Who Should Dispose Of Arms
By Tom Kamara?

Here we go again. An African solution to an African problem. Agreements are drafted, signed and then later dumped in the name of convenience. And yet we expect others to take us seriously. A case in point is the arms collected from warring factions which the Government now wants to "burn." The Abuja Agreement states that the arms were to be handed over to ECOWAS and UN for disposal. Now, in the name of convenience, the UN Representative in the country, Mr. Thomas, has bought the Government's decision to dump the Agreement and do its own dance on the arms. It has decided that it will ensure the burning of the arms by its own men, not those of the UN and ECOWAS. This is disappointing, to say the least. An agreement is an agreement, and once a reputable person places his/her signature on it, integrity demands that it is obeyed.

On the surface, the Government's decision to burn the arms is good. But remember that we are talking about Liberia and a particular government. I remember another burning decision in 1990 or 1991. Dr. Amos Sawyer, then interim president, decided he was burning the "JJ" notes since new bank notes, the "Liberty", had been printed. The "JJ" notes had been looted en mass by the "liberators" and if circulated, inflation, already unbearable, would hit the roof.

So the decision to burn the looted "JJ", now in rebel hands, was sound. I suggested to the interim president that if this was the case, the burning must be publicly witnessed and supervised. His answer was that one could not have a Bank Governor you did not trust. I reminded him that it was not the case of trust. It was more than that. That very week in 1990 or 1991, news leaked out that although the British Government had ordered the burning of old Pound notes, most of the money was later discovered on the market, the work of dishonest government officials. It became a case of "See what I told you", but the honorable president was not interested. If the British could not ensure the total burning of unwanted money, what about Liberia, an innately corrupt and chronically dishonest society? But the "honorable president" was far from interested in facts and prudence. He wanted the money "burnt." So as it is now known, the Interim Government's politicos knew what they were doing. The rest of us were a bunch fools who really believed that they meant well, by our own definition, to be honest.

Now, here we are again. The promise to burn arms collected under an agreement. We are told that a "cabinet committee" will ensure that the arms will be burnt. And all of a sudden, people are jumping with joy and praise. Prophets of praise are never in short supply in Liberia.

However, the most disappointing of these praise mongers is Mr. Downes Thomas, the so-called UN Representative whose office, the human rights organization Human Rights Watch/Africa tells us, has done virtually nothing to ensure human rights in Liberia since he arrived on our soil. First, he welcomed, by refusing to comment, the violation of the Abuja Agreement on the formation of the new army. Now, he is over joyed that an agreement his organization endorsed is violated. And I use the word so-called because honesty would demand that this Gambian joins the cabinet or the NPP.

The Agreement said the UN, not the winner of the July 1997 elections, would take over the arms. What can one imagine had Roosevelt Johnson won the elections and then proceeded to "burn" NPFL arms. Now, this very UN "Representative" is dancing with joy that an Agreement giving the UN responsibility for the arms is violated. It does not matter to Mr. Thomas if the best arms are (have already been) separated from the useless ones and that it will therefore be the useless ones that will be photographed for the world press and burnt. This is why I've pleaded to the Almighty long ago to give us a Japanese, American or European as a UN Rep. But God has refused to answer my prayers.

And then, as usual, we have some Liberian opportunists (gravy seekers) who have jumped to their feet in offering praise. That Mr. Commany Wesseh of the "Empowerment Industry" [Center for Democratic Empowerment] could begin beating the drums of praise is no surprise. His chairman, Dr. Sawyer, the man who "burnt" the JJ, just told us that we have an improved public safety and a Police Force that is so sacrificial in doing a thankless job. Time is always the best judge on the character of individuals.

Whatever its intentions, if the Government wants to be seen as credible, it should simply turn over the arms to ECOWAS and the UN. In this case, it will not need any UN or ECOWAS assistance to burn then these instruments of terror that killed 300,000 persons and destroyed the country so that the international community can shower the destroyers with more money. Any other option will be interpreted as a cover to steal the arms for government use. And for a government that relies more and more on arms, this will be a credible allegation.

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