An Opposition of Carpetbaggers & Inner-Circle Acolytes
By Sumowuoi Pewu
For many years, Mr. G. Baccus Matthews and I talked on a variety of issues concerning the tragedy that the Liberian civil war induced in 1989. As a matter of fact, we both fled the mindless war of attrition that was being waged by the late Samuel K. Doe, Prince Johnson and Charles Taylor. Mr. Matthews knew me as a national student leader and was also intently aware of my numerous discussions with Sawyer and many others in the Interim Government. Hence, Matthews had no problem talking to me. I visited him (Matthews) on a number of occasions at his Bentumani Hotel in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he and his family stayed at the time. When I moved to New Jersey in 1991, we continued our dialogue about Liberia and what role we were all expected to play in the context of attaining peace in our homeland. Between 1991 and 1994, Mr. Matthews often visited Trenton, New Jersey, to apparently confer with his UPP colleagues. Like our discussion in Freetown, Sierra Leone, I would press Matthews in New Jersey to explain to me his role as "loyal opposition" to Mr. Doe amid all of Doe's miscues and contrasting that role with his messianic fervor to relentlessly pursue the Tolbert regime for rice and democracy.
On the other hand, for every time the issue of Matthews' acceptance of a car from Mr. Doe came up, coupled with his willingness to become a hired gun in exchange for perks, this man would offer me tortured lectures usually heavy on philosophical rationalization of his actions, some what bordering on masterful spin, mea culpa and self-doubt. In many ways, however, Matthews is a microcosm of the Liberian opposition in general.
Amid the clatter and noise of the 1997 elections in Liberia, everyone would have thought about pausing for a moment to ask, how can we all really predict the future of the Liberian opposition vis-a-vis the country's democracy? I suspect none of us can, because there is no real conventional wisdom in Liberian politics. Instead, there is an aura of frantic orthodoxy associated with our politicians. Their idealism, tempered by raw ambition and by their action, has convinced their people they do not have their interests at heart. And when the people have good reasons to believe you are manipulating their lives and security behind the scenes and not being straight up with them, then, their trust is undermined. And so, almost certainly, is your job. There has been no loyalty coming down from the opposition to the Liberian people. Amazingly, the opposition usually provides unadulterated support to the man wielding the most power from the Executive Mansion. These people lack principles and values and have willingly shown great eagerness to become hired guns, carpetbaggers and mercenaries for the man in Executive Mansion.
As it usually turns out, however, "you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time." The Liberian people have informed these politicians that the schtick had worn off. Actually, I am aware there is no formula now to enable a precise calculation of what will eventually happen in our future politics. However, I will make the assumption that one way we can come close to predicting what will inevitably happen tomorrow, is by listening to today's clatter and noises. By anticipating tomorrow's potential problems in the cacophony of today's sound, the Liberian people will save themselves the anxiety of tomorrow by working with a regret minimization frame work in their fight for democracy. Even as most of us grimace over the latest news that Matthews, Wotorson, Charles Clark, Rudolph Sherman, etc., are leading an opposition delegation in Washington to convince the Clinton Administration to ease its punishing disengagement with the Taylor's regime for its lack of respect for scripted civilized norms, the politicians hope to convince us of their love for country and the imperative of exploring some new emerging political frontiers of pooling, allying and linking across common national goals with the Taylor's regime.
Frankly, some of us would have been impressed if the ostensible reason being provided in the name of love for the country was actually true. But we all know this is hardly the case. While welcoming political parties to pursue alternative political currencies by forging ahead in cutting new channels and pushing for new cooperative political streams to benefit the country, I find it compelling enough to sound a warning against a commonly known flaw associated with Liberian politicians, the crisis of commitment syndrome.
Oddly enough, most of these career politicians have developed parasitic life habits requiring their life support system to be closely tied in, and, dependent on the Liberian government. Owing to this reason, these egomaniacal buffoons have willingly shown their readiness in the past to dine even with the Dark Buddha whose belly they must rub during desperate times. They have rarely demonstrated that they can be relied upon to craft and fight for independent political actions and thoughts. If the 1985 elections were any barometers to gauge the future performance of our political leaders, then, we are likely to see an assortment of hierarchies of politicians increasingly working at cross-purposes with their own people so as to fit in as part of Taylor's inner-circle acolytes.
We may all recall the 1985 elections and after it was established that the process was rigged, the international community mounted an effort to isolate the Doe regime. Again, like now, it was the opposition to the amazement of many, that redeemed Doe by clamoring and craving government jobs. Of course, sensing a huge potential political windfall, Doe moved quickly to offer slots to some of these opposition members while others like Matthews were given free cars and placed on foreign trips to make the case that why Doe was "intrinsically democratic."
It has been known for some time that the opposition in Liberia is dulled and unimaginative and comprised of bunch of conniving mercenaries who must spend their political life mainly in a cheerleading role-albeit in a Liberian version unheard of. It is against such backdrops, the spineless desire to trade in one's value and principle for meager fees and correlating that with an acute social pathology of making a life long career in government that makes me wonder whether there is a disconnect between value, principle and the dabbling for anything that goes for our politicians.
It shouldn't be difficult for these politicians to understand why the international community has taken action to isolate Taylor. Frankly, Taylor encapsulates a prescriptive metaphor for a disaster waiting to happen. The international community is not only awed by the cumulative madness of Taylor's war mongering effort which resulted in the death of tens of thousands of innocent people. But it is deeply bothered by Taylor's open disdain for civilized norms. Taylor has mounted every effort to hunt down and kill every perceived enemy of his and has shown a great deed of intolerance for the rule of law that does not favor him. Taylor's murderous record shows a litany of opponents that has been killed including, Jackson F. Doe, Moses Duopo, Gabriel Kpolleh, Joseph Dwanye, Dr. Steven Yekeson, Madison Wion, etc. About two years ago, he killed Samuel Dokie and his family. In September of 1998, Taylor went after his rival, Roosevelt Johnson and in the process, ordered the elimination of Johnson's ethnic group, the Krahn, on Camp Johnson Road in Monrovia. In the ensuing conflict, Taylor's security men pursued Roosevelt Johnson and his top hierarchy in the U.S. Embassy with a barrage of gun fire that killed two people and wounded two U.S. Marines. When the death toll was finally tallied in Monrovia, more than 300 innocent Krahn women, children and elderly were killed by Taylor's men. What more can this guy do? Where is the respect for life and liberty?
To add insults to injury, Taylor increased his anti-American decibels by denouncing the U.S. with interference and conspiracy. His sneering vituperative approach to the United States and Britain depicts a man in thrall of a foolish dalliance; a leader inflexible and overly complex that he renders himself susceptible to misinterpretation by the international community. We must be mindful that people repeat behavior that is rewarded, avoid behavior that is punished and dropped behavior that produces neither result. At this time when Taylor is crying uncle, he probably wants the international community to think of him as the boy who killed his parents and appeared before a Judge with a plea for mercy on grounds of being an orphan. For heaven sake, you killed your parents what do you expect?
Unsettling as it is, where has been the opposition as president Taylor give in to volcanic rages and compulsive behavior that paints a portrait of his regime riven by disorganization, infighting and gross mismanagement of public resources? Taylor's cold blooded voyeurism is depicted in his sentimental spasm, a man with a natural inclination toward conquest and dominance of his enemies and a panglossian faith in his ability to achieve what he willed. He recently fired Senator Brumskine as President Pro-Tempo of the Liberian Senate though a separate branch of government from the Executive that he heads. So strange are the events encircling the crest-fallen legislator that left many stunned. Again, while the opposition was in Washington making a case for easing U. S. disengagement, Taylor flashed a cold water in their faces by firing his entire cabinet for not going to a church service organized by him. Despite Taylor's compulsive behavior, the Liberian opposition logic here must be simple, let "the inmates" run the prison and asylum. How scary is that? You be the judge!
Taylor has not shown that he can be a guardian of economic reforms and reconstruction in Liberia. His regime has demonstrated that it lacks road map for economic reforms and Taylor has done little to bring corruption and rampant inflation under control. He and his security elites along with other government apparachiks are chauffeured in expensive Rolls Royces, Black Mercedes Sedans and other expensive cars around Monrovia. Taylor is even quoted by foreign journalists of boasting about the trappings of his princelings of conspicuous wealth. His regime is seemingly oblivious to the plight of the Liberian people. In Taylor's Liberia, the country lacks the life fulfilling essentials like electricity, pipe borne water, functioning hospitals, etc., and yet, the meager public resources are scoundered without accountability. What are the incentives for the international community pouring money into a bottom less pit? The regime must demonstrate that it can manager the meagre resources at its disposal before bidding for more. This is common sense I would imagine!
Finally, the opposition has painstakingly resigned us to the reality that we lack a moral pathfinder in Liberian politics. What matters most to them is the din of narrow interests. I hope the international community and the United States will continue to keep in place the necessary disaster avoidance contingencies. Many of these politicians could do a good job of learning from Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's independence and avoid the foolish dalliance exhibited by them. If these people could just listen to the clatter and noises of the past and bearing in mind these sounds provide a well-modulated tone and rhythm that increasingly have grown in volume to sound more and more like a far reaching Liberian folk song-while at the same time, the echoes and sounds of Taylor's 1989 military invasion serve as a pounding amplifier in the cacophony of today's sound, then, we might all begin to head somewhere for the good of Liberia.
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