Wag the Dog, Liberian Style
By Abdoulaye W. Dukule
Posted May 20, 2002
I remember one thing from the long speech Taylor gave last week: he called on people who sat outside saying that there was no war to come and see for themselves. Then he went on to say that his troops had killed some hundred rebels during the battle in Gbarnga. After that tirade, we heard from Mr. Hanson of LURD who confirmed that they had indeed attacked Gbarnga, that contrary to what Taylor said, they had not been evicted from the NPFL capital. He went on to say that they had attacked Arthington, the president's hometown and later on decided that it was not strategically important and therefore moved on. Mr. Hanson, in an indirect reference to what I have written here, said that they respect press freedom. These are all beautiful sketches but we must examine them and see where they take us.
A few years ago, Hollywood came out with a movie called "Wag the Dog." In that movie, the president of the United States was faced a difficult political situation. To divert attention of the American people, he calls on one of his movie producer friends in Hollywood and they staged a war, on television with wounded soldiers and captured enemies, with newspaper editorials and crying orphans. By the time the "last" soldier was home, everyone had forgotten the domestic problems of the president.
Now, let's examine the context in which the "attacks" on Gbarnga and the hometown of the president took place. The United Nations had just renewed its full regime of sanctions of Taylor and his cohorts. The Police of Paul Mulbah had arrested and tortured one of the most outstanding human rights defender in the country, Tiawan Gongloe. This had led to condemnations from every corner of the society and in the international community, and even in the usually tight NPFL coalition. A week later, two cronies of Taylor were arrested in Ghana for killing General Glay, the former bodyguard of Samuel K. Doe. This was potentially the most explosive situation for Taylor, if there has ever been one. His millions of dollars in PR did not stop the UN sanctions. The Gongloe issue could have taken him to another level of embarrassment comparable to the Dokie issue and finally, the trail of blood from Accra to Monrovia could have led to his indictment in a criminal conspiracy, of international dimension.
As a backdrop to all of this, Liberia and Guinea claimed last month that they had sent troops to patrol their common borders. The troops are said to have even come in contact and everyone was expressing satisfaction at the confidence building measures. Now, here is our first set of questions:
What happened to the troops deployed? How did LURD fighters by-passed three armies to go launch an attack so grandiose that it led to the fall of Gbarnga? How did they transport their arms and ammunitions to Gbarnga? How large was the convoy?
One must wonder how many troops it takes to launch an attack on Gbarnga, Arthington and other places all at the same time, all strongholds of Taylor without impunity. Did Guinea supply backup and exit roads? Why didn't Taylor accuse Guinea? What happened to the bodies of the 100 people killed?
We can draw many conclusions but that would lead us into speculations. We would simply continue to ask our past questions:
1. Why doesn't LURD ever make any claims until the government of Taylor comes up and say it has lost a town to LURD?
2. Why does LURD always lose control of strategic places they claim to have seized in a matter of days?
3. How is LURD capable of making such spectacular attacks inside the country, so close to the capital and disappear in thin air, without leaving behind any trace?
4. In the case of Arthington, what happened to the soldiers that lived in the barracks that was burned? How long was the battle? How did the hometown of the president fall to rebels without one single dead rebel or soldiers? Furthermore, how long did it take the government to retake those towns?
5. How is it possible that all these towns fall and are retaken without one single rebel being killed or captured or no soldier of the AFL killed or captured?
Until these questions are answered, I will continue to be skeptical as to the claims and counterclaims of LURD and the government. So far, all we know is that thousands of displaced people have moved up and down the road, that houses and business were looted, that properties were burned. Ironically, a high-ranking member of the police was arrested this time for looting the president's house.
This much we know. The victims are the same. The claims and counterclaims are the same. The scenario is played exactly the same way: the government claims to have been attacked, LURD beats its chest and says: "we did it." Two days later, government mounts an offensive and retakes towns it had lost. Calm returns to the country. There are no prisoners of war (not that NPFL ever had any), there are no dead rebels to show, and all we see are looted goods in Monrovia, peddled by unpaid soldiers "returning from the front"!