All Checks and No Balances
By Tarty Teh
August 2, 2000

The Liberian Legislature says nothing while our kids continue to cry foul at the latest move of the familiar cheat named Charles Taylor. Constitutional scholars will soon examine the students' action to show how many mistakes they have made. Yes, students are prone to mistakes, even if they are not out looking for trouble, and there is nothing strange about that. University students by nature are like teething babies. They need something to bite on. But in Liberia, our babies have found more suitable targets for their bites while our Legislature, which is constitutionally mandated to provide the balances in the ''checks and balances" on which any functional democracy rests, cringes with fear. But thank God our babies are growing teeth, because our Legislature is toothless.

In response to the students' evaluation of his repressive regime, President Charles Taylor is now reaching for the throat of the Liberian nation - our young people. He is threatening to take them to the war front, which is an easy excuse for eliminating them. Any silence here will prove deadly for us all. Brutality is the only means of control Taylor has ever shown a talent for. He has lost his grips on the statecraft which his being elected president had given him an opportunity to prove. He has failed. And now he has fallen back on what for him comes naturally - violence.

Charles Taylor, who was once a good liar, now does not care to give his lies any appearance of plausibility. He tells us that the university students are being held so that their parents (who are also the mothers and fathers of his soldiers) will not kill them. So to prevent parental spanking, Taylor will take our kids to the war front. Making sense is no longer Taylor's objective here, and purposely so.

One thing is certain, however. Taylor knows that no one outside the influence of his payroll wants him. The people, in just three years, have moved from fear to apathy and now to antipathy for Taylor. Even the base loyalty he is banking on is a purchased one, so his ability to maintain it is directly related to his maintaining the Sierra Leone diamond fields from which he is now being forced to retreat. All this should have been a problem for Taylor only, but we have allowed this to become our problem. We must kick Taylor out now ­ because we cannot do it soon enough ­ so that he may dedicate the rest of his life to solving his personal problems. But we should not hide behind our kids.

Throughout the Liberia crisis and since 1989, we have shamelessly counted on the United States ­ so much so that it took disrespectfully blunt language by U.S. envoys to help wane us from our shameful claim of cultural and familial affinity to the U.S. This is why it is disheartening that the current momentum that is building up against President Charles Taylor is being falsely credited to the United States. This drive was not made in U.S.A. It's a British import from Sierra Leone.

For one thing, the United States cannot do anything harsh to President Charles Taylor without fear of offending the sensibilities of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus, particularly U.S. Congressman Donald Payne. This is why U.S. policies toward Liberia and Sierra Leone were a thoughtless cut-and-paste from Congressman Payne's office until the British got fed up with Taylor.

A need for a Liberian policy, however, never completely escaped any U.S. administration, thanks to the clamoring of the Americo-Liberians that the United States has a special relationship with and, therefore, obligation to Liberia. But designing a policy that reflected any such relationship was done perfunctorily at best, if at all. The absence of public passion in the discussion of Liberia is probably due to the realization by the Congressional Black Caucus the their remedy for the centuries-old Americo bad attitudes toward African natives was too late. Yet the Congressional Black Caucus still goes through the motion reflective of their attitude that the only thing that matters in Liberia is their Americo cousins. They have, however clearly lost their zeal for shoring up the crumbling empire of their cousins in Africa.

In politics where inspiration counts for much, even the gifted Rev. Jesse Jackson, President Bill Clinton's African specialist, never found his groove in logic and rhyme. In articulating the desultorily conceived U.S. policies on Liberia, Rev. Jackson did not rhyme a single time. Logic deserted him even more completely: ''If you treat Forday Sankoh as a statesman, he will become one.'' Incredibly, it was done, and it was proved, not unexpectedly, a failure. Rev. Jackson tried again. He went on to compare Foday Sankoh to former South African President Nelson Mendela. Wrong again, but this time, however, such arrogance and ignorance resulted in his being banned in Sierra Leone. After all, Africans still have the right to set a limit on how much abuse they can take even from the only super power's lip-syncher in an acknowledged puppet show.

While having a giant for a friend normally does not hurt, our salvation lies not in what the United States thinks its relationship with Liberia ought to be, but rather what we have the will to demand of ourselves. In this regard, the move by the students of the University of Liberia, to grade the government of President Charles Taylor, is an opening toward removing President Taylor once and for all.

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