West Africa and the Taylor Cancer (II)
By Abdoulaye W. Dukule
September 29, 2002
It was on September 17, 2002, when Honorable Alex Koroma, a Sierra Leonean legislator stopped in Monrovia on his way from Abuja where the ECOWAS Parliament had just met, to confront Charles Taylor, the recluse and reckless rebel leader of Liberia about the training of rebels in Monrovia. According to the Freetown Concord Times of September 18, 2002, "Honorable Alex Koroma insists that a source in Liberia [...] revealed that fighters were trained for the defunct RUF which was backed by Charles Taylor." The Honorable Koroma said they had received the information in Abuja but the motives for training were not revealed. Now, the world knows why the fighters were being trained and their destination.
Last week, we put forward in these columns the first piece of the puzzle of the Ivorian political tragedy. Now the picture is complete and everything holds together. On Friday, speaking to Radio France International, Mr. Pascal Affi Nguessan, the Prime Minister of Cote d’Ivoire said they were now convinced that the rebels in Cote d’Ivoire had been trained and guided by other Ivorians who had fought in a neighboring country as mercenaries a few years ago. He said the rebels had been trained, financed and armed in that neighboring country before being sent back to seize power. Mr. Nguessan said that the proofs they had were tangible enough to warrant the intervention of France. Indeed, France admitted that everything pointed to a foreign intervention and therefore granted all logistic support the Ivorian government may stand in need of.
On the other hand, Mr. Jean de Dieu Sonda, the minister of cooperation of Burkina Faso said on the same Radio France International that his government was able to prove to the Ivorian government that Burkina Faso had no part in the uprising. He added that they had no interest in creating havoc in Cote d’Ivoire where more than 2 million Burkina people live. According to Minister Dieu Sonda, the Ivorians accepted their explanations and presented apologies to the Burkina government, in Abidjan and through their embassy in Ouagadougou.
According to BBC and Radio France International reporters in Bouake and in Korhogo, the rebels were well armed and not with arms and ammunitions used by the Ivorian military, they were very disciplined and had lot of money, all things surprising for a group of disgruntled soldiers angry about losing their seats on military benches. It was evident to all that these "dissidents" were well trained, well prepared and well financed. The clarifications made by the Prime Minister of Cote d’Ivoire all but name Liberia.
The Liberian reaction has been the most surprising since the beginning and points to “guilty conscience.” While other neighboring countries sent delegations to Abidjan to offer support to the government of Cote d’Ivoire and seek the welfare of their citizens some countries sent Ministers and asked them to stay in Abidjan until the issue is resolved - Liberia, the country that has more refugees in that country, sent its rowing ambassador, Mr. Mohamed Salame, a Lebanese who serves as Taylor’s special envoy to Guei and Kaddafi. The surprising aspect of this is that Samalé was not sent to Abidjan directly as all other ECOWAS members did, he went to Addis Abeba, to present a letter of solidarity with the Ivorian people to Amara Essy, the Interim President of the African Union.
Why would Liberia, that had not been accused "officially" shun Abidjan and take a letter of solidarity with the Ivorian people to the African Union President? Why does Mohamed Salame, a petty merchant based in Abidjan and handling diamonds, logging, arms, drugs and other shady financial transactions for Charles Taylor, leave Cote d’Ivoire to go meet with Amara Essy, who, as if by coincidence, is none other than the former minister of Foreign Affairs of the late Houphouet-Boigny, the man who opened the Ivorian borders to the killing horde of Taylor? During the tenuous negotiations in the 1990s, Taylor used the Ivorian government and Burkina Faso to soften the stand of ECOWAS on the NPFL. Now that he seems to have lost the Burkina Faso support and he is going head-on with the government of Laurent Gbagbo, his last support may be with the last standing relic of the Boigny era, thus the letter to Addis Ababa.
ECOWAS leaders are meeting in Accra, Ghana to adopt a common position on the crisis. According to Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade, Chairman of ECOWAS, the sub-region would most likely dispatch a peacekeeping force in Cote d’Ivoire of about 4,000 troops, with logistic support from France and the United States. This could solve the immediate issue in Cote d’Ivoire. But the root cause of the problem remains as long as nothing is done about the rebel leader turned president in Monrovia.
Those who called on the Ivorians to stop their support for Taylor could now say “what goes up must come down.” The Ivorians made lot of money while Liberia self-destruct. San Pedro, a dying port town, became a vibrant city where diamond, timber and gold brought in fast cash. Discharged “civic service” of the army found jobs in the NPFL under the guidance of Ouattara Thomas d’Aquin, the former Chief of State of the Ivorian military who, from his hometown in Katiola near Bouake, lent his support to Taylor and trained contingents of Ivorian youth. Government officials received lavish gifts. Now it is all coming back to roost. France also played the Taylor card all along, through logging interests and high level contact with the likes of Michel Dupuch, former French ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire and up until recently the African Affairs Advisor to President Chirac as well as Jean Francois Mitterand who held the post under his father before going into private business in Switzerland. It is ironic that France would now have to spend millions and manpower to save Cote d’Ivoire from Taylor.
As Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas said in 1995, Taylor has the propensity to make stupid mistakes. Let’s hope that he has made such last mistake and that as President Conteh put it, West Africa would face the fact and extract the cancer and destroy it before it kills the region. The US has said all the right things, from Senator Royce to the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, there is no doubt that the Liberian leader is a criminal and must be treated as such. The problem so far is that he is looked upon from a political perspective rather than being treated as a criminal. Mohamed Salame could provide every proof that is needed. He knows where the arms came from, who paid for them, how many Guei boys he transported to and from Liberia, how much cash he received from Taylor and where the Sierra Leone diamonds were sold to buy guns.
Saying that Taylor is not the problem in Liberia and West Africa is like saying that Mobutu was not the problem in central Africa with his corruption, human rights abuses and support to destabilizing forces in Rwanda, Angola and South Africa. It is also like saying that Hitler was not the problem in Europe or that Nigeria’s problems in the 1990s had nothing to do with Abacha. One person can at times become the embodiment of all contradictions at a given point in history and Taylor represents that person today in the history of West Africa.
ECOWAS is already making history by promptly meeting to discuss a rising crisis to avoid a blood bath. Abdoulaye Wade and his colleagues must however go further and reach another level and avoid the mistakes of the 1990s when ECOWAS played babysitter to criminals and ended up crowning them. West African history could have been different today without the Taylors and the Sankohs. This can be done in Accra if the West African leaders for once accept to call a spade a spade, point a finger to the real culprit and take the appropriate measures to put an end once for all to political banditry and crime. Peacekeeping is much more expensive than conflict prevention and this can be done. Let the accused respond to the charges and bear the consequences of causing the death of more than 300,000 people.
Taylor and his supporters from Libya must not be allowed another reckless mistake at the expenses of West Africa.