Returning From Ghana

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 14, 2003

It was late Tuesday night, June 11, 2003 and I was having a late night drink with Cyril Allen, the Chairman of the National Patriotic Party. "We are not about to discuss anything further with nobody until they lift the indictment. We will stop the hostilities but as far as transitional government is concerned, there will be no deal until this matter is resolved," said an unapologetic Allen. He was speaking with confidence, because he had had discussions with some political leaders who had gone as far as agreeing to take the issue up with ECOWAS and the UN.

I told Allen that the indictment was a criminal matter and therefore I couldn't see how Liberians or ECOWAS could get UN to drop the charges. "This is all political, and the indictment can be lifted the same way they put it in place." We continued our talks on the issues till very late that night, when representatives of the CPP who had gone to meet with LURD returned. We parted and I returned to Accra, to pack and leave. I had a clear idea where the talks were headed and I didn't have the resources to spend one more day in Accra. Taylor, a man who loves nothing more than chaos, was at his best.

On my way home from the airport in Abidjan, I was the less surprised to hear Mr. Taylor say that he would not negotiate any deal until the indictment was lifted. There is more to come. Because Allen said that after the indictment is lifted, they will call for the lifting of the travel ban and every sanction imposed on the NPP government. "Because we know that after Taylor leaves, they are coming after us and we won't let that happen. People say they want peace, well, we cannot go into peace talks with our hands tied." I remarked that from my experience, that was the only way to negotiate with the NPP/NPFL.

Once the issues of indictment and sanctions are resolved, whichever way they might be, the NPP would then start to negotiate for its form of government. While some politicians are scrambling for positions in a "fantasy" government, Lewis Brown, Taylor's Chief negotiator in Akosombo says: "we should look into the constitution for any successful transition. We have to learn to live by the constitution." In the corridors of the negotiations, many NPP people I spoke with said they would want somebody in the line of succession. "We could agree on somebody like the Chief Justice," said one such representative who asked not to be identified.

There are many good Liberians in Akosombo, politicians or not. Some traveled from the US, some from refugee camps and many stopped their life earning activities to be part of the talks. Their eagerness to reach a settlement could put them at the mercy of people who have reached a point where they would spare no gimmick to stall the process. The solution may not be to create false alliances but rather to sit face to face with those considered being the enemy and work out an agreement where everyone gives up something. NPP/NPFL has rarely given up anything in our long struggle for peace. The time has come for them to make some sacrifices and cut their losses. Because sooner or later, the boat would tilt.

Ten years ago, I was in Ghana, as part of a peace negotiating team that was trying to bring peace to Liberia by working with two warring factions, ULIMO and the NPFL. Back then, the government was called the Liberia Transitional Government, LNTG I. Ten years later, the warring factions are called LURD and MODEL, political parties represent the civil society. NPFL has become the government and the political parties are the opposition. The issues are the same: disarmament, governance, and elections. The actors may have changed somehow but the central figure remains the one and same Taylor.

Taylor may well be on his way out, but the problems of post-Taylor era could be of a greater magnitude than we expected.

The Indictment

Is Taylor out yet? A few months ago, we wrote that the only positive thing about the threat of indictment as far as we Liberians were concerned was that it would hopefully put pressure on Mr. Taylor to leave before it was too late. Back then, I was worrying about the fact that once cornered and indicted, he would be like a condemned man left with three choices: prison, death at the hands of rebels or the presidency. Of course, given those choices, the dumbest person would most likely stay in the presidency and enjoy the last days of life. This has come to pass. Our other concern was more practical: indicting someone is one thing, delivering that person to a court is a whole different matter. Is UN is ready to send troops to Liberia and remove Taylor and take him to Court? In that unlikely scenario, who would disarm the NPFL/RUF/ATU troops?

In Akosombo, Liberians are debating the issue of indictment. Some believe that it will now help the peace process, since Taylor would now have to leave no matter what. "It is a matter of days," said one political leader. On the other hand, others complain that the issue was handled very poorly, because either Ghana should have arrested the Liberian president or the War Crimes Tribunal should have made sure it would arrest him before publishing the indictment at the start of the peace talks. The prosecutor David Crane said that he wanted that "people who would sit to negotiate with President Taylor to know he was a criminal." So?

He later said that Taylor had been indicted since March 7. Why the delay in publicizing it? Was the international community negotiating an exit for Mr. Taylor and therefore withheld publishing the indictment until all avenues for his peaceful exit were exhausted? Did the Prosecutor really expect ECOWAS leaders to arrest an ECOWAS President and hand him over to the United Nations?

The Role of ECOWAS

One must rightly ask whether of not ECOWAS was aware of the indictment of the President and what role it played in how it was handled. According to some reports from Accra, the indictment was issued during the opening ceremony while the Chairman of ECOWAS was meeting with his colleagues from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, South Africa, Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia. It is also said then that Taylor had accepted to resign right away, once a process was put in place for his succession.

During the short remarks he made during the opening ceremony, President Mbeki said that "Africans can solve their problems," citing the Ivoirian crisis as an example. In view of the current situation in the Liberian peace process, one could rightly wonder. It took French troops to quiet down issues in Bunia, in Congo, it was the same French who also were in Cote d'Ivoire and stopped the carnage while it took ECOWAS some five months to assemble a few hundred men. Again, it was French troops that secured the evacuation of foreigners in Liberia during last weekend flare-up. Can Africans solve their problems? It seems that we are back at 1890, when Europeans brought troops to "civilize" tribes that massacred each other. History is repeating itself.

In Accra, ECOWAS seems to have been taken off guard not only by the indictment, but also by the new demands made by the Liberian government regarding the lifting of the indictment as a precondition to any discussion.

After two weeks, there is still no clear indication as to where the talks are headed, not even a concise agenda has been drawn up. I told a friend that maybe, the best solution would be, once Taylor accepts to leave, to just return home and solve the problem ourselves. If we cannot disarm our own children, nobody else can do it and if we don't trust each other, there is no need to form coalitions where everybody lies to everybody. Now the crisis is almost forgotten in Akosombo, everything is about who would be president and who would link up with whom. The few who are bent on finding real solutions to the real problems are almost laughed at in the corridors. Meanwhile, ECOWAS is treating the crisis as business as usual while Liberians are again dying.

Africans may know the solutions to their problems but it remains to be seen if they dare take the bold measures required to prevent or solve a crisis.

In the current situation of Liberia where officially and according to UN account rebel groups control close to 60 percent of the national territory and reached as close to the capital as 5 km, it does not take a genius to predict that sooner or later, either Taylor leaves or not, armed groups would be fighting for the control of Monrovia and the Executive Mansion, just as they did in 1990. If luck is on our side, the French may fly in a contingent. But one can seriously doubt that prospect, since there would hardly be any foreigner left. Unless, of course, Monrovia becomes another Bunia and CNN feeds the world a few crude images of human savagery, just as in 1990.

The handling of the Liberian peace talks in Accra leaves much to desire. ECOWAS seems bent on applying its usual band-aid solution to a deep problem. And in 10 years, another group of Liberians may again be seated at a bar in Akosombo, late night, talking about peace, blaming everyone else but refusing to look in their own backyards or take a critical look at their own actions and motivations.

Accra may be the end of the Taylor reign but is far from signaling a solution to Liberia's deep seated problems.