Political Reformers, Encourage Dr. Tipoteh And Matthews, Or Else...

By J. Yanqui Zaza

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 25, 2002

War-weary Liberians, with fresh bad memories from the most vicious gun fighting between rebels of Taylor-Kromah versus rebels of Johnson in Liberia on April 5-June 17, 1996, woke up on the morning of May 1997 and saw a dark cloud over Liberia. The Alliance of seven (7) Political Parties, an amorphous group of fragile organizations, which had decided to challenge and deny the presidency to any of the warlords, including Charles Taylor had collapsed. Their worst fears came true. News emanating from the Convention Hall indicated that the two pillars (Baccus Matthews and Dr. Togba Nah- Tipoteh) of political movements of the 70's have abandoned the Alliance, despite appeals from local and foreign representatives.

Amidst intriguing concepts and philosophies, seven political parties agreed in challenging the warlords by putting forth a slate of candidates for national offices, including the presidency, vice-presidency, senators, representatives, etc. The primary considerations for forming this loose coalition were; the cost of repatriating and resettling voters, reconstructing the country's infrastructures, disarming, demobilizing and regionalizing all military and paramilitary forces, managing poor, traumatized, and war-weary citizens, reactivating democratic political activity since the April 12, 1980 coup, addressing the root causes of low rate of literacy and low rate of employment, etc.

Prior to the consummation of the Alliance of Political Parties, there were signs that neither Matthews nor Dr. Tipoteh was really interested in the Alliance, if the result was not the presidency. Matthews and supporters argued that there was no reason for an alliance because the Liberian People's Party (LPP) promised to give its support to the United People's Party (UPP) for the presidency as per gentleman agreement arranged in Banjul, Gambia 1990. Although Matthews knew that there was no truth to this story, he continued to assure his supporters that LPP would succumb. Dr. Tipoteh on the other hand insisted that Matthews and supporters should reward him (Tipoteh) the presidency because of his seniority. The two giants rejected the idea that either presidential candidate should become a vice-presidential candidate.

Since the 1997 elections, supporters of the two giants have begun to set the stage for another fight during the pending general elections. Matthews and supporters have attempted to distance UPP from other opposition parties by allying some policies of UPP with the ruling party (National Patriotic Party, NPP). More so, supporters of Matthews at home and in the US have taken the lead in discouraging partisans of UPP and LPP who want to revitalize the defunct coalition.

On the other hand, Members of LIFT (Liberian People for the support of Tipoteh) have consciously or unconsciously begun to create misunderstandings between members of UPP and members LPP. In an article titled (An Outlook on ULAA-Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas) dated 2/19/02 and carried by the Perspective Web Site, J. Kpanneh Doe, a member of LPP and a member of LIFT insinuated that D. Karn Carlor, a member of UPP used ULAA as a springboard to get a government position in Liberia between 1990-1994, while Toe Blamo Gbi, former president of ULAA, a member of LPP and a member of LIFT did not used his association with ULAA as a springboard. However, Doe did not mention that Toe Blamo Gbi was rewarded a deputy ministerial position by the Taylor government in 2000 for Toe's contributions in advocating Taylor's policies in the Americas. In fact, Carlor did not hold an elective position in ULAA. In addition, the likes of Carlor who served in the Liberian government before coming to the US can't be compared to Taylor, Gbala, Woewiyu, Duopu, etc. who did not have any administrative experience prior to going to Liberia.

T. Sungbeh, a member of LPP and a member of LIFT, in his article "the Chameleon politics of Gabriel Baccus Matthews" lamented at Matthews for his role and speeches at the recent Conference going on in Monrovia. Sungbeh stated that, "Matthews has subjugated democratic rights to personal comfort." However, Sungbeh did not mention Tipoteh's congratulatory role at the same Conference. One would expert that Dr. Tipoteh, an opposition leader, unlike Matthews who is a representative of Timber and Lodging Company, should have represented the views of Liberians other than serving as a member of Taylor's cheering squad. This is especially true since Taylor rejected a resolution, dealing with disarmament, from the same Conference. Neither did Sungbeh criticize Dr. Tipoteh for prematurely lauding Taylor for lifting the "State of Emergency" even though Taylor continues to incarcerate civilians in violation of the "Habeas Corpus Law."

I have no doubt that Doe and Sungbeh wrote their articles independently. Neither am I implying that there exists a grand plan to tarnish the characters of individuals of an archrival political party. However, this type of journalism might create cynicism, and hardens the prospect for coalescing or merging parties, especially since the writers are members of the other archrival party.

Reformers of political parties at home and elsewhere should redouble the efforts on their part to resuscitate the defunct Alliance of political parties. The battle of the formation of a formidable coalition must begin now, and they shouldn't wait until few months to the general elections.

Since 1997 elections, our problems in the Country have quadrupled. The rate of unemployment and the rate of poverty have increased. Additional presidential candidates (possible spoilers) have declared their intentions. Most important, CPP (Collaborative political parties), the successor to the Alliance, is weaker than its predecessor. In addition its primary objectives (i.e., creating and providing an environment conducive for free and fair elections) are also distinct and different from the objectives (i.e., selecting a slate of candidates to represent all political parties) of the defunct Alliance of Political Parties.

Hence, reformers would need to ensure that all presidential hopefuls speak with one voice on the issue of "Environment Conducive" for free and fair elections, especially so if Taylor does not comply with ECOWAS' mandates. Reformers should persuade Matthews, Dr. Tipoteh and would-be presidential candidates to avoid falling for Taylor's ploy and participate in orchestrated elections, as Dr. Tipoteh and Matthews fell for the so-called Reconciliation Conference.

Reformers should begin now to focus on rebuilding the Country. The global economic crisis coupled with corporate shenanigans and the threat of war in the Middle East will force donors to reduce their pledges. This is especially true for pledges made to an African Country that has no commercial natural resources. The experiences in Afghanistan, Haiti, Bosnia, Palestine, etc. in receiving pledges from foreign governments and international agencies are disturbing, to say the least. Most of those countries received very little amount during the transitional period, a critical period that usually determines the success and failure of developing countries. Besides the problems of donors' aid, reformers might find it difficult in enticing local skilled manpower to relocate, and businesspersons to invest if we don't put our house in order.

Representatives of political parties at the Conferences in Bethesda, Maryland, USA and in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, West Africa did focus on most of these problems, including coordinating views of the local opposition politicians and those in Diasporas. However, the recent exchanges of views pertaining to the Conference on Reconciliation indicate that political reformers have more work to do.

About the Author: J. Yanqui Zaza is a member of the Liberian Consultative Group and Former chairman, Alliance of Political Parties-USA Branch. He is also a former chairman of the Liberian Peoples' Party-USA.

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