Akosombo 2003: The Challenges Posed For Liberia

By Cletus Segbe Wotorson & Philip A. Z. Banks, III

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 15, 2003



This is the first of a series of dialogues that we intend to engage in with the Government of Liberia and with our people. We note that many of Liberia’s past governments have shown great sensitivity to criticisms and a high level of intolerance of discussions and views not held or shared by them. Most of our officials have regarded criticisms of the government’s handling of the affairs of state and its treatment of our people as treasonable, seditious, or opposition to the government, and have meted out to them severe punishments because of the views held or expressed. Even our courts had joined in the fray, regarding analyses or criticisms of their opinions as contemptuous and desiring of severe punishment. Consequently, the well-meaning views of our people had become stifled and our nation deprived of the benefits of the exchanges that are so vital to its development efforts.

Today, we have entered a new era; it is as if we are beginning 1847 all over again. A “Peace Agreement” once more facilitated by ECOWAS has been negotiated and has produced an Interim Transition Government. It is morally imperative that all well-wishing Liberians offer their unmistakable cooperation and assistance to the leadership in guiding the ship of the state; for to do otherwise will undermine the effectiveness of the leadership. Notwithstanding, we must develop the moral courage to speak out when the ship gears off course; and with this new beginning, we must insist on being heard, even if our colleagues do not share our views, the same as we must listen to others whose views we do not agree with. This is healthy for our country and for our people. Accordingly, in commencing this discourse, we emphasize two points: Firstly, any critique we offer (where necessary), or exchanges we engage in, or discussions we have, and the opinions we express, are not intended to and must not be viewed as opposition to the government. Rather, they are offered and should be seen, as intended, to help the government as it proceeds to formulate its programs and implement its mandate. This government, and no government for that matter, can make progress by the silencing of its people, stifling their thoughts, or showing insensitivity to their concerns.

Secondly, the new thoughtful Liberians must not easily become bored with or dismissive of the views of our well-meaning compatriots, because at this critical period in our national existence, we must show alertness to, tolerance of, and patience with every idea advanced and every view expressed, whether lengthy or short. The problems confronting our people and our nation are many and are complex, and the solutions are not simple, short or readily available. We must therefore demonstrate our willingness to listen and to read and digest the views expressed (even the lengthy ones), using every opportunity and benefit of the views offered and expressed, with the very little time we have, to identify the root causes that brought our nation and people to the brink of disaster and correct these ills. And when we disagree with the views expressed, we must articulate our own and convince others of the inappropriateness of the views held by them. This will enable us to chart a course that hopefully will avoid prospects for disasters in the future. This is a duty we owe our people and our nation.

We must emphasize also that while we acknowledge our membership of the Liberian Action Party and our joy at the selection of its Chairman to head the new Transitional Government, this should not blind us to our commitment to the Liberian nation-state. We must proceed upon the distinct reality that the “Peace Agreement” provides for a unity government. We are no doubt confident that the leadership will ensure the realization of that provision. As with all Liberians, we expect that it will not behave as if it were a LAP Government, or a government of any of the parties, no matter how dominant that party may perceive itself to be in the government. We want to equally emphasize that the views we express will not be inhibited by our association with LAP or prevent us from engaging in a public dialogue that could be helpful to our country and people, by alerting the government of the problems that confront it and the nation. We once again extend our heartfelt congratulations to Chairman Gyude Bryant, Vice Chairman Wesley Johnson and the core of Liberians who will chart the course of our state in the next two years. In the meantime though, we begin the first in the series of articles intended to highlight some of the problems with which the nation may be confronted.


When on August 18, 2003, seven days after the forced “resignation” of Mr. Charles McArthur Ghangay Taylor from the “presidency” of Liberia, the Liberian people and the world community were informed that the warring parties to the Liberian military conflict (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy – LURD - The Movement for Democracy in Liberia – MODEL – and the Taylor Government) “political parties” and civil society had executed a “Peace Agreement” Liberians must have exhaled a sigh of relief. We were certainly elated and hopeful that the basis and perhaps the will power for peace might have finally arrived. Like many Liberians, we hoped that the “Peace Agreement” would not leave the impression that the reason for the lost of tens of thousands of innocent Liberian lives and the destruction of the country was a quest for power and jobs; that it would address the fundamental problems that had confronted the nation in the past, articulate the emergence of a serious commitment to peace, and show a serious effort by Liberians to turn a national disaster into a national resolve to establish the mechanism for true democracy --- one that embraced democratic structures and procedures fully accountable to the Liberian people, and would chart a course aimed at good governance, justice, fairness, equality, transparency, and sustainable development for our people and our nation-state.

In those expectations we were disappointed and bewildered, for the Agreement and its four annexes did not address, in clear and unambiguous terms the fundamentals for restoring the hopes of our people in a democratic future full of the promise of equality, fairness, and accountability. They did not provide a sufficient deterrence to a resort to arms for jobs or for any standard of care to be taken against the commission of certain acts in the event of a conflict. Rather, the documents leave the following distinct impressions: (a) that the years of armed conflict and resistance, and the attending disaster and destruction were about a struggle for the nation’s public positions, not the sufferings of the Liberian people or the correction of the ills of our society; and to that end, that a small group of persons could take up arms and inflict immeasurable disaster on a nation and people based on perceived national imbalances; (b) that a numerically small group, whether of the government or other forces, could ruthlessly plunder the nation’s resources, devastate its people, ignore adherence to the rule of law, and commit acts of the magnitude befitting the characterization of war crimes, and still be assured of general amnesty, participation in a transitional government and a reward of the most functional public jobs; (c) that any small group of people, of the government or otherwise, without regard for the repercussions of their actions, could take the lives of hundreds of thousands of Liberians and not have worry about being called upon to answer for the atrocities committed, and (d) that the penalty for massive corruption is the reward of participation in a transitional government, and of more high level public jobs in that government.

The new government, although the direct result of an Agreement that is fundamentally flawed must show the determination, the courage, and the resolve to put into place mechanisms that address the ills that have overwhelmed our nation and people in the past, rather than provide incentives for resorting to armed conflicts in the future. It must put into place the mechanisms for good governance, addressing the root causes that underpin our national psyche, not just for the interim period, but also for the period beyond.

For example, the “Peace Agreement” and its annexes give the impression that it was only Mr. Charles McArthur Ghangay Taylor, the individual, rather than the Taylor Government, that was the focus of Liberia’s problems; that Mr. Taylor, rather than his government, committed every act of atrocity and corruption against the Liberian nation-state and people; and that Mr. Taylor, rather than a Government headed by Mr. Taylor, abused the rights of the Liberian people and plundered the resources of the nation. Because the documents is premised on the perception that Mr. Taylor, rather than his Government, committed the many acts that gave cause for the ills experienced in the last six years, they advance the notion that only Mr. Taylor should bear the penalty for the years of devastation of our country and people, and that the Liberian people should pretend that top brass of the Taylor Government, who became instant millionaires either committed no wrongdoings or that they are not accountable for the wrongdoings committed by them.

The documents go one step further. They not only absorb the Taylor Government from any wrongdoings, but they also award the members of the Taylor Government for the acts committed and which we were told originally formed the basis for the conflict, and as further incentive allows that government to remain in office for a further two-month period. No one can dispute that Mr. Taylor was a key player (perhaps the main key player) in Liberia’s debacle, but to award the members of his government, also key participants in Liberia’s disaster, without reference to the magnitude or the nature of the wrongdoings committed by them, cannot be the premise upon which we seek to build democratic ideals. What do we say to people in the transitional government or any government that comes into power thereafter that it will not or cannot be held accountable for plundering the nation’s resources, for endemic corruption in the public sector, for atrocities of various forms committed against the people of Liberia, some of which may even have attain the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity?

The perception given by the Agreement not only distorts the rationale originally given for going to war, but it provides the impetus for many of the flaws in the Agreement, including the emphasis on power sharing and job allocation. Indeed, because he was aware of the perception, at a time when his government was on the verge of collapse, Mr. Taylor demanded that he be allowed a graceful “resignation” at a date and time of his choosing; that the executive authority to conduct the affairs of the Liberian nation-state be turned over to his Vice-President; that his Government (short of himself), headed by the Vice President and comprising all of his senior and junior cabinet officials, remains in tact; and that he (Taylor) oversees an orderly constitutional transition that followed to the letter the mandate and procedures outlined in the Liberian Constitution. All of Mr. Taylor’s demands were acceded to, as were the demands of the rebels regarding power sharing.

These have serious consequences for our nation’s future. It means, firstly, that a government that has indulged in the kinds of activities of which the Taylor Government was accused, including the commission of atrocities which could rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and corruption of the magnitude seen in Liberia, is not accountable for its stewardship; it means that after such acts, a government is entitled not only to remain in control of the affairs of state, but is entitled to have its members participate in and hold some of the most prestigious public and semi-public positions in a new government constituted to succeed; it means that the acts of a government may be reduced, equated to or deemed the acts of a single individual, and therefore the government and its membership, regardless of the illegality of their conduct, are entitled to remain in power, to hold public office, and to immunity from accountability.

We are told that this was done in the interest of peace. But how many times have we not made that sacrifice in the past? Lest we forgot the events of 1993. How many times would we be expected to make these sacrifices in the future? The former is past, but the latter is still ahead of us. The new government must now begin to formulate plans and design the structures and rules for ensuring that there is no reoccurrence of the events which truly underlie the basis for going to war; that the Liberian people would have to be told in the future that the loss of lives was a sacrifice for a few persons whose only objective was attainment of public jobs which they hope to use to enrich themselves; and that there is truly a system of accountability, so that persons who engaged in the kinds of conduct attributed to the members of the Taylor Government and to other governments prior thereto, are not rewarded with immunity and the most functional public jobs for such conduct. Although the “Peace Agreement” does not provide for it (one of the many flaws contained in the Agreement), the new government must set up an independent committee to draw up a rigid code of conduct for public officials, for passage by the Transitional Legislative Assembly. This must be one of the first tests of the new government’s commitment to good governance. The 1986 Liberian Constitution provided for enactment of such a code by the Legislature. Article 90 of the Constitution, which the “Peace Agreement” does not purport to suspend, states at its three sub-sections as follows:

a) No person, whether elected or appointed to any public office, shall engage in any other activity which shall be against public policy, or constitute conflict of interest.

(b) No person holding public office shall demand and receive any other perquisites, emoluments or benefits, directly or indirectly, on account of any duty required by Government.

(c) The Legislature shall, in pursuance of the above provision, prescribe a Code of Conduct for all public officials and employees, stipulating the acts which constitute conflict of interest or are against public policy, and the penalties for violation thereof.

The Liberian Legislature which took office in 1986 did not pass a code of conduct as mandated by Article 90(c) of the Constitution, or set up the appropriate institution for that purpose, and this may have been a primary factor responsible for perpetration of and increase in the level of violations which were typically characteristic of the Liberian society. The Transitional Government, by its Chairman and Vice Chairman, and the Transitional Legislative Assembly, must ensure that violations of the past, in which Liberians of little economic means appointed to public offices became millionaires overnight, at the expense of the public treasury and resources, are not indulged in by its officials, and that rigid prosecutions are pursued against those who engage in such acts. In passing a code of conduct and rigidly disciplining itself, the new government would have set the stage for a level of good governance by future elective governments, which, for political reasons, may not have the will power to enact such a code. The passage of a code of conduct and the setting up of the proper machinery for enforcement of the code, not provided for by the Agreement, and a demonstration of support to that process, would evidence the new government’s commitment to ensuring peace and promoting good governance, enhance its credibility in Liberian and in the international community, and generate goodwill for international support. It would also serve as a disincentive to those persons who believe that the avenue to lucrative public jobs that provide opportunities for corruption is a resort to arms, and to public officials who believe that they can enrich themselves at the expense of the nation and its people, and not have to account for such practices.