Clash of Values & Kabbah's Awakening

By Tom Kamara

The Perspective

April 20, 2001

Just when Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah is counting his days in office with elections due in about six months, he has decided to do what he should have done during the past four grueling years, and that is to tell Liberia's Charles Taylor to learn how to mind his own business, which is destroying his country, a job he has already completed with marvelous applause from his cheering clique. Although belatedly, Kabbah has begun to defend the honour of his country against a man that has been unrepentant in dishonoring it.

The past four years have shown the Sierra Leonean leader to be an easy opponent against unscrupulous foes. It seems since Kabbah encountered Taylor, appeasement has been his standard policy, as was the case recently when he first decided, (along with the embittered Guinean President Lasana Conte) to boycott the just ended ECOWAS funfair (conference) as a protest of Liberia's regional destabilization plots. But with a phone call and pep talk from 'big brother" Nigeria's Obasanjo, Kabbah left Conte in the cold to attend the summit, giving a delightful Taylor an opportunity to renew his arm-twisting insanities that have yielded him remarkable results since he invaded the country, violently overthrowing several Governments with disastrous effects and indescribable horrors.

Under pressure from Abuja, Taylor's wish - more talks and endless talks - has been granted. Sierra Leone Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr. Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya, justified the change-of-mind by saying dialogue is a better option in handling Taylor:

"That doesn't mean that we trust him," Dumbuya said. "If we ourselves are not in a position to express our reservations or our revulsion at some of the activities they (Taylor and clique) are doing, it will be a problem -- and that has been the problem. We have decided to be more proactive, and to beware over Charles Taylor, to counter whatever lies he might talk about our country and to make the world to know how we stand."

It may be difficult to understand why it took so long to make the world know where Freetown stands against a man that has humiliated a country, if organized and determined, that would have ended his charade long ago?

In the meantime, since Freetown has decided to let the world know how it feels about Taylor's criminal activities, Liberia too, has decided to let the world know how serious it is about letting Sierra Leone to have peace. Announcing he has already met UN demands to avoid sanctions, Taylor has unveiled a web of deceptions designed to buy time and resume his regional destabilization schemes. Suddenly, his "security forces" have arrested six foreigners suspected of smuggling diamonds into the country from Sierra Leone and this should convince the skeptical world that the Liberian President is diamond free. The arresting officers in this comical play of intrigues are men and women, National Patriotic Front "security forces", who killed and maimed tens of thousands of people for items like sneakers, wristwatches, or anything of value they wanted. That such individuals would "arrest" persons "suspected of smuggling diamonds" into Liberia is one of the most bizarre stories circulated by respected news agencies without afterthoughts, and meant for the ears of those unfamiliar with the Liberian landscape. This little tale buttresses another story, which dwelled on Taylor's security forces arresting a man who had allegedly been impersonating the President and smuggling diamonds. The story ended there, since there was no trial of the unknown accused. To further the tricks, Sankoh's Monrovia bank account has been frozen, although verification is difficult since Taylor single handedly deals with financial matters, with reports that local taxes collected are taken to his home. Knowing Taylor's character, all these stories are part of rehearsed deceptions to avoid sanctions, nothing more.

But Kabbah and Conte are faced with a fundamental problem of dealing with an individual operating on a completely different set of value system. Taylor and most members of his Inner Circle are graduates from the gangland code of ethics prevalent in America's The Bronx, Brooklyn, etc., with violence, dishonesty and cunningness as indispensable variables for survival. It is a world of its own, in which honesty is seen as stupidity and weakness, and therefore punishable. As a graduate of an American prison and a couple of others in West Africa, Taylor's code of survival runs diametrically opposite to those of Kabbah and Conte, men brought up in traditional African values who, by their actions in dealing with the Liberian, indicate they lack understanding of his mindset. These two traditional Africans ought to understand that they are dealing with a completely new phenomenon in regional politics, a phenomenon that operates on the basis of crime, deception and force to achieve the required objectives. When necessary, Taylor's psyche prepares him to boldly denounce his signature placed on an internationally witnessed peace treaty. If he must, he spreads lies such as dissidents' kidnapping of 400 children in the backwoods of a country with no orphanages outside the capital. To keep surviving, whatever pieces of evidence thrown at him unveiling his theft of Sierra Leone's diamonds are denied, with marathon demands for more evidence. Values acquired in the ganglands of America's Bronx and Brooklyn, etc. equip one to live by the code of dishonesty and vengeance without remorse, endlessly justifying executions of opponents and surviving in the belief that to attain power through killings, the killings must continue.

It is difficult to find a replica gang-style politics prevailing in Liberia in many parts of Africa, for many African leaders, be they former Army Generals like Obasanjo or trade union leaders like Chiluba, however corrupt and vile they may be, are products of African traditional cultures tied around a level of respect, even if European "experts" on the continent have convinced many that its horrors are found in its traditions. On the other hand, Taylor and his operatives are products of a combination of the other America (found in the underworld of ghettos) and the implanted cultural, political norms brought into Africa from southern plantation states, a political culture which has dominated Liberia for over 100 years. These two sets of forces - Africans influenced by tradition and others knowing no tradition except the rat race in gangland America - are locked into antagonistic positions in determining the fate of their people deeply buried in traditions.

Thus inasmuch as a traditional man like Kabbah has bent backwards in pleasing the Liberian, the antagonism continues. For instance, according to Liberian news reports quoting Taylor, Kabbah disputed a BBC story detailing Liberia's arms shipment to RUF rebels in exchange for diamonds. In a meeting with Taylor, the Liberian ruler said Kabbah told him that Sierra Leone Police were tricked by the BBC in releasing their findings. Monrovia sources say Kabbah has, on a number of occasions, alerted Taylor on possible plots against his (Taylor's) regime. But the more he (Kabbah) gives in terms of appeasement, the more Taylor wants because in gangland culture, the winner must take all or he runs the risk of opponents emerging for renewed, bloody contest. Taylor's fear of a British-trained Sierra Leone Army capable of challenging and defeating him, along with his allegations against Conte of training Liberian dissidents, reflect this. There can be no negotiations on this demand except an agreement that assures Taylor of a militarily weak Sierra Leone and an appendage Guinea. The option of dialogue, appealing and sensible as it is, is nothing more than a quest to buy time, avert UN sanctions, and rebuild his shattered Army for future confrontation. In gangland, once an enemy always an enemy, and an enemy alive is a reminder of a future danger. So wars and killings must continue as long as there are enemies real or perceived.

It is therefore not surprising that even as he awaits UN sanctions, an amazing aspect of the Taylor's schizophrenic psyche is his continued arrogance in demanding what he believes is good for Sierra Leone, and in his mind, what is good for Freetown is the RUF in power under his command. Years ago, he reminded Sierra Leoneans that like him, the RUF picked up guns not to negotiate, but to seize power. Thus, strategy may change here and there as time and conditions dictate, but the objective remains the same. He sees a Sierra Leone without the RUF as the Sword of Damocles hanging over him, just as he now sees Conte in Guinea as a reminder of his doom. In the case of Sierra Leone, he has for the past decade beaten the drums of British "colonization", although only he and his proxy RUF have been hearing the echoes since most Sierra Leoneans are grateful to their ex-colonial masters for delivering them from evil a la Liberia. At the just ended ECOWAS talkshop, he again reminded Kabbah of the evils of British colonialism compared to the "enlightenment" of a butchering, drugged gangs of rebels who have left Sierra Leone in ruins and thousands of limbless people.

Here is a man whose economy is run by Lebanese merchants passing on his shares and shipping their lion's portions. This is a man who has hired crooked Europeans to deplete the rain forests he calls his "pepperbush." This is a prison escapee whose "Inner Circle" includes Dutchmen, Ukrainians, South African neo-Nazis, South American death squads operatives. Here is a man with no grain of nationalism, selling American landing rights to Ghanaians for crumbs of the fee. And yet, he rebukes Kabbah for what he regards as British colonialism.

"I am opposed to the presence of British forces in Sierra Leone. They have armed not just the Sierra Leonean armed forces, but have armed other forces, and British arms have shown up in Liberia. So I'm going to continue to talk about what I'm seeing: the practical re-colonization of Sierra Leone... This is the beginning, if we are not careful, of the destruction of Ecowas."

Should Kabbah tell him of the "practical recolonisation" of Liberia by underground forces? Is there a need to remind him of how Liberia has become the virtual property of European criminal operatives? The Dutchman Gus Van Kouwenhoven, known as the Godfather of Liberia, remarked some time ago that business was good under Samuel Doe but now "better" under Taylor. The truth is that Taylor is kicking and yelling "British colonialism" because London is now the single state determined and capable of stopping his adventures and thus closing the doors on him for stealing Sierra Leone diamonds. Moreover, he simply wants his Libyan masters to know how strong an "anti-colonialist" he is.

Since his subjection to world scrutiny, Sierra Leone's Government intake of diamonds has jumped from $1.5m in 1999 to $10m. Anyone who loses such huge amount understandably gets angry, and this is Taylor's problem. Britain, through diplomacy backed with military steps such as the training of a Sierra Leone Army, he ensured the defeat of the rebels and their Liberian sponsors.

On the battlefront, the British have paralyzed his drugged child soldiers, a fact RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi admits:

"We are in a stalemate. We are not defeated but we can't take power, and therefore the people will suffer if the war continues. We are now ready to struggle politically, not militarily. The RUF of yesterday, branded with all sorts of names, is not the RUF of today." Indicating they want more as they buy time, he adds, "We cannot talk disarmament while the government is using Guinea to attack us. Until that is resolved, it is not time to talk of disarmament"

However, what the RUF is realizing is that with their Liberian sponsors under scrutiny, and as they (RUF) are deprived of the Liberian corridors now a contested terrain between Taylor and Liberian dissidents, among other factors, they are a spent force. William Shawcross of International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based non-governmental security entity, writing for The Financial Times, observes:

"Military intervention is not a course generally chosen by those in the business of stopping or preventing wars. But the International Crisis Group, of which I am a member, sees little option in Sierra Leone. The Revolutionary United Front - the nihilistic, hand-chopping rebels - has broken a succession of peace agreements and has shown no sign of abandoning its brutal tactics... The most formidable factor enforcing the peace is the threat of intervention by the British, who have several hundred trainers working with the army, a warship off the coast and 'over the horizon' force of several thousand poised for rapid intervention".

Convinced of Taylor's increasing weakness in directing Sierra Leone's affairs and handling his own, Kabbah has begun fighting back, although belatedly. News reports say he reminded Taylor that he seems "very much preoccupied" with ties between Britain and Sierra Leone. "I told him that [the] foreign affairs of Sierra Leone and whatever agreements I have with people, particularly about the defense of my country and my people -- that's my business, it's not his business. He made a statement that the presence of the British in Sierra Leone will not facilitate the peace process. But I made the point clear that that's not his business. Sierra Leone is not a province of Liberia. He should not meddle in our affairs, and he accepted that."

"He accepted that". Such gullibility has been Kabbah's monumental fault since he began interacting with Taylor, interactions accompanied by frequent telephone conversations between the two men, according to sources. Kabbah has opted to believe the cunning Liberian even if all the evidence pointed to deceptions and the continued mayhem. In the absence of courage to take on a despicable foe who would stop at nothing for personal wealth, Kabbah saw appeasement as a way of driving some sense into Taylor's cunning head. But the more he appeased Taylor, the more the ruthlessly greedy Liberian demanded in terms of concessions. And then there was Obasanjo at the other end, Taylor's fellow Baptist with whom he shares so many links, some too frivolous to talk about.

In 1999, Taylor told Sierra Leone religious leaders in Monrovia to plead with him to leave their country alone that they were making a serious mistake. The RUF, he said, took up arms to seize power. Like him, he hinted, power was their objective and no amount of tears for cutoff limbs of babies, burnt villages and towns, would make them change their minds. RUF political concessions, he said, were non-negotiable and tied to power sharing to satisfy the marauding rebels. He soon drafted the Lome Agreement and sent his pal Jesse Jackson, the man the Americans called "Democracy Envoy for Africa" to force it down Kabbah's throats. True, in the Agreement, Taylor gave the rebels power and much more. He ensured that they kept the diamonds fields to get the needed millions for buying more arms. When he realized that Kabbah actually bought this shameful Agreement with Jackson swiftly referring to Taylor's pal Foday Sankoh as a Nelson Mandela, the Liberian upped his price. He instructed the rebels to seize UN arms and troops. When they did, he presented himself as world statesman because he was the only person in the world that would free them.

But the games continue, and it is always instructive recalling Taylor's "wisdom": "We will talk, and talk, and talk, and talk about the talks." In gangland, one must negotiate to reorganize, buy time, when in a weaker position. This is the Taylor's strategy. His objectives remain the same.

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