Liberia in the hands of Nigeria and Ghana, Once again!

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

May 21, 2003

Since August 1990, Nigeria and Ghana have played a determining role in the Liberian peace process. Presidents Ibrahim Babanginda of Nigeria and Jerry Rawlings first played a duet that, although it saved lives, failed to stop the war. When Babanginda left the scene, came Abacha and he and Rawlings started a whole new ball game that ultimately led to the presidency of Taylor.

Babanginda took an approach that was akin to peace enforcement in the early stages of ECOWAS intervention in the conflict. The ECOMOG Field Commander, the Nigerian General Joshua Dogonyaro chased NPFL from Monrovia to Kakata and was bent on ending the war his own way. But Ghana, which had the second largest contingent in ECOMOG and provided a “sort of “regional balance to the peace keeping force, threatened to withdraw its troops if the offensive continued. Ghana was acting under Libyan pressure. General Dogonyaro was recalled and replaced with General Kupolati and from peace enforcement of effective peacekeeping, the mandate of ECOMOG was turned to “confidence building.”

The refusal of the NPFL to disarm or to abide by any of the peace accords it signed was based on the fact that it could rely on the tacit support of Ghana to prevent any offensive from Nigeria. Even after the ill fated Octopus Operation in 1992, when many expected that ECOMOG would forcibly disarm the NPFL, Ghana intervened, this time using US direct support to end the counter-offensive. The ECOMOG Field Commander General Olurin was stopped in his track, “called” for consultation in Lagos, then was “invited” to Washington, DC and on his way back to Africa, stopped in Geneva and told members of the IGNU delegation at the peace conference that “ECOMOG would not take one more step” and that IGNU would have to accept the terms put forth by the UN negotiator, Gordon Somers. And of course, it was not surprising that the peace plan of the NPFL was very close, if not identical to that of the UN.

In both these instances of ECOMOG backtracking, a disinformation campaign spread rumors that it was the President of the Interim government, Dr. Amos Sawyer who asked ECOMOG to stop its campaign against the NPFL. Ultimately, the NPLF-UN peace plan was enforced, with Dr. Sawyer stepping down, the warring factions getting a share of the political power.

From there on, events moved fast. General Babanginda left power and Captain Rawlings became Chairman of ECOWAS. The Council of State was paralyzed. Representatives of the warring factions could never make any decision without consulting their “sponsors” who manipulated the process from their bases. Captain Rawlings organized a meeting between the transitional government with the warring factions in Akassomba, Ghana. The meeting itself was an aberration. The warring factions had taken their seats in the transitional government but refused to disarm and refused to allow ECOMOG into their territories. Both ULIMO and the NPFL had vice-chair seats on the Council and ministerial posts in the government. Rather than enforced the peace accord (Cotonou Agreement) which stipulated that disarmament must take place and that ECOMOG must have access to all parts of the country, ECOWAS Chairman Rawlings decided that the problem was the Council of State and concluded that it was time to change the leadership of the Council of State.

During the Akassombo meeting in September 1994, Mr. Kojo Tsikata, advisor to Rawlings and the current ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohammed Ibn Chambas met with Counselor Philip Banks and told him that ECOWAS had decided to form a new government with leaders of the warring factions and that there was no need to resist this reality and went further to threaten that the Chairman would not take lightly any attempt by civilians to sabotage that process. General Hezekiah Bowen, Chief of Staff of the AFL was co-opted into signing the agreement, with the leaders of the NPFL and ULIMO. The agreement never worked because while the three leaders of AFL, ULIMO and NPFL were in the room to sign the accord in the glare of television cameras, the BBC announced that troops of ULIMO had taken over Gbarnga, the headquarters of NPFL. The planned celebration dinner was cancelled and everybody ran back to their base. In his military logic, Chairman Rawlings thought that only those with the guns could lead Liberia out of the war.

A year later, came General Sani Abacha who had made a name in undoing things Babanginda had done took over the Liberian peace process. The rest is history.

Returning to Accra

Now, Liberians are again headed for Ghana, with ECOWAS as a convener of the peace talks while the chief negotiator is sent down from Abuja. The fact that LURD at one point said it was not planning to attend the Accra meeting had some merit and should be considered a valid fear in light of the role played by the facilitators. A game is only as fair as the referee is perceived to be.

Last year, the Executive Secretary of ECOWAS, Dr. Chambas reduced the outcomes of the Liberian meeting in Abuja to a mere “preparatory discussion” and a prelude to a “national reconciliation conference organized by the government of Liberia.” At the subsequent ECOWAS Summit in Dakar, LURD was condemned and slammed with travel restrictions while the sub-region called on the United Nations to lift the sanctions against the government of Liberia. Dr. Chambas considered everything that Liberians had spoken about in Abuja as nothing more than ramblings of a frustrated gang of opposition politicians.

Now, while preparations are going on for the June 2 meeting in Accra, Mr. Taylor is saying that elections can and will be held in Liberia. This is because Mr. Taylor is still counting on the support of the same actors who brought him to power. Last year, in a piece titled “A War of Convenience: Who Benefits from the Carnage in Lofa?" (February 4, 2002), - we underlined how Mr. Taylor in tandem with LURD - willingly or not - was manipulating the war to make the country unstable until it would be convenient for him to let things run their course. This is where it would happen.

There has been a media campaign even from the United Nations Secretary General Koffi Anan, saying that rebel groups control 60 percent of the country. Has anyone ever verified this fact? What is 60 percent of Liberia? How many counties? Everything that is reported from outside of Monrovia comes from Taylor Minister of Defense Daniel Chea and his BBC buddy. What appears to be a weakness of the Taylor regime may actually be a way out for the NPFL-NPP. This emerging situation would compel ECOWAS to step in and provide “security”. And indeed, there would be security, just as there was a semblance of security in 1997, because the same chain of command creates the chaos and peace at will.

The presence of ECOWAS troops - only a few hundreds needed - rapidly deployed in a seemingly dangerous situation would create a false sense of security. The fighters would simply lay low for a while and allow campaigning to take place. A few may even be “disarmed forcibly” to set an example. This relative calm could lead ECOWAS to speed up things and call for elections in a few months; in the same manner it precipitated the 1997 elections. Under these conditions, Taylor does not need to rig the elections. The voters would be IPDs who have been receiving handouts from the NPP government and who blame their fate on LURD and a few thousands villagers who know pretty well that after the electoral process, they will be left to deal with the fighters who live next door to them. Would the people in Monrovia rise up and change this scenario just as they defy security forces to welcome Brumskine?

New Dynamics in the International Community

Liberians have no choice but go to Accra. But once in Accra, they can resist the many temptation and avoid the traps set for them. Those who want to help Mr. Taylor, both at home and in the sub-region must come to the conclusion that the best help they can provide now to the President is find him a peaceful exit from power. There is almost an absolute unanimity around the world and in the region regarding Taylor. For once, France, Great Britain, the United States, Libya, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and the great majority of Liberians have all agreed on one thing: Taylor must go. As a diplomat told us from Paris last week, “it is no longer a matter of if Taylor would go, rather how soon and where.” Mr. David Crane, the Chief Prosecutor at the Sierra Leone War Crime Tribunal has been in Washington and spreading the word that there is little doubt about the fact that Taylor harbored and worked with international terrorists. In today world, that could sound like a death sentence. Mr. Ruub Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has publicly called for the ouster of Taylor. The UN has decided to include Liberian timber in the regime of sanctions starting July 7. Finally, Libya is slowly gaining entrance in the international community and is fighting to get the 17-year old sanctions imposed on it and Kaddafi is taking his distance, avoiding any terrorist link.

A Credible Team of Facilitators

The chief facilitators of the Accra meeting are of a new breed. To his credit, General Abdulsalami Abubakar is the only Nigerian military head of state that did not shoot his way to power. He presided over the transition to democratic process in Nigeria and stepped aside to let Nigerians control their destiny. He has a reputation of professionalism and equity much needed in dealing with Liberia.

ECOWAS Chairman John Kufuor is among the new African leaders who reached the presidency through a democratic process and have respect for civil society and the rule of law. He is credited with finding a workable solution in Cote d’Ivoire. After the signing of the Ivorian peace accord in France and a series of failures by Ivorian politicians to reach an agreement in the implementation of the Accord at meetings in Bamako, Dakar, Lome, Yamoussoukro, President Kufuor convened a two-day conference in Accra and came up with a formula that led to the formation of a government and an effective cease-fire. The Chairman can be expected to bring the same dexterity in finding a solution to the Liberian crisis.

There is no reason to doubt that these negotiators would not live up to their reputations of equity and fairness and help the region to move away from this path of war and destruction that has touched every country since it started in 1989, killing close to half a million people in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana, the Gambia, Senegal and elsewhere?

The Real Problem: Liberians

The great unknown in this process would be the attitude and expectations of Liberians attending the Accra meeting. In order to counter any attempt by the most vocal members of the opposition to impose stringent regulations that would lead to effective disarmament and peace, the NPP leader has created a new “civil society” that would serve as a cheering crowd in Accra. Along with this “civil society”, comes what a fellow writer, Tom Camara termed as “empty shells” that call themselves political parties. They are being lined-up to ensure that Mr. Taylor gets what he wants in the process. The news that ALCOP partisans have finally regained control of their party and kicked out David Kortie and his clique of corrupt officers could be a positive development in this menagerie.

There are also new faces on the political scenes, with new names appearing on the roster of warring factions as negotiators. T. Q. Harris is now the chief negotiator of LURD. Since when has this man - who always called for the inclusion of the perceived enemies of Charles Taylor in any war crimes tribunal - been a member of LURD? Was he lying when he condemned warring factions or is he lying now? Who does he really work for? We have always raised questions about the seriousness of LURD. According to a report from Monrovia, Bishop Francis said that Mr. Ruub Lubbers, met with leaders of LURD and MODEL in Freetown and that they would attend the Accra meeting... We thought LURD was headquartered in Voinjama, LOFA!

The other new warring faction, MODEL recently issued a communiqué signed by one Major Boi Bleaju, from Zwedru, Grand Geddeh. The release indicates that Charles Julu, Edward Slanger, George Boley, George Dweh, Roosevelt Johnson are not members of the organization but they fail to inform us as to who is member. Who are the people financing and running these killing machines in the name of liberating Liberia? Or are they all stooges in the hands of the master puppeteer? There was never any doubt about the identities of the leaders of the NPFL, ULIMO or LPC. Liberians liked them or hated them but they showed their faces. Who are these new liberators scared to speak out?

The international community has done everything possible to solve the Liberian crisis. But Liberians have to decide that they want peace and stability. Between the personal ambitions and the greed for power on the one hand and the shameless acceptance of the deadly status in exchange for a fistful of dollars, there are very few sincere voices calling and working for peace. Would these voices of sanity be heard in the cacophony of Accra? And also more importantly, do these voices have a plan?