Overdue Credit

By Tarty Teh

The Perspective

December 3, 2001

The Perspective’s November 30, 2001, [article] talked about the resumption of fighting in the Lofa war theater as having come "after almost three months of calm in the long-running battle between dissidents of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the forces of the government of Liberia." The intimation here is that the absence of any action was the hopeful condition that LURD violated by the resumption of its drive to remove Taylor from Liberia.

I don’t see it that way at all. Even if we must allow, for the sake of argument, that LURD’s fighters are the aggressors, then let us examine the claims made so far to determine which group has a more definite bent toward lying. As a news organization, The Perspective has every right to take the professional precaution of not taking any group’s claims at face value. But if there are conflicts in claims for one set of conditions (who has Voinjama, for instance) then, for context, a prudent reporter would examine records of earlier claims of similar successes.

LURD is not a national army. And though LURD seeks to alleviate a condition most of us find unacceptable, the truly dedicated supporters of LURD are relatively a handful. The rest are spectators or people armed with questions about assurances for a fairer Liberia if LURD drives Taylor out.

Perhaps one of the bad things LURD has done of late is what is The Perspective reported from Agence France-Presse as follows: "Aid agencies quoting fleeing civilians arriving in Bopolu, the headquarters of Gbarpolu County, said the attack forced a polio vaccination team which was in the area for the second national polio immunisation day, to withdraw to the provincial capital."

President Charles Taylor made a similar report to Jesus on Sunday November 25, 2001, when he surrendered some of his sovereignty to Jesus as "The Biggest President" while reporting to fellow worshipers that "our compatriots are dying" at the warfront in their struggle against LURD.

The Perspective thinks this is a "strange war" perhaps because of shortage of tickets for sight-seeing tour of the territories LURD claims it has taken from the Taylor government. But I can easily see how a news organization and a fighting force would maintain different sets of priorities. If, in reality, you have captured an area as a fighting force, you don’t need a permit from a news organization about whether you can list it as yours, especially if your aim is to acquire still more territories toward final victory.

Public relations war as a means of magnifying your achievements against your adversaries is all well and good if you have the manpower and the budget to explore such endeavors. But if you are short of cash, then all you have is your credibility through the care you exercise in making claims. LURD has been very, very careful in navigating civilian populated areas in search of Taylor’s fighters. This claim is easily tested by the low frequency of unholy mentions of LURD’s activities, as opposed to the Taylor government forces’, in the international media.

It wasn’t LURD that started the last round of claims and counterclaims. It did not really matter to LURD who had which half of Lofa until the Taylor government called BBC to report LURD’s aggression. With a low PR budget, LURD jumped at the opportunity to say where in Liberia its forces were, and where they intend to go next. Does it mean that LURD cannot suffer a setback? No, it means LURD has plans for forcing Taylor out.

I am not surprised that more Liberians have not at least understood why LURD wants Taylor out. Among any population, there are always those who camp near the fence, and those who declare their intentions and pursue them. Those committed are easily identified; and those without conviction are also easy to spot. But since war is a risky business, unwilling souls make bad solders.

My hope, therefore, is that when it’s all over, we will go over our actions point by point, in hope that those not yet persuaded about why we don’t need Taylor will get yet another chance to change their minds. I don’t even think that this will be a wise use of our time after the war. Those who still believe in Taylor, and those who have found no reasons for forming an opinion either way will live in peace among those who fought for it.

Having said all this, I am grateful to The Perspective for allowing me to state my case on LURD’s behalf. I still cannot believe my luck that LURD has not committed acts of atrocities that could end us on the front pages of the world’s media. And with no PR budget, I’ll take any luck I can get.

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