The Last Friend on the Block...

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

December 20, 2001

If news coming out of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, is any indications, the regime in Monrovia is about to lose one of its staunchest allies in the sub-region. President Blaise Compaore, in the last few years, and under pressure from many humanitarian organizations and the international community that linked him to the humanitarian crisis in Mano River Union, has been taking his distance from the regime in Monrovia.

From the onset of the Liberian civil war, President Blaise Compaore was one of the most trusted friends of Mr. Charles Taylor. This friendship started in the early 1980s, when Burkina Faso served as a transit point for Mr. Taylor on his way to Libya to train his troops and on his way back to launch his deadly war on Liberia. The military base in Po, a small town south of Ouagadougou was a training base for many who would later join the war. Many soldiers of the Burkinabe military joined the NPFL to fight in the war.

The government of Burkina Faso denied this fact until last year, when a group of soldiers bought pages in an opposition newspaper paper to claim money they were to receive upon completion of their tour of duty in Liberia. The soldiers claimed that many of their comrades had died on the front while others were injured for life. It was never clear if Mr. Taylor did not send the money once his objectives were achieved or if, someone, between Monrovia and Ouagadougou, pocketed the money. Whatever the case may be, the military involvement of the Burkina government was no longer in doubt. The opposition in Burkina Faso has also been raising questions about the level of involvement of their government with the regime in Monrovia.

Lately, his own party has also been putting pressure on Mr. Blaise Compaore to distant himself from the Taylor regime. Mr. Compaore, since the death of Mr. Houphouet-Boigny, has been eying the chair of leadership vacated by the Old man and wants to turn his capital into the center of French politics - and investments - in West Africa. To do this, he must "clean" himself of embarrassing friendships.

It therefore comes with little surprise that President Blaise Compaore received and had a lengthy discussion with Liberian opposition. The President of Burkina Faso also mandated his party leaders to hold detailed talks with the visiting Liberian delegation.

According to the Agence France Press, (AFP), Liberian political opposition on Tuesday, December 18, 2001, called on Burkina Faso, the "strongest ally" of the regime of President Charles Taylor, to stop any further support to that government and "save democracy" in Liberia.

The opposition delegation, led by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, standard-bearer of Unity Party, arrived in Ouagadougou two days ago and had a meeting with President Blaise Compaore, according to the French news agency, (AFP) reporting from Burkina Faso.

"Knowing the role played by Burkina Faso in the last few years in Liberia, we thought [it is] important to make this contact in order to save Liberia," Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf declared to the press. Speaking in French, the Liberian politician said that the delegation "had been warmly received."

"We came here with the hope to be heard and we have received very good indications from the governing party," she said, adding, "We hope that the Burkina Faso Government will change its position on Mr. Taylor who is now very unpopular."

The Liberian opposition had a working session with the leadership of the ruling party of Burkina Faso, (CDP). At the end of discussion, Burkina Faso decided to work with Liberian opposition for the advent of democracy in Liberia. A member of the Burkina ruling party said that President Compaore was very disappointed by the performance of the Taylor government after almost five years in power. Former interim president Dr. Amos Sawyer was a member of the Liberian opposition delegation.

Lately, the Liberian President has been using the good offices of Malian President Omar Konare, outgoing ECOWAS chairman. Mr. Konare is expected to turn the mantles of ECOWAS to the Senegalese President, Mr. Abdoulaye Wade. This comes a few days after the paranoid police in Monrovia arrested a Senegalese diplomat for some obscure reasons.

This new stand by Mr. Blaise Compaore marks a departure from old Burkina Faso stands on Liberian issues. In 1992, at the ECOWAS Summit in Dakar, Burkina Faso was the only country that opposed a motion put forward by President Conteh of Guinea and supported by Sierra Leone and the Gambia to treat the NPFL as terrorist organization and therefore change ECOMOG mandate from peace-keeping to peace enforcement. The NPFL had just butchered five Senegalese peacekeepers whose dismembered bodies were brought to their families in blankets. Mr. Conteh, during that meeting, made his famous remarks when he said that Mr. Taylor was a cancer in the sub-region, and that unless he was extracted and destroyed, he would inflame the entire region. The Guinean President added that ECOWAS was wasting its time and resources in trying to negotiate with a band of criminal. He said ECOWAS would be back there, in 10 years, trying to find a solution to the Taylor problem...

There is a state of panic and paranoia developing in Monrovia. The fall of Zorzor this morning and the accusations by the president that prominent politicians and businesses in Monrovia are supporting the LURD are signs of things going over board.

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