Sharing The Blame For Our Present Mess (Part 1)

By James W. Harris

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted July 22, 2002

When one listens very carefully to the so-called major players or stakeholders of the opposition and civil society groups, among others, in the ongoing sad Liberian drama, one could be led falsely to think that President Charles Taylor is the ONLY person that’s responsible for the country’s current mess (quagmire). In fact, there can be no denial that he personally does bear full responsibility for most of what is presently happening to our once peaceful “glorious land of liberty”.

But likewise, it could be said that some “key” opposition and, perhaps, civil society figures too should equally be blamed for the depth of despair that has unfortunately descended upon our country, thereby, forcing many of its once proud citizens to be scattered all across the troubled West African sub-region and far beyond - something that had not crossed their wildest imagination in more than a hundred and fifty years of Liberia’s existence as a Republic.

And for sure, Liberians nor the world community will ever get to know the true story as to who was really behind Mr. Taylor’s abrupt and brutal rise to state power when he launched his severely savage war against the Liberian people and nation more than ten years ago. The only thing that we have heard so far is that some members of the country’s present so-called opposition did play a major role in preparing him to undertake such reckless and careless venture for whatever reasons.

And to know that the whole DESTINY of our country still lies in the bloodstained hands of some of these same heartless souls is just unacceptable, depressing and heart wrenching. Moreover, their continuing active involvement in the failed nation’s affairs, both internally and externally, clearly spells more trouble for Liberia now and in the not too distant future. For, if they could not make things any better for the long-suffering Liberian masses when they had the opportunity by serving in prominent positions in previous governments, then how can they now make any meaningful difference to the lives of the people, who are now sadly worst off than they were when their former stooge (Taylor) took office by force through the barrel of Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s and Blaise Compaore’s blazing guns? Shouldn’t we be questioning their collective motive at this rather crucial junction in our nation’s history? My honest answer is that we definitely should because it is the right thing to do!

To really appreciate what I’m talking about, and to put some realism into my argument, let’s consider a few names of the so-called “key players” or “stakeholders” in the seemingly fragile Liberian opposition and civil society groups who attended two major conferences recently to decide the ultimate fate of our desperate and now barren nation. At the Liberian Leadership Conference in Bethesda, Maryland, were former warlord, Alhaji Kromah [understandably, he doesn’t want to be referred to as a ‘warlord’ anymore], Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Harry Moniba, Bai Gbala, Cletus Wotorson, Charles Brumskine, Chea Cheapo, Morris Dukuly, E. Sumo Jones, Harry Greaves, Jr., Mrs. Christine Tolbert-Norman, among a host of other familiar names.

As for participants in the much heralded Ouagadougou Liberian Conference, its organizers chose to list them in groups instead, such as, Political Parties [i.e. Free Democratic Party, Unity Party, New Deal Party]; Civil Society Organizations [i.e. Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, Center for Democratic Empowerment]; Armed Opposition [i.e. Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD)]. And yes, as expected, it was chaired by none other than the ‘good-ole’ Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer, the once “progressive” political science professor at the University of Liberia, who, disappointingly, has turned out to become Blaise Compaore’s main praise singer.

He and others who willingly attended the conference that was said to have been paid for partly by the host (Burkina Faso), have suddenly forgotten that it was this same Blaise Compaore, along with Libya’s flamboyant ruler [not leader], Col. Gaddafi that have turned the entire Mano River Union Basin into a deadly killing field for utterly selfish reasons. Isn’t he the same Blaise Compaore who murdered one of Africa’s youngest and most promising leaders, Thomas Sankara in cold blood [some say with the help of Liberians, including, his friend, Taylor]? Isn’t he the same-old Blaise Compaore under whose ruler ship veteran journalist, Norbert Zongo was slaughtered while he tried to uncover the truth as any ‘dedicated’ journalist would? Yes, how soon we [Liberians] forget! But as far as Dr. Sawyer and the rest of them are concerned, that’s their version of LIBERIAN LEADERSHIP – to embrace men like those and then mislead the people at the same time, talking about they’re seeking peace and solutions to Liberia’s problems. Yes, whatever!

But the most vexing question today [and probably has always been] is: Just who has given the Wotorsons, Brumskines, Sawyers, Johnson-Sirleafs, Kromahs, etc., the right to determine the fate of Liberia as leaders, especially so, given their previous public records and indifference to the general welfare of the people? Weren’t they the same people in government that saw nothing absolutely wrong with the way in which it functioned? Are they any different now? I’m sorry - the burden definitely is on them to prove that they mean “good” for the country this time around, because as far as I’m concerned, the Liberian people have yet [much yet] to finally determine who their “REAL” leaders are.

And the evidently weary international community should be warned before hand that the whole question of leadership for Liberia has yet to be settled as the LIBERIAN PEOPLE - many of whom are now driven cruelly into the various refugees camps, bushes in the country’s vast interior, shanty towns near Monrovia, etc. – are the only ones that can make that determination. And so far, they really haven’t been given the opportunity to do so - no, not yet!

As the result, what we are witnessing today in the seemingly endless Liberian crisis is simply a charade of failed politicians and diehard opportunists who would stop at nothing to accomplish their selfish aims, i.e., keeping their niches in the collapsed country without “clearly” providing a plan by which it [Liberia] could quickly pull itself out of the present mess that it is in. Frankly, don’t you think that the country would have been reclaimed by now and fast on its way to full recovery if those in the opposition had anything better to offer? But the fact is, they surely don’t! All they seem to be fixated on are elections, elections and elections to give themselves some legitimacy in order to enable them to further plunder the nation and squander its wealth [valuable resources] for their personal gains.

But even Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers and preeminent advocate of democratic principles and values, did not consider elections to be THE first priority for establishing a democracy, particularly, when the nation is bitterly divided like ours. He wrote: “Were parties here divided merely by a greediness for office, to take a part with either would be unworthy of a reasonable or moral man.” These words should immediately prompt the opposition and civil leaders to think twice about what they are about to get into! Because, truly, elections ALONE won’t solve Liberia’s longstanding problems of repression of the majority by the minority; gross economic inequalities and injustices; tribalism; ethnicity; class division based ‘solely’ on one’s social status, etc. Nope, Nope! If elections alone meant democracy as some people think, then why would we be collectively charging the Taylor government of being “undemocratic” albeit its supposedly ‘popular vote’ that brought it to power? Did his accession to power by supposedly ‘popular vote’ ever translate into transforming the miserable living standard of the Liberian people? I don’t get it, because as far as I know, democracy means more than elections!

And I must warn you in advance that I’ll certainly be quoting the great American statesman (Thomas Jefferson) throughout this piece, if for no other reasons, to alert our so-called self-choosing leaders that we do know exactly when a nation is prepared to permanently abandon its old ways and move on towards establishing a true democracy - and right now, Liberia is far from that. What the war-devastated country badly needs right now is a “level-headed and sober” leader who would be competent and sufficiently experience to harmonize the people and nation.

To highlight the magnitude of the problems facing any new Liberian leader, let me share something with you. Just the other day during a short visit to Delaware, I was somehow surprise to learn that the Mano, Gio and Krahn tribes have actually been going at each other’s throats for many, many years, even long before the so-called settlers or Americo-Liberians arrived in that part of Africa. I mean, this surely is deep stuff that should often be discussed openly amongst Liberians if the country is ever going to heal itself. Is there anyone in the opposition that’s capable of remaining neutral [despite tribal or other affiliations] to immediately attempt to bring closure to this kind of conflict and foster total harmony amongst the war-wrecked nation’s peoples of all shades and backgrounds? I really don’t know!

After faltering for so many years, mainly due to personal egos and/or some “hidden skeletons in their closets”, the so-called opposition have proven time and time again that they’re grossly incapable of resolving the nation’s numerous chronic problems or, better yet, moving the halted nation forward. And if they thought that their latest conferences in Bethesda and Ouagadougou would have salvaged their bad image or corrected certain negative impressions about them, then they’ve obviously failed.

Quite often, I’ve heard people talking about democracy, but do they really know what it means or understand how it works? I really doubt it. Do they know that in a democracy, power is supposed to be derived from the PEOPLE [that mass of human beings that dwell within a particular geographical area]? Do they know that government supposed to be elected based on a CONTRACT with the people? Do they know that such contracts are formed by way of the people’s mandate, telling the government exactly what they want from it? Well then, elections certainly are not the end of the democratic process as some people may think. For example, that’s how the Taylor folks think. They believe [and it is their right] that once he [Taylor] was elected, that automatically ended his obligation [constitutional and otherwise] to the Liberian people. Wrong!

This raises another concern - what do Liberians really want at this time? Do they just want a change in government [by putting the proverbial ‘old wine in new bottles’] - replacing Charles Taylor with another despot, tyrant or dictator? Or, given the state of their dysfunctioning nation, would they want to seize the opportunity and start from scratch by putting into office someone that would be directly accountable to them - in short, laying the foundation for the establishment of ‘real’ democracy in which they would have a say [at least] in determining their own destiny? No doubt, whichever direction Liberia would go after President Taylor leaves office [either as the result of him being ousted from power violently by his main antagonists, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), or by way of another election], certainly depends on the kind of leader that would emerge.

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