LURD, Cllr. Jones, ICG and the Taylor exit

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 23, 2002

Finally, it seems that one stage of the war is coming to an end. The government of Liberia, on its website claims that it has retaken the city of Voinjama from LURD, just a few weeks after "chasing" the armed dissidents out of Tubmanburg. The outcome of the war is uncertain but if the LURD fighters have given up Voinjama, for whatever reasons, it opens a new era in the peace process. The end of hostilities in Voinjama should, in principle, bring relief to the populations of Lofa and neighboring counties and also force the government to work on peace building and reconciliation as it claims.

However, in our country of illogical happenings, this may not be the case. Peace and the end of the war between the government and LURD could lead to more confusion, just as the dozen of peace accords with the NPFL always opened the way to new confusions. The government of the NPFL has never been able to function in times of stability. It is against its nature and the persona of its leader. During its entire existence, the NPFL has never been able to work in a climate of peace and stability. It lives off violence and confusion, just as a virus that makes a living out of disease and decay. LURD was just the excuser it needed to continue its murky existence.

In response to the (public) letter of invitation sent around by the organizing committee of the reconciliation conference, Counselor Mohamedu Jones raises some important issues dealing with basic governance matters as well as the way forward in finding long term remedies to the ills of the country.

Liberia, by all means, is now stranded in a nightmare, with weak and voracious leader who has created so many small monsters around him that comes what may, he will never be able to shake himself out of the hole he dug himself into.

Among his many proposals, Counselor Jones asked President Taylor to call on the United Nations to effectively take over the country during the electoral process. He suggests that the government formally invites the UN and give the international body the mandate to organize the 2003 elections. Counselor Jones says, "The mandate requires the establishment of a system of laws, procedures and administrative measures necessary for the holding of free and fair election, as well as the actual administration of the electoral process." Putting this into work is tantamount to putting Taylor out of commission. It would mean that the UN would control the information system, the campaign process, the distribution of funds, the training and dispatching of election officers, the counting of the ballots and the publication of the results. Would Taylor submit to such ever?

Cllr. Jones also calls for the establishment of a code of conduct for civil servants. That code would put everyone under scrutiny, beginning with the president, down to the assistant minister. It means that every person working for the state would be held accountable for every action and penny they take on behalf of the government. Would Taylor ever submit to such ever?

Another point raised by Cllr. Jones is the end of unconstitutional and illegal detentions. This has been a trademark of any Liberian administration. Can Taylor put a stop to it? Not if he has a corrupt and brutal judiciary that seems to make no distinction between orders from the top and the constitutional rights of the citizenry. The NPFL has not evolved one inch since it moved from Gbarnga to Monrovia. If it has made any moves, it would be in the wrong direction of indecency, corruption and violence.

Asking a NPFL government to submit to a "moral" code of conduct means calling for its disbandment. The saying in Monrovia now is "grab what you can because nobody knows how long this would last." Is anyone surprised that Fatu White, the Director of Customs and Excise had a stash of US$200,000 (stolen) in her home when nobody in the country, including the president's personal guards, has received salary in the past 10 months?

The lack of accountability turns a government into a criminal enterprise. As long as members of the gang are loyal and devoted to the head, they are guaranteed impunity. In the NPFL government, since 1997, the only thing that has ever mattered has been the absolute loyalty to the Chief. As long as heads of state enterprises, such as the National Port Authority, Telecom, the Maritime Program paid their "dues" and "fines" to the Chief, everything was acceptable. This also extended to other areas where money was not the issue but control of the political process was at stake. The Ministry of Information, after Joe Mulbah, became a center of intellectual harassment and racketeering. The Police became a center of torture and the Ministry of Justice the house of lies for justification of the unconstitutional behavior of the government.

As a constitutional lawyer, Counselor Jones does not ask Taylor to resign but if the government were to implement any of the measures he proposes, the NPFL would be out of business and Liberia would regain her dignity.

The most recent report released by the International Crisis Group complement what Counselor Jones put forward: Liberians must find a way out for Taylor. Liberia has passed the stage of dialogue with Taylor. There might be many people in the NPFL who could still serve Liberia but the current leadership has committed too many crimes, has been involved in too many bad deals and has created too many enemies for itself to be able to participate in any credible reconciliatory process. The NPFL has squandered all any goodwill at home and abroad. This situation leaves very few options, among which:

1. The international community, with the help of ECOWAS, could bring in a peace stabilizing force and creates a "conducive atmosphere" for free and fair elections. This would be an option only if Taylor submits to the total disarmament of his militia. With the sacrosanct "sovereignty blanket", he would find a way not to. As long as NPFL is armed, Taylor would not lose any elections in Liberia.

2. A group of officers of the army or one of the multiple layers of security apparatus takes over. We are back to square 1, circa 1980. A worse case scenario that could follow the Congo (DRC) logic: little Taylor to replace bigger Taylor.

3. The war crime tribunal indicts Taylor and the international community launches an arrest warrant against him. He becomes a wounded lion in his den, turning the country into a cave where every human life is as disposable as toilet tissue. He could be there for a long time, rearming and creating new militias. Experience has shown that beleaguered countries and leaders always find arms, because there are plenty of bombs, mines and mercenaries to sustain any dictatorship as long as there is cash, diamond or gold.

Liberians find themselves now in the situation of the guy with his hand in the mouth of the tiger. How to get rid of the current dictatorship without creating any further hardship for the country? How to move on from the trauma of the 1990s without creating new wounds? The idea of a war crimes tribunal is a just one. Nobody should get away with the death of 250,000 other humans. Any genuine reconciliation calls for justice. The process of reconciliation goes through phases that include the recognition of wrongdoing, the request for pardon and the granting of pardon. The problem is that in Liberia, most of those who killed and enriched themselves during the 10 years of the national tragedy are either in power or arrogantly sitting some place else and enjoying the fruits of their crimes.

A combination of suggestions by Cllr. Jones and the ICG may be a solution. It would mean that Liberians put all their efforts, wherever they are, to ensure that peace returns to the country. This becomes possible with the exit of LURD. An indicted Taylor or a Taylor under the threat of indictment would cling to power for ever, just as Admiral Ratsiraka of Madagascar clung to power until he and his closest comrades in crimes were given a way out. Is there a way to let Taylor go, with the assurances that Liberians will regain control of their destiny?

This would entail granting Taylor and his people a blanket amnesty. It would also mean civil society and political parties working with ECOWAS and the international community to get Taylor off the hook as far as the Sierra Leone War Crime Tribunal is concerned. Kenya is embarking on the same road, giving Arap Moi all the money and immunities he wants, as long as he goes away. Nothing in this would stop the next government from setting up a truth and reconciliation commission to work out a healing process with those who are salvageable. Letting Taylor go would not be an act of cowardice, it simply means that for the national good, it may be a much easier way out. In as much as an indictment is an appealing possibility, it could drag on for years and open the door to unforeseeable difficulties.

In some circles, there are talks of creating "a level playing field" and the holding of elections but this would only work without Taylor's participation. Now that the LURD equation may be out of the picture, the focus should be to make sense of the proposals put forth by Counselor Jones and the ICG.

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