The Beginning of the End
By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé
I was listening to Mrs. Rachel Diggs, Liberian former Ambassador to the US, complaining about the "lack of courage of Liberians" when it comes to making a decision. The President of The Liberian Senate, Mrs. Grace Minor was sitting very close by and listening, so was Mr. Monie Captan, the Foreign Minister of the Taylor government who has seen his work reduced to showing his face in public. There was nothing unusual about the delay in starting the conference. Then, a friend approached me, called me on the side and whispered that BBC had just announced that the International War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone had indicted President Taylor for crimes against humanity. I walked out of the conference room to ascertain the news from the BBC reporter in Accra who confirmed the news. I walked away. It was a historical moment. Indeed, for the first time in the history of modern Africa, a sitting president was indicted for crimes linked to petty theft!
The President of Liberia was indicted not because of mass murder like Cambodian Pol Pot who killed for ideological reasons, because he believed in a certain political order, not even like Hitler who committed mass murder because he stupidly believed in racial supremacy and not even Idi Amin whose criminal buffoonery was based on a naïve sense of Africanity. The president of Liberia was indicted because like a bank robber or a common criminal, he supported genocide for diamonds and cash. He would fall for cash that never benefited the people of Liberia and did not even benefited many who sacrificed their lives to get him to power. He was like a frustrated child, totally and selfishly trapped in his petty desires for possession and carnal pleasures, surrounded by vultures and clowns!
Two days ago, when Taylor landed in Accra, he said that he had won the presidency of Liberia with 80 percent of the votes and that the other 20 percent had taken to the bush. Therefore, he said, the matter of him resigning would not even be an issue at the talks. He said he was the president and that Liberians would have to accept that fact before anything else is done. He said he would stay on because this was his constitutional right. In the meantime, his operatives were filling the airwaves and the newspapers with their "side of the story". They blamed the opposition for the war and said that Mr. Taylor should be given another two years to clean the mess he has created. One of his Ministers said that only Taylor could lead Liberia out of this war. Taylor was in his element. He likes nothing more than crisis and negotiations where he plays the master puppeteers, using his bag of tricks filled with cash and rocks!
But Taylor, in his quest to reach the presidency and stay in power over the past 14 years has lost track of history. He did not see the changing realities of the world. He remained immune to the suffering of the Liberian people. He became blind to the fate of millions of Liberians in refugee camps. He became unaware of the fact that people in the sub-region were tired of his antics and would throw him out. He did not notice that there were now more people in the region who felt the same way Conteh felt about him. He failed to read the writing on the wall. Houphouet and Guei are dead. Blaise Compaore is fighting his own demons. But Conteh is still alive and the words he used ten years ago are still true today when he said that Taylor was a cancer and if they didn't destroy him, we would be here, ten years later, talking about him because he would destroy the entire sub-region.
When we arrived in Accra we found out that Taylor had ferried in from Monrovia a plan load of operatives ahead of his arrival, with cash and T-Shirts, some groups with the funniest names one could imagine. Taylor himself arrived with 52 people on his aircraft. More people came by Ghana Airways and scores drove from Abidjan. They were planning demonstrations all through the talks and Accra. A participant said that with that presence, Taylor would steal the show. Ten years ago he might have, but today, it is becoming harder to steal a show. Taylor has stolen enough from Liberians and Africans; it is time that he accounts for his theft.
In his opening speech, the Chairman of ECOWAS, Mr. John Kufuor said the time of constitutional prerogatives has passed, in direct response to Taylor's claims that he had won the Abacha- organized elections by 80 percent in 1997. How can one be so blind and still claim to lead a nation is beyond understanding. It was Taylor himself who announced his resignation when he spoke. "I will remove myself if… ." he said. There is no "if" and "buts" said Chea Cheapo, the Chairman of PPP, who came to Accra and was surprised to see someone else representing his political party, someone he had never met, someone appointed by "authorities in Monrovia."
The indictment changed the course of the talks. Now, since Wednesday, Liberia is governed by a war criminal. Taylor said he would resign at the end of his mandate. Should Liberia be governed by a war criminal even for a day? Many in the conference hall demanded his immediate resignation. This would be the normal course of event. Mr. Taylor can be arrested at any time and anywhere by any citizen of the United Nations, and that means anyone. Someday, a prize may be put on his head and bounty hunters could start to look for him.
Authorities in Ghana claimed they did not receive the arrest warrant issued by the international war Crime Tribunal. Maybe they did, maybe they did not. Whatever the case may be, ECOWAS deemed it more important to allow a peaceful process in Liberia rather than arrest him and create a most likely chaos.
It is now up to Liberian politicians and civil society groups to soberly reflect on the solution and the way forward. Decisions reached at Akosombo will be binding on the nation and therefore must be carefully thought. The presence of General Abdulsalami Abubakar will certainly help the process. Yesterday, right the conference, political parties attempted to discuss the issue but everyone was still under the shock and things were postponed for Akosombo.
The National Agenda
The agenda is now shifting. Taylor must resign by the end of the Akosombo Peace conference. A transitional government should be in place as early as possible. The NPP leadership must force him out until a national transitional government is set-up at the conclusions of the talks. If the NPP cannot do this, Liberians in Akosombo should make a request to ECOWAS demanding his immediate resignation and the swearing of the Vice President pending the formation of a truly national government of unity.
Warring factions may play a role in that government but should not be allowed to keep control over any territories they conquered (a huge mistake of previous interim government) and finally, as in the case of IGNU, the president of the transitional government must not be allowed to stand for elections. There should be a limit on the duration and mandate of that transitional government. Rather than a transitional assembly, a national council of not more than thirty people should be put together to counsel the government, without any legislative power. All of this involves of course the dismantlement of the NPP government. It is also time to set up a national reconciliation commission. Repatriation, resettlement and reintegration, coupled with programs of demobilization and disarmament should the list of priorities of the transitional government.
The end is here. Liberians must not allow themselves to be conned into one more day of Taylor regime.
It took a long time but it is finally here. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The good people are finally winning. Liberians now can take their country back!