General Abubakar and the Warlords: Tricking the Tricksters

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 20, 2003

With the inauguration of Chairman Gyude Bryant following the take-over of peacekeeping by the United Nations, the peace process is now entering its most active face. Like a crazy train, the regime of the NPP has crashed into a wall. Vision 2024 never went past 2003. Stupidity and arrogance go hand in hand and when they team up with greed, salvation becomes unattainable. Vision 2024 was bound to crash, as the drivers were blind-sided by ignorance.

Mr. Charles G. Taylor is gone. Like Mengistu of Ethiopia, like Idi Amin of Uganda and like Mobutu of Zaire, he is gone. If he resurfaces, it would most likely be to face a tribunal, either in Freetown, Monrovia or Abidjan. Someone who knows the former warlord said that he is bound to make a mistake that would leave no choice to President Obasanjo than to let him go… As former US Senator Nancy Kassebaum once said to a visiting Liberian delegation, “Mr. Taylor has the propensity to make stupid mistakes.” He would soon work himself out asylum.

General Abubakar’s Master Trick
Things are moving fast on the ground. The new chairman is putting in place his “kitchen cabinet” and warring factions as well as civil society are making nominations to the various posts in government.

The transitional government may not however be in place for some time to come. The delay would be caused by the absence of an assembly, which is constitutionally vested with the authority to confirm all presidential appointee in accordance with the constitution. Under the present conditions, this is far from being the case.

The news that General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the ECOWAS Chief negotiator in the peace process had annulled the elections of county delegates to the assembly took many by surprise and even annoyed other assembly members who angrily walked out of the meeting. This reaction from Liberians is understandable. Since the announcement of the indictment of Charles Taylor on June 4, 2003, some have been jockeying to find a job in any new government. Now that they got a job, they could not wait to take their seats amidst the rumbles of the looted Capitol building.

One may be tempted to accuse the General of heavy handiness. However, looking at the peace process in its entirety, this annulment is the best way forward in ensuring disarmament.

In the first transitional government, in 1993, warring factions got into the government through the back door. They did not have to make any commitment to peace and they did not disarm their fighters, although they took control of the government. Their representatives took their seats in the transitional assembly, ministers were confirmed and the government took off, while disarmament lagged behind. Now the process, as a consequence of the general’s actions, would make a repeat of that scenario less likely.

According to the Monrovia newspaper The Inquirer reporting on the meeting between leaders of factions and Chairman Bryant, Damate of LURD said that his faction would disarm once the government is fully constituted. Chairman Bryant said to the press that once the factions submit the names of their nominees, he would send them forward to the assembly for confirmation. ECOWAS said that representatives of the counties should be elected in the counties and not in Monrovia, and this would be done once security conditions are conducive.

Here is the trap: when they insisted that county delegates be chosen in the counties and not in Monrovia, warring factions had envision a situation where they would handpick loyal followers in the counties and bring them to Monrovia. This would have ensured them a majority vote in the assembly and they would have walked away with every major position in the unicameral parliament. With ECOWAS insisting on an improvement of security conditions before elections could be held in those areas, the warring factions now have no choice but to disarm their fighters and/or turn over security in their areas to UNMIL. As a consequence, they would no longer be in position to handpick candidates….

There is another trap here that warring factions - NPFL, LURD and MODEL - would find hard to avoid: those nominated to posts in the executive are to be confirmed by the assembly before taking their jobs. As long as the security conditions have not improved in the countryside, the assembly would not be complete and therefore cannot organize itself into committees for the purpose of confirmation hearings. How long can the ministers wait before assuming their lucrative jobs?

In final analysis, there would be no government until factions pull out their fighters and improve security conditions in the counties. This security would be confirmed whence humanitarian organizations can go up country and set-up shops, when there is no armed bandits roaming villages and when every Liberian would be free to go back and forth between their villages and Monrovia. The ball is now in the court of NPFL, LURD and MODEL who control every inch of the national territory except Monrovia.

No security no assembly and no assembly no jobs! It is all up to the warring factions! Mr. Bryant can run the government relying on technocrats in every ministry and public corporations. Ministers and their deputies would have to wait until their bosses allow the formation of a transitional assembly… by creating the security conditions in the counties they have taken hostage.

Rather than being impatient and accusing General Abdulsalami for caving in to warlords, Liberians should thank him. His approach represents the best solution to reach a quick and comprehensive disarmament of the warring factions and the deployment of peacekeepers throughout the country. It is also the best chance for people in those counties to have some freedom in electing their representatives… Of course, this may take another 3 months. Compared to the 14 years of killing and looting the country has experienced, this will; go fast.

Hats off, to you General.