how much military confrontation has there been between LURD and the Taylor’s AFL since the Guinean army, with the help of Liberian dissidents, beat back Taylor’s invasion?

What people refer to as a low-level insurgency is but a war of convenience where everybody on the Liberian side - LURD or the government - lies, for the benefit of Charles Taylor.

There are thousands of fighters of NPFL/RUF in Lofa roaming the forests and mining diamond and gold when they are not besieging and looting the rare villages. Not too far from them, near the Guinean border, are the LURD few dozens of fighters, doing the same thing. At times, they clash around a village or a town. People flee. Looting takes place and villagers are allowed to return when everything is “clear”. The government of Liberia goes on the radio to complain about attacks from dissidents coming in from Guinea. The BBC stringer in Monrovia interviews Mr. Daniel Chea who goes nowhere near “the battlefront.” Then Bennie calls the BBC to confirm what comes from Monrovia. The LURD leadership, somewhere in Conakry is divided between taking credit for a battle it has not fought and just letting things go. It finally boasts its own ego by remaining silent, becoming an unwilling ally of the power it is supposedly fighting. And Taylor, in the Mansion smiles and plans his next execution…

We wrote here last week that the so-called fight around Sawmill never took place and that ATU elements had simply created panic and used the occasion to loot residents as well as NGOs property after they were pushed towards Monrovia while the US delegation of “election-makers” were in town. This fact was confirmed by Joe Wylie who said that LURD did not attack anyone and later by the Mayor of Tubmanburg, Mr. Gbeley Karnley who told Jonathan Paye-Layleh of the Associated Press: “Government troops had looted residents’ property, [but] everything was now calm and […] urged people to return to protect their property.”

According to the same reporter, one Joseph Tanla also said, referring to the same incident that “ somebody came running [from Sawmill] and told us that enemies had attacked. Before he finished telling us the news, we were on the move and that’s how we got here.”

This is the same scenario that Taylor and his henchmen have played again and again. ATU creates panic. People run away, abandoning their belongings. Daniel Chea holds a press conference and accuses LURD of taking Voinjama or Vahun. Charles Bennie calls BBC and credits LURD for the fall of Voinjama or Vahun. Nobody denies anything. ATU goes on a looting spree. Taylor complains and the world wonders why there is no independent confirmation. Two days later, AFL announces that it has retaken the lost town and everything becomes calm again for a few weeks.

The other unwilling partners of Taylor in this propaganda are the international NGOs, the only ones allowed to get close to the “front line.” According to reliable sources, these international organizations had their warehouses looted on many occasions by the ATU, including during the incidents of last week. Their goods were sold at the Duala and Red light markets in Monrovia. Why do they keep silent? Are they afraid of losing a lucrative “field of operation?” Why don’t they say that they have been looted and that ATU was responsible for the looting?

This conspiracy of silence from the LURD leadership and the NGOs, coupled with the tandem Bennie-Chea is what makes everyone think that there is a deadly war in Lofa. The first thing any rebel group wants is to be taken seriously and show that it is gaining ground. Why doesn’t LURD ever let independent observers go into “its” controlled areas? Why isn’t the government of Liberia allowing people to see the areas under dispute, even from afar? The NPFL was always proud to show the frontline to the press in its war against Samuel Doe, why is it becoming shy now? The only time observers were allowed in these areas was when the government produced a propaganda video of destructions supposedly caused by LURD. The Minister of Foreign Affairs took a delegation with him and later sent copies of the tape all over the world.

The “Lofa war” is the best thing that could have happened to a government incapable of carrying out any substantive development project in any area of the country. Turning Lofa into a “war zone” is very convenient. It is used by Taylor as reason to clampdown on his perceived enemies - the opposition leaders. It allows Taylor to let thousands of his fighters to fend for themselves while waiting for another assignment. Meanwhile, the government keeps blackmailing the international community, crying “War, terrorism, dissidents, Guinea…” while preparing for 2003, threatening to cancel the elections, delaying the implementation of necessary changes, including security matters.

If LURD really wants to work for peace and the removal of the dictatorship, it should come out clear to the Liberian people, with a leadership, an agenda to participate in the national search for peace. Removing a dictator from power is only a start, not a national program. LURD must stop playing the Taylor charade.

Lofa has now become ungovernable because of the thousands of fighters from the various warring factions, defunct or alive, roaming the county. It has become a fertile ground for Taylor’s unpaid army with their friends from the RUF. They mine gold and diamond, they loot and they live free in one of the largest counties in the country. They fight each other, harassing civilians in the process, destroying villages.

LURD leaders have become victims of the biggest scam in our recent history. They are so anxious to be perceived as a “warring faction” that they take credit for things they have not done. This again, brings into question the role Charles Bennie, who is serving as an echo to Daniel Chea, Taylor’s Minister of Defense.

In 1992, at the height of Operation Octopus, Taylor was on the radio telling people that he was on Broad Street, distributing food and medicine when he was actually in Danane or Ouagadougou. Now, he is playing the same game, claiming there is a war when there is nothing but his usual army of killers and looters taking a whole county as their playground. We must lift the curtain and let the truth come out.

It took time to piece this whole thing together but every credible information we have received leads to no other conclusion.

The war in Lofa exists because Taylor needs it and because LURD does not want to deny that they have not really had any encounter with the “AFL” for close to a year. It is all a big scam… A big lie, paid for with the lives and property of innocent people from Lofa. Because of its proximity to Guinea and Sierra Leone as well as Cote d’Ivoire, with its soil rich in gold and diamonds, Lofa is the best playground Taylor could have found for his army of child soldiers.

The Lofa war is a scam, created and maintained by Charles Taylor, with his silent unwilling partners LURD and the NGOs catering to the displaced persons.

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