The Democratic Alternative to Armed Violence

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

August 30, 2001

It was around Christmas 1989, some twelve years ago, when the BBC announced that a group of armed dissidents had entered Liberia aiming to overthrow the government of Samuel K. Doe. Just ten years earlier, Samuel K. Doe had sprung into the international political scene by assassinating the president of Liberia and the chairman of the organization of the African unity. The sad revolution of the 1980s had failed all its promises and turned into a masquerade and therefore, Liberians, in their great majority, thought that there was something honorable about fighting a dictatorship. Little they did know that the liberation war was just the beginning of a long nightmare that would bring the whole country to its knees, subject its people to humiliation, despair, hunger and starvation, unveiling the most ugly aspects of our persona.

To stave off the war and its killings, Liberians elected the strongest warlord and hoped that somehow he would make a transition to statesman, taking along the republic, fulfilling his promise of freedom and prosperity. He did not and could not. He surrounded himself with vultures and shady characters, tending only to their bestial appetites. A year into this barbaric and stupidly nostalgic reign, another group of 'liberators', taking advantage of the political and moral crisis, entered the country, with boys and girls armed to the teeth, promising to free Liberia from the dooms. The same scenario as in 1980, in 1989, in 1992 and 1993 was being replayed. First came the PRC, the soldier-boys turned generals over night. Then came the NPFL, the con artist turned revolutionary. Then came the ULIMO coalition of the Krahns and Mandingos, headed by another group of power hungry and corrupt people. And when they failed, another group popped up in the southeast, Liberian Peace Council where the only council was a formation of little boys and girls in perpetual orgy of blood and drug. Now, there is a new one, the Liberians United for Reconstruction and Democracy, LURD. One could talk about being lured into something equally new and equally nasty as all the other

At some point, many thought that this group could make a difference. The sheer fact that they are putting pressure of the vandals of Monrovia seemed a justification for their actions. With the exception of the citizens of Lofa and the religious leaders of the Interfaith Council in Monrovia, only the woman organization of the Mano River Union have come up and said something about this fighting. Just as in 1990, as the drugged sadists of the NPFL killed the Krahns and the Mandingos and people kept quiet, we are again quiet. A county is now being burned to ashes by two groups who have no respect for life and property and we all think it's ok and we just keep quiet and watch, hoping against all odds that they would be any better than the previous groups. We watch quietly while women are being raped and boys forced to carry guns and kill other innocent people. The LURD is not moving from Lofa, albeit its pretension two years ago to be in Monrovia for Christmas. They are killing people, they are creating tension in the country and they are not any closer to Monrovia than any of us sitting here in the United States. A state of no-war no-peace is more dangerous for the country in the long run. It undermines the democratic process not only in Liberia but in the entire Mano River Union.

In 1980, the killing of Tolbert prompted people to celebrate. In 1990, many thought that the NPFL coming with the force of arms was a solution to the Doe dictatorship. Nobody truly believes that the LURD will bring a solution to the NPFL regime, but everyone in the political arena has fallen into a conspiracy of silence. It is rather distressing that we have come to the point of believing that only the force of arms can resolve our problems. Voicing one's opinion against military violence should not be equated with supporting the bankrupt regime in Monrovia. If the NPFL government falls because of the pressure of the armed dissidents, it would take another armed group to remove LURD from power.

The issue is to find a political alternative to violence. It is time to move away from armed violence and search for institutional ways to make changes. Such a change would benefit all, including those aspiring to play a political role in our society.

The current silence of the majority of Liberians, including principally the political leadership may be reasonably justified by the unpopularity of the current government. We have reached a point where people would try anything and anyone to get rid of a political system that is draining the nation and leading it into an abyss. We must however realize that nothing is clear in the agenda of the newcomers and so far, nobody from the LURD seems to have convinced Liberians that they would do anything better. A victory for the dissidents, if it ever materializes, would be a blow to the democratic process. The fact that the government is envisioning to impose a state of emergency as we predicted here a few months ago does not help matters. It will only lock the NPFL and LURD in a sordid fight for power where only the innocents die, as in previous factional wars.

Liberians must start to think about and believe in the possibility of political change without guns. We must put together our efforts to ensure that if a leadership is not working for the good of the country, it is removed through institutional means. This is not an impossible task. We have written constitutions when the rest of Africa was still being subjected to colonial rule. We have helped many free themselves from colonial rule. We owe to ourselves to end the reign of terror through institutional means.

Ending a violent regime through institutional means requires lot of work and sacrifices. It requires people of courage and patriotism. It requires that we have political leaders who don't think that the only way to serve the country is by becoming president. It demands that opinion leaders stand up and defend those institutions and laws that have been violated. Those who are sitting quietly in Monrovia and here and keeping silent while our constitution is violated everyday should not be surprised if they are rejected by the electorate in 2003. This is the time to defend the constitution and the laws of the land, not when the time comes to seek the endorsement of voters.

The sanctions imposed by the United Nations nor the military pressure of the armed dissidents are in anyway strengthening the application of the constitution. It is time to break the cycle and take charge of our national destiny by putting into work political and judicial frameworks we put on paper.

It will take courage for political leaders to come together and find a long lasting solution. This solution will affect the way forward for future generations. It will also take courage and patriotism for political leaders to accept to put their strength together and abnegate their own personal ambitions. We have witnessed first hand the level of popularity of some political leaders in 1997. The bickering and personal animosity in a crowded political landscape against the military backdrop did not help. But things could only be worse for many in 2003. Rather than exposing themselves to another round of humiliation, it would be better, in the national interest, to work together now and find a long lasting solution.

2003 is just around the corner. The specter of a state of emergency is also here. We must find a way to break the cycle, together, united, as a people. 2003 is not just about electing another set of officials and a president. It is about trying, for the first time, to make a peaceful transition of political power. That the current NPFL leadership stays in power until 2003 is beside the point. If the lawmakers decide to do their work and clean the field by throwing out all those who broke the laws, things would be much clearer. That's highly unlikely. But we must not allow ourselves to be submitted to another regime of gunslingers. We have seen enough of them. And those who have the ambition to lead the nation tomorrow must come out now and defend the nation now, while it is being violated both by the government and the armed dissidents. The proposals made by the Association of Liberian Journalists in the America - ALJA - deserve to be brought out and looked at again, they may contain the solutions to our current stagnation.

Political operatives in Africa and the United States are now putting in place their campaign mechanism. But before we reach the 2003 elections, we must make sure that there would be elections. If there are elections, we must ensure that the process would be carried out in a peaceful and democratic environment. If all that is given, we must ensure that there will be people strong enough to walk to the polling booths and vote. At the rate we are going, with the combined effects of the war and the up-coming state of emergency, we may not have any of this.

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