Of Promises And Reality: Putting The Chicago Conference In Perspective, One Year After
By M. Tarnue Mawolo

David Dorado, a former security assigned to opposition politician, Counselor J. Laveli Supuwood, is no more. On one fateful December evening last year, it was yet another sunset in Taylor's Liberia, and as darkness fell, for David it was to be a final sunset. Like many in Liberia today, David was abducted from the quietude of his home in Paynesville, brutally tortured and murdered in cold blood (gestapo style) by members of Taylor's security forces. When David died, I was driven to writing a tribute to the memory of a young man who I knew just so well had died in the fullness of his innocence. Poor boy. Then I asked myself what about the countless other victims of the on-going state sponsored terror, brutality and murder who I did not have the privilege of knowing personally?

As a more fitting tribute to the memory of those who have passed at the hands of the Taylor tyranny, I, therefore, decided to peel off the facade and propaganda that masks the truth of the Liberian tragedy, and in so doing take a more critical look at the government's much - vaunted commitment to reconciliation, peace and the general question of human rights in Taylor's Liberia. In so doing, I reasonably reckoned then, as I do now, that the best place to begin is to take a retrospective view of the truthfulness of the Liberian Government's biggest peace extravaganza yet - the CHICAGO CONFERENCE.

It still looks like yesterday at about this time last year when scores of Liberian Government functionaries trooped in droves to Chicago to attend what turned out to be yet another carnival. In the midst of grandeur and pageantry, they tried as hard as they could to win over new converts to the gospel of the new Liberian "liberation"-Taylor style. For these cheer leaders, a renaissance was under way in Liberia and they needed to showcase it for the rest of the world to see. What better place to do so than in the heartland of the great United States from where you can stage a bombastic charade, justify a sumptuous perdiem and get maximum media attention?

Branded as a public relations supremo for the Taylor regime, Rev. Jesse Jackson along with the Government of Liberia had organized what became known as the "CHICAGO CONFERENCE ON RECONCILIATION IN LIBERIA". The objective? What else but to seek reconciliation and healing for the Liberian nation.

Aside from the astronomical cost in financial resources to a looted nation, the mere idea of hosting a Liberian reconciliation conference over six thousand miles away form Liberia was clearly an exercise in irony and a manifestation of twisted logic, that only served the appetite of a regime forever hungry for publicity and posturing.

Be that as it may, the conference was held. But one year after Chicago, this crazy expenditure of meager dollars is yet to be justified. Liberia is still a divided nation caught in the awesome burning fire of a grotesque tyranny and the callous disregard for the dignity of life and the rule of law. Due process has taken to flight. The judicial system is undoubtedly a showcase of ineptitude and executive manipulations; at least so says Milton Teahjay, the Liberian Government's newly acquired mouthpiece. The law no longer proceeds on inquiry, nor does it hear before it condemns. In Taylor's "big dream" Liberia, the presumption of guilt is the rule, as justice is dispensed according to the whims, caprices and sheer benevolence of an imperial President and his host of bodyguards; the press is bamboozled, intimidated and muzzled, key opposition figures are murdered, while others are thrown into exile. Before our very eyes, a wholesale campaign of genocide is planned and executed against a group of people simply because the President was uncomfortable with the fact that they live on Camp Johnson Road, in close proximity to the Executive Mansion, seat of a government whose inadequacy leaves it perpetually paranoid. In the aftermath of this blood bath, a mock trial was staged that landed virtually every Krahn opinion leader in prison. Cavalier thieves are on the loose and buffoons parade every corridor of bureaucracy as the nation sinks deeper into poverty, deprivation and socio-economic decline, all in the name of protecting "national security". My God, what an era! Seeing the buffoonery and looking back at yesterday makes Doe looks like a saint.

Worst of all, Charles Taylor and his goons seem to have decided that it is in their best interest to keep things that way. Why not, any way? Can there be a better policy for a regime that thrives on violence and chaos, and rules by a combination of hate and a strategy of divide and conquer? No doubt, in an organized society where there is peace and the rule of law, the people are bound to demand accountability from a government that has neither the resources nor the vision, foresight and capacity to deliver. Hasn't it been said that it is only in a state of normalcy when expectations are high and exceed the capacity to deliver that revolutions are born? I definitely believe so. Confronted with this burning prospect, Taylor and his cohorts can not do otherwise than keep the Liberian people divided and in a state of perpetual crisis and turmoil. This is certainly a nightmare scenario involving what Samuel Woods, former Director of Liberia's Catholic Justice & Peace Commission called a stranded government and a "stranded people."

The fact of the matter, however, is that it was pathetically unreasonable for anyone to have expected that Taylor and his praise singers could deliver on the agenda set at the Chicago Conference. They never intended to do so, and never will.

A review of a couple of facts is in order here. Didn't Taylor's messengers of peace come to the Chicago Conference with their hands soiled in the blood of opposition politician Samuel Dokie, his wife, Janet, sister Serena, and a bodyguard? Obviously, he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. So says the old maxim. The Dokies were arrested upon orders of the Director of Taylor's Special Security Service, Col. Benjamin Yeaten, detained at a local police station, spirited away under the cover of darkness, gruesomely murdered, decapitated and their charred remains dumped on remote dusty roads in the heartland of Taylor's rural Liberia. To date, the killers of the Dokies are yet to be brought to justice. They roam free in Liberia with license to kill, and seeking their next victims to butcher. But what else can we expect in a society where criminals have turned judges, and the docket is reserved for the honest?

Liberia's moment of truth is coming the hard way. Facts are rudely coming to life as reality comes calling. It is becoming crystal clear to all that simply mounting a campaign helicopter and making earth-moving promises of peace, prosperity and reconciliation is, indeed, easy especially for a group of people who are not bound by the standards of morality imposed by principles. But, like always, the difficult part, after all, is delivering the goods promised. No doubt in Liberia, Charles Taylor and his men are teaming the hard way the lesson of how not to pay lip service to the business of a nation's future. Of course, like an elder Liberian once told me, this is what happens in the University of life, where one is forced to take a test and then learn the lesson later. The tragedy, however, is that in the midst of this unfolding saga, the people are the victims while the regime thrives on lies, endless subterfuge and deceit. But you see, you can do what you may and say what you will, history will always remember and look back in the sands of time at the footprints you leave behind. That is why almost two years after Taylor's rise to power, we are compelled to look back at the so-called "Chicago Reconciliation Conference On Liberia" and a chain of other meaningless maneuvers and then ask the pointed question: what have we achieved so far, and what is in store for the Liberian nation and people as we move into the twenty-first century, which is fast approaching.

Empty promises of reconciliation and prosperity, coupled with a sense of desperation for peace and the fatigue of a whole nation battered by war, ravaged by anarchy and destituted by institutionalized looting catapulted Taylor to the helm of power in Liberia. This was aided in part by the confused and oftentimes miscalculated policy choices of the Abacha regime in Nigeria, the dominant West African sub-regional power.

It is quite evident now that almost two years after coming to power, little if anything, has changed in the devastated West African nation except the transformation of Taylor and his band of former wig-wearing thugs and praise singers from guerrilla warlords to new masters of the Liberian state; free as it were, to perpetuate terror and plunder cloaked beneath a thin veneer of legality and officialdom. Indeed, in Liberia today, its simply business as usual. Poverty and deprivation rule supreme as babies cry, go to bed hungry and die in their misery and lack of care. Worse still, there is no promise of things getting better any sooner as long as the status quo remains the same. The promise of reconciliation and healing has evaporated in thin air leaving behind nothing but a litany of empty commissions and panels that serve very little purpose besides creating offices and staff for more bureaucrats in a society that is becoming increasingly less busy with matters of substance.

As we move into the new millennium, the prospects for peace, progress and socioeconomic development in Liberia is bleak if current arrangements are pointers to the future. Some will have doubt about what I say. To them I can only say, don't bother believing what I say. Let's just sit and watch. Time will tell; for tomorrow is yet to come.

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