Sad Times Ahead

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

Atlanta, Georgia

March 21, 2002

There are really sad times ahead for Liberia. Liberians seem not to be able to find a way out of this nightmare, stranded in a tunnel, with the killing machine of Taylor at one end and at the other end, the confused verbose of the opposition, caught in its own game of out-staging each other and giving more ammunitions to Taylor every day that goes by. Back, in the horizon, the threatening possibility of another military dictatorship becomes more and more real.

The recent talks in Abuja give a clear indication of where the "land of liberty" may be headed in 2003. Every opposition politician claims to have the solutions to the political imbroglio, each convinced of being anointed with the solutions from above. All they need is the supports of all other political nonentities.

I was talking to a close friend and a supporter of Dr. Tipoteh last week - we were discussing the Abuja talks. We ended up talking about 2003. He said that Dr. Tipoteh was the only person who could win elections in Liberia against Taylor. Dr. Tipoteh has stayed on the ground and accepted to put his life in danger, and has been at the forefront of the fight for democracy since the 1970s. I said that maybe Taylor needed someone like Dr. Tipoteh in Monrovia now to prove that he can tolerate some type of opposition. He got angry and said that I should know better. He said Dr. Tipoteh disarmed more than 30,000 fighters in the 1990s and was the only one credible enough to bring LURD to the talks in Abuja. I told him that he was wrong on the issue of the former combatants. I was in Monrovia when Dr. Tipoteh said he had disarmed those people. If he had, we would not have had April 6, 1996. LURD did not show up in Abuja and Bennie has not been kicked out of the Netherlands. Dr. Tipoteh, I told him, must find a way to bring his party back together. Many of LPP members have defected in the midst of the 1997 elections and some were "expelled". Dr. Tipoteh was a leader of the progressive movement that campaigned against the prevailing injustices in Liberia in the 70s. Of course, in a perfect situation, he has his chance like anyone else.

Brumskine is the new kid on the block. He was one who confronted Taylor and said to his face that the president of the republic does not run the senate. He was courageous enough, his people say, to go against the party and walked away, while he could have stayed and made millions and be quiet. Never mind that Cousin Senator Dukuly thinks otherwise. But here is the question: where is Brumskine constituency in Liberia? He came to prominence because of the man whose name is associated with every problem we face today. He is said to be among NPP members who opposed to the restructuring of the armed forces and security agencies as per the Abuja Accord, and engineered the folding up of ECOMOG. Can he overcome those odds to be elected president? Will people trust him? Does he have enough time to build a credible base at home to win? He is making big strides here in the US but many who contribute money to his campaign will not vote. He sounds appealing to many who are looking for a new generation of politicians, away from the past. He has never depended on government to make a living and therefore knows the importance of private enterprise but is that enough to inspire Liberians? Does he have the strength to move the mountain of pain crushing the people of Liberians? He could be a political meteor in a perfect political landscape.

With Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the situation is different. She is still riding high on her big 10 per cent of the 1997 elections and the name recognition on the international scene as the "leader" of Liberian opposition, with her tempestuous personality. Her connections in the corporate world as well as at the UN and World Bank could be of importance if and when she becomes president. She is in the center politically, with the capacity to bring together different facets of the Liberian social and cultural mosaic. Her problem, and a major one is that the international community does not vote in elections. She is becoming a stranger in Liberia, known in a certain "educated circle" and must count on them to carry her words around. From LAP, she moved to UP after starting like everyone else in the TWP. Her partisans think that she could beat Taylor because she is an international figure. Her gender in our situation would not hurt either. Her problem is that a campaign does not start 3 weeks prior to elections. If she can’t return home and show her face, distribute a few bags of rice and shake hands in small villages and show that she can withstand Taylor and his war machine, people would always wonder who and what she is all about.

There are other potential candidates. There is Ambassador George Toe Washington, who could certainly spare himself another round of pains and aches. There is Alhaji Kromah still referred to as "warlord", a non-starter in Liberian politics after Taylor. If he can do one thing to make people stop using that qualifier, he may make a good show at the polls, provided he has some money left and can still recapture ALCOP. But then again, creating a political party is not so difficult in Monrovia. There is Dr. Harry Moniba, who, no matter what he says now, will never make us forget that he was so conveniently quiet under Doe-the-butcher. We are still dealing with the legacy of their years in power. There is H. Boima Fahnbulleh. He writes with anger and is certainly so much out there that it would take another decade to bring him into this muddy situation. He has the right level of anger and disdain but that does not make a president. Did someone say Dr. Amos Sawyer? How can he clean his name after the IGNU disaster? His propensity to negotiate and talk may have led Liberia into this mess. Many see him as a good peacetime president but this is war. There are many more presidential wannabes. Others speak of Marcus Dahn, T. Q. Harris, etc. But again, that’s the problem.

There is much talent and political will out there that need to be combined in one good leadership for all to follow. Talking about war, the master warlord is hanging on tight. The campaign has started for him. He has managed to enrich himself beyond anybody’s imagination. From diamonds to gold to maritime fund to timber and dungafley money, he is rich. And nothing is more fascinating than a rich arrogant man in an impoverished country. He has started making concessions about things that he had no constitutional rights to do. He gave the Press Union the right to operate their press. He had no reason to stop them in the first place. He allowed Star Radio to operate - on his schedule, why October 2002? He gave Radio Veritas permission to operate a short wave but he had no constitutional right to refuse it in the first place. He sets free the leaders of the Krahn community after keeping them in jail for 3 years and gets the blessing of the people of Grand Geddeh. He had no right to put them in jail in the first place. The biggest campaign act of Taylor was to have Bai Gbala and Baccus Mathews on his delegation to the recent conference in Abuja. What could the opposition say about that? Mathews is known all over Nigeria as the Foreign Minister of IGNU who stood against Taylor during some 30 odds peace meeting and now he was defending his agenda.

Meanwhile, the isolation of the Monrovia regime continues in the international community. Contrary to what the government press reported a few weeks ago, Liberia was not accepted in the Sahara states organization. At the summit meeting in Sete, Libya, the great majority of Heads of State of the 18 African countries that compose the association said that Taylor must first abide by the resolutions of the UN and get out of sanctions before being allowed a seat at the table.

The government’s search for an international credible agency to monitor the Maritime Funds continues to run into roadblocks. After the African Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Transparency International, a financial control NGO in Washington, DC, last week politely declined to be involved with our government in any shape or form. Things are getting bad when international financial institutions refuse to take your money.

To crown this isolation, the president of the Liberian football association, Edwin Snowe declared that he would tour the sub-region to galvanize support against the African candidate at the FIFA presidency, Mr. Hayatou. Is this an attempt to be seen as a friend of the West?

Talking about sport. After the Bamako CAN, many countries whose national teams did not perform well questioned the administration and not the players. In Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, to cite just a few, football federations were restructured. In those countries, people felt rightly that whatever went wrong during the preparation and the performance of the teams was the fault of the management, not the players. But in Liberia, as it happened, the players were blamed and the administration called for re-structuring the national team.

The campaign machine is on the roll in Monrovia but the greatest test remains the commitment to peace in the sub-region. Every one seems to know that Liberia will not have peace with the kind of security and army we have. The military and the security are crucial institutions in a country. They carry guns that kill people and members can get away with things that the average citizen would go to jail for. Discipline and professionalism are not the most common assets within the NPFL. This is a crucial issue. Many Liberians don’t care about who is president, as long as they can go to their farms, shops or jobs without being molested and receive decent salaries to support their families.

The warm letter of congratulations Taylor sent to Mugabe could serve as a signal for things to come during our elections in 2003. Mugabe accused his opponents for trying to assassinate him and is now parading them in courts. Anyone remembers that in the last year or two, every member of the opposition, including Brumskine, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Amos Sawyer and Alhaji Kromah was accused of supporting dissidents? In Zimbabwe, the former combatants of Mugabe’s Zanu-FP act with total impunity and long before elections, held rallies where they said that they would never allow anyone else but Mugabe to run their country.

Liberian child soldiers of 1989 are now young adults. They are in the military and have the right to vote. In 2009, they would be adults, with families but still traumatized by the crimes they committed and worrying about the possible punishment. Taylor is already planning ahead. For the NPP, Elections 2003 are a foregone conclusion.

Does this sound scary? It’s meant to be.

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