Changing Gears at LURD: Chairman Conneh to be Replaced Soon

(Press Release)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 21, 2003

The National Executive Committee of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) met in Washington, D.C., on April 13, 2003, to draft a preliminary agenda for a similar but more extensive NEC meeting in Africa in mid-May 2003 to take action on two issues. These have to do with the growing need for a review of the conduct of the current Chairman of LURD, and the establishment of the office of Supreme Military Commander of LURD's joint forces. The agenda was agreed to by NEC members in the West Africa sub-region via a telephone conference call during the Washington meeting.

The central issue of the meeting was the same topic that has been on the minds of LURD's well-wishers. So, regardless of what form each question takes, it invariably boils down to the character of the man who is currently the Chairman of LURD. That person happens to be Mr. Sekou Conneh.

Mr. Conneh's conduct has chilling and inhibiting effects on the abilities of some NEC members to fulfill their duties. As a result, the NEC, which is the regulating body of LURD, was at times paralyzed by Mr. Conneh accesses. And this remains the case of those NEC members currently residing in Conakry, Guinea, where Mr. Conneh wields unchecked power even in his dealings with senior members of the NEC who are currently in Guinea.

Mr. Conneh has been able to jail, harass, and humiliate members of NEC in contravention of LURD's own internal charter, to say nothing of the human and constitutional rights of the persons who continue to suffer his unprovoked wrath.

In addition to the NEC members Mr. Conneh has snatched and jailed on mere suspicion and without due process are some senior frontline commanders and other LURD soldiers who entered Mr. Conneh's sphere of growing influence in Guinea. Such is the case of Mr. Ahmed "Jallo" Bah whom Mr. Conneh and his wife ordered jailed after persuading some Guinean authorities that Mr. Bah was a threat to Guinea's national security. But the real reasons for Mr. Bah's continued imprisonment are more personal to Mr. Conneh.

Another person who is currently sweating in a Guinean prison at Mr. Conneh's request is Mr. Paulson Garteh, a formal Deputy Director of Police for Administration during the rule of the Liberian Council of State in the mid-90s. He is currently in prison in Guinea on unspecified charges, but with strong suggestion that it is because he is on Mr. Conneh's blacklist.

Mr. Sampson Guein lays no claims to any lofty title, but he still managed to anger Mr. Conneh enough to be put in prison in Macenta, Guinea, without a charge.

Again, it is worth noting that some of these detentions often take place without the knowledge of the appropriate Guinean authorities. This puts the NEC in a compromising position of not being sure whom to blame for the violation of the rights of some of the Liberians who enter Guinea, or whom to approach for redress.

But the one issue that has brought about an erosion of LURD's otherwise decent record is the one concerning the MERCI nurses who ended up in LURD-held territories when LURD forces drove President Charles Taylor's army from Bomi Hills in mid 2002. We in LURD were on record as having received the nurses for the purpose of having them tend to our war-wounded.

Yet something terrible happened to those nurses. That would have been bad enough all by itself without the compounding of the victims' injuries with the charge that the women were also liars. That was the essence of a press release from Mr. Conneh's office when the Human Rights Watch made public the MERCI women's claim of being sexually violated by LURD senior officers close to the office of the Chairman.

Although many members of LURD's National Executive Committee were shocked by both the women's revelation and Mr. Conneh's handling of it, there were telltale signs that Mr. Conneh was morally loose. He had earlier imprisoned some members of the NEC and refused steadfastly to answer the queries of the membership regarding any lawful authority that would justify his humiliating actions against fellow members of LURD.

Therefore, the advance planning committee agreed, through a vote, about the need to replace the current Chairman of LURD, Mr. Sekou Conneh. The next chairman will be elected at the next NEC conference in Africa in May 2003.

There are certain problems that we cannot simply wish away. For that we have thinkers. We are thinkers. Even before we request more blessings from the God we worship in common, we must first give Him credit for giving us some functioning faculties and the freedom to use them to solve all of the problems we are expected to encounter in our daily lives.

If ever we needed a reminder about our thinking power, we only had to remember that this is the age of technology. So, in the world of science and technology, we must be willing to accept our failings and take corrective actions in the name of sustaining the progress we have already made.

Mr. Sekou Conneh is not LURD's first chairman. This means that we were able to get this far because we have the freedom to change gears. Mr. Conneh steered us over some rough roads; but we are now in a new terrain in which some of the old driving techniques will not work. It's time to shift gear.

The decision to replace Mr. Sekou Conneh as Chairman of LURD is not based on spite or ingratitude. It is based on some harsh realities that Mr. Conneh's influence on LURD has turned decidedly negative. His presence in the position of Chairman has begun to cause LURD the support we need in this critical home stretch to end the rule of President Charles Taylor.

We have already seen the negative effects of some of Mr. Conneh's erratic edicts. So, we can no longer afford to delay any corrective action for the common good of LURD as a cohesive organization.

There will be no point in drowning Mr. Conneh in bad ink, if we are also prepared to grant that he has earned some credits that cannot be erased by his latter misdeeds. However, and for the record, there must be one salient issue on which we must base our collective decision for replacing Mr. Conneh as Chairman of LURD and for seeking to create a military super structure to guide against similar behavior in the ranks of LURD's military wing. Mr. Conneh's insistence that being Chairman of LURD gives him a free pass to the Liberian presidency is yet another complication we cannot afford to deal with while we fight to get rid of yet another tyrant.

Again, there is more, but belaboring the point may have the unintended effect of suggesting that Mr. Conneh has never been good for LURD at any point. Even so, especially in an organization that practices democracy, it is not expected that every member of NEC will sanction the removal of Mr. Conneh. But very few NEC members will deny that Mr. Conneh has lately hurt LURD more than he has helped. That said, we will let democracy take its course.

Tarty Teh
Chief Political Representative for
Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD)