Implications of UN Sanctions
By Musue N. Haddad
March 20, 2001
The two-month deadline given to Liberia to comply, with UN ultimatum of totally disengaging from its admitted involvement with Sierra Leone rebels, is gradually fading. But while West African leaders were pleading with the UN to save this destabilizing enclave within the region, many ignored how useful Taylor has been to a number of those West African leaders who have lobbied at the UN on his behalf. Many are indebted to the Liberian ruler, the undisputable Godfather of anarchy and violent politics in the region for helping them gain and retain power.
Taylor's disciples within the region plagued with violence are many, amongst them the President of Niger Daude Wanke, a man who came to power in a bloody coup and afterwards thanked Taylor for his support. Daude, after killing former leader Minnasare, was to publicly praise Taylor for his "financial, moral and other support" he (Taylor) offered after Minnasare's execution.
On the other hand, the Gambians are accusing Liberia of training dissidents to destabilize that government. The Ivory Coast, once a Taylor ally, has repeatedly pointed at Liberia for aiding dissidents whose aim it said is to topple that government. The Senegalese Government is also accusing Liberians of supporting the rebel activities in the Casamance Province which is fighting for secession, with Liberian and Sierra Leonean recruits targeted for their alleged membership in the Senegalese rebel movement. What can be seen is that Taylor's particles have exploded in many parts of West Africa since his emergence, with Guinea and Sierra Leone as his most notable victims.
But Mali, pleading for Taylor before the Security Council, insisted that ECOWAS could adequately control, and should be in charge of events within her territory. This is a fundamental departure from ECOWAS established goals, a departure that commenced with the Liberian war itself. Instead of promoting common economic and development activities within the region, and strengthen both its infrastructure and human resources, it has adopted a new role aimed at halting hostilities amongst members states.
Unfortunately, this objective was not achieved in Liberia. Since he was declared president, Taylor has ensured that Liberians continue to suffer economically. Human rights abuses remain wide spread with a spill over to Sierra Leone and Guinea.
However, as sanctions hang over Liberia, there are those who continue to insist that the sanctions will hurt the ordinary, the poor. Understandably, the Liberian Business Association, made up of the President's cronies and business partners, opposed the sanctions, suggesting what it calls "frank dialogue" with Taylor as a way to deal with the issue of the allegations of gunrunning and diamond smuggling in Sierra Leone.
Furthermore, they argue that by placing a new embargo on importation of arms in Liberia, a ban on the travel of senior government officials, a ban on the exportation of diamond and timber and Liberian registered flights, this will affect the Liberian people. But, interestingly, these people have failed to illustrate the manner in which the sanctions will affect the already oppressed and impoverished people of that country. While the Liberian government has continuously bargained that funds from the exportation of diamond and logs have been used to rehabilitate and rebuild schools, hospitals and other developmental activities that is the contrary. Liberian schools lack basic educational materials to function. Last year, over 40% of the 12th graders who took the national exams failed. Hospitals also do not have minimal operational materials. Moreover, teachers and medical personnel are among civil servants who receive the lowest of salaries. Worst, civil servants (aside from members of some security institutions) do not receive their salaries regularly.
Within Liberia itself, indicators are that sanctions or no sanctions, the status quo remains. There have been strikes and boycotts by both teachers and students calling on government to make schools operational. In one of those actions undertaken by students in mid 1999, members of the Liberia National Police armed with long ranged weapons brutally "dispersed" the students who had peacefully gone to the education ministry to present a petition calling for the provision of basic educational materials among others to make schools functional. Many students were beaten and several wounded by the police.
Recently, the largest public hospital in Liberia (JFK) was closed due to lack of drugs and equipment to provide basic services and the inability of government to provide salaries of its medical personnel. Many other health centers and medical practitioners especially in the rural areas have remained neglected due to lack of government support.
Aside from the schools and medical areas, there is no pipe borne water nor electricity in the country, yet the exportation of diamond, gold and other resources have not halted since the three years of the Taylor led government.
With all these machinations, the trauma of refugees and the displaced with the sub region escalates. The head of the UNHCR Ruud Lubbers recently called on the International Community to enforce tough actions on Liberia for its role in what he considered "the world's worst refugee crisis. We are now in the process of boycott and I do not hesitate to make a judgment to the International community to be even tougher", he said.
For example, thousands of Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees in Guinea continuously suffer harassment and attacks and remain victims because of accusations that Charles Taylor is supporting groups to destabilize that country.
It is clear that Taylor's success in establishing structures of crisis, amassing power and wealth, cannot be carried out in isolation. It is also clear that Taylor activities are carried out with support within the sub-region. This betrayal within the sub-region undermines ECOWAS objectivity. Most importantly, this betrayal is a complete loss to the human and other resources of countries whose goal have been to see West Africa progress and united.
With all these developments and games, how then can ECOWAS ensure that there is not a hidden agenda or that the "Judas and his disciples" have not sold West Africa to Charles Taylor. How can the sub-region be convinced that two months sanctions reprieve will not open the window and empower Taylor to amputate more persons, equipped more militias to invade other countries, capture/kidnap and torture more human beings, strengthen his positions in Guinea and Sierra Leone, severely drain the already ruined economy, painfully pauperize the already destitute Liberians, and strengthen his oppressive position within Liberia and the Sub-region?
The imposition of the sanctions is an opportunity to bring pressure to bear on the Taylor regime. It is also an opportunity to elevate the Liberian crisis to international recognition not for its pride or progress, but for the rigor of its PLIGHT. It is an avenue for the world to see that Liberians cannot live a peaceful life, Liberians have been ripped of their dignity since Charles Taylor captured power.
The Taylor menace is not isolated to Liberia and Sierra Leone or Guinea, it has the potential of spreading to other parts of the region. This menace is evidently not borne to remain in any one political boundary. It is because of this that all well meaning Liberians and West Africans and people who believe in peace, development, democracy and virtues that allow every human being to enjoy those rights entitled him/her as a human being, to stop the wheels of severe oppression and anarchy that is engulfing the region.
International visibility is crucial to human rights, that is why Liberians and friends of Liberia should see this as the chance of the millennium to draw the attention of the world to a society and people held hostage.
Policy makers, stakeholders and people in positions of authority have the option and ability to reshape the life and destiny of a bleeding society and people. There is the preference of continuous oppression and destruction of freedom and creativity. There is the choice of continuous amputation, dictatorship and democracy and development. Therefore, decision makers, Liberians and friends of Liberia and those who believe in freedom have a role to play in reshaping the destiny of Liberia and the sub-region.
Editor's Note: Ms. Musue N. Haddad, a Liberian journalist, is presently a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow in the U.S.A