LURD, UN Sanctions and Elections 2003 (Part II)

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 17, 2002

Just a few hours after the publication of my article on LURD and the UN Sanctions, I received more than my share of phone calls and emails. Friends, old acquaintances used all types of words to express their disapproval of my ideas on the sanctions and the war. They stopped short of accusing me of having sold out to the NPFL regime. Rather than call all my friends back or email them, I chose to offer a public response.

I would not attempt to justify my position towards the NPFL regime nor my personal views on how I think we should walk out of this political deadlock, which benefits only the Taylor government and the LURD dissidents who are controlling a whole region of the country and are accountable to nobody. I would simply tell my critics that they have jumped to conclusions, because they have adopted the unilateral view that "what hurts Taylor is good for the country". The issues I have raised are not fictional, but rather historical. One can go one step further and one raise more questions:

1. When was the last time, in modern times sanctions have led to the overthrow of any government? My examples were very clear: Iran, Libya, North Korea and Cuba have all been under sanctions for decades at a time but none of these governments were ever overthrown by the "people." There are millions of Cubans in US, with one of the strongest national lobbies in this country. They have an elaborate network and a strong and visible body of electors. But, notwithstanding their lobbying and hatred for the regime in Cuba, Fidel Castro has been president since he overthrew the Batista regime in 1959, some 43 years ago. Cuba is only a stone throw from US borders. If sanctions have not overthrown Castro, why do we think it would cripple the Liberian government? First of all, we must never forget that sanctions imposed on the NPFL government were not meant to save Liberians from dictatorship but to stop our government from meddling in the affairs of Sierra Leone.

2. Do sanctions really work? In the recent report from the UN, there are allegations that Liberia imported 200 tons of arms and ammunitions. The report also states that some fictitious Nigerian entity facilitated the deals. Is this a surprise? Liberia has been under arms embargo since the UN imposed sanctions on the NPFL in 1992 after the ECOWAS summit in Dakar, following the murder of Senegalese peacekeepers. But the reality is that there was never a shortage of guns, bullets and other lethal weapons in Liberia, for the NPFL, ULIMO, INPFL, LPC, LDF, LURD, etc. Is there a UN mechanism to enforce the sanctions? Is there anyone in the sub-region charged with the responsibility of watching and stopping the flow of arms? Why don't we hear about breach of sanctions until the time comes for review? Who makes the arms that find their way in the hands of the belligerents to kill innocent Liberians? In 1992, after the interim government imposed unilateral sanctions on the NPFL held territory, petroleum products to maintain the NPFL war machine came from Nigeria, facilitated by Liberians and Nigerian businessmen. Once a country is under sanctions, there are many thousands of shady business people who enrich themselves by organizing a very lucrative trade. We are being naïve in thinking that UN sanctions would ever stop the flow of arms into Liberia.

It is easy to accuse each other of being unpatriotic or not understanding the issues. As a writer and someone who has been deeply involved in the peace process and spent many years working on the issues, I am just saying, "let's ask ourselves new sets of questions because the old ones get us nowhere." Liberia is now abandoned to Taylor and nobody really cares about where it is headed. Sanctions would not make elections any easier next year. LURD would not bring a solution acceptable to any of us.

Sanctions and LURD may hurt Taylor but they do not help the cause of peace and reconciliation in Liberia. The problems we are faced with are caused by the inability of the Taylor government to work for the benefit of all Liberians rather than focus on individual and petty partisan interests. How to break the cycle of violence? How do we go from here? The issue is not about favoring Taylor or disliking LURD, it is about finding out what works for the great majority of Liberians.

We must examine our own underlying psychological motivations. It is so easy to justify exile by blaming the government at home. Sanctions, war and a bad press come in handy to make us feel good about being in exile and wanting to stay here in America. Many Liberians would not spend another night here if there was peace at home but thousands more would fight to stay here, because America offered them the possibilities they could never have at home. The war has forced many into America who would have certainly not come here, it has forced many who had investments, many who had good jobs and great social positions that find themselves locked in pitiful living conditions. There are also people who have been here since the 1970s and who are "scared" to go home.

There are many who, in exile for two to three decades, are still fighting battles that have long been resolved at home. In analyzing our history and conflict, we must take all that into account.

As an advisor to Interim President Amos Sawyer in the 1990s, I attended at least three dozens peace meetings on Liberia, from Dakar to Abuja, from Akassombo to Bamako. At most of these meetings, Liberians spoke at each other through "sponsors", interpreters and the press. Taylor NPFL spoke to us through Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire and we at IGNU spoke at the NPFL through Nigeria and Guinea or Sierra Leone. And it went on and on. People and countries pursued their own personal and national agendas, using Liberia and Liberians to enrich themselves or settle scores. The real breakthrough and a real chance to peace came when we Liberians sat together and spoke directly to each other in Geneva in June 1993. I remember one day we sat there for 26 hours, non-stop, sleeping on shift in the conference room but talking and arguing. It was in Geneva that we confronted each other's fears and hopes and reached the conclusions that we were all Liberians and that only us, not ECOWAS or the UN or the US could save Liberia from Liberians and for Liberians.

We must have the courage to question old concepts. And recognize that the solution to Liberian problems would come from Liberians and Liberians alone, because, in truth and reality, nobody, in Washington or Paris, gives a "tooth" about what happens to Liberia. And in our search for solution, we must leave no stone unturned, including shaking up our safe sense of truth and righteousness.

Ultimately, it would come down to a dialogue between Liberians to solve our problems. The sooner we realize that, the more lives and infrastructures we will save. It is not about Taylor or LURD, it is not about what the UN or the US says, but rather what works for Liberia, from a Liberian perspective, in all honesty and with some creativity. If we don't want Taylor and his gang to continue looting our country, we must find a way to get rid of them without hurting innocent people in the process.

Can we find a way to stop Taylor from seeking a second mandate? How can we do it? What would it cost us? What price are we willing to pay? Do we want LURD to "rule" Liberia until we find new Liberators? Do we favor a violent end to dictatorship or do we have the means to topple it by democratic means?

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