The Missing Link
By Abdoulaye W. Dukule
March 27, 2002
From what we read so far out of the Abuja meeting, at least two things stand out:
1. The government took a grand stand and downplayed the conference, terming it simply as a prelude to the “national reconciliation conference” in July 2002. The president did not deem it worth his presence and sent very non-political Dr. Roland Massaquoi, a man nobody ever saw at any of the myriad of peace talks of the 1990s.
2. The opposition seems to have reached a deadlock after finding out that their personal differences pale in comparison to what is waiting for them at home, that is Charles Taylor. Their major concern was to take the agenda away from Taylor, not letting him be the one to set the tone of the talks. Friends and foes from within and outside of Liberia hammered a statement that underlined the major concerns of all and sent it forward to the government and to international and regional organizations.
At this point, both sides can claim having accomplished their aims. The government showed up and talked about its reconciliation conference and the opposition was able to palpate the magnitude of the problems ahead.
This is where things get complicated for the opposition. How to go forward from here and reach to the 2003 elections? Can anything be built around the “momentum” of rediscovery of common goals in Abuja? What are the mechanisms put in place to implement any of the recommendations of the Abuja meeting?
Our recent comments here before and after the meeting sounded pessimistic or scary but the idea was to make all aware of the shortcomings of the process. Charles Taylor knows how to buy time and that’s just what he is doing. He will end up putting in place all the demands of the opposition but only according to his schedule. The opposition is therefore caught in a game where it could only win by calling the bluff of the Taylor, by taking the agenda from him and using it.
The most notable thing in the document signed by the 29 participants is that the most vocal members of the opposition and potentially dangerous for the Taylor regime, either militarily or through the democratic process are out of the country. In his piece published here, Alhaji Kromah spoke of the stooges that Taylor has put at the helm of many opposition parties in Monrovia to manipulate and disrupt the meeting in Abuja. These two facts point in one direction: nothing viable is to be expected from this meeting besides the event itself.
What is left to be done?
There are many ways of dealing with the situation but the first and the most urgent is to wrestle the agenda from Taylor and ensure that his July conference does not become the starting point of the “reconciliation process.” That means the opposition, rather than focusing on personality issues and their own candidacies must start making their presence felt at home on the ground.
This may sound risqué but there is no other way around it. Taylor declared amnesty for all those (wrongly) accused of trying to overthrow him through violence, he said he was open to dialogue and working with all Liberians for peace and development. The Taylor regime is at its weakest on the international scene. It is awaiting the UN decision on the sanctions and the travel ban is biting the member of the kitchen cabinet. There is a serious malaise in the government itself. ATU has not received pay for months and AFL has been unpaid for more than a year. It is a different show in Monrovia, notwithstanding what government may make people believe. This is the ideal time to test Taylor. This is not to test his sincerity but his instinct for survival. The NPP cannot afford to lift a finger on any visible opposition member at this time.
The fear of confronting Taylor has now become a conditioning factor in Liberian politics and those aspiring to wrestle power from the NPP must work now to break that cycle of fear. Those who are seeking security blanket from Taylor to go to Monrovia will probably be here for a long time. Even if Taylor cannot touch opposition members, he would maintain the fear and the potential danger over everyone’s head until he gets what he wants.
Going to Monrovia now is a very big risk. Benigno S. Aquino, in 1979, braved Marcos in the Philippines and returned home, knowing the dangers he faced. He was shot as he stepped out of the airplane. But in the aftermath, his wife Coranzo Cojuangco Aquino became the symbol of a new social revolution that toppled Marcos and changed the Philippines for good.
It is a risk but the presidency never comes on a platter. Just ask around.
In conclusion, Liberia is not on anyone’s front burner at this time, either in Africa where people are busy working to put together NEPAD or the AU or in the international community where the only fight that matters now is the one against terrorism. Change could only come from within. Nobody would pay for a peacekeeping force in Liberia, unless Taylor himself decides to dismantle his army and militia because they have now become a burden. No matter how we see it, there is an elected government on the ground. If we don’t like that government, it is up to us to change it. Liberians seem to have all agreed on the need for democratic change. We must stop being naïve in thinking that ECOWAS would again spend billions of dollars to put together a new ECOMOG. Those aspiring to lead the battle must take risks beyond going to secure locations for meetings that would lead nowhere.
There is no way opposition members can conduct effective political changes in Liberia while in exile. Our ability to live and adopt in the US is a cursed blessing, because then Liberia becomes a weekend issue for many, between jobs, weddings and funerals. And that does not help the peace process at home.
Taylor at this point cannot afford another “Dokie”. He needs the presence of the opposition more than ever. It is just about calling his bluff.
The person who is brave enough to go to Monrovia now, open office and start putting together a political machine, work with grassroots organizations and civil rights movements and set a national agenda, can be assured of the vote of Ma Fatu. Peace and elections would take place in Liberia and only in Liberia.
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