Sad Times Are Already Here: Analysis Of The Liberian Apocalypse
BY Charles Kwalonue Sunwabe, Jr.
During the dark era of Europe's colonization of the African Continent, Liberia was one of two African countries (Ethiopia being the other one) that survived the scorch of the intolerable colonial system that devastated Africa. Prior to the demise of colonialism, Liberia positioned itself as a champion of the African liberation struggle that swept through the African Continent in the late 1950s and early 1960s. On the eve of de-colonization, Liberian leaders hosted, educated and encouraged African dissidents to live in Liberia and use Liberian territory to conduct anti-colonial campaigns against colonial Europe. When the Europeans finally departed from Africa, Liberia, along with Guinea, Ghana, Morocco, etc., established the Organization of African Unity to advance African unity and to protect Africa's infant republics from Europe's re-colonization antics and design. Then, Liberia was a proud member of the African and international community, cherished and loved by its people.
Today, however, the story has changed drastically. Accordingly to a recent article published by the Economist Magazine, Liberia is arguably one of the worst places to live in the world. This is so because everything in Liberia including politics, the economy, healthcare and even soccer that has traditionally been regarded as a unifying force is heading in the wrong direction: absolute ruination and total chaos.
This once tiny enclave of political tranquility in Africa (Liberia) and a nation that was once regarded as a gallant symbol of black political aspiration and self-rule in Africa remains in complete disarray today with a shattered economy and continuing military warfare. Sadly for the people of Liberia, the world seems to be ignoring their plights as it did in the 1990s when events that had direct bearing on the interests of the powerful western hemisphere (i.e. the commencement of the Golf War, the unexpected demise of the Soviet Union and the resulting security dilemmas that Eastern Europe faced at the end of the Cold War) came to claim the attention of the entire international community to the detriment of African conflicts, particularly the Liberian civil catastrophe. As it stands, the Liberian situation has reached apocalyptic proportions and with no immediate remedy in sight: renewed warfare, the emergence of new armed factions, a pending October 14 2003 national elections, or may I aptly say national disaster, rampant corruption characterized by nepotism, theft of public wealth, military brutality and a political dialogue characterized by truculent perfidy.
Again, I do not speak of an apocalypse in a vacuum. Presently, countless international, African and Liberian newspaper reports continue to filter the airwaves and Internet with ever more increasing tales of Liberian humanitarian catastrophes that are far beyond human comprehension. Yet in these difficult times, Liberians residing abroad who are better off and comparatively well positioned and equipped to forge predictable political change in Liberia, remain deeply divided than they have ever been in the most recent history of our dying country, Liberia. As for they continue to selfishly assume the political leadership of our country, it can be said with every ebullient resolve that they (Liberia's opposition leaders) are more interested in personal fame, the imposition of artifice on our nation and people, and the extension of the deleterious politics of cupidity then they are interested in the national politics of redeemable political dividends. Moreover, some of the so-called social political degenerates perambulating in the United States as our savior speak of the rebuilding of Liberia in vague and elusive terms while our nation and people continue to parish at the hands of Mr. Taylor and LURD. As for the cardinal need to begin the process of genuine reconciliation in Liberia - reconciliation that could impact every corner of our nation, it can be said that time is slowly passing by while the ethnic tension largely began by the Samuel Doe Administration is dilating.
With this grim picture and a hovering apocalypse above our nation, what are we (Liberians) truly up to? In all fairness, we have been up to a whole lot: The Liberian Leadership Conference held in Bethesda, Maryland in 2002, the Liberian Government National Reconciliation Conference of 2002, the Philadelphia Liberian Youth Conference held in October of 2002, the Mandingo Association of New York Conference of 2003; active Liberian opinion leaders and opposition politicians participation in the discussion and deliberation of the International Contact Group on Liberia, the unrelenting trading of tirades on the Internet, lots of writings and the endless call for political tolerance in Liberia. It would seem to me that given our busy involvement with Liberian issues, our country ought to be on the right path to true liberation by now. But as we all know, Liberia is far from being what it truly should be: a stable country in West Africa.
Again, I ask myself as to exactly what was going on with Liberia despite the overwhelming Liberian - preoccupation with the rhetoric of peaceful settlement of dispute in our decaying homeland, Liberia? The answer to this question and previous ones that I had asked at the outset of this article can be found in what I have termed, "the absence of sincerity in the discourse on Liberia." To fully appreciate what I am talking about, let me begin here by discussing the one thing that is now popular among many Liberians: the pending October 14th 2003 Elections. In almost every Liberian community in the United States, ordinary Liberians including some political hopefuls and a tiny group of educated Liberian elite, some of whom it can be easily said are not only desperate for political appointments in Liberia, but are eagerly sitting on the fences in the United States and elsewhere abroad; waiting for the political kingdom to be opened to them, are naively thinking that there will be a genuine presidential election held in Liberia, come October 14th 2003. Of course, every Liberian is at liberty to believe whatsoever he/she chooses to believe, but as far as the pending presidential election is concerned, it is foolish and profoundly self-serving for any group of Liberians to be traveling to autocratic Liberia, declaring their candidacy at this time when the vast majority of our country men and women are being carpet bombed, raped, decapitated, and consigned to poverty stricken living conditions within Liberia and the West African sub-region at large by the juggernaut and banditry forces of Taylor and Sekou Damata Conneh.
It is becoming crystal clear to me that in the rush to legitimize Mr. Taylor's illegal cling onto power in Liberia through what will soon be a dubiously planned and hastily organized presidential election, Liberia's political leaders are once again making a terrible mistake - something that some of us find very strange, particularly when the country is yet to recover from the 1997 ECOWAS held charade that was deceitfully dubbed, "A Special Liberian Presidential Election. Early this year, scores of Liberian-would-be-presidential-candidates including Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, Dr. Marcus Dahn, Dr. George Kieh etc., declared their intention to seek either the nomination of their various political parties, or the highest office in our nation - the office of the president of the Republic of Liberia. Again, it is not within my limited power to question the political motivation, or aspiration of any group of Liberians who feel inclined to run for the Liberian presidency at this time in our country's sad history. However, I do have two very common concerns: do our opposition leaders really believe that Liberia is ready for an election in October? And from whom do our leaders derive their supports or claim to Liberian leadership? I will address the second question later on. But for now, I'll focus my attention on the possibility of the October 14th president election.
In politics, particularly the politics of the developing world, it is absolutely essential for an enabling environment to exist in every corner of a particular country before the arduous, cumbersome and tedious task of hosting national elections can take place. When I speak of an "enabling environment", I'm talking about the creation of a political environment conducive enough whereby every Liberian can express his/her feelings and views on national issues without any acts of intimidation or politically charged persecution being meted to them. An enabling environment entails the free movement of every citizen, freedom of the press, absolute adherence to the tenets of free speech as they are enshrined in the national constitution of individual states, such as the rights to airtimes including short waves radio and television broadcast, etc. In some instances, governing authorities are compelled by national laws to ensure the safety of opposition figures by granting them (the opposition figures) maximum security and protection. It is only when the list of things I have tried to delineate here are exhausted or met, can a developing nation claim that it is ready for the hosting of national elections. Any thing short of this has proven incapable of producing the desired results in the most recent political history of the developing world: truly democratized states that respect the rights of all of their citizens. The first Tejan Kabbah regime of Sierra Leone that was forcefully booted out of power by the military junta of Major Johnny Paul Kromah is a prime example of the eventual outcome of an election hastily organized and conducted in an environment characterized by continued warfare and pervasive political instability. Charles Taylor's Liberia is one more vivid example that Liberians can point to as we wrestle with our country's pending disaster.
As for nations that have recently witnessed warfare, or internal instability, the need to cultivate an enabling environment is more paramount. Often, civil society leaders of war- prone nations as well as neighboring countries that are often affected by the deteriorating refugee crises associated with civil wars would seek the United Nations' assistance; attempting to end political crises and to restore internal security to their war ravaged countries/neighbors. This tends to create within the conflict prone nations, political environments that are not marred by threats of intimidation, harassment, the assassination of opposition leaders and the incarceration of other permanent political figures and their supporters. In circumstances where civil administration has been badly damaged or has completely collapsed, the United Nations has in the past stepped in to repair the broken civil institution while simultaneously training a whole new core of civil servants for the affected nation. In some cases, the UN has assumed the role of an impartial and credible civil administrator for conflict prone nations.
In Cambodia for example, the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) took charge of the security of the country, the running of Cambodian banking and financial institutions, the training and administration of civil servants to ensure speedy and effective functioning of important and badly needed civil institutions and the training of an inclusive SECURITY APARATUS for all of Cambodia. The impact of UNTAC on Cambodia was not difficult to discern and remains visible for all to see today: the release of Cambodian political prisoners, the emergence of real and predictable political parties under the UN civil education program, access to fair and reliable sources of news from Radio UNTAC, instructions on democratic behaviors aired repeatedly on Radio UNTAC, the resettlement of Cambodian refugees ahead of the inclusive Cambodian elections that ended the crisis, and the hosting of peaceful elections, just to name a few. The Cambodian example I have cited here was made possible through the concerted efforts of Cambodian-Americans, Cambodian Civil Society leaders, neighboring countries, particularly Thailand, Indonesia, and Japan who not only pressured the UN Security Council to step in and end the Cambodian Civil War, but also helped instill common sense into the heads of the political leadership of the Khmer Rouge, thus making that guerilla movement more amendable to peace.
In our current Liberian political hurly-burly, adopting the Cambodian approach is paramount. In this view for example, regional West African leaders that are keenly aware of the danger of the looming "Monrovia Gangsters" regime can now begin to earnestly seek the deployment of a credible international peacekeeping force that would disarm Taylor's ATU, the forces of LURD and the new group that is now fighting in Grand Gedeh County. To ensure a peaceful and secure political environment, which is the precursor to the hosting of peaceful elections; these armed factions should be disarmed, encamped, rehabilitated and reintegrated into mainstream Liberian society before any elections are held in run-down Liberia. This seems to suggest to me that some kind of interim political leadership is desperately needed in Liberia. I'm sure that the name Interim President scares a lot of Liberians and for justifiable reasons: the Liberian Interim Administrations of the 1990s did not live up to expectation. In fact, some interim administrations, including the Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer Administration of 1991-1994, stand accused of corruption, foul play, and financial improbity and political ineptitude.
While it is politically savvy and prudent to be critical of future Liberian interim administrations, we [Liberians] need to be very careful not to allow the past failures of those administrations to cloud our judgments, ultimately obscuring the cardinal need for a unifying interim leader to salvage our country at this critical juncture in our history. I'm of the opinion that where past proven errors of interim presidents have resulted in ethnic cleansing, genocide or massacre, an investigation in the form of a UN tribunal is needed to investigate and bring the culprits including an interim president to justice: That is, if it can be established by an international tribunal that an interim president bears some, or greater responsibility for a particular crime. Nobody, be it Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer or any of our past warlords should be above the law. That is why there must be a retroactive justice in Liberia for crimes committed by every Liberian faction. Having said all of that, I'd like to admonish us all that it is about time we (Liberians) seek for, demand from the international community, or push for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force in Liberia. As for the selection of an interim president for our perishing country, I'll say here that an inclusive Liberian political process is needed to begin a dialogue that would hopefully lead to the selection of someone trustworthy who is capable of leading our country out of the quagmire we find ourselves in.
The one question I seem to be pondering on is this: Will West African leaders and Liberian politicians call for the immediate deployment of international peacekeepers to Liberia? Don't bet on it just yet! As for African leaders, it can be said with all honesty that most of them are more interested in protecting one of their own, such as the vampire regime of Taylor, than they are interested in protecting the Liberian people against banditry. In 1995 for example, Nigerian President Olusegun Obassanjo had this to say at a conference on peaceful conflict resolution held at the University of California, San Francisco:
"An urgent security need is a re-definition of the concept of security and sovereignty. For instance, we must ask why does sovereignty seem to confer absolute immunity on any government who commits genocide and monumental crimes of destruction and elimination of a particular section of its population for political, religious, cultural or social reasons? In an inter-dependent world, is there no minimum standard of decent behavior to be expected and demanded from every government in the interest of common humanity"?
Here is my problem with West African leaders like Obassanjo: They just don't live up to their own words. Isn't it about time that they (ECOWAS leaders) delivered the same message that was delivered to Samuel Doe in July of 1990 to Mr. Taylor? But again, this is West Africa-arguably the most corrupt region and the paradise of gangsters in all of Africa. Rather than asking Mr. Taylor to leave power and handover Liberia to its rightful owners-the Liberian people, some West African leaders including the Secretary General of ECOWAS, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas are lobbying to get the UN imposed sanctions on the Taylor regime lifted.
Form the outset of this article; I bluntly stated that sad times are already in Liberia. Here is exactly what I am talking about. Since Taylor plunged Liberia into poverty some thirteen years ago, Liberians have sadly found themselves residing in neighboring countries as refugees. But now, it seems that time has run out, and African nations that once hosted Liberians are increasingly asking Liberians to leave their countries. From Ivory Coast to Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Ghana and now Guinea, the common refrain is that Liberians are rebels, troublemakers, and thieves, or Black Money Experts [Currency counterfeiters]. Lately, Some Liberians have been seen leaving their host nations and heading back to Liberia where they will sadly come to discover the real meaning of the term, "a failed nation". I'm talking about a Liberia where there are no jobs, electricity, functional healthcare system and decent institutions of higher learning. Given what exist there today [in Taylor's Liberia], massive poverty, military brutality, etc., some Liberians have opted to stay away in shanty refuges camps around the West African region, despite the obvious threats to their lives. In Ivory Coast for example, Liberians remain the target of widespread abuse, lynching, decapitation and other forms of torture. And why exactly is this going on in today's West Africa? The answer to this question will lead me to the last point I want to make in this article: Liberia's leadership problem.
It is now clear to some of us conscious Liberians that the one thing on the minds of some of our self-proclaimed Liberian political leaders is the Liberian Presidency. In their rush to run against Taylor who at the end of his laughable and carefully orchestrated Liberian electoral charade would declare himself president, it seems to me that our self proclaimed political lords are either paranoid or completely misinformed. We now have 18 Presidential candidates and the number may well increase before October 14th 2003. The one essential question that well-intentioned Liberians continued to ask our political leaders is simply this: where are your constituents? For your information, they are in the Ivory Coast, Guinea, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, etc.
These Liberians must be repatriated and allowed to participate in the political process not to mention the rehabilitation of those Liberians currently fighting in Ivory Coast before genuine and inclusive political elections can take place in Liberia. Just in case you have not gotten the picture, let me say this: I'm talking about the establishment of a political process in Liberia that everyone will belong to and be a part of. There is no need to rush blindly into an electoral process only to wound up with the same result if not worse then the previous results. How can politicians who claim to know it all not be able to comprehend the Taylor concocted duplicity [the pending Liberian election] presided over by a former rebel soldier Cllr. Paul Guah who is not only in Taylor's pocket, but must carry out the orders of the Liberian martinet or risk an abrupt end to his daily meal. If any of the opposition politicians were tempted enough to participate in the current nonsensical process, they will legitimize Taylor and bury Liberia in squalor for another painful six years period.
Past political glory must in no way obscure the harsh reality of today's Liberian politics. I have painfully come to notice that there exists among our political figures, genuine resentment for each other, deep-seated hatred and mistrust, and a sense of dishonesty. Simultaneously, some members of the international community, particularly the United States of America is deeply suspicious of some of our opposition figures: The Americans and other international development partners have dealt with these same folks in the past, and have found some of them to be dishonest. Given the record of mismanagement of past US aid, the Americans are profoundly reluctant to entrust them (some bad members of our current opposition) with any substantive monetary or economic aid.
Given the international community's suspicion of our leaders, and the hatred that they (Liberian politicians) harbor for each other, it seems to me that we are in serious leadership dilemmas. In this view for example, there must be an alternative to the conglomeration of political figures currently serving Taylor's purpose in Monrovia.
Liberia is not ready for elections now. What Liberia needs are the prompt disarmament of the Liberian Government and LURD forces, the repatriation of Liberian refugees, and a transitional administration, or an interim government, an International Tribunal to prosecute all crimes committed in Liberia since 1989, the preclusion of all warlords and those who bear greater responsibility for the destruction of our country from future presidential politics, the repatriation of stolen assets of past and present Liberian warlords including government officials and the deportation of Liberian warlords from America. In this vain, I want to importune us [Liberians] to now embark on peaceful demonstrations across the United States of America in an attempt to bring international attention to the plights of our people. To this end, let us march on the US Capital, the US State Department and the UN Headquarter in peaceful solidarity. We have a responsibility to alert the international community of our struggle. Our story must be told and we owe that much to ourselves. Indeed, sad times are here.