A Window of Opportunity for Peace

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

May 5, 2003

The current security and humanitarian crisis in the sub-region could be a blessing in disguise. Guinea, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire, all countries surrounding Liberia are faced with the same situation, at varying degree, with what Liberians have faced in the past decade. Although each country had experienced political changes through military coups, the cross border violence and insecurity was never part of the picture. Each country dealt with its political tremor internally and neighbors only had to provide shelter to a few "political refugees." But this has changed since the advent of the Taylor warfare in the 1990s. It destroyed Liberia, crossed into Sierra Leone and into Guinea, destroying everything on its path.

Like an insidious disease, Taylor launched his tentacles in every direction. Both Liberians and Guineans for years have tried to convince the Ivorians that the Taylor cancer they helped cultivate in Liberia would turn to them someday. Unfortunately nobody listened. Fueled by Libyan logistic support, with the help of the government of Burkina Faso and mostly French business interests in Cote d'Ivoire, the Taylor gangrene grew to become the most potentially destructive regime with regional dimension since the Zaire of Mobutu.

Today Cote d'Ivoire is experiencing the Taylor phenomenon and tomorrow, it could be Mali or Ghana and even Burkina Faso. In the next couple weeks, the International Crisis Group on Liberia (ICGL) will meet in Paris to put forward a series of propositions certainly to be taken up by Liberian parties meeting in Ghana just a few days later.

Avoiding the band-aid solution

The call from Monrovia, by Archbishop Michael Francis and echoed by others that the NPP government must be allowed to continue on a interim basis as peace is secured and disarmament takes shape must be considered. But this idea must be complemented by what came out of the ICGL release: Taylor must go. Elections must be postponed. All armed groups have to be disarmed.

The Taylor government is now jumping on the bandwagon to adhere to the call for a stabilization force and the postponement of the electoral process when it had rejected both for months. Taylor is banking on the fact that it is too late for any foreign force to come to Liberia and make a serious impact on the ground and carry out his vision of disarmament.

According to some reports, Taylor has been involved in talks with some countries in the region that have accepted the principle of deploying a few hundred men in Liberia just a few weeks after the Accra meeting. He is also said to have even proposed to foot the bill for such an operation by going to some "other friends". He would therefore go to Ghana, sign a "peace accord" with armed dissidents, shake hands with Liberian political opposition and celebrate "a home grown solution". If this were to happen, elections could take place on schedule. One can easily guess the outcome of such process.

The problems on the ground were the entire making of Charles Taylor and he must not be allowed to benefit from his mischief. The extension must be based on reasons that allow the return of peace and stability not only in Liberia but also in the entire sub-region. Since his surge on the political scene in 1989, Taylor has become an instrument of violence and instability. In 1992, his forces invaded Sierra Leone, resulting in the death of thousands of people. In 1998, he attempted to invade Guinea, causing massive death and destruction, and somehow forcing Guinea to provide sanctuary to armed Liberian dissidents for its own safety. In 2002, his forces took part in the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire. Taylor is the problem.

The ICGL said that the problems in the sub-region are much like those in central Africa in the 1990s. The Zaire of Mobutu had become a beachhead for destabilization in the region. He provided sanctuaries to Savimbi, to the perpetrators of the Rwanda genocide, armed the Ugandan rebels and undermined the governments of Angola and Zimbabwe. At a certain stage, all those countries got together and got him out of power. The price has been close to 2 million dead civilians, a total collapse of a country already at the bottom of the pit. But years after Mobutu was removed from power, the different armies from the region continued to exploit and plunder Congo. Such a situation can be avoided in Liberia. LURD is still a small band on the border of Guinea, mostly used by that country as a buffer zone. Notwithstanding its much-publicized advances, MODEL from the Ivorian borders would soon be reduced to the same status of protective shield for Cote d'Ivoire. Neither of these groups must be allowed to take over power in Liberia, because they would not be any different from the current regime and it would take another force to remove them. We had enough of this deadly musical chair in the 1990s. If this could be an indication, Jeeblagbeh Kuladeh, a spokesman of MODEL said to Abel Doualy of Fraternite Matin (an Ivorian daily) last week that they were fighting to avenge the death of Samuel Doe (http://www.fratmat.co.ci/story.asp?ID=19415).

Rational for the inclusion of some elements of the NPP Government

The inclusion of some elements of the NPP government for six to eight months to prepare for elections has an advantage: it would allow for whatever constitutional continuity that there might be on the ground on the one hand. On the other hand, and most importantly, it would spare us another round of a completely new government coming in and taking hold and entrenching itself in power. An inclusive transitional government would more easily help the disarmament process, because the tribal and regional aspect of the war must never be taken lightly. A government that includes Nimba citizens, for example, can effectively affect the disarmament process of the Nimba fighters who constitute the majority of Taylor forces. These fighters have resisted disarmament because Taylor told them that his end meant their end.

The inclusion of some elements of the NPP government does not mean in any way a prolongation of the Taylor-led government. Taylor must leave power by the time his term is over and any extension must be done under a new leadership.

A new paradigm of choices for President Taylor

The search for justice must not supercede the search for peace and stability in the region at the cost of millions more death. Indicting Taylor and bringing him to justice sounds good and would be a perfect solution if this were possible. He could well be indicted in Freetown but who is going to deliver him? The choice must not be either the presidency or facing a war crimes tribunal. Rather it should be between vacating power and going to live someplace in peace or face a war crime tribunal. However to make these choices valid, the process would need the total support of the international community, most specifically the UN Security Council.

There is a need for a Liberian solution, but this solution needs the support of the international community. A Liberian solution does not mean a Taylor-made solution, with his few remaining buddies in the world providing a so-called stabilization to salvage him. The burden of such solution should not be left to Taylor.

1. A New Elections Timetable

President Taylor should be allowed to end his term in office and leave on the date of the elections. With the deployment of a true stabilization under international conditions must be created to allow for the holding of legislative elections, either in October or a month thereafter, once constituencies have been established through either national census or voters registration. Holding legislative elections at the time President Taylor is vacating power has at least two advantages: 1.The NPP led legislature, composed mostly of former fighters of the NPFL would not have sole legislative control of the transitional period; 2. Some political leaders may get elected at either house of the legislature and could decide that the presidency is not the only elective position from where to make a contribution to the political process; and 3. Finally, it would serve as a test for campaigning and having elections.

Presidential elections can be held 12 months after the departure of Taylor. The new government would come in with a new military and police forces that would have been trained by the stabilization force as it happened in Sierra Leone.

2. The Stabilization Force Through the UN Security Council

The deployment of a stabilization force is sine qua non condition for the process to move forward. However, given the fatigue with all things Liberia, it would take tremendous efforts to put this force together. Any international exercise of the sort would take the involvement of the Security Council under the pressure of one of the major powers. The involvement of both France and the United Kingdom in peacekeeping efforts in countries neighboring Liberia (U.K. in Sierra Leone and France in Cote d'Ivoire) opens the doors to a rare opportunity where there is no need to re-invent the wheel. The Security Council can mandate UNAMISIL to link-up with ECOCI- LICORNE and cover Liberia.

UNAMISIL is currently the largest UN force anywhere in the world. With the return of peace in Sierra Leone, its works is now reduced to monitoring. One of the reasons it is being kept on the ground is that there is a constant fear that once it folds up, Sierra Leone could again become victim to Liberian-backed elements of RUF. ECOCI - LICORNE in Cote d'Ivoire is also faced with the same issue. Therefore France and the United Kingdom can work through the Security Council and extend the mandate of these peacekeeping efforts to Liberia.

The logistical problems would also be reduced, since UNAMISIL took over from ECOMOG and used the same basic information the West African force had. Finally, and most importantly, it would save time.

The mission of the stabilization force must go beyond that of providing protection to candidates during the campaign. The mission should include putting an end to the instability in the region that has its source in Liberia. The force must disarm all fighters and militias in the country, including the Armed Forces of Liberia and restructure them according to the Abuja Accord of 1997.

What Role for the United States of America?

The United States government, whom everyone expects to play a role in the Liberian crisis, must lend its support to this scheme that is cost effective and would help restore peace to a whole sub-region. The US has missed the chance to play a substantive role in the search of peace in Liberia over the years. It spent billions on humanitarian issues in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia and now Cote d'Ivoire. A clear diplomatic stand on Liberia could have saved lives, time and money.

In the 1990s, there was a confusion as to what the US could do in Liberia, due in part that many high profile Democrats served as advocates for Taylor. Now most of those advocates who influenced US policy towards Liberia have given up on the Taylor regime but nothing has been put in place to reverse that "non-engagement".

Recently, Dr. Jendayi Frazer, President Bush Special Assistant on African Affairs at the White House said that the US policy towards Liberia is that of containment through sanctions and the UN but it is now clear that the approach has not worked. Not only officials of the Taylor government never stopped coming to the US on shopping sprees while they are supposed to be under travel ban but the regime has never stopped its predatory activities as recently shown in Cote d'Ivoire. The government has continued to import arms using surrogates.

Taylor's war machine was a creation of Libya in the late 1980s at the time when Kaddafi believed that a machine gun and a few dollars could spread his doctrine and domination in the world. Now that the same Kaddafi is seeking legitimacy and recognition from the US, maybe part of the package could be asking him to pull the plug on the Monrovia regime.

Now there is a new window of opportunity and the US can help turn this window into an open door on peace and stability in the region. The most devastating weapon of mass destruction is a hungry child armed with an AK-47.

3. The Government of Transition

The transitional government without Taylor should include members of the civil society: the format for such government can take many variations but it would have to be inclusive in nature and its term limited in time and its scope through a legislative amendment. Armed dissidents may be included to facilitate the disarmament process, after and only after they have allowed the peacekeeping force to take effective control of every area they once controlled. The greatest mistakes of the 1990s were to have allowed warlords to sit in the central government in Monrovia while still keeping areas they have conquered. They had no incentive to work for peace because they had the legitimacy of the central government and the power to exploit areas they kept as fiefdoms. In order word, they had their cake and ate it too...