CEDE "Attack Organized
by Mr. Taylor"
March 27, 2001
Editor's Note: Having escaped near-death twice at the hands of "ex-combatants" - former rebel soldiers of the NPFL, now used as extension of the Liberian national security network to harass and intimidate political opponents and critics of the government - Mr. D. Conmany Wesseh, Executive Director of the Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE), offered his views on the attack and other national issues, in an interview with the Managing Editor of The Perspective, George H. Nubo. Below is Part II of the interview:
We heard about the attack on you, Dr. Sawyer and CEDE offices. Who do you think were behind the attack?
Wesseh: Well, thank you! As I indicated in my interview - the very first public statement made few hours after the attack on November 28 - in that interview on BBC, I stated clearly that it was an attack organized by Mr. Taylor. I think he used his security services to attack the center and the personnel of the center. The attack was directed against the chairman of the board, Dr. Sawyer, and myself. And today we have been vindicated by the government actions since the attack.
Why do you think that the government or the president of the Republic of Liberia will support an attack on you and your operation when you were not doing anything subversive to the Republic of Liberia?
Wesseh: I think there is a growing intolerance on the part of the government. I think there is growing desperation on the part of the government of Liberia to find enemies real or imaginary because of its failure or failing in governance, because of its bad governance. Because we represented an alternative voice, we represented an ideal a view as to the way we think our country ought to develop. Mr. Taylor has been silencing a number of individuals and institutions over the last couple of years before he was elected and after he was elected. I think he wanted to get rid of us.
What we have observed as a pattern and a trend is that Mr. Taylor has been either trying to get rid of people physically as in the case of Dokie and others, or get them detained as in the case of the thirteen people who are in detention today on treason charges, or force them into exile and of course as in the case of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, those who participated in the elections and faction leaders; or buy them out. I am in exile today. Those who are not in exile, who have not been killed or are not in detention, have been, in some cases, bought. Of course, I must say, there are others in the country who continue to be outspoken. Over time, by what has happened to us, the [government] hope is that they will be cowed into submission. So if you are not bought to work for Mr. Taylor, to serve his political agenda, then you'll either be forced to get so scare that you do nothing you know you practice self-censorship. So even as there are people still who are carrying on very serious work in the country, and very vocal on national issues, I think he hopes that by what happened to us, those people will be intimidated enough not to become active .
Many Liberians feel that you are not outspoken during this Taylor regime as you were during the Tolbert and Doe administrations. Is the Taylor government better than the Tolbert and Doe governments?
Wesseh: I don't know what that means. During the Tolbert administration I was a student leader. As a student leader, there is a quality of activism that is different from when you are working as a trade unionist, or as one who is working at a certain level of development. Now, the way I spoke thirty years ago will not be exactly the way I speak today. Because I now have a certain experience: I have experience of leadership of social movement, I have had experience in that movement and at that level of work as a student leader. Sometimes the level of responsibility that is on your shoulder is not as much as when you have gone now and experienced in working in government.
So, is it fair to infer that some of your activism during the Tolbert and Doe administration was influenced by inexperience or misinformation?
Wesseh: It may not be misinformation - maybe put it to inexperience. It is youth idealism which is a very critical part of human life. You must have a degree of idealism in the things you do. But when you are young, that idealism is so pure, you speak with purity of heart. It's so pure that, you know, you see no blemish. As you grow old, you begin to find, you start to justify certain things in your mind and say, ah, there are certain things I won't say now since the real possibility exists that I can assume that responsibility. An example is what the police ought to do in every situation of arrest or in every situation? I now have to think for a moment that maybe the police may not have communication, they may not have vehicle to carry out their work. Because I know, I have been in a situation, I now know that the police may genuinely want to do certain things, but they cannot do it because they are inhibited by logistical factors. Something which as a student activist, when I speak, I may not even calculate that there may be a given reason why certain action was not taken at a given time.
How do you compare the Doe and Taylor government?
Wesseh: I deal with issues and I try not to deal with personalities. As I see it, we had a situation under Doe where there was gross violation of human rights. Under Taylor, there are indeed, exceptionally very crude violation of human rights. It's more or less the degree , but it's the same crime. It is the same violation! If one were to compare, of course, one would say that Mr. Doe at that given epoch will be given higher rating than Mr. Taylor because Taylor's intervention or the intervention of the NPFL whatever was basically on the issue - the fact that Doe was running the country down to the gutter. There have been serious violations, and the idea of removing him from power was meant to transform our society. So there is a greater responsibility on Mr. Taylor to perform just as we held Mr. Doe to higher level of responsibility because the removal of the True Whig Party government was based on the argument that there was violation of human rights, there was violation of the constitution, there was misuse of power, there was rampant corruption. So we expected that there won't be rampant corruption [under Doe] there would not be misuse and the abuse of power and all of those things. So the standard is based on the agenda you give. Mr. Taylor said that Doe was a brutal dictator, there was violation of human rights, etc. So we began to hold Mr. Taylor to those standards. And these are universally accepted standards. And in all of the cases, I believe that Mr. Taylor has failed to meet those standards and he has not only failed but he has brutally failed in ways that even bring shame to people who love their country. That said, in this modern age, we have a leader who is an international pariah.
You were in Ghana when Taylor went to Ghana to begin his effort to unseat Mr. Doe. What was the level of cooperation between you and Mr. Taylor in this effort?
Wesseh: Mr. Taylor came to Ghana, I think towards the end of 1985 or the beginning of 1985. A number of people who associated with the efforts to unseat Doe after the Quiwonkpah thing [attempted coup] of November, 1985, a number of people who were accused or otherwise found themselves operating from Ivory Coast and interacting with people in Ghana. I was in Ghana at the time and had sufficient links with people in the government. When Taylor came to Ghana Doe had out a warrant or a request to the Ghanaian government that I was aware of that he wanted certain personalities, including myself, to be extradited to Liberia. So it was myself, it was Tom Kamara, Taylor and one or two others. And of course the Ghanaian government did not accept that! So we knew that Taylor was there. He interacted with those of us who were there. And I was among the better known of the Liberians who were there because I have been there much earlier, established certain linkages, I was working with the All African Student Union, as one of the leaders in the African student movement working at the headquarters in Ghana. So, a relationship was one of a Liberian who we heard escaped prison but who we believed was held or was being pursued by a dictator, Mr. Doe. We didn't push that he should be extradited to the dictator to be prosecuted if we had allowed that to happen, it would happen to us - ourselves. So we developed a relationship.
Today, is there any regret on your part for developing a relationship with him?
Wesseh: I have absolutely no regrets. I think Mr. Doe was a dictator. If it was not because of his action, I would not have gone into exile. So if another Liberian comes and says, you know, he or she is being pursued by the same person, the normal thing I would do is try to associate, try to make sure that that person does not get prosecuted, because I don't believe that we had justice under Doe, so why should I believe that others will have justice under him. So I didn't think that Taylor should have been sent to Liberia to be prosecuted.
We must also note that the first time I met Mr. Taylor was in 1979 when I was in Queens in the United States. I was president of the Liberian Student Union and came on an international student mission. I came to tour the United States on an international platform. I was one of a number of students [from around the world] who came to tour a number of universities in the United States. And with Nyudueh Morkonmana, he came to see me in Queens. That was the first time I met Nyudueh and Mr. Taylor. I think he was the chairman of ULAA [Board of Directors]. That was when we established a relationship. The next time I saw Mr. Taylor was when he came on the invitation of President Tolbert in 1980 and again as president of the national union of students, I met with him at the Holiday Inn hotel [Liberia]. We had discussion, we all wanted to know what the mission was, we met subsequently at some point again and we wanted to share ideas and information between Liberians in the United States and those on the ground to develop a common position - common perspective on the issue of democracy.
You were one of those who applauded Mr. Taylor efforts to burn the weapons captured during the disarmament period. Do you still believe that Mr. Taylor burned all the weapons that were collected?
Wesseh: What I said and I still say is it was a good thing that the weapons captured, surrendered, weapons that ECOMOG and UNIMIL had in their possession at time that those weapons be destroyed, that those weapons be converted to productive use. My position remains the same. I did not at that time say and still know that all the weapons that were in the hands of fighters were not collected. There was no effective disarmament. What happened in Liberia went contrary to the peace agreement. I want to go to Cotonou Agreement: the leaders of the warring factions were under obligation to disarm their fighters - that was the key thing. They had the responsibility to disarm the fighters and ECOMOG would receive these arms from the various warring factions, put them in containers in storage and the process would be observed by UNIMIL. That was not the case. What happened was that through voluntary disarmament, where fighters on their own volition or through programs by different groups including SUSUKU that were organized to entice fighters to bring in their weapons if they wanted to. So that was how most of the guns were gotten Therefore, large number of guns were still left out and the command structure remained intact.
Do you believe that all the weapons that were collected - whether voluntarily or otherwise, were burned by the Taylor government?
Wesseh: It wasn't the Taylor government that burned those arms. Taylor government agreed under a lot of pressure for those arms to be destroyed. Those arms that were collected to the best of our knowledge, arms that were in the containers that ECOMOG and UNIMIL had keys for, those arms were destroyed by burning or by the kind of explosion that took place. And some of them were also destroyed through conversion to turn the guns into implements for agriculture and things like that. Now, I don't know how far that process has gone. Those weapons that were not burned out were sent for that conversion exercise. They are not in the hands of the Liberian government.
We have had several incursions since Taylor came to power. Don't you think the arms embargo against the Liberian government should be lifted so that the Liberian government will be able to protect the citizenry?
Wesseh: Well, I think that the West African conflict has to be dealt with comprehensively. It cannot be resolved through large flow of arms in the conflict zone. In fact I think the embargo should be intensified so that all those interested in fighting will be starved of guns. That's my view and that's what we have been working on. We have been working on the issue on small arms control in West Africa. I think the intention is to starve all those in the conflict zone of arms. The truth is that the arms whether they are in the hands of the government or the rebels have not been used to defend the people. They are being used to continue to further suffer the people to impoverish them to drive fear and intimidation and create increasing hardship on our people.
The 2003 elections are imminent, what is your advice to the Liberian people?
Wesseh: Well, my message is that the problem we have in Liberia today is between the forces of dictatorship and the forces of democracy. And therefore, we should build coalitions. Those who are committed to dictatorship, who want to support dictatorship, let them consolidate themselves on one position, and those who want democracy should do likewise by working together to reduce the confusion towards the elections. And this is not about conformity, it is about a choice: the choice between continued violence and peace. It is about anti-democracy and democracy. It's about the economic development and economic devastation. It's about Liberia's respect among the comity of nations and the pariah state that we are.
What Message do you have for the Liberians in the Diaspora?
Wesseh: The message I have for the Liberians in the Diaspora is that I think what ever we do , in whatever area we work, we must work with our country in mind We must continue to have our country in mind - that the country is bereft of everything. We are the only people who can rebuild it. We should see how ultimately what we are doing today can become of benefit tomorrow to Liberia. So that's my message.