Ouaga: The Beginning of the End?

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

July 8, 2002

It was almost two decades ago, when some disgruntled Liberians, running away from the dictatorship of Dr. Samuel K. Doe found themselves in the capital of the revolutionary Burkina Faso. There was a popular revolution going in Burkina Faso under Thomas Sankara. Thomas Sankara and his childhood friend Blaise Compaore had changed the name from colonial Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, meaning “the land of the people of integrity”. The group of Liberians, mainly refugees from Nimba, were led by Charles Taylor, who had escaped prison in the United States and had gained freedom from Ghana prisons thanks to the intervention of the Burkina government.

The presence of the Liberian consorts in the capital of Burkina Faso will change the course of history for at least three countries and an entire sub-region. The charismatic leader of the Burkina revolution was gunned down in daylight. According to Mariame Sankara, those who killed her husband were speaking English and were not from Burkina Faso. The erratic general Prince Y. Johnson said on many occasions that they killed Thomas Sankara. After Sankara died, the group found its way to Libya. In the group of Liberians, there were young men and women from Togo, Senegal, Guinea, Togo, and Sierra Leone. At the Mataba base in Libya, military training and ideological brainwashing went on around the clock, setting the stage for destabilizing West Africa, according to the revolutionary words of the Guide, the author of the Green Book, Colonel Kaddafi.

After almost 250,000 dead and millions victimized one way or another, Liberians are returning in masse to Ouaga, trying to punch a hole in Taylor’s life-support system. The group that is headed for the dusty city on the edge of Sahara has much in common with the group that was there almost two decades ago: they wanted to get rid of the Doe regime. Can Ouaga provide any new prescriptions not contained in the Washington document? The difference would be at one level only: the process of negotiations. While Washington called for travel ban on the LURD and war crimes tribunal for Taylor, Ouaga is inviting both groups to the table. Does that imply that Washington was to produce a pressure document? In that case, the document from Washington should have been published until the end of the Ouaga talks.

Gbai Balla the perennial presidential advisor, from Doe to Taylor, with Amos Sawyer and all other transitional heads in between, kept saying during the Washington meeting that people had no “idea of what they were talking about.” He said that one does not call for the indictment of a sitting president unless you have the means to enforce it or that you have decided not to deal with him. The conclusions of Washington were an indication of the end of the line, the end of dialogue as a possible way of working with Taylor. Since 1989, Taylor resorted to dialogue only as a way of stalling. The fact that he would attend the Ouga meeting through a spokesperson as important as the Chairman of the NPP could be an indication of his commitment, but then again, nobody can ever speak for Taylor.

Burkina Faso has served as the center point for an axis of destabilization running from Libya to the Gulf of Guinea and that cost almost ½ million lives through the violent effects of the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia and their aftermaths. One can only admire the resilience of Liberians. They seem ready to forgive everyone else except themselves for the ills of the country. Granted Liberians, warlords and those who financed them bear the primary responsibility of the killing and destruction in the region. At some point however, Libyan and Burkina leaders, both still alive, who have trained, armed and supported the Taylor war must account for their roles in the destruction of Liberia. With the precedent set recently by US courts for suits leveled against Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Liberians can sue Taylor, Blaise and Kaddafi in US Courts for torture and murder.

Blaise Compaore cannot be off the hook by hosting a “peace conference” and providing a few hotel rooms and coffee for the participants. He must be made to respond wherever Taylor is called to respond, for crimes in Liberia and in Sierra Leone. The same goes for Libyan leader Colonel Kaddafi. Liberians have the right to fight these people for justice and redress. There is no certainty that Blaise has abandoned his friend Taylor whom he referred to as a “brother”. However, the search for peace could be made easier by separating Blaise and Taylor as one of the conference organizers said. If it is true that nations have permanent interests and not permanent friends, Burkina Faso could be an important ally.

Resolutions from that conference can in no way be weaker than resolutions reached at the Washington Conference. The presence of ECOWAS, the OAU, the UN and various NGOs should make it possible to negotiate the terms of Washington for a swift implementation of the peace process. There might be a need for compromises on certain issues, but the underlying problems of security need an immediate solution: the state of emergency must be lifted, the war between Taylor and LURD on one hand and the continuous war of the NPFL against the people of Liberia must come to an immediate end. This can only be done by a return to the Abuja Accord. Blaise Compaore can prove that he means business by spearheading an ECOWAS peace plan in this direction. Short of concrete moves forward, with timetable and agreements between the government, the opposition and ECOWAS, the conference would be but another occasion for leaders to rub shoulders and sign another set of condemnations, strong on words but empty on substance. The winners would again be Taylor and his friend Blaise who would have gained time.

LURD would probably seize this opportunity to get out of the hole they dug themselves in. They can walk away from the war. But before they are let go, they must be made accountable for the 60 blind Liberians they claimed to have taken from Tubmanburg. Are the rumors out of the Monrovia that the bodies in Gbarnga were those of the blind? That LURD and others or who ever they are working with reached an agreement with the Catholic Church that Father Jenkins would only be left to go if he promises to shut his mouth on the truth behind the “war” and what exactly happened in Gbarnga? Who was killed in Gbarnga? Everything that has been said so far points to a mountain of manipulation. The people attending the conference in Ouaga and representing LURD are none of the major players who have been on the air in the past. Is this a way to avoid any commitment or to answer any embarrassing issue? The question is and will remain: How is LURD able to account for foreign workers but remain silent on the fate of Liberians? Do they value foreign lives more than Liberian lives? Who is LURD fighting for? Maybe an autopsy on the bodies of those killed in Gbarnga could be an eye opener.

The mess started in Burkina Faso can end there. Returning the country to peace is the foremost priority. Everything else can follow but no culprit, local or international should be given a free ride on the back and suffering of Liberians.

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