Missing the Point: The West African Crises

By Charles Kwalonue Sunwabe, Jr.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

July 1, 2003

Again, the West African Republic of Liberia has collapsed into total chaos and hooliganism characterized by wanton killings, ethnic cleansing and the destruction of personal properties. As expected, the pundits are out with another round of analysis and predictions---pointing in the direction of peace, the formation of a national government of unity, the formation of a Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Committee and the disarmament of all combatants to the Liberian madness. Most importantly, the long-awaited indictment against the brutal and criminal President of Liberia is finally here. Most disappointing however, some African leaders and their nugatory organizations (the African Union, ECOWAS, etc.) rallied to protect a villain.

The sad thing about the recent development in West Africa is that almost everyone including our pundits, writers, ECOWAS negotiators, AU representatives, etc., missed the point----their analysis, predictions and projections fell short. Mr. David Crane unsealed an indictment against Liberia’s criminal President Charles McArthur Taylor in a timely manner, isolating a mass murderer whose handi-works extend far beyond Liberia’s borders to include African states such as Guinean, Gambia, Sierra Leone and now the Ivory Coast.

Although the indictment was timely, Mr. David Crane made a mistake that was costly. He apparently failed to engage in prior diplomatic negotiation with Ghanaian authorities. Mr. Crane missed this opportunity and apparently relied on African leaders to execute the Special UN-Sierra Leonean Tribunal arrest warrant. By relying on African leaders to help bring culprits of international crimes to justice, Mr. Crane missed the point! He and UN Security General, Kofi Annan need to find a better way to enforce arrest warrants against those African leaders who bear the greater responsibility for the genocide committed against African humanity in these Mano River countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

With enough said about Mr. Crane’s error, it now makes sense to return to the West African crises. The West African madness and other armed conflicts that have engulfed the African Continent for the past twelve years can be construed in the context of the unintended consequences of the disruption of the international political system that held the world together---beginning with the rise of the Soviet Union and the United States of America as the dominant powers in world affairs after the demise of NAZI Germany in 1945. As we all know, the so-called Cold War ended in 1991 with the demise of the Soviet Union and the ascendance of the United States of America to the position of global dominance, especially in economic and military terms. The demise of the Soviet Union or the disruption of the international system in 1991 coincided with the proliferation of armed insurgencies, the demands for democratization and economic reforms.

On the African Continent, regimes that once relied on either the Soviet Union or the United States of America for essential economic and military assistance were abandoned---those African states were no longer regarded as essential to the interests of either power. Concomitantly, the only surviving super power (the United States of America) decamped from Africa choosing to focus its resources and attention to Eastern Europe and the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. Two reasons accounted for this dramatic change in US-African relations: ethnic or racial affinity mandated that post Cold War US policy be pro Europe (the vast majority of Americans trace their roots to Europe). Most importantly, the threats of the proliferation of nuclear technology and weapon demanding immediate US attention---former Soviet nuclear states were promptly engaged. As US aid dollar and economic assistance shifted towards the former Soviet states and Eastern Europe, there was literally no room left on the radar screen of American policymakers for Africa---the troubled continent simply ceased to exist.

In Africa, dictatorial regimes and regimented military rulers were too slow to respond to the changing waves of the international system---these dictators clung onto power although they had lost international and domestic legitimacy. In some countries such as Togo, Gabon, etc., African leaders failed to acquiesce to the demands for political inclusion and economic reforms and resorted to disappointing displays of political foot dragging. In African states where attempts were made to democratize, African dictators maintained their regimes through bizarre constitutional technicalities and the hosting of fraudulent elections. In some cases, autocratic regimes simply replaced themselves with cronies----measurable and beneficial democratic reforms were thwarted. The net result of Africa’s second drive to democracy has been disappointing to say the least----fewer African states constitute pluralistic democracy in contemporary terms. When democratization became very elusive in Africa in the early 1990s, the African Continent was set on a collision course---the competing interests of avarice driving the politicians, warlords and political opportunists led to violent confrontations that manifested themselves in the domain of civil and ethnic wars that remain prevalent in most contemporary African states, particularly the West African sub-region. These civil, ethnic and resource wars are spontaneous, pronounced and devastating---they have destroyed Africa’s limited infrastructure, robbed Africa of its future leaders and continued to enrich a few.

One of the sad things about Africa’s growing wars is that they are fought in states that are characterized as failed states----failed states cannot provide internal security for their own citizens. They are completely incapable of providing basic necessities such as food, medicine, jobs, etc., for their citizenry. Worst of all, their borders are widely opened and can be penetrated by any group of individuals who can organize ragtag armies, mount concerted military pressure and extracts scarce national resources for self enrichment and military warfare. In the case of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast, these states have come under military attacks from their own former employees---Taylor, Foday Sankoh, Robert Gui and the mainly northern Ivorian army officers who led rebellion. Considering the inability of failed states to defend their borders and people, civil wars that are fought in one or two states are likely to have far reaching cross-borders and international consequences. For example, Mr. Charles Taylor was able to sponsor rebels into neighboring Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast----except for the failed Liberian-Guinean cross border attacks, Taylor’s surrogates met very little resistance from the Sierra Leonean and Ivorian armies. Guinea on the other hand, reciprocated Taylor’s efforts by allegedly sponsoring the current Liberian rebels known as LURD.

In an environment characterized by continuing warfare and violence, how can the West African melee be resolved, thus restoring long term stability to Western Africa? Political stability is urgently needed to jump start the stagnated West African economy and to give Africans in general and West African in particular something to live for and look up to.

This is where the title of this article comes in----missing the point. In deed, Africans and the international community are missing the point woefully---- political pandering or catering to the narrowly defined interests of Africa’s mad men who understand no other language but guns, mass murder and theft of public wealth will not end Africa’s growing wars. So long as Africans and the international community allow bandits and men who have demonstrated repeatedly that they have the proclivity to commit crimes against humanity to run amuck, Africa will continue to be a continent of lamentable human misery.

So how can we proceed in West Africa and beyond? Well, no one person has definitive answers to this question. However, I love to draw the world’s attention to a comprehensive conflict resolution agenda for Africa, particularly West Africa. When I speak of comprehensive peace and conflict resolution for West Africa, I’m really saying that the competing interests of Africa’s criminal political elite and the brutal rebels who have killed scores of West Africans must be subordinate to the interests of the West African electorates----the plights of the indigent population of West Africa and Liberian in particular should be our focal point in Ghana now and beyond. These poor masses from which democratic powers and the right to be governed should emanate, need to be seriously consulted before any government is ushered into office be it in squalid Monrovia or in other parts of the African Continent.

The time has come for us Africans to now involve the totality of our society in the discourse on the future of our continent not to mention the conflict prone West African region. Again, I want to point out here that the interests of Liberia’s dehumanized masses are as simple as being able to move around freely, to cultivate lands and sell vegetable and other crops in an environment that is free of intimidation, harassment and military banditry----- they want to be able to send their kids to school with the meager resources available to them.

In light of the current Ghanaian-led Liberian peace talks, one might be tempted to say that we (Liberians) just do not have the boldness necessary to get things right for our country, thus ending almost thirteen years of avarice-driven catastrophe. Now, all sorts of weird, listless proposals and pure artifice are being seriously entertained in Ghana as lasting solutions to our madness. For some of those gathered in Ghana under the umbrella of the Liberian opposition, it seems that replacing the current morally bankrupt and dictatorial regime is the most important thing----the maintenance of political positions through draconian means has replaced common sense in Ghana. And, some of our already failed politicians seem to be positioning themselves for a transitional Liberian government.

Again, there is nothing wrong with the noble idea of replacing the Taylor regime with an inclusive transitional or interim government. But, it is disappointing to hear some of our self proclaimed opposition leaders contending that any interim/transitional administration installed in dilapidated Monrovia should last for a period of six to twelve months before elections are held in Liberia. Why this short time? Haven’t we had enough yet? Off course, well intentioned Liberians would argue that two years of transitional administration seems about right. This six months-one year contention seems to suggest to me that it is business as usual----the goal here is to have the autocratic and criminally indicted regime of martinet Charles Taylor replaced with their own political order, although some of the individuals claiming to be politicians have been buried in Taylor’s pocket in economically depressed Liberia for well over five years. So far, other issues demanding equal if not immediate attention seem to have been shoved under the discussion table.

Listening to some of our politicians on the BBC’s focus on Africa program is annoying and bespeaks of a clear and coming danger. Some of these Monrovia -based opposition men are not only in the President’s pocket but their interviews and presentations so far reflect intellectual ineptitude and it seems that these guys are devoid of vision and the resolve necessary to move Liberia forward.

Okay, so much for the politicians! Let’s take a look at our newest liberators— LURD and MODEL. These two factions are seated comfortably at the peace table in Ghana----they function under acronyms that sound democratic, but their actions are anything but democratic. They are as bad as the regime they seek to replace. Their objective at the conference is to impose themselves on us through the barrels of guns----one just has to listen to LURD’s commander, Mr. Sekou Damate Conneh, to know exactly where we are headed. More trouble lies ahead if we Liberians sit by idly in exile in America, Europe and on the Africa Continent and allow people who are mainly interested in obtaining state power through violence and intimidation, to deliberate on our future without our input. Again, I want to state emphatically that we are painfully missing the point. What we (Liberians) desperately need is the expansion of the mandate and authority of the current UN Peacekeeping force and the Special War Crime Court in Sierra Leone to cover Liberia. In this way, all crimes committed against humanity (in Liberia) since Charles Taylor plunged Liberian into hooliganism in 1989 can be investigated.

It makes perfect sense to adopt this approach, and the reasons are not difficult to discern: Sierra Leone cannot be peaceful unless the Liberian Civil War is permanently resolved. Furthermore, the Sierra Leonean atrocities, when compared to those of Liberia pales in scope and intensity----I’m not being insensitive to my Sierra Leonean folks in any way. Rather, I’m saddened by the fact that the world would choose to punish crimes committed against humanity in one African state and refuse to do the same in a sister African state where crimes of greater intensity and magnitude were committed. Why this indifference to the plights and outcry for international justice in Liberia? Is the world saying that the lives of Liberia’s victims of genocide and sexual slavery are not important? Are Liberians not endowed with the same inalienable rights as other freedom loving people of the world? If Liberians are humans who are entitled to protection under international law, especially during times of combat, then why is it that the world has abandoned us?

My earnest plea is for the international community to indict Liberian warlords including Alhaji G. V. Kromah, General Prince Y. Johnson, General Roosevelt Johnson, Charles Taylor and now Mr. Sekou Damate Conneh and the stealth leader of MODEL for the crimes that they (Liberian Warlords) have committed against us (Liberians) for the past thirteen years. Is anyone listening? I hope so because we are at a crucial juncture in the history of Liberia and Africa in general----bad leaders can now be indicted for their nefarious acts. I sure hope that the international community is not missing the point again----African warlords and governments should be held accountable in a court of international law and for the many crimes that they (African leaders) have foolishly committed against their own people since the vast majority of African states won independence in the early 1960s.

From what I have gathered so far, it seems that the international community is sadly missing the point----it is naively assuming that African despots would hold one of their own accountable for crimes committed against humanity. But as the Ghanaian Government has recently demonstrated, African leaders are not yet ready to stand up for the rights of any African electorate. Worse yet, there are very few contemporary Africans leaders who can boast of not having committed grotesque crimes against their own people---very few African leaders have the moral mandate to stand up for what is right and to help arrest and bring indicted African criminals to justice.

In the 1990s, nobody wanted to open up a continental debate on crimes committed against African humanity since doing that would have opened doors for human rights activists to seek international indictments against criminal African governments and warlords. The Cotonou Accord was simply a diversionary plot designed to strangulate justice----the time is now ripe and those of us who are victims of Liberian Warlords will now seek international indictments against them. Like the Cotonou Accord, the current agreement that is being negotiated in Ghana will not be heeded to by LURD, MODEL and the NPP Government. The international community, as well as all freedom loving Liberians, has a responsibility to the Liberian electorate----they need to make sure that all crimes committed in Liberian since 1989 are investigated and the culprits are punished for their crimes. The international community needs to adopt the U.S.--Iraq approach in Liberia: demand that Mr. Taylor, LURD, and MODEL disarm now or face serious military consequences.

Let me point out that it is in the best interest of the international community to engage Africa now and to adopt policies of moral and ethical fairness in dealing with African crises. To continue to ignore African crises is not in the best interest of the international community, particularly the Western hemisphere---- A failed and deteriorating Africa could serve as safe havens for drug traffickers, international economic criminals and terrorists who have painfully demonstrated that they (the terrorists) hate the West and its free market economy. The dictators of Africa need to be served blunt exit notice: relinquish power peacefully, democratize, or face stiff western and international isolation.

The West has tremendous leverage over African dictators and can do a great deal to help end the West African madness. For example, Western states can begin to withhold foreign direct aid from the remaining illegitimate West African dictators, urging them instead, to hold free and fair elections. Let me note that withholding direct foreign aid from an African dictator is not the same as withholding aid from the African masses. Foreign aid can be channeled to the African masses through other avenues----there are now plethoras of African NGOs operating on the continent. Reputable African NGOs are better suited to do the job---- the managerial records of African governments as far as foreign direct aid is concerned, remain dismal.

Again, I want to reiterate that West Africa needs a comprehensive peace plan. This seems to suggest to me that an international peacekeeping force that is robustly armed, and has a precise mandate to arrest all indicted war criminals needs to be deployed in Liberia----this force cannot be expected to come from the consortium of dictators in West Africa. Liberia has been and continues to be an integral member of the international community----the international community needs to act now to save its innocent masses from massacre. Every effort should be made to resist the imposition of LURD and MODEL on our country-----these so called liberators should be indicted for the senseless suffering they have brought on the Liberian people.