The October Violence: A Taylor's Booby -Trap Unleashed?


By James Thomas-Queh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 12, 2004

We condemn this vicious and barbaric assault on our innocent people who have been struggling to remould their lives back together and reconstruct our country. We deeply share their grieve and despair; but let us all continue to keep the courage and hope.

It is worth noting that there are calls from several quarters for a national commission to investigate and propose recommendations to avoid any recurrence of such dramatic incidents. Notwithstanding, there is an emerging consensus as to the likely causes of this sudden national tragedy: corruption, injustices, arrogance, misguided priorities, frustrated youths, and the list could go on forever- by the Interim leadership (read: Abdoulaye W. Dukulé: ‘Liberia On Fire, Again' - - Nov. 1, 2004 and Brownie Samukai: ‘It Is Time To Rethink' - Nov. 3, 2004). That said, we would like to mention few troubling questions that may already be on the minds of many.

1. Why was the riot quickly propagated with a religious under-tune and the ensuing anti-foreign xenophobia?
2. Why did the riot erupt at this very crucial point in time?
3. How come the riot caught the government and UN administration (of 15 000 troops and 1000-men police force) unaware?

For everything Charles MacArthur Taylor was, he left on Liberia two dangerous components of his legacy. First, for six years he hypnotised the people that Liberia was a "Christian nation" (of course, an indirect religious intolerance) and he encouraged it and lived it as much comical as possible. And second, thus when LURD (being a predominant Mandingo and based in Guinea; and like Taylor himself was once based in the Ivory Coast from where he came to turn Liberia into a killing field) attacked the regime in 1999, Mr. Taylor wasted no time in transforming the rebel incursion into a religious-foreign conspiracy. And since all Mandingoes are suppose to be Muslims and from Guinea (at least that's how most Liberians are made to think) - Mr. Taylor had prepared the psyche of his henchmen for a dooms-day scenario were LURD ever to reach the Executive Mansion to eject him either dead or alive. Churches and mosques were to be burnt to portray the crisis as a religious war between Christians and Muslims (meaning Guineans). This is the Booby-Trap this mad-man left behind; and what occurred on the night of Oct. 28, 2004, was just a minute version of what was to have come if the brutal tyrant was not forced into exile. And let us remember these resounding words of the dictator as he departed Monrovia in tears: "God willing, I will be back" - he knew, among other things, that he had left behind this deadly Booby-Trap for any incoming government. What is more, his principal lieutenants and a network of mafio-entrepeneurs are still very active in country and reassuring their support base the likely advent of their deposed tyrant as the Bryant government disappoints the population.

Long before this incident of Oct. 28th, we have raised the alarm on the utterances of anti-foreigner xenophobia among members of the Bryant administration (see: www. - 19 August 2004). We said then that our inability to comprehend and accept our socio-economic and political failures and seek lasting solutions - not to mention the political ambition of some of us to get to power and maintain it at all cost - all means of national disunity are worthy of exploitation. Gone are the days of the Congo-Indigenous divide; Krahn-Gio animosity; Doe Krahn-Army-NPFL national destruction; Taylor-Krahn massacre, etc., etc.- now we are to Christains against Muslims and Mandingoes invasion of Liberia. We are so obsess these days to have a pure Liberian-Christian race that if you are an animist from Sinoe, Bassa, Maryland or elsewhere, you are not a Liberian; or if you are a Muslim from Lofa or Cape Mount, you cannot be a Liberian but a Guinean or a Sierra Leonean. In short, we are slowly, but surely having our mindset to create a new social and political divide on "religion" and "nationality." But the reaction of our national religious council and the population at large is reassuring and very encouraging. It shows that we have attained a level of political maturity and historical experiences not to allow ourselves to be fooled anymore by some political charlatans.

So why did the riot erupt or the dooms-day criminal cells reactivate on 28th October? Well, first we deduced that because time was running out for the October 31st deadline for disarmament. But most importantly what broke the camel's back has been the international pressure on Mr. Bryant and his government to implement the UN Resolution to confiscate the bank accounts and properties of Mr.Taylor and associates. And here I beg to differ; the international community or whosoever was not fair to Mr. Bryant. Because frankly I can see where the bank accounts and properties of Mr. Taylor being confiscated (because at least this tyrant is in exile), but how do you confiscate the bank accounts and properties of his associates who are part of your government as well as part and parcel of this dooms-day criminal cells diluted into government forces and the National Patriotic Party (NPP)? Couldn't someone foresee then that these criminal and mafia bosses would have reactivated their destructive activities, something they have done consistently since the 1990's whenever the country was on a path to normalcy? This was a blatant national security oversight on the part of the interim leadership. If I were Mr. Bryant -strong, decisive, and consistent and corruption free - I would have refused categorically to execute this UN Resolution on the same basis that he has refused for Taylor to be extradited to answer for his crime against our nation and its people. What is more, the man who has been empowered to execute this UN Resolution was the Minister of Justice - a Mandingo man, good heavens! So why would anyone be astonished that this man's house was the first to be set ablaze on October 28th.

And lastly, how come the events caught the government and UN administration with their pants down? It is quite astonishing that the deadline for disarmament was approaching and both the government and the UNMIL were not on high alert. The first plausible explanation may be that both entities are working at variance; Mr. Bryant is depending wholly and solely on the UN administration to do everything in his place, while the UN administration looks to Mr. Bryant to take his responsibility as a national leader. I remember the advice of the first interim president of Liberia that it would be a fundamental error for us to only rely on the international community to do everything for us, and that it was expedient for us to first call a national conference (our own meeting on our national soil) to dialogue, reassure ourselves again and draw up a road-map on the future of our country. But we are too calculative on self-gains once in power that any word of wisdom is perceived as a threat.

The second plausible explanation could be the effect of the what we call the "jealousy or envy syndrome" or "business as usual." If the 1000 strong UN police force (foreigners who do not know the country) are all riding the latest Nissan jeeps (with our beautiful ladies - and don't get me wrong - because our legislators and Ministers are doing exactly the same thing cruising around town in luxurious state cars) while our national police officials and ordinary police officers trek to work on foot or in the trunks of old and dilapidated taxis - one cannot expect then the morale and cooperation to be at its best either with the UNMIL nor the government. Of course, the priority of the interim leadership was to spend millions of dollars to purchase luxury cars for the Legislators and government ministers instead of providing like sum to adequately equip the national security apparatus. And believe me, the Liberian people would have accused the government less of corrupt. The "business as usual syndrome" is a situation whereby a very tiny group of people ascends to power and sits supinely enjoying themselves in the midst of a destitute and an envious population. At this level there may be a generalised apathy; no one cares anymore, but simply his or her daily survival.

And thirdly, if explanations one and two above have any merit then there is every reason to conclude that there is not an equal partnership working relation between the UNMIL forces and the national security apparatus. The interim administration of Dr. Amos Sawyer (1990-94) had something like a security directorate that met weekly with ECOMOG's security unit to share, discuss and analyse intelligence. This is an idea, if not yet envisaged, could be useful for the government to initiate.

Where do we go from here? If the interim government of Mr. Bryant does not seem to have impacted any significant change in the lives of our destitute population after a year in power, there is no indication then that much would be achieved in the remaining year to general elections. This would mean that Mr.Taylor's booby-trap would be right at the door steps of the incoming elected government as soon as the UNMIL forces have taken exit. This is why it may not yet be too late for us to listen to the voices of wisdom that are calling for a national conference - a genuine pre-general elections forum - that could psychologically liberate Liberians to express their minds and draw up a general platform of national priorities that would be bending on any future elected government. Anything short of that - as optimistic as I have always been - could lead us into a worst disaster. And the current emptied electoral promises and the manoeuvring by chairman Bryant and his eminent advisors to propel their political party at the helm of power could be an added recipe to ignite chaos.

Of course, there are other significant factors that one cannot ignore. As long as Mr. Taylor is at liberty to play tennis and golf in Calabar, Nigeria, his booby-trap criminal cells are still reassured. And Mr. Taylor is a man of extreme vendetta who still harbours the illusion of returning to Monrovia in pumps and triumph. Thus a safe and stable Liberia would mean that we must make every effort to have Mr. Taylor extradited to Sierra Leone to face the International War Crimes Tribunal. This, at least, would also send a strong signal to others that the days of a culture of impunity are over. Second, we took note of the different declarations made at the recent ceremonies held to "officially" ban or dissolve the warring factions: LURD has promised to transform itself into a political party; we know that NPFL has long since been diluted into NPP; but MODEL has ordered its members to dissolve into any political party of their choice. Thus far MODEL's position makes it seems to be the most patriotic and genuine among the "former" warring factions in respecting its contract with the Liberian people that it had fought to liberate the country from the tyranny of Mr. Taylor. Having witnessed the consequences of the transformation of NPFL into a NPP ruling party, there is every reason for concern that LURD has chosen an identical route. Like NPFL, it has miserably and disappointingly broken its contract with the Liberia people. And this may simply reinforce the opinion of those who saw in this movement a particular ethnic group who fought only to confiscate state power and impose a foreign religious ideology. It must be said also that transforming itself into a political party means it could still have control over its command structure as a warring faction; so what would happen should it lose the elections? We admonish LURD to rethink its position; and anything short of that it would have done a disservice to itself and the Liberian people.

Lastly, in recent days the situation in the Ivory Coast is evolving at some dangerous proportions. We should not be naïve to ignore the consequences of a geo-political game that continues to haunt the sub region. On a French radio phone-in program in Paris on Nov. 8, 2004, concerning the Ivorian crisis, a caller asked whether at the onset of the first rebel incursion the anti-French Gbagbo's supporters and their pro-American sentiments (because they were waving the American flag) were any reason to believe this time that the United States encouraged the deadly and unilateral action of Mr. Gbagbo. As would be expected, the guest (one of these many experts on African affairs) brushed aside that the United States would want to hit France under the belt in this manner. But whatever the case, it is now certain that the Ivory Coast has become a French problem just as Iraq has long since become an American problem. This brings to mind what an African Ambassador said after the UN debate over Iraq that divided the Security Council: "When two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers."

Therefore, with an unstable Ivory Coast - the Godfather of the sub region's rebel entrepreneurs - it would be a futile exercise for both the UN and Liberians to precipitate into some ill-prepared and quick-fix elections when a rapid and peaceful solution of the Ivorian crisis is nowhere in sight. This fact, in our view, gives us an opportune moment ( and especially also that Liberia is now "officially" free of warring factions) to convince ourselves and the international community on the rational for a national conference and the creation of a new politically experience, energetic and vibrant interim administration to psychologically and economically prepare our nation, its people and institutions for the transition to genuine democratic elections within a period of two years.