Analysis of the Peace Options for Liberia

By Winsley S. Nanka

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

May 23, 2003

Liberians are preparing for the "mother of all reconciliation" conference in Accra, Ghana on June 2, 2003. Politicians, religious leaders, the rank and file of the Liberian people and members of the international community are proposing several major options under which Liberians could achieve peace and eventually proceed with electoral democracy.

One important consensus the stakeholders to the Liberian crises seem to have reached is it is impractical to conduct free and fair elections in Liberia in 2003 given the set of circumstances in which Liberia finds itself. Therefore, there is a general agreement that at the end of 2003, the Taylor regime must end and an interim political arrangement must be put in place to prepare Liberia for electoral democracy. The three major options that have been proposed for achieving peace in Liberia are:

Peace Option # 1:

Mr. Taylor must resign at the end of his term and an interim government of national unity must be formed without his participation.

The assumption under this option is that Mr. Taylor will succumb to the demands of the Liberian political opposition, civil society and the international community to resign at the end of his term. However, it is not likely that Mr. Taylor would easily resign if there is no incentive for him to do so. For this, the International Crisis Group (ICG) proposes that for Mr. Taylor’s resignation, he must be rewarded with a promise that he will not be prosecuted for the atrocities and other crimes he directly or indirectly committed in Liberia over the years. This proposal might help to bring peace to Liberia in the short term. In the long term however, it will prove a dangerous trap in two ways. First, Mr. Taylor is a notoriously crafty warlord who specializes in destabilizing whole societies. If Mr. Taylor is not held accountable for his actions, he will use his ill-gotten wealth and his international criminal connections to make a come back. Second, to reward Mr. Taylor with immunity from prosecution instead of punishing him, will actually encourage other Liberians to adopt undemocratic means in the future to remove their government from power.

Peace Option #2:

Mr. Taylor must head the interim government that would usher Liberia to electoral democracy.

The assumption under this option is that Mr. Taylor will hold his ground and refuse to step down. Therefore, as an incentive for peace in Liberia, he should be rewarded with the interim leadership at the end of his term. Proponents of peace option number two are Catholic Archbishop Machael Francis and former Margibi County Senator David Menyongai, among others. They assume that Mr. Taylor would be harmless if an enabling environment (the deployment of an international stabilization force, total disarmament of warring factions, among others) is created in Liberia as the result of the formation of an interim government.

The fact that even Archbishop Francis, a relentless advocate for peace and human rights in Liberia can lose sight of how dangerous Mr. Charles Taylor is to Liberia and Africa can reveal how confused and weary well-meaning Liberians are today. First, leaving Mr. Taylor at the head of any interim government in Liberia is again a dangerously bad precedent. It will be tantamount to absorbing him of his responsibility for the atrocities and economic crimes he and his gang of thugs committed in Liberia. Mr. Charles Taylor is singularly the man most responsible for the decimation of the Liberian society and the destabilization of the West African sub-region. In the second instance, perhaps it is necessary to remind Bishop Francis and others that Mr. Taylor has developed enormous following in Liberia through coercion. The fear is obvious that Mr. Taylor as head of any interim government could tilt the result of the elections to the candidate of his choice. That is, Mr. Taylor would still surface as de facto president of Liberia.

Peace Option #3:

Mr. Taylor must resign and an interim government must be formed in exclusion of Mr. Taylor, LURD and the others armed groups; a war crimes tribunal must be established to try Mr. Taylor and others for the atrocities they committed in Liberia.

The assumption under this option is that Mr. Taylor, LURD and others would give up their determination to control political power in Liberia easily. First, with the threat of a war crimes tribunal hanging over the heads of Mr. Taylor and others, it would be naïve to think that Mr. Taylor and others will give up their control of Liberia without seeking immunity from prosecution in the future. Second, it will be difficult to achieve peace in Liberia without the cooperation of Mr. Taylor and the others armed factions because they control the country militarily. Opponents of this peace option believe that it would be unjust to concoct an agreement for a war crimes tribunal in Accra, Ghana and apply it retroactively. The opponents point to the Sierra Leonean peace accord as guidance. They say that the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone was established for war crimes committed after the signing of the agreement that ended the war in Sierra Leone.

Therefore, these opponents including former Margibi Senator David Menyongai are suggesting the “fresh start” approach. That is, an agreement must be signed in Accra, Ghana granting immunity from prosecution of all those that directly or indirectly committed various war crimes in Liberia. In addition, supporters of the fresh start approach say that the agreement must contain a clause stating that if anyone violates the human and constitutional rights of Liberians after the signing of the Accra agreement, that individual will be prosecuted by a court of competent jurisdiction. The major weakness in the fresh start approach to peace in Liberia is that there is a tradeoff between justice and peace.

As Liberians prepare for the Accra peace initiative, it is very important for Liberians to understand that it would be difficult to achieve peace in Liberia if Liberians are not prepared to make sacrifice. Therefore, Liberians have to review the various alternatives to peace in Liberia and adopt the option or combination of options that would produce the most desirable outcome-lasting peace and social justice.

The Accra conference may be the last chance for peace in Liberia. If Liberians fail to achieve peace at the Accra conference, it may sink Liberia further into chaos because Mr. Taylor, LURD and the Liberian political opposition are incapable of achieving outright victory against each other.