Mixed Reaction To Cletus Wotorson's Call
By Renford Engelbert Walsh
September 27, 2002
The recent call by Cletus Wotorson , published on The Perspective [see http://www.theperspective.org/aplea.html ] and www.Liberiaorbit.org [see http://www.liberiaorbit.org/lonewscletustonedown.htm ] for Liberians to tone down could not have come at a better time. That's because many of the discussions get personal and go down real "muddy" paths. There are a whole lot of things I could say regarding recent events but I prefer to select certain issues for discussion and I submit this commentary with mixed feelings about Wotorson's call.
For the record , I disagree with some of the things written by Ike Coleman . I think he wasn't fair to many of the "progressives" . I also think that he failed to note some of the contributions they made in the 1970's. I can name quite a number of persons who did a lot of positive things in the 1970's. Names like Amos Sawyer , Togba-Nah Tipoteh , and Patrick Seyon stand out . These were men who understood that they could not just challenge the TWP political apparatus without doing the necessary prep work. So, they focused first on conscientizing the multitude, they pressed for issues like accurate elections results [as exemplified by Seyon's reported doubts about the number of votes received by Tolbert in 1975], they worked for removal of the property clause to allow the majority to vote [as evident by Sawyer's prime focus during the 1979 municipal elections], and they advocated self-empowerment of the majority [as evident by Tipoteh et al's SUSUKUU] .
Some like Amos Sawyer and Dew Mayson wrote articles in the Liberian Research Association Journal , analyzing many of the social problems of the day and offered solutions. Most importantly, some of the progressives , specifically MOJA, had a long-term plan to challenge the TWP in what was supposed to be a 1983 presidential elections . So, when Ike Coleman suggested that the progressives did a lot of bad for Liberia , he was wrong . He was wrong then and he is wrong now and I am willing to debate him one on one at another time . In the meantime, I urge him to commence his re-education by searching for an article entitled " Capitalism and the Struggle for the Working Class" , co-authored by Sawyer and Mayson in 1979 but published later in 1981 . So, for the record, I have some serious reservations with what Ike Coleman said.
Notwithstanding my disagreement with Ike Coleman , somehow I can relate to the kind of issues that motivates him to cast the "progressives" into the waste basket. It appears that some of us are from the younger generation. Like Ike Coleman , who is in his 30's [at age 38] , I was born on March 31, 1970 so I am 32 years old . That indicates that the first President I knew was William R. Tolbert Jr . My best idea of the "good days" in Liberia was the Tolbert era. After that, many things went downhill even though there are some positive things associated with the Doe era so there are persons like me who are frustrated. Yes, we 're frustrated that some of those who challenged Tolbert in the past have done some of the very same things they opposed while others have shown that they were just plain old hypocrites. So, this breeds anger and frustration . That frustration , however, is exhibited in different ways. Some, like Ike Coleman, choose to relegate the entire effort of the progressives into the wastebasket while others like me choose to do a balancedanalysis by pointing out the positive contributions made by the "progressives"and criticizing them on issues where they appeared to be wrong . So, there are many of the younger generation out there who are angry with the older politicos . We just differ in our expression of that anger.
So, this brings me to my own beef with the older politicians. I took note of Mr. Wotorson's reference to a climate of "shortsightedness" . I also noted his reference to a repeat of some of the problems that the opposition faced in 1997 . On this one, he is right but I have mixed feelings about his remarks. Mixed feelings because I also believe that in some respects, a lot of the "experienced hands" seem to be shortsighted . So, let me go through a short list.
Let's start with Harry Greaves Jr. His recent remark that people seeking political office should return home and be prepared to take risks turns the efforts of the entire exiled opposition on its head. Why ? Because, the last time I checked, many of those who ran into exile had legitimate reasons for doing so. Don't get me wrong now. There are some folks who choose to live abroad and wait for the 11th hour to return home and contest the elections . However, there are others like Amos Sawyer, Commany Wesseh, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who chose to remain home at first but were forced to flee into exile after their lives were threatened and they were intimidated. So, Harry Greaves Jr either has a short memory or he has just awaken from a coma or maybe he was wrapped up in an Egyptian mummy during the last five(5) years . I mean -- why else would he say such things considering that ample evidence exists to show that people were forced to flee into exile ? So, evidently, he is shortsighted.
He is shortsighted because he fails to realize that in the event of any uproar in the Monrovia area, his life may not necessarily be preserved. While those currently controlling power , surrounded by their praetorian guard from the former NPFL may not have a beef with Greaves, there are others who may remember his days of affiliation with Quiwonkpa and the NPFL. Such people are not necessarily dead and some may wait for the right moment of chaos to settle old scores . This means that he may delude himself to think that he's safe for now but who knows what mayhappen in the distant future.
It's also hypocritical to watch Greaves suggests that some should take risks considering that he too has the experience of being in exile. If he disagrees, then I'd love to read his explanation of why he didn't take the risk of remaining in Liberia after the November 12, 1985 abortive coup/invasion ? So, on this note, I leave Harry Greaves Jr. with the record that I regard him as "shortsighted" at least on issues of security for the opposition .
So, the next question that follows is -- is shortsightedness restricted to Harry Greaves Jr. alone ? I ask this because from where I sit, I see a lot of things that make me to conclude that the exiled opposition coalition is also shortsighted. Let's look at a few examples. Let's commence with the issue of security for important persons during the elections. Pray tell me, what have the opposition suggested for other important personalities who are in exile but aren't necessarily involved in politics ? I refer to the security concerns of people like G. Alvin Jones, Henry Dubar, Edwin Taye, and other officials from the Doe administration. What about them ? Don't their lives count too or should we deceive ourselves to think that because they aren't contesting political races, that means they're safe ? I hope Wotorson and others can reflect on this.
And what about some of the exiled officials who date back to the Tolbert era. Names like Estrada Bernard and Florence Chenoweth stand out. Bernard was spared from the tragic moments of the coup because he was abroad at the time it occurred. Florence Chenoweth escaped the country somehow after the April 12 incident and to the best of my knowledge, folks like these have not resettled in Liberia. So, what about them? Any plans for consideration of their security ? What about former Secretary of State J. Rudolph Grimes who fled Liberia after the 1985 elections ? Isn't his life also precious for consideration of a security plan for Very Important Persons (VIP) ? Does he have to oppose Taylor too before he is considered ? Can anyone say with certainty that there aren't people back home who may be opposed to Taylor yet capable of targeting ex-Tolbert and ex-Tubman [as in the case of Grimes] personalities ?
What guarantees are there that even if Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf or Togba-Nah Tipoteh or Cletus Wotorson or Charles Brumskine were elected President in 2003 , there still won't be attacks on such personalities from others who won't even be associated with the successor to Taylor ? It means that there has to be consideration for the lives of others and the exiled politicians need to think far ahead and stop focusing the attention on themselves. There is a need to draft a plan that incorporates the interests of a lot of people, not just those who are actively opposed to Taylor. It will be expensive and manpower - intensive but it has to be drafted with the aim of balancing the forces among various categories of stakeholders and interested persons . Expect the list to include even controversial persons like Roosevelt Johnson, Prince Johnson, and Charles Julu . We can either guarantee their security or we can be embarrassed years later when another group of people choose to remain in exile long after Taylor is succeeded by his opponents.
To emphasize my point, let's take a hypothetical scenario of a day in 2004 or later when someone from the opposition replaces Charles Taylor as President. Would that automatically mean that former AFL Chief of Staff Henry Dubar would now be safe to travel by road from Monrovia to Zwedru and the rest of Grand Gedeh ? Can anyone in the exiled opposition coalition convince me and the public that he could easily pass through Nimba County without any concerns of harm ? If not, then what about him ? Should we wait until he is targeted by some who are former affiliates of the NPFL before we remember in hindsight that a security plan should have been crafted to accommodate a much larger group of people ? If so, then I'll say that those who are only concerned about themselves -- the active opposition to Taylor -- are short-sighted.
Maybe, some may not appreciate what I'm getting at so let me give an example of how the return of a person like Dubar may affect the entire peace process. If Dubar were to return home ,travel as far as Grand Gedeh and return to the U.S. , there would be Krahn folks from around America who would flood his telephone line and/or email asking him questions. Expect questions like the following : "My man, how does Zwedru look like ? " " Did you see Uncle Tarlue? " "How is my brother, Dweh?" "What 's the situation like in Jarwieken?"
These are logical questions and some of the names referred to, like 'Tarlue' and 'Dweh', are fictional , chosen only because they are names used by some people from that region yet plausible because many people abroad long for the day when they will return home to their villages and mingle with their people , even if it is for just a week . Some long for the day when they would have the opportunity to drink some cold Club Beer on Liberian soil so their aspirations would not be unfounded. Yet, it seems that they have been forgotten by the opposition. The opposition is so concerned about removing Taylor, it hasn't even stopped to think that if they could guarantee Dubar 's security , that could stimulate a sort of "multiplying effect" based on the fact that his bold act would inspire a lot of his tribesmen to return home and Liberia would truly be on the road to re-unification.
Now, I have cited Dubar but the list, as explained earlier, is much longer. Names like Edwin Taye, Cheayee Doe, former Foreign Minister J. Rudolph Johnson, former Information Minister Emmanuel Bowier, and so many others from the past need to feel free to return. If they can return , others may follow but my hunch is that even if Taylor were succeeded by one of the opposition figures , there may still not be enough guarantees for their safety which means that we'll be back at square one. So, I'll stop on that note about shortsightedness example #1.
So, what about example number #2? Let's take a look at the opposition suggestions to the Government to restructure the Elections Commission. The opposition continues to regurgitate calls for expanding the role of the opposition on the Commission . Unfortunately, their focus has been directed mainly at the head of the Commission and not the entire Commission as a whole. People have apparently forgotten that the Elections Commission , by law, is supposed to be much larger based on its decentralization . So, a mere change in the configuration at the headquarters wouldn't necessarily guarantee free and fair elections. All it shows is cosmetic change . It's like washing one's face and claiming that one has had a full bath even though the rest of the body may spew noxious fumes from foul odor on a dirty, sweaty body . That would be ludicrous!
To illustrate my point further, it's important to cull a bit of information from the Elections Laws in the statutes. According to the Elections laws enshrined in Volume III of the Liberian Code Revised , the combination of laws enacted as far back as 1976 and during preparations for the elections of the mid- 1980's shows something else which may have been overlooked by the opposition. Section 2.1 of the laws reads as follows :
"1. Officers of the Special Elections Commission shall be composed of a Coordinator/s; a Registrar of Electors/s; a Clerk/s; a Sheriff/s and other Poll Workers. Each of such persons shall be appointed by the Commission."
"2. The Coordinator shall serve as Laison[sic] between the Special Elections Commission and the County/Territory he represents. Each such person shall comply with all general or special directions and/or instructions of the Commission. "
"3. The Registrar of Electors, Clerk/s, a Sheriff and other Poll Workers shall be assigned by the Commission to each registration center or polling place who shall carry out the duties assigned to him/her by the Commission and this Law in connection with the Registration of Electors, or the holding of the poll as the case may be . "
So, what this means is that in the past decades, considerations were made for decentralization of the Elections Commission. Accordingly, the Elections Commission is far greater [or should be far greater] than the one comprising Cllr. Paul Guah and four(4) other members. Those are just the tip of the iceberg. There is obviously a need to decentralize the entire Elections Commission throughout the country otherwise the opposition may find itself crying foul in the future when it discovers that the incumbent party deployed its operatives throughout the country to manipulate the elections results. And the next thing we'll all know is that there will be a return to square one. More bitterness. More excuses to launch civil wars from neighboring countries, and many other associated problems. So, it bothers me when I see opposition figures being so "shortsighted" [to use Wotorson's words] that they haven't even mentioned the issue of neutralization of the Elections Commission throughout the country and not just at the top. So, tell me , why should I trust such people as alternatives to lead Liberia after Taylor ?
The situation gets worse when one considers that there has to be a high number of polling centers for voting . Again, the same elections laws I referred to indicate in section 4.1 that " Unless the Commission in any particular case so determine, the number of registered electors in any voting precinct shall not exceed one thousand ".
This is very important because when we consider the last elections of 1997 which catered to over 600,000 registered voters even at a time when about 25 % of the population was in exile , we should expect the number of registered voters to increase based on the fact that additional citizens have grown to reach the minimum voting age of 18 as well as the fact that some Liberians returned home after the elections. So, let's say for argument sake that it turns out there would be about 1 million registered voters. What this means is that we'll need 1,000 polling centers. What this also means is that we'll need several thousand elections officers because each polling center must have at least one (1) registrar, at least one (1) clerk, and other poll workers as required from section 2.1 of the statutes I referred to earlier . So, this is an issue that can't be overlooked. This just further bolsters my argument that the opposition is "shortsighted" when it comes to neutralizing even the Elections Commission.
If aspiring leaders don't even have the foresight to recognize the enormity of the task in neutralizing the Elections Commission as a starter, then what about other problems like catering to the interests of handicapped voters ? What about dealing with issues in the interest of illiterate voters ? Evidently, a whole lot more needs to be done other than mere repetition of the same mantra calling for neutralization of ECOM only at the top.
Without saying much further, I can say that my estimates run as high as about 8,000 ECOM workers that we'll need but I shall provide justifications at another date, hopefully within the next few weeks . For now, let the opposition reflect on the above and at least verify the existence of the statutes I referred to above. There may be arguments about whether the 1984 laws, especially based on references to a
"Special Elections Commission", apply as evident by a past disagreement on the issue between two lawyers - Fonati Kofa and Mohamedu Jones . However, what is important to note is that we need thousands of election workers. I therefore challenge anyone of the exiled opposition to refute my claims on this one .
I could go on and on and point out a lot of flaws about the opposition but time constraints won't permit me. So, all I want is for Wotorson and others to realize that this is the dawn of a new era and that NOT everyone sings the mantra of "Taylor must go!! ". This whole idea of hoping that people band together to challenge Taylor is just wishful thinking because in the eyes of some of us, many of the opposition figures haven't demonstrated that they have blueprints for reform and this for my reference to them as "clueless" back in summer 2002 [see my commentary at
http://www.newdemocrat.org/other/foreoignpofunding.htm] . They are just as "clueless" on many policy issues as Charles Taylor .
Take the issue of national security reform . I sometimes wonder what safeguards would the opposition install to ensure that human rights abuses are diminished ? What measures would they take to recruit their right quality of people? What salaries would they pay the security forces ? What would be the overall troop strength of the Armed Forces ? Will there be considerations for the establishment of an Air Force and a Navy or will we return to that "mess" that we refer to as the Armed Forces of Liberia?
It's one thing to criticize Taylor all year long but it's another to realize that the problems that face Liberia are far more complex than the debate on Taylor versus 'no Taylor'. In the eyes of some of us, the opposition hasn't shown us a roadmap to get us out of this mess and I will be one person who will NEVER sign on to any bandwagon which can not demonstrate that it represents the "real deal".
There are so many issues that need to be considered. Issues like opposition objectives on policy matters like better student -teacher ratios, dollar-pupil ratios, physician-patient ratios, and other education and health indicators. The opposition hasn't told us yet how they would tackle many of these longstanding problems . They haven't told us how long it would take to tackle such problems. They haven't even addressed issues like the kind of salaries that would be paid to teachers, doctors, nurses, janitors, drivers, messengers, and other government employees. What are they waiting for ? Should they remove Taylor from office before conducting the research and displaying the blueprints? No, that won't sell!!! And I don't think the Liberian people will have patience for people to use positions of power to research such issues. Research should be done prior to accession to office . Thereafter, the focus should beon IMPLEMENTATION and POLICY REVIEW .
We want blueprints now and I believe that even foreign policy makers and analysts at the U.S. State Department, the CIA, and elsewhere are all awaiting such blueprints. I'm sure there are many persons who sit in 'Foggy Bottom' and 'Langley' awaiting the plans for the opposition. It's like the American commercial which features children in a mini-van asking their parents : " Are we there yet ? " Questions of such nature are asked by policy makers in Washington, DC but there's disillusionment in the metro community, as well as places like the International Crisis Group , that the opposition is not prepared. We haven't seen the blueprints yet opposition bigwigs continue to "lecture" us about the need to forge a coalition to oppose Taylor. This is wrong and insulting as far as I'm concerned. This also breeds suspicions among some that the opposition may be pushing for an interim government in order to avoid embarrassment when it becomes obvious to the world that they are "clueless" like the incumbent.
As I said earlier, time constraints would not permit me to say all in this commentary so let me close by reminding the opposition figures that they need to do a lot more to engender the kind of support they want or they should expect more "Ike Colemans" to emerge to challenge the status quo. Many of us in the younger generation are prepared to debate others in the older generation on issues. It happened in the 1970's when Sawyer et al challenged Tolbert and the older generation of men born prior to World War II and it will happen in this decade as some of us challenge those who remember the Tubman era vividly.
I also expect it to happen two decades from now when a new generation challenges mine . That new generation would include those born around the start of the civil war and they won't be in the mood to listen to mere track records of challenges to Doe and Taylor as the qualifications for leadership. They would demand a lot more and either we'll give them what they request or tell them frankly that we can't deliver. So, the opposition needs to get its act together.