Abuja: The Wrong Agenda

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

Posted March 11, 2002

Except the government of Liberia who will try to give itself a band-aid facelift when it actually needs a brain surgery and the LURD who won a seat without fighting, very few people expect much from the Abuja conference, which will bring together some 76 Liberians from home, and from the Diaspora. Some will attend because it will be a chance to get out of the gloomy city of Monrovia and walk in a town with running water and electricity and where security personal does not look like thugs from rival gangs waiting to shoot. Some will go because they don’t want to be a spoiler and finally a few, still romantically naïve, believe that Taylor would change and abide by the recommendations reached in the Nigerian capital.

I am still at lost trying to figure out why anyone would go to a meeting with somebody who has been abusing you for 12 years and does not feel any responsibility for his evil acts. I still insist that everything is in the hands of Taylor and if he were really serious, he would spare us another humiliating outing. What is there that he does not know about his troops? To reach redemption, one has to go through acceptance of guilt and repentance and search for forgiveness.

There was a test case a few weeks ago, when the Director of Police Mulbah arrested the Former Chief Justice and threw her in a cell with common criminals. Civil society called for his dismissal. About a week earlier, he had personally handled the closure of a newspaper, accusing journalists of “inflaming the minds of people,” as if Liberians needed newspapers to tell them what was wrong with the government. Taylor refused to heed to the call of the people. This would have been a simple matter of transferring Paul Mulbah to another post in his government. The man is not a Chief of Police. He does not have the training and does not know the rules. Taylor’s refusal to dismiss him comes from the bunker mentality he has developed while in the bush. The impunity extended to Mulbah works both ways: it creates fear in the citizenry and ensures total submission from Mulbah and others to Taylor. It is the law of the jungle. When protected by the Lion King, one is assured of total immunity, at the price of total submission. Since there are many other “Mulbahs” in the surround of Taylor, this behavior is encouraged and Taylor, even if he wanted to make such a decision is discouraged by the horde. “Chief, don’t do it, don’t let those lawyers and politicians blackmail you.” It is not Mulbah that is being protected, but everyone else. Not that Taylor would enforce any law…

This is what creates the president’s image, either as man who creates violence or condones violence from his people and in either case that makes him an inept national leader. The same scenario played again a few years ago, when the Director of the SSS, Mr. Benjamin Yeaten, was implicated in the kidnapping and murder of former Deputy Speaker Sam Dokie. Taylor ignored the cries of Liberian people for justice and rather than dismissing Yeaten or arresting him, he let him be at the Mansion. How did he make Liberians feel every time they walked into the Mansion and have to shake the hands of a presumed murderer? Again, it was the logic of the law of the jungle. It makes a fearful warlord but does not make a president.

The agenda for Abuja is probably the wrong one. One really needs to wonder what everyone is going to discuss. Would Tipoteh stand up and make demands he could not have made in Monrovia? If he did, would there be a guarantee that he would be accepted back in Monrovia as he is now? Would Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf stand up and ask the government to release all political prisoners and re-structure security now and not in seven or ten months? If she did, would Monie Captan or whoever is representing the government take due note and make an unbreakable promise to commit the government? Would the lawyers stand up and talk about the judiciary and expect to have redress in words that they could not use in Monrovia? Would LURD now tell us the truth about their war?

What’s the truth about the war? According to article 51 of the United Nations, a country that is invaded has the right to pursue invaders up to 50 kilometers across its own border. This is what LURD was all about. Guinea came under attack by dissidents based in Liberia. In her attempt to push the dissidents back, Guinea used the services of Liberian fighters who had just moved in from Sierra Leone. After the attack was repelled, Guinean troops retreated to their border, ensuring that the 51 kilometers “buffer zone” remains unstable for Taylor and the dissidents. LURD was allowed to go in and out of Guinea, as refugees but not as fighters. That was the essence of the LURD. Now what are they going to demand in Abuja? Tipoteh can be proud for bringing them to the table but there was need, because even before his telephone conversation with Charles Bennie, people in Conakry were arguing about who would attend the meeting. They had always wanted to be there.

Africans used to refer to the OAU and other regional organizations as the “Presidents’ Club”, meaning that nothing but glossy self-congratulatory pat on the back take place in those gatherings. The concept of non-interference - or not getting in your neighbors’ business is taken to a maximum. They rarely give each other advices on governance, sticking to generalized agendas that can hardly be implemented. Many wars could have been avoided if ECOWAS, OAU, SADEC and other regional meetings were held according to our African traditional meetings, where elders tell youngsters what they are doing wrong in their families, in this case in their countries. They rather plot with shadowy characters to overthrow or assassinate each other than tell each other the truth. Things may be changing but there is still that conspiracy of silence.

This is what makes the agenda of the Abuja talks totally wrong. If ECOWAS wants peace in Liberia, rather than organize useless conferences of reconciliation, it would have been much more positive if Taylor was called by his peers of the sub-region and told in no uncertain terms that his style of governance would again inflame his country with devastating consequences for the entire region and ask him to review certain things. Of course, doing so would expose each one of them to the same criticisms somewhere along the line. They keep quiet and as in the case of Cote d’Ivoire, send soldiers to re-enforce security at their borders.

Organizing a conference between the government and peaceful Liberians victimized and traumatized by 12 years of violence is much more easier to do and nobody has to twist the arms of Taylor to impose a new order of governance that would not only calm the situation but also avoid a new war. Taylor would make as many promises as he needs to win the elections and after that, he would turn the country to the Grace Minors, Cyril Allens, Paul Mulbahs and others and he will go to sleep for many years. A new war may break up and ECOWAS would be there again to organized peace conferences.

These talks in Abuja are following a wrong agenda. The 12-man delegation of Charles Taylor will come, smile and shake hands and return home as if nothing has happened. And Taylor would have won. Last week, speaking to the press, the president said: “we will talk about reconciliation as we have never done before in our history…” That should make anyone wonder, coming from someone that had set-up nation reconciliation commissions, called national reconciliation conferences, and sent ministers across the country to talk about reconciliation. So, whatever he did for the past three years was a joke. Why would things be any different at this point?

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