Opposition: Who is the Real Target?

By Bushuben Keita, Esq.

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 17, 2002

I am among those who have advocated the coming together of prominent leaders of the Liberian opposition to form a united front for opposing the apparent abuse of power by the government of Liberian President Charles Taylor. I still believe this is a noble effort among the opposition and that it should be pursued as far as it's reasonable. Of late however, I get the impression that efforts to form a united opposition is being resisted not by the NPP government in Monrovia which should be its natural target, but by members of the opposition in the Diaspora. The large portion of this resistance comes in the form of Internet articles written by surrogates of key opposition figures intended to malign others. I know that if the corresponding response is given, the dogfight could only benefit the incumbent regime in Monrovia, and defeat the entire opposition effort. I will come around to the specifics of what I mean in a moment. First, let me set the basic rationale for the united effort.

It is my opinion that Charles Taylor is the President of Liberia de jure right now. He was declared the winner of a supposedly internationally supervised election. The method of his selection has been challenged with very plausible evidence and presumption is great that the elections were fraudulent. I, however, do not want to cry over spilled milk since it is my view that the participants lent credibility to the process and they are barred under legal doctrines from repudiating their own legal acts. I think that for the purposes of the special elections of 1997, we should move on.

I also have argued and do believe that the Cotonou, Akosombo and Abuja Accords granted immunity to the heads of warring factions from acts committed during the course of the war, generally believed to be the period from December 1989 to July 1997. This does not rule out the possibility of a truth and reconciliation commission in the future in Liberia, but actually bars criminal prosecution for efforts aimed at prosecuting the civil war. As to whether or not this exempts deliberate targeting of civilians still needs to be debated.

So as things stand, Mr. Taylor is responsible for his acts committed since taking office in August 1997. He is also responsible for the holding of periodic elections in keeping with the constitution, which he has sworn to uphold. Opposition to the Taylor government should therefore be concentrated on his performance in office in conformity with the aforementioned accords under which the special elections were held. In this regard, members of the opposition have looked to the dismal state of the Liberian economy, violent human rights abuses, murders of civilians by state security forces, the deliberate destruction of Sierra Leone through support for the RUF, and government corruption.

The reason for a united stand by the opposition is more historical than a matter of political necessity. Liberian leaders, like their counterparts in the rest of Africa, see no future for themselves after the presidency and therefore will not give it up willingly. From all indications, President Taylor has those same qualities. He does not appear to be the type to accept defeat after fair elections, he will not tolerate dissent within the country, and he does not hesitate to be violent. With those qualities, every serious minded opposition figure knows that the next change of government in Liberia will not be a piece of cake. If you add the intimidation factor by which people will vote for the incumbent out of ignorance that somehow he will discover otherwise and affect them negatively, then you have the basis for solid cooperation and support.

Like I said above, this attempt to put together a united opposition has its own opponents amongst those expected to be united. Long standing tribal and religious bias, as well as class differentiation have reappeared. It has occurred to me on a few occasions that among those who want Charles Taylor out, they would rather have Taylor than certain other opposition members. They may not like that opposition member's tribal origin, or they may think he helped to remove Tolbert, or they may think he helped to kill Doe, or they may think he supported Taylor and helped make Taylor President. A lot of people fall under either one or the other of these categories, and they are hated for that. Divisions among political figures are natural. Also natural is the hypocrisy with which they camouflage this when they meet. The important thing in my view was to extend the cooperation until the playing field is level enough to give everyone a fair shot at the political activity in which they want to participate. It goes without saying that fragmentation at that stage is expected.

At the present rate, I do not believe that will be achieved without a major redoubling of efforts. According to the results announced from the 1997 elections, the NPP, UP, and ALCOP were the first three finishers. Considering that the NPP is the governing party, is it not normal that opposition activities be formed around the other two significant percentage holders? Instead, I see activities being centered on name familiarity by people who still feel uncomfortable with certain names. This is not a realistic effort. Also, if the restoration of pluralism and tolerance for dissent is the main objective, everyone should be allowed to make an effort to the extent they desire and are capable of without negatively impacting the overall objective.

Someone challenged the authority of the participants in the Bethesda meeting to call themselves Liberian leaders. I do not. The heads of Liberian political and civic groups, as well as heads of former warring factions and interim leaderships qualify as political leaders under any definition. What they need to do is organize themselves a lot better in light of what is happening in Liberia today in order to bring about the change they desire.

I join the call being circulated for the holding of yet another meeting among the opposition to work out the practical modalities for united opposition efforts. This coordination should be aimed at forcing fair elections in Liberia on schedule, and allowing for free movement and the security of opposition participants as well as a balanced elections commission under international supervision.

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