"Our People Want Peace;" A Conversation with Dr. Tipoteh
(Parts I and II)
Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh
The Perspective: In June 1996, a group of Liberians gathered in Smyrna, Georgia, to launch the Liberian Democratic Future (LDF). The goal of the LDF is to collect and disseminate news about Liberia, since news organs in the US rarely carry articles that highlight our plight. The Liberian Democratic Future is the publisher of The Perspective newsmagazine. I believe that you have heard about us and read some of our publications. We have decided to speak to you after having heard that you are in our town. Welcome to Atlanta, welcome to The Perspective!
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Thank you very much. I want to commend all of you for the fast-breaking relevant work you have continued to do. [Such] responsibilities as yours [force] ourselves to remain knowledgeable about the reality facing our people and motivate each other to working together to solve our problems - especially the longstanding ones.
The Perspective: As the 2003 elections approach, there is speculation that you are preparing to seek your party nomination for [President] of the Republic of Liberia. The question that some Liberians are asking is: why should Liberians entrust you with leadership when you have apparently failed to demonstrate leadership within your own party by failing to reconcile with those partisans that were expelled from the party?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Well, first let me try to correct some points: One is that in December of last year I declared my candidacy - I have already announced that I am running for the presidency within the context of going to the National Congress of the Liberia People's Party (LPP). So there's no speculation about that. One important aspect of leadership is the capacity to be a unifying factor. I would want to say that by and large, the Liberian People's Party remains a united party and we are going from strength to strength. But having said that, we will regret the loss of any one member. No member is more important than the other. So we certainly regret the fact that we have to go through the agony of losing some members. Nineteen- ninety-seven (1997), as you may recall, some members left by themselves before the Congress took the decision to expel them. I will not go into detail. But just suffice to say that, subsequently they well expelled - but they have already left to identify themselves with other parties. The point that you are making remains relevant. The whole point of the role of a leader in being the unifying factor - being the force for unity. Well, I like to inform you that during the course of last year, Liberian People's Party, through the National Executive Committee sent out an olive branch to everybody: Everybody who was expelled, who have been inactive to become active and get back into the full swing of party's activities. Beyond that olive branch, a reconciliation committee was set up. That committee met on yesterday [Feb 2] in Liberia. But the meeting on yesterday was basically to put icing on the cake, because there is now firm understanding among all those concerned and the reconciliation committee that all is now well with respect to members expelled, members inactive getting on board... Statement made to that effect, in a few days, will be available to Liberians and friends of Liberia where ever they are in the world at large.
The Perspective: Some of these members who left the party claim that you agreed to be part of the 1997 Alliance and because you were not elected as the candidate for the Alliance, you decided to break away from the Alliance while they opted to be with the Alliance. Why did you break away from the Alliance?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Again, this provides an opportunity to correct some of these things. The alliance you speak about was an Alliance of seven political parties. Not an Alliance of individuals, it was alliance of parties. So the question of Tipoteh breaking away from the alliance does not arise, because Tipoteh was not the member of the Alliance. The Liberian People's Party was a member of the Alliance. And so then the Liberian People's Party upon observing concretely that large sums of money were changing hands..., we sounded the alarm. And secondly, the record will now show that the ordering of the voting had changed - sometime the ballot box was closed at the time Liberian People's Party was voting so that many votes in the interest of the Liberian People's Party were found on the floor, the generator had gone out, it was dark at a certain time. But the two points are (1) large sums of money were brought in illegally and  then the box was close at the time of [our] voting which was not done for others.
So the record shows, of course, from the reporting at the Alliance that we then, as a party [filed] a formal protest signed by the chairman and made this representation that called for a reconsideration of what had transpired. We then went into a session, we meaning the political leaders - were called to session at the St. Theresa Convent under the auspices of the then Inter-Faith Council now the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia). At that sitting, it was concluded that yes there was some foul playing as it was important for the results not to be announced officially until there were some reconciliation of what had transpired. In the meantime, the chairman of the conference of the elections proceedings in the person of the now senator, Bayouga Junius, had announced publicly [that], “well, yes large sum of money did come in illegally, but this is Liberian way - part of Liberian politics.” That exacerbated the situation for us because we felt that as we are going into a process presumably to work together to build sustainable democracy in Liberia, we (ourselves) must be seen to be operating in a democratic way - in a way that is conducive for holding free and fair elections. You can't have free and fair elections when the playing field is not level, when money becomes a factor; the transfer of money becomes a factor, and when violence becomes a factor. Although, in our case, there was no violence, but you have this money factor, and some cheating, which I mentioned before. So, it is the Liberian People's Party that made this decision. I hope I have made the point clear!
The Perspective: Some members of your party (LPP), who have broken away, claim that if you are not the leader of any organization you associate with, you do not become part of that organization. What's your comment?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Well, the latest count of organizations that I've been associated with, in the past and currently, the numbers are somewhere around 117. Out of the 117 organizations, I have only headed three. I am a member of the choir in my church; I am not the head of the choir. In fact, I am not even an officer in my choir. I am a member of my village organization; I am not an officer at all!
Interestingly enough, there are foreigners who practically run our economy right out of Monrovia, there are heads of nearly thirty organizations that are controlling our economy and politics of our country; we don't find people making noise about it. There are Liberians too, who are in the same situation, you don't find people making fuss about it. Usually, this kind of point comes out... [when] some people find it difficult to acquire substantive reason to approach issues, to approach individuals, in the absence of or the capacity to develop substantive reason then they come in some form of demagoguery. Then of course, we find ourselves in this situation. But the evidence is there - the vast majority of the organizations I am in and continue to play significant role are organizations I hold no positions at all.
The Perspective: There has been a rift in here; at one point, there were two groups - two chairmen of LPP/USA. One of the groups is alleged to be loyal to you, and the other group not loyal to you. Some even considered the rift to be between what they call the "Lorma and the Kru factions" of LPP. I think you might have heard about the rift! While you are here in the US, will there be any effort on your part to heal the party before leaving for Liberia?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Again, you provided me the opportunity to correct some points you are advancing. One thing is that there is no such thing as loyalty to an individual; we have loyalty to our country, loyalty to institutions, so the whole question of loyalty to the individual doesn't arise... this has to do with blind determination about the course of events, and I will be the first to be against anyone who will want to follow anybody on the basis of loyalty. So, the question of loyalty is out. Having said that, I want to indicate that my style of leadership provides evidence of unifying my own party, and that's why the Liberian People's Party is unified in the sense that nearly all members of the party are committed to working together. But as I said earlier, if we loose one person, we'll regret that, and we will attempt to get them back - by way of trying to fix the palaver. We can't say well since the vast majority of our members are united, we don't care if these people leave. That's not the posture we have. We will continue to reach out for them - be it one or two persons. It is the same mode wherever I go; I'll be looking forward to it.
The next point has to do with the ethnic aspect you just mentioned. Well, you should know, the ethnic aspect shows a lack of awareness as to what the case may be. There are some differences of view with respect to the leadership situation among members here in the United States, and I will continue to play the role where we will discuss these things openly; people will differ, but we should do it in an environment in which the differences can be brought out in a nonviolent way, with the intent to solve problems - by bringing the differences out for the problems to be discussed, and at the end of the day, the problems are solved, and majority prevail. Because we can't say unless everybody agrees on one thing, nothing will happen. This is certainly against the democratic tradition. The democratic tradition is that we encourage one another to work in a nonviolent way, but those in the majority will prevail, while respecting the rights of the minority.
Now, there is an induction of the leadership of the Liberian People's Party taking place in Philadelphia, February 8. The incoming Chair is a gentleman by the name of John Josiah; you seem to know him! Are you aware that he is not from the Klao (Kru) ethnic group? So, you tell them he is not from the Klao speaking group. While people do have the right to say whatever they want to say, we too have the right to point out to them that what they say happened are false and that they are not true.
In fact, it is widely known that my work transcends ethnicity, transcends the Liberian borders. People need to record that I am one of the founders of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), where we have a Pan-African approach to national development; to improve the situation in Liberia, to improve the living standard in Liberia; we then worked concretely in Liberia. We got hooked up with other such groups around the African continent and elsewhere in the world. In fact today, I just left one of our longstanding co-workers from Zimbabwe who is attending this world summit of the United Methodist. We had a long embrace because we had not seen one another in about fifteen years. So that's the fact of the matter. We are making available to everybody - two volumes of the media presentation of the work we have been doing over the past few years since the 1997 Elections and that will show some concrete things about what I have just explained.
The Perspective: I understand that LPP, UP, LUP and the Action Party are involved in merger talks. This started somewhere in September or at the beginning of October 2002. But in the middle of the talks, you went on to declare your intention to run for the presidency. Don't you feel that this will have some impact on the result of the merger talks?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: First, I must correct the points you've advanced. Principally, the Liberian People's Party is not engage in any merger talks. We are engaged at several levels in talks about deeper collaboration. The record will show that as one of the presidential candidates from the 1997 Elections, I have elected to remain in the country since the elections. It was just within the last two weeks, we had other candidates who are coming in the country indicating that they are there now to stay until elections. At least this is the indication I got from Mr. Brumskine and Mr. Dahn. I haven't talked with others who are aspiring to find out whether they are coming to stay.
However, for over five years, as you are aware, I was the only political active opposition candidate from the 1997 Elections who remain in Liberia, and provided leadership in putting together the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) of Liberia. And it is the largest collaboration of political parties in the country. There are fourteen political parties that make up the CPP. The record will show that it was on African Liberation Day, May 25, 2000 at the headquarters of the Liberian People's Party that the CCP was launched; and I made the keynote remarks that day.
The Liberian People's Party is at the very forefront of unifying Liberia through unifying the political parties. That's one way to unifying a country through the political parties. It is not the only way; there are other ways, too. Then, during the course of the activities of CPP, with varying circumstances, it came up that some parties began to behave as if to say they were closer to the ruling party, and others began to behave differently. So then, some parties began to come together - while [I'm] not saying that CPP should not exist. So we've got two such developments; one about which you speak, the talks that has begun; the deeper collaboration talks that have begun with the Liberian Action Party, Liberian Unification Party, Unity Party, and the Liberian People's Party. All of that aspect of a deeper collaboration has come, a document from a technical committee. That document presents some ideas as to how a deeper collaboration can take place.
Now the document has to go to the highest decision making body of the Liberian People's Party, and that's our National Congress. It is nothing new, and that's what it is! There is also an alliance brewing, which involved eight political parties; the Liberian People's Party is not part of them. There are other political parties besides the four I just mentioned who are into that. It was chaired by Cllr. Rudolph Sherman. But then subsequently, the new chairman is now Representative David Korte of the House of Representative, Chairman of ALCOP. That's how the situation is. Cllr. Rudolph Sherman of the True Whig Party remains Chairman of the Collaborating Political Parties. So things are moving back and forth; these are aspects of the dynamics of the evolution of these political parties. Now, in the main time, I announced that I am a candidate, Brumskine of LUP has already announced, quite sometime ago, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf mentioned that she could defeat Taylor, or anybody could defeat Taylor. In effect, it was an announcement. So, there are other participants in these collaboration talks. There is every right to do so, and people take that to account, it doesn't mean that there is no commitment to these talks; it is a normal course of events. Some people may not be used to them. Suffice to say that it is a normal thing to do.
Mr. Taylor has been campaigning for the last five years. I have noted at least thirty-two campaign statements. So, one can put that into the debate but at least your question is focused on this particular part, and I hope I have responded to the question you raised.
The Perspective: Is the collaboration between the four parties aiming at a merger?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Let me say that there might be, but each party has its own interest. What I do know is that these are talks about how to collaborate more deeply. Now, it might turn out... it might go into a merger. If that's what the parties want or it might go into something else. At this stage, we are committed to talking and I think where we will end up - if I may predict our Congress, without preempting anything because it is a matter of party policy that we will want to collaborate with well meaning parties; parties that are on the ground and parties that have the constituency. Because you can't collaborate on the basis of paper. We are thinking about putting together large numbers of people to win together. Therefore, it is important that we inspect the evidence. This dry season will provide us the opportunity to look at the evidence to see to what extent these parties are well grounded all around the country. We hope to do so before our National Congress.
As for the Liberian People's Party, we are not making any secret about out intention; even during the state of emergency, we had the largest mass rally in the country. In fact, there were no other political parties that were having these rallies. I would like to think that the reason why the government put a ban on mass political rally was due to the impact that the Liberian People's Party was making; especially, rallies in West Point and in the Borough of New Kru Town. In New Kru Town, there were thousands of people who came --- were well over 5,000 people that attended the rally.
As far as we were concerned, that was a small number for us. Because we have far larger numbers of members and the reason why those rallies were not attended by many was, in New Kru Town, there were some shooting by the security forces to scare people in the vicinity of the rally. Still we had people going there.
In West Point, the police went there in large numbers, drove around to intimidate the people. We were peaceful! The point here is LPP is trying to keep its focus; LPP is interested in working together with any party that is doing some serious work on the ground, and shows by example - evidence that they are able to bring large number of people to the table. With this we can work together in selecting a single slate of candidates. The ultimate goal is to win. For example if Party A is very strong, together we will be able to say, we will support your candidate in this area or that area, and the same could be done for Party B if similar qualities (strengths) are demonstrated. Now, whether it takes on a merger, will depend on the nature of the relationship.
The Perspective: Some Liberians feel that merger or allegiance talk is a waste of time - they feel that the egos of politicians who want to become president will not make room for a merger. What have you or other Liberian politicians learned from the Kenyan experience?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Well, let me tell you what I have learned, and what we are discussing in my party - I can't speak for other parties. I learned from the recent Kenyan experience, where Mr. Mwai Kibaki got elected president, that political parties, serious political parties, acting in good faith, based on experience, got together and so when they did go to the election that experience of acting in good faith prevailed. For the Kenyan experience, this was a good way to unite the Kenyan voters through the political parties.
Now, in some countries, the uniting of voters may not go that route - it may not be appropriate to go that route primarily because as you say, the egos may be there, the super egos may be there, parties may not operate in good faith, parties may be weak, parties may not be on the ground, party may not be working seriously, they may only want to operate at the level of rhetoric, at the level of paper - do a lot of papering. We find that such a situation will not achieve the positive results that were achieved in Kenya.
But there are other ways of uniting voters; one that I have in mind - in case you run in a situation of lack of good faith, as we saw in 1997. As we tried to work through political parties to unite the voters, we must bear in mind that there is another way - there are other ways but one way I want to bring to the fore now is - uniting voters through the unity of credible individuals, individuals that cannot be bought; as least the money to buy them is not known yet; the money to buy them is not known to us - human beings as yet. So when you see the getting together of these individuals as it is happening in Liberia now, you want to make sure we won't make the same mistakes that we made in 1997. When you hear of these names, then you can say, well, this can unite the voters - this name or that name can unite the voters. The same can be applied to parties - this party and that party getting together, yes, they can pull a lot of voters; [because] the objective at the end of the day is to unite voters to have a large numbers of voters moving in our interest - in the interest of those who are collaborating. We should not lose that point!
In the Kenyan situation, there was the getting together, and selection based on records - an element that made it a success. In our own situation, we are working hard on educating our people on the importance of records. This is why in my own situation, I now have two volumes of records as determined by media institutions, which are available to Liberians and to the world, copies of which will be made available to your institution here.
The Perspective: Why do you want to be President of Liberia?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: I want to be President of Liberia because I have the experience and the willpower to provide leadership to human beings first and other resources together to solve the long-standing problems of the country; principally, problems of alleviation of mass poverty within a peaceful environment.
Nineteen ninety seven was the first time I ran for the presidency. I strongly feel that one does not have be president to work on solving the main problems of the country; but having state power provide the opportunity to do more. You recall that in 1997, and in fact, prior to that we were engaged in several wars, and the most provocation that the Liberian people referred to - was the war. I announced my candidacy very late. I listened out and found out that there was no single candidate with the experience in war and disarmament; so I became convinced that if you are working completely to bring about disarmament, you will need to have the record that will enable you to provide the leadership in bringing about sustainable peace in preventing war. So that's our route.
You know my record on disarmament through the development NGO that I head, which is now in its thirty-second year - Susukuu. We were able through Susukuu to provide the incentive package that disarmed 82% of the 24,210 fighters that got officially disarmed. So, we are talking about disarmament impact on 19,785 fighters. We gave them food, gave them clothing, medical care, counseling - social and psychological counseling, sent over 6,000 to school, and after that, we began involve in preventing war by attending to the problems of potential combatants, children in the street - taking them off the street, putting them in school; helping their mothers to do business so they will be able to sustain their children in school. We put our resources - financial resources were far from adequate. However, we spent about 2 million USD [$2m] on ending the war through our School for Guns program. In our Conflict Prevention work, through the Street - to - School program, was intended to take care of the kids; we had $75,000.00 to do it, and the direct impact was about 600 children. We didn't do that much but whatever we had we used it to help.
The record shows that the security environment in the country is dismal, but I have tried to do something positive about that by remaining in the country. I am not president but I decided to provide leadership, and because I am not president does not mean I do not have the responsibility to the Liberian people. So I stayed there - the record will show that I am in the very forefront of pushing for peace in the country, and peace comes only through justice. Therefore, if you talk about the justice for journalists, justice for others who are detained illegally, justice in the Sam Dokie case, justice in the Nowah Flomo case, justice for the illegally detained religious leaders, I am at the very forefront providing leadership. Because it is actually important and impossible to have peace without justice; internationally through the sub-region, quite frequently, it is widely known - the role I play in getting the Abuja Conference of last March (2002) held.
I continue to work in the sub-region at my own expense to get people aware about the more difficult security problems in Liberia, and how ECOWAS can play a greater role. With that aspect, we are now pushing for the UN involvement to play a more meaningful role in Liberia, and right now, quite pointedly, we need the United Nations like yesterday to provide [supervise] the electoral system. This is actually important! If we don't have this United Nations system by the end of February, I am afraid it will be too late to have free and fair elections in October of this year. We have a lot of work to do. While I am here, in the United States of America, I've already begun to talk to many Liberians, to brief them about the importance of working together on this [election]. But there are many things that come up; we tend to be frustrated, confused and divided on artificial issues. I will do my best to explain to them that the Liberian people at this stage are for the ballot box over bullets. That's number one! We must spare no effort for peaceful approach to change; specifically, we need the United Nations to come in with a peace force just like the United Nations is doing in la Cote d‘ Ivoire, and to come to provide an electoral system as they just did in Lesotho, and was quite successful. I just want to show you these examples of it of how it can be done.
Also, the status of the economy is another area of concern. I am saying all of these things to show you how they impact the security situation in the country. For example, my home has been raided three (3) times by members of the (government) security, life threatened, my political party headquarters has been under surveillance for over two years by state securities. In fact, we took some of them that were attached to the President to court, and won the court cases. These are intimidating activities and life threatening but we are still there in the country. We have to be a part of the solution. This doesn't suggest that if one is abroad, he/she is not part of the solution, but wherever we are we must be a part of the solution. That's the point I am trying to make!
Regarding the economy - I headed the international team on human development; this team prepared the only Human Development Report for Liberia. The report is called the 1999 Human Development Report. The Human Development Report is done for individual countries. One cannot overlook the importance of these reports. There are over hundreds of these reports. These reports are what donor countries look at to see how to really assist a country; the whole question of access to different social groups, access to education, gender and lots of things, including political power. These are important aspects of Human Development Report. The Human Development Report addresses all of these things and through the concreteness of the report, governments and institutions are in a better position to assist the country.
Now efforts to try to improve the security environment at home - of course is related to investment; this is the reason I am constantly working on that, and than by preparing some economic analysis, social economic analysis that people can look at, to see what prospects there are. But let me say that while, we have Human Development Report for 1999; it is widely acclaimed that the security environment being dismal, local or foreign investors will not feel comfortable to bring in large amount of money to invest in the country. I thought to present these aspects, and then of course, the Archbishop Francis and myself remain the only two men on the Board of Advisors of the umbrella women association in the country - the Liberian Women Initiative, through which women issues are addressed within the context of promoting peace and democracy within the country; then of course, the work with Inter-religious Council. I work very, very closely with the Inter-religious Council. The work will show my involvement.
When the two Inter-Religious Council (IRC) leaders (David Kiazolu, secretary-general and his assistant, Christopher Toe) were arrested, I called a press conference, and the made the statement that, “It looks like working for peace in the country has now become treasonable.” The following day, our brothers from the Inter-Religious Council, Brother Kiazolu and Brother Toe were released. Of course, my role was a catalytic one. There were so many individuals and organizations that have been protesting their detention; so let me not give the impression that their release was waiting for me to say something. It is clearly not! However, I used my experience to provide that catalytic event, which we use from time to time in a number of situations.
Being at home helps to give confidence to most of our people that there is hope - to our people and people elsewhere too and when they find out that one who wants to be captain of the ship is not the first to abandon the ship. In stormy weather, the people have the hope that they will survive. But if the captain of the ship or one who wants to be captain was to jump off the ship the first difficulty that comes then this is not a situation that is appreciated by those who are on the ship.
The Perspective: Regarding the issue of the UN, there is this talk among opposition leaders about the need for a stabilization force to be provided by the UN, which will help to provide a level playing field; but your presentation to the Legislature suggests that it has to be done with the approval of the Taylor government - do you think the Taylor administration will allow any force to protect opposition politicians during the election?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: I don't understand what you mean by your presentation to the Legislature, which presentation?
The Perspective: The presentation that I am making reference to is when you spoke to the Legislature on the ICG (International Crisis Group) Report.
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Oh, I see... during that hearing on the International Crisis Group Report! Very well! In this particular instance, I have nothing to correct. Well, the Taylor government, while having failed the Liberian people remains a government that is considered legitimate within the international community, so this must be respected. Now, having said that no external force gets into Liberia without negotiations - without negotiating with the Liberian government, so this is the point I was making to the Legislative Committee; and it is a point I will continue to make. Now, I think that with considerable relevant pressure, it is possible for this to happen. Why do I say this? Because we found out that the President has made strong remarks that this will never happen. But we have looked at the situation, time our responses well, and come up with the type of pressure that resulted in the change - in the positions that seemed to have been fixed in stone - which seemed to have been calved in stone. For instance, “Radio Veritas will never have a short wave facility;” read my lips sort of thing! Now, with the appropriate pressure Radio Veritas is not only alive but well, they have a short wave facility.
We have learned over the years to work together to get positive results and build up confidence. This is why I am confident that we can achieve this too, and here in the United States I am talking about we, I am telling people that we, does not mean Liberians in Liberia; we mean Liberians anywhere in the world. It could be the Moon! I used the Moon symbolically - anywhere in the world. This is a challenge to save our country! There is a need to work together, and I think we are knowledgeable about our concrete situation to be able to apply the necessary pressure for the government to accept the United Nations peace force to come to Liberia.
You may recall that on September 12 of last year, the government fielded a paper, called “The White Paper on the Way Forward,” which appeared on the website of allaboutliberia. In that paper, you find peace building force mentioned three times. But beyond that look at what they suppose to do, and in one sentence it is stated to help improve the security environment. So, we can stick on that and say but well it is good that the government put that in but then let them implement it. This is the problem of course - this is the crisis we have with the government at home - that many times the government comes up with some right statements; though, the government will not admit that those statements came about as the result of pressure from the people. Actually, they should be happy to say based on respect for the people, we did this. It will be to the government's credit. But unwittingly, acting otherwise and say well, a sort of macho approach, which borders on a form of undemocratic way of behaving. At the end of the day, anyway, these pressures have forced the government to come up with some positive statements.
But the government lacks the will to implement them and we are at the stage that the will has come from the civil society. So civil society is now gearing up - some examples of that is the capacity to exercise that will in a peaceful environment. That's the challenge!
The Perspective: Recently, Taylor evoke two articles from the Liberian Constitution, one of which is the Ten-year Residency Clause, and the other being Article 46, which talks about senior senators not being required to seek reelection in the October 2003 Elections; I understand LPP (Liberian People's Party) challenged the one relating to senior senators but has not challenged the Ten-year Residency Clause. What is your position regarding the Ten-year Residency Clause?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: In responding to any problem, one has to bear in mind how that problem came about and what principle objective you want to use in answering the problem, and if you get rid of the problem what is it that you want to solve?
Now, we have a country where hundreds of thousands of its people are in displaced camps as the result of armed atrocities in the country; the security environment is bad. A significant aspect of this but not the dominant aspect is due to the activities of LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy). The dominant aspect comes from the activities of the (government) security forces. LURD openly argues, it doesn't hide that the reason why it adopted the approach that it now has is because of the lack of access to the political process; and that it is not possible to participate meaningfully in the political process, meaningfully - meaning it is not possible to participate in a democratic way; it is not possible to have free and fair elections under this (Taylor's) government. Consequently, they will then have to force their way into state power. This is the problem we are faced with.
And what I have been saying, and continue to say is the one way then to reduce the armed atrocities, is to engage LURD into a dialogue. Clearly now, the responsibility falls upon the government to say, look the process is transparent; it is possible to participate. The government has to engage in action, demonstrate that there is a level playing field, the Elections Commission is fair; those things that are relevant to arguing a case, [i.e.], that it is possible to participate in the electoral process, in a democratic way, in a free and fair way is possible. Now, this hasn't been done.
In fact, I have been accused of being spokesperson for LURD because I have advanced this approach to assist the government, any serious government to reduce the atrocities in the country. As a matter of fact, I have been encouraging the government to engage in dialogue with LURD. Even though the government has said it is not opposed to dialogue; Mr. Taylor himself had said he is prepared to dialogue, "even if he has to go to Timbuktu." But it is the implementation crisis, which shows a lack of political will to get this done. I mentioned all of these things to indicate that the exclusivity clauses have led to lots of problems for us, including violent problems. If that is the situation, then one should not allow any exclusivity clause or any exclusivity situation to be used as a pretext for the perpetration of violence; because all we want is a peaceful Liberia.
In the final analysis, this is what our people want to have - peace. So those things that will form pretexts or a pretext to be used by others to bring about violence, then we have to do the best we can to remove them. For instance, we have an exclusivity clause in the Constitution, which says, "You must be 18 years or more in order to vote." Do we hear any debate about that? No! Why? Because by and large, the people feel that it is fair. This is fair, so they don't debate about it. In fact, it hasn't come up for debate.
Now, with respect to the [Ten-year] Residency Clause, there is considerable debate in Liberia, and I for one am encouraging the debate. Why? Because that's how our people feel. They want to debate now. Let them debate! If they don't debate then they will say, "Well I can't debate this thing; I can't talk about it. You see, so it means I have to go and pick up a gun to fight for it since I can't go about it peacefully." You see, these are the alternatives. I cannot do a peaceful thing by this, so let me go and do a violent thing about it because I feel strongly about it. So good leadership then, is to encourage people to do things peacefully. Therefore, I am encouraging the debate.
Now, if it means to go to referendum, so be it! But the problem we have with referendum is that the Elections Commission is not a fair one. So, you cannot go to referendum. It is not going to work! This is the situation we have in our country, and I mentioned it because this is a serious problem - very serious problem, and our people wherever they are in the world need to know. And one advantage that I have is being in the country. I have first hand insight into what is happening at home, and I can share this experience with our people so that they can take a stand based on an informed position. This is what we are trying to do. I am not in a panic mode as such, but I am in an emergency mode that these things have now become an emergency crisis - that Liberians all around the world need to do something about.
So, what am I saying with respect to the [Ten-year] Residency Clause is -debatable at home. The people want to debate it - let them debate it, and we should anticipate that this could go to referendum because everything in the Constitution can be changed through referendum. The Constitution provides ways to change these things. Although, we have to be careful about changing things in the Constitution - not to just jump up to change things. But to the extent the people feel strongly that something should be changed, the people of course should go through referendum. This is what should be done!
Some people have come up to me to say, "Well, it is to your advantage because you've been in the country for long time - you're the only one there, so it is to your advantage since most people didn't come to participate" - all of that! That's not what I am concerned with. What I am concerned about is peace for Liberians. You have to be concerned about this; it is the most important thing right now! Instead of personalizing the situation, the most important thing right now is peace in Liberia. It then means we must not give anybody, any organization, any institution the pretext by which to resort to violence. This doesn't mean we will give anybody anything he or she wants for peace's sake; definitely not!
Suppose someone comes to us and say, "Liberians for peace's sake kill every girl child that is born." Should we accept it? Absolutely unacceptable! Absolutely unacceptable! "You'll have to roll over our dead bodies." This is exactly what majority of the Liberian people will say! In short of that request, and if there is one that appears reasonable, then of course, we do not have to give any pretext that will lead to violence. This is the point I have made, and I hope I've made myself very clear.
The Perspective: Recently, you were quoted by the government's website (allaboutliberia) that on DC 101 Radio Talk Show hosted by T. Max Jlateh, you said, you were safe to move all over the country and that your safety in the country was not hindered by the government security forces. Could you comment on that?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Well, you know there are people who could form their own quotation marks, and they can say well, this person said this in quote - that happens! But it does not mean that when quotations are there that the statement is necessarily true; and this one is a sad situation. Perhaps, the quotation marks were put there by the person who wrote the article. In fact, there is a cassette that is available of the DC Talk - this latest one with T. Max that you virtually talked about.
The security situation in the country remains dangerous, not only for me; but most importantly for the vast majority of Liberians. Look at the people in the displaced centers. How could I come up to say well, the situation in Liberia is looking all right? I have been going to displaced centers; the latest ones that I went to, seven persons died there the day I was there. “Wilson Corner”, for instance, the “Blamasee”; these are near town, “Jartondo” Displaced Center are all near Monrovia. They are in dismal conditions; when it rains, people sleep in the mud. Why did they get there? They got there because of the armed atrocities around the country. The security forces are not getting pay, so they pay themselves by looting and harassing the people. These are reports coming from the people themselves; from their own experiences.
As I said earlier, LURD is there too, this explains part of the reason the people are there. Then of course, most of it is due to the indiscipline behavior of the security forces one find in most places around the country. You can't do your farming, put your rice in the kitchen with the confidence that the next morning it will be there; you're coming from your farm with some load, somebody will take it from you. That is the environment the people find themselves! The environment is not a good one.
The fact that I am in Monrovia and I move around is mainly because the grace of God is working through the concrete relationship I have with the people of Liberia - that's your real security, and it is not in weaponry. It is the way you relate to the people. So, the fact that I am there, moving about doesn't mean the situation isn't dangerous. I have already mentioned how my home has been raided by the security forces three times; the latest one was done by the Anti-terrorist Unit (ATU). They went there to look for arms; that's what they said. They said the President (Taylor) sent them to look for arms; at least, that's what they told my children and friends of my children on vacation playing in the yard with my children.
We have a school in the yard, which was setup in 1996 - a Methodist school, not only for Methodists but rather for displaced children. Now of course, it got expanded to include high school. It has graduated students from the twelfth grade already! We have 400 students there. The security (ATU) didn't go there to look for weapons; they went there to scare me. That's the situation we find ourselves - it is mind over matter.
I spent about a decade in exile, and I am not going to do so again. I am determined not to, and fortunately, I have a family, my immediate family members are at home. Some members of the security forces went to scare my 85 year-old- aunt one night. You might have heard about it. They went there stating that they were looking for me. My development (Susukuu) office is just next door to the Finance Ministry; the Party (LPP) offices are downtown Monrovia - Benson Street near Center Street. How come they will go looking for me at my aunt's house? But of course, they went to the wrong aunt's house. This aunt is an old school teacher who is very vocal. She holds her own.
In a way I was happy that they went to her, she wasn't deterred! In fact, she called a press conference and told them that the vehicle that came to her house that night did not have license plate, and she [criticized] the Police Director for allowing vehicles without license plates to roam the streets of Monrovia. And of course from there on, she went on.
So, how can one attribute such statement to me? They just made up the statement and put quotes to it. But I am sure you have not heard the vocal. Of course people now a day can make up voices but I don't think they are that smart.
The Perspective: While you were in Monrovia, did you see the article, or was it brought to your attention that there is an article on the allaboutliberia website, which stated that you made these remarks, and if so, was it responded to by either you or the party (LPP)?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: As far as I am concerned, it never appeared in any of the local papers. Even the September 12 document - the five-page document that I spoke about, which appeared on the allaboutliberia website. You don't find these things in the local papers. They are intended for consumption abroad and this one too. But fortunately, some of us are downloading things from the Internet frequently, and we happened to see this one. However, my views about the dismal security are well known, and I usually stressed the danger it presents to the vast majority of Liberians. I don't put my personal security before theirs! Since it has come to the fore, we are bringing out the evidence in order to set the record straight.
The security problem is a very difficult situation. But as I told Mr. Taylor long ago, my main show of commitment is to work on problems in Liberia, including the security one. I can say, I am here - eyeball-to-eyeball. Mr. President, I am here! I am here! I am here meaning that all problems that affect the Liberian people, I am here prepared to work side-by-side to work with them to have those problems solved, including the security problem. So, when I see thirteen to fourteen year-old with arms, I use my experience in the disarmament process to talk with them. Sometime ago, I called up the Mansion [Executive Office of the President] to say, I am here talking with a thirteen year-old with arms. Another time I see some of them with arms in front of the Ministry of Finance, and it looks like they came expecting to get pay. We deal with these kinds of frighten situation all the time.
This is a frightening situation! Imagine thirteen to fifteen year-old little boys, little girls with guns. This is against the background for having commended the government highly for signing the Convention Against Child Labor. The government signed that Convention Against Child Labor, and when they did that, in City Hall, while I was talking to students at a program on the Day of the African Child, I said let us applaud the government because they have done a good thing. But now how can you sign a Convention Against Child Labor and then you have child soldiers in government vehicles. I mentioned government vehicles so they can't say these are people who got their guns, perhaps by some osmosis. Yes, they are in government vehicles running up and down, not in the bushes, but in Monrovia.
The Perspective: On the subject of the Collaborative or Alliance parties - before going to Liberia, Mr. Charles Walker Brumskine floated the idea of primary, and I believe when he met with you, he discussed it, and I presumed he might have discussed it with Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf when they met. Whenever there is this or any merger or alliance, will the selection of the standard bearer for the group (opposition political parties) be done through primary and not through caucus, what is your position?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Well, Mr. Brumskine and I met. We had one meeting few days after he arrived in Liberia and he did put before me this idea about primary. And in fact he wanted for us to issue a press release about our meeting. I told him that he should have his people [draft] the document, the press release document for me to take a look at it. This is the normal procedure, and based on what I see, I would give my response. As we now sit, I haven't seen any such document from him, so I will rather not comment. I want to see some substance then I will response.
The Perspective: You took part in the Abuja Conference but you did not take part in the Bethesda and the Ouagadougou conferences, yet, you took part in the recent Peace and Reconciliation Conference held in Liberia. Are you of the conviction that Taylor or the Liberian government is sincere about reconciliation or was it fear that if "I do not attend this conference, they [the government] will say that I am LURD's supporter or I am anti-government."
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: No, there was no fear then, and there is no fear now. Basically, let me say that it is God alone that I fear. Of course, if you see little kids with guns in Monrovia - it becomes a scary situation but fear in the real sense of the word is no. But it is God that I fear and fear to do wrong. Having said that let me make it clear that I have respect for the presidency; and it is important to distinguish this from personality. So by being in Liberia, and I receive an invitation from the presidency to talk, I respond positively. And if I hear from the President that two plus two equals four, we will say, yes, that is correct; but if it says, two plus two equals five, then we will say, that's wrong, it should be the other way - four instead of five.
That's the role we play is to address issues. Now, the Peace and Reconciliation Conference that was held in Monrovia, what was my stand? My views are widely known, the views of my party are widely known as well; and that we have been working very hard for peace and reconciliation. We worked hard to have made it possible to have the meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, March of last year, which served as a preparatory meeting for the recently held Peace and Reconciliation Conference in Liberia.
Therefore, a serious minded person's behavior will suggest for that person who go to a preparatory meeting in Abuja, will have to go to the meeting proper. You get the point I am making? This is the reason we were pushing too for amnesty, which we got. Amnesty was declared because we figured out that those of us on the ground could not have had a Peace and Reconciliation Conference in Liberia without the participation of Liberians from abroad.
At stake was the credibility of the government. The Conference almost didn't get off. Primarily due to the way the Conference was organized. It is well known that the delegates who went to the first national conference under this government were largely NPP (National Patriotic Party) people and they denounced the decision to have the Chairman of the Steering Committee for the last Conference to be in charge of the implementation of the resolution from the Conference. If you recall, it was a rousing denouncement of the leadership appointed by the President; to the point that the President said I will then hold back on it, but proceeded to have this failed leadership appointed as chair of the Steering Committee of the conference that was held in the middle of last year. And I personally did not receive any formal invitation. My name appeared in the newspapers.
I concluded that most Liberians will not understand how people coming from all over Liberia were selected, and I did not attend. And having also attended the preparatory conference in Abuja, I decided to attend. As a result, the leadership of civil society met, including Archbishop Francis and myself, and we decided we were going to go to the conference to try to be a force for unifying Liberians and of course for the betterment of our people. The fact that Archbishop Francis was elected chair, I was elected as one of the five vice chairs, is an indication of our commitment to our people. I presided over most of the sessions because Counselor Morgan on many occasions was tied-up with some activities; the Archbishop also had some foreign guests from time to time, and the former Chief Justice Morris had to go abroad for a conference, so I ended up presiding over most of the sessions.
Now, it was an opportunity to work for the building of sustainable democracy in Liberia - to work for peace. With that in mind, and the way we conducted the affairs of the conference was to be mindful that the delegates, even though they were handpicked, we tried to give them confidence that they were there to do a job for Liberia and not for self. This approach worked well, because about a thousand delegates came to certain conclusion that: 1) they were not going to leave the conference until they voted for the lifting of the state of emergence. I preside over that session. And within two days after that decision was made, the state of emergency was lifted; 2) the conference said they did not have confidence in the leadership that came from the previous National Conference, and that they wanted Archbishop Francis to be responsible for the implementation of the results. This, of course, made the government leadership angry to the point where they came there and suspended the conference. They said they did not want any resolution. Again, I was the chair of the Resolution Committee, and the resolution was ready. They, meaning the government leadership, insisted that they did not want any resolution. At the end, it shows a complete lack of good faith on the part of the leadership, because in their preparatory document, resolution was included. In fact, the document they prepared and used to raise money had resolution in it.
We took it to be a normal course of event, and at the end we had some resolutions. The international community was invited to the closing session at 2:30 PM; the President came early that morning and then gave some nebulous presentation in the sense that this thing is going to the villages, and why is it that people in Monrovia will come and make decision. But the fact of the matter is Dr. Roland Massaquoi said that they had combed every hamlet of the country to bring delegates to town [Monrovia]. The fact of the matter too was, most of the delegates came from outside, so what was the need of going out again.
But the reason why it came up, the delegates had come, we had presided over the conference, Archbishop Francis and the rest of us - presided in a way that motivated the delegates to have behaved patriotically. The patriotism of the National Patriotic Party came up in its essence and they behaved patriotically, which suggests that the NPP partisans at the conference did not like the way their own people were behaving. Although part of this too, was due to the fact that 9 to 10 days, they had not received their allowances; they were sleeping on the floor in some cases - that might have been a factor. But the record shows that they did take patriotic decisions in the interest of the country - the removal of the state of emergency and the removal of the ban on mass meeting was really historic decisions. It was a great day for the people's power as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia. Some people don't like the word - but it is enshrined in the Constitution that the people can get together to take decision in their own interest.
PresidentTaylor (R) and Dr. Tipoteh
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: It was a reconciliation conference! We had to reconcile or not to reconcile. I tried to be a serious person. If I go to a reconciliation conference, I must be seen to be reconciling. Now, I was the only active opposition presidential candidate in the country from the 1997 Elections, on the other side was the President of Liberia. What better way to show that I am serious about reconciliation than for the President and me to be seen in a physical demonstration of reconciliation? It was a reconciliation gesture! It was like signing a document with an individual, and at the end, a handshake.
The problem is the picture is presented without people looking at my records. We do ourselves a disfavor if we try to make a case out of emotionalism. Some people will come up to say, we don't like Mr. Taylor; we don't like the government or this or that. For instance, they won't study the situation concretely in order to advance some concrete points, such as gathering concrete details in the Dokie case, the Nowah Flomo case, the recent detention of Mr. David Kiazolu, Secretary General of the Inter-Religious Council and their Assistant Secretary General, Rev. Christopher Toe, including Mr. Aloysius Toe, the human rights activist in prison - to look at these things concretely and find a way to deal with them. Instead, they come up with Mr. Taylor says two plus two equals four, and expect me to say he is wrong. I am not going to do that! When he is wrong, I will say he is wrong, as I have always done. You see, when you go to a reconciliation conference, you go there for one thing, and that one thing is to reconcile your differences through compromise; we came up with resolutions, we made some compromises and the holding up his hand was a compromised gestures.
I was presiding over the session at the time, and we had won a great victory, the state of emergency had been dropped, so we wanted to give him confidence that we can win a great victory without us having to perhaps give the impression that security forces will go on the rampage.
The Perspective: The reason it became the center of debate was both you and Taylor had your hands up, Taylor was smiling. People concluded that Mr. Taylor held your hand up for propaganda purposes.
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: The true of the matter is I brought him [Mr. Taylor] in; held his hand, I put it up. I am an African; I am older than he is. As an African big brother, I must be seen to lead a process for peace and I am proud of what I did, and I respect for others to disagree with it. But they need to say how it happened. The fact of the matter is I didn't go to Mr. Taylor's house to say well, I want little something, put it in here. Now for instance, look at hundreds of situations at home; the fact that I am going through all these difficulties, and still independent, driving an eighteen year-old car for heaven's sake, should suggest that I am not about to sell my birthright. I am comfortable driving my old eighteen year-old car.
A serious behavior demands providing some concrete demonstration of what one says. So we went to a Reconciliation conference, I was presiding, at the time Dr. Taylor entered - and so in bringing him in and at the end of the proceedings - when they said they didn't want to have a resolution. I presided over the session that led to the catalytic event for removing the State of Emergency and the ban on mass political activities - a great victory for the Liberian people. You have to respect the work of the people - that's the center of reconciliation. You have to accept the voice of the Liberian people… We have won, we are now together on this decision that you have made… We have to have a situation in the country where the president goes through the elections [as] incumbent, defeated and does not go to the bush.
My record shows truly that [I did not to say], well, [here's] Mr. Taylor, put his hand up, let him have another term. My position is that he has the right to run, but that there should be alternative because the record is not a good one. And almost everything I have done points to that. So if somebody brings up something else, then the person has a different motive.
The Perspective: What message do you have for the readers of The Perspective and the Liberian people?
Togba-Nah Tipoteh: Yes! Thank you for this opportunity to give a particular message. I would like to say Happy New Year to all of the readers of The Perspective. I say happy in this new year primarily because our living through the hardship of the old year, coming into the new year provided us with an opportunity to work together to save Liberia. Specifically, this work calls for encouraging the government, putting considerable peaceful pressure on the government of Liberia to invite the United Nations to come in now, not tomorrow, now into Liberia hopefully during the month of February, 2003, to perform basically two tasks: one is to bring in a Peace Force that will then render the security environment secured for the holding of free and fair elections. Secondly, to have the United Nations' electoral system come into Liberia to then assist with the holding of credible elections - elections that will be credible to the international community so that the international community can rally around us in our efforts to improve reconciliation, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of our shattered war-torn society. So this is the opportunity for us to continue working together for peace for our country. I want to wish all of you a happy new year.
The Perspective: Thank you.