An Analysis Of Another Phase Of The Liberian Saga

By S. Jabaru Carlon, Ph.D

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 29, 2003


For the past fifteen years or so, the Liberian nation has been overwhelmed by a catastrophe of humongous proportions. A disproportionately small group of discontented citizens (aided by mercenaries from other countries) had organized in various rebellious groups and have continuously terrorized the country for that many years. Accordingly, they have devastated the infrastructure and shattered a national economy that was just beginning to pick up from a long dormancy. These rebels have slaughtered, maimed and made cripple more than a million of the country's sparse population of 3.5 million. Close to a million others have sought refuge in Europe, Asia, the Americas; as well as other countries on the African continent. Those who could not escape their atrocious deeds, remained in the country and by and large became a nomadic people, moving from place to place with their meagre possessions in bundles carried on their heads. And this has been the lot of the rural poor.

At various points of this disastrous conflict, our West African brothers and sisters have tried to bring peace and stability to the land, with little success. In 1990, for instance, some such efforts were made by the ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), aided by the United Nations and other international communities. This brought to Liberia the ECOWAS peacekeeping force, led by the military might of Nigeria. Towards that end, a conference of about a week's duration was held in Banjul, The Gambia, which ushered into Liberia the erstwhile Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU). The NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia) of Charles McArthur Taylor, the former President, refused to attend; and later on considered the IGNU unconstitutional because it was constituted outside Liberia. All efforts to persuade the NPFL and Mr. Taylor or his representative attend the Banjul conference was in vain. By this time, a splinter rebel group under one of Mr. Taylor's generals, Prince Y. Johnson, had successfully broken away from the NPFL and became the INPFL (the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia). The INPFL was represented at Banjul and was one of the sides that elected Dr. Amos Sawyer as President of the IGNU.

Towards the end of the mandate of the IGNU, stakeholders in the country at the time (which now included Mr. Taylor's NPFL) held another conference in the new Nigerian capital of Abuja (Abuja II it was called) to elect one more interim administration that would lead the country to general elections for the presidency and the legislature. At the end of the conference the so-called Big Guns/Big Three comprising Taylor's NPFL, Alhaji Kromah's ULIMO-K and Dr. George Boley's LPC, unanimously elected Mr. Wilton Sankawulo out of the clear blue skies of national politics. The Big Guns/Big Three who held their election behind closed doors, had, throughout the conference argued that they who "had put the boys in the bush" were the only ones capable of bringing them out. Consequently, they became a part of the hydra-type government that was set up at Abuja to succeed the IGNU administration of President Amos Sawyer. But the government of the warlords met with dismal failure. For the power-sharing model, created largely at their bequest, proved a recipe for chaos and failure, as the three main rebel factions were given nearly all the major positions of government.

The Chairman of the Council [of State], the Head of State, turned out to be Mr. Taylor's puppet and stooge. Little wonder the subsequent general elections were a disaster and Mr. Taylor was declared to have won by a landslide; albeit, Mr. Sankawulo had left the helm of government. He had already paved the way for Mr. Taylor's election. And the coming into being of one rebel group (LURD) and then another (MODEL) bear testimony to the discontentment this ill-achieved government of Mr. Taylor had brought to the country. And the "beat goes on". Clearly, Taylor's government has brought upon Liberia and Liberians nothing but hardship, disaster, disruption and a failed state. Did Liberians ever see a worse state of ‘rampant corruption'? It was during the Taylor regime! Were Liberians ever more oppressed and suppressed? It was during the Taylor reign of terror! Indeed, Providence is slow, but is sure to come. Hence, Liberians now can see the light, albeit dimly, at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, the dimness will improve.

The Present Analyzed

And now another interim administration (the third) is coming into being; this time from the Ghanaian capital of Accra. Peculiarly, its birth took a very long time - more time than all the other interim conferences put together. Another peculiar aspect of it is that the election or might we say, selection took place in two tiers. First, the political parties and other civil groups representatives elected three candidates for the Chairmanship and three others for the Vice Chairmanship. The two shortlists (six in all) were presented to the warring groups who met separately and brought to us the Chairman and Vice Chairman, whom the whole world knows now to be Messrs. Charles Gyude Bryant and Wesley Momo Johnson. Why the groups had to meet separately and why the two-tier election/selection process still remain unknown and unexplained to some of us. To some of us who attended the Abuja II conference in 1995, the procedure is reminiscent of the aura of the Big Guns/Big Three that prevailed over the conference then. The choice of little known entities (of Sankawulo in 1995 and now Bryant in 2003) also invokes surprise and ambivalence. Let me hasten to point out, though, that the two men are relatively well known to some of us. The larger Liberian populace, however, who inhabit rural Liberia may raise the question of "Bryant who?", as they did of "Sankawulo who?". Even some among the international community may raise similar questions. One would only hope that the end results may turn out to be different and diametrically opposed to each other. For as Mr. Bryant has already begun to realize, with the magnanimity and weight of the many years Liberians have suffered, leaves no room for turning back. The task before him also is Herculean! Certainly, there may not be many of his compatriots who are envious of him.

Meanwhile, one troubling aspect of the Bryant reign-to-be, the NTGL ( the National Transition Government of Liberia), is the power-sharing process. As I see it, the warring groups have been given too many key positions. And unless some stringent mechanisms are put in place for accountability, we may be reverting to the years of the second interim administration under Sankawulo. Furthermore, the Chairman needs to exercise tactful handling of and control over his cabinet, so as to minimize gross corruption and nepotism. The following outline of the position allotment says it all:

A. The Ministries - 21

1. For LURD - Five
i. Ministry of Finance
ii. Ministry of Justice
iii. Ministry of Labor
iv. Ministry of Transport
v. Ministry of Internal Affairs

2. For MODEL - Five
i. Ministry of Agriculture
ii. Ministry of Commerce
iii. Ministry of Lands, Mines & Energy
iv. Ministry of Public Works
v. Ministry of Foreign Affairs

3. For GOL - Five
i. Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications
ii. Ministry of Health & Social Welfare
iii. Ministry of National Defense
iv. Ministry of Planning & Economic Affairs
v. Ministry of Internal Affairs
4. For Political Parties and the Civil Society - Six
i. Ministry of Education
ii. Ministry of Gender & Development
iii. Ministry of Information
iv. Ministry of National Security
v. Ministry of Rural Development
vi. Ministry of Youth & Sports

B. The Public Corporations - 22

1. For LURD - Four
i. Liberia Free Zone Authority
ii. Liberia Telecommunications Corporation
iii. Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation
iv. National Port Authority
2. For MODEL- Four
i. Agriculture Cooperative Development Bank
ii. Forestry Development Authority
iii. Roberts International Airport
iv. National Social Security & Welfare Corporation

3. For GOL - Four
i. Liberia Broadcasting System
ii. Liberia Electricity Corporation
iii. Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation
iv. Water & Sewer Corporation
4. For Political Parties and the Civil Society - Ten
i. Agriculture Industrial Training Board
ii. Liberia Domestic Airport Authority
iii. Liberia Mining Corporation
iv. Liberia National Lotteries
v. Liberia Rubber Development Unit
vi. National Oil Company
vii. Monrovia Transit Authority
viii. National Housing & Savings Bank
ix. National Housing Authority
x. National Insurance Corporation of Liberia

C. The Autonomous Agencies/Commissions - 22

1. For LURD - Two
i. General Service Agency
ii. National Investment Commission

2. For MODEL - Two
i. Bureau of Maritime Affairs
ii. Liberia Refugee Repatriation & Resettlement Commission

3. For GOL - Two
i. Bureau of the Budget
ii. National Security Agency
4. For Political Parties and the Civil Society - Sixteen
i. Bureau of Immigration & Naturalization
ii. Bureau of General Auditing
iii. Bureau of State Enterprises
iv. Center for National Documentation & Records
v. Civil Service Agency
vi. Cooperative Development Agency
vii. John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center
viii. Liberia National Police Force
ix. National Bureau of Investigation
x. National Fire Services
xi. National Food Assistance Agency
xii. Truth & Reconciliation Commission
xiii. Independent National Human Rights Commission
xiv. Governance Reform Commission
xv. Contract Monopolies Commission
xvi. National Elections Commission

Coming from such long-drawn crisis that Liberia is emerging, it is paramount that certain key positions come squarely under the direct supervision of the chief administration officer: i.e., the Chairman/President. These include, though not limited to, the following: the Ministries of Finance, Justice, Information, Commerce, National Security and Foreign Affairs; as well as the Free Zone Authority, Telecommunications Corporation, National Port Authority, Agriculture Cooperative Development Bank, Forestry Development Authority, Roberts International Airport, Liberia Broadcasting Service, Liberia Electricity Corporation, Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation, Liberia Mining Corporation, Bureau of Maritime Affairs, Bureau of Immigration & Naturalization, and so on and so forth. Altogether, there are thirty odd such positions; of which the NTGL was awarded only about sixteen and the warring groups (of the LURD, MODEL and the GOL) another sixteen. This is a rather frightening fifty/fifty split between the warring factions and the Political Parties and the Civil Society. And one wonders whether any serious compromises were made among our compatriots who want to lead a war-torn country, with thousands of war-weary people. From what a Liberian official (of the NPFL government) is quoted as saying about the long delays in reaching an agreement - "'They're [rebels] demanding the most lucrative agencies of government.'" - and given the power-sharing that appears above, it's little wonder of where the warring groups are coming from. (See, The Washington Post of August l8, 2003, p. A12). Of course, the perennial question often raised is whether warring groups should be rewarded for their acts of destruction and atrociousness. I have my doubts. For if we must, then when will the cyclic business of "violence begets violence" ever end? And how can we ever end rebel activities in our country and the subregion? I think the ECOWAS and the international community should seize the opportunity now to end this senseless activity in the subregion once and for all.

Conclusion & Recommendations. Given what is going on presently in Liberia, even after an agreement has been reached and the Head of State and Vice Head have been elected, my conclusion can only be a question. Where are we now and where do we go from here? To this someone might respond in these words: "Come on, dummy, we now have peace!" But do we, really? It is precisely the irony of this that makes Mr. Charles Gyude Bryant's task most unenviable. For even as I write the media are replete with news of the warring groups back at each other's throats. And the poor, unarmed civilians (especially those living in the hinterland) are still carrying on in their nomadic ways, unsure of where their next meal will come from. As behooves Liberians, it is time that we continuously raise fervent prayers to the Almighty that He may touch the hearts of the warring groups to stop their atrocities to our country and peoples. We also must continue to peck at U.S. officials (especially those of the Pentagon) to release an adequate number of the Marines anchored off the coast of Liberia, to help curb the violence in that country altogether! We know they can do it; and can do so with little or no harm to their troops. I can assure them Liberia is no Somalia. For where else do they (Americans) see citizens of another country joyously wave their flag - instead of burning it - as the people of Liberia did at the first sight of U.S. Marines? They had taken them for real as saviors; even though they were terribly disappointed. Americans must return to save that country from oblivion. They cannot let Liberia forever be ‘Uncle Sam's Abandoned Son'.

Finally, my first, second and third recommendation to all concerned is disarming and demobilizing all warring factions and setting up a new, better trained and professional core of military and paramilitary personnel for the government that will succeed the Bryant regime. The next general elections must not be held in an atmosphere where warriors hold a Kalashnikov (AK-47) in one hand and a ballot in the other. The playing field must be made plain and level for all players. A fourth recommendation would be the setting up of a strong board of well-meaning Liberians and UN personnel that would ensure the maximal management of the nation's scarce economic resources and funds for national development. My fifth recommendation is an advice to the warring groups. They must stop the fighting and instead return to town and help heal the wounds they have opened or re-opened; to help rebuild a national infrastructure they have jointly destroyed; they must return and prove to their countrymen what their names indicate: Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). By their names, we assume they both believe in democracy and reconciliation. So let their return prove this.

For the Chairman and his Vice, I think it's rather premature to make any predictions. They face some very high mountains of lawlessness, hunger and disease, with a political arena that's shredded into 18 small factions called parties. Clearly, a country the size of Liberia, with barely 3.5 million people at the most ambitious measure, even four political parties may be a crowd. Liberians have got to give up the fallacy that everyone must shoot for the presidency. Come on, fellow citizens, there are many more important positions for the taking. It is ludicrous that every party leader vies for the topmost position - the presidency. Let's get together and shrink the 18 groups to three or four parties. In this connection, the Chairman-elect and his cohorts could be very useful; for an important part of their duty and responsibility should be to unite Liberians. And he will need to utilize fully the experience and expertise of his Vice Chairman-elect. Towards this end, I suggest that he learn a lesson from the erstwhile Clinton-Gore team of the U.S. I certainly wish them all the best, with God's blessing. AND CONGRATULATIONS, MR. CHAIRMAN & MR. VICE-CHAIRMAN! GOOD LUCK!