Liberian Politicians Have A History
of Making Costly Mistakes

By Winsley S. Nanka

A fascinating characteristic of Liberian politicians is their ability to make costly mistakes. The pathetic state in which Liberians find themselves today is a direct result of the politicians' mistakes over the years. It came as no surprise to me that Harry A. Greaves, Jr. admitted in his response to Patrick L. M. Seyon's article, "Setting the Record Straight," that he and others made mistake by supporting Charles McArthur Taylor's war effort.

Patrick Seyon stated in his article in The Perspective of April 24, 2000 that the disclosure by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf that she and Members of the Association of Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL) contributed $10,000 toward Charles Taylor's war effort in Liberia was news to him. Seyon concluded in The Perspective article that the ACDL members who contributed the $10,000 to Charles Taylor are as guilty as Taylor and his gang of thugs for the massive destruction of lives properties in Liberia.

In response to Patrick Seyon, Harry A. Greaves, Jr. disclosed that the ACDL operated on two tracks, the overt ACDL and covert ACDL. The covert ACDL, Harry Greaves, Jr. acknowledged, contributed the $10,000 to Charles McArthur Taylor during the blood bath in Liberia. Interestingly, Harry A. Greaves, Jr admitted that it was a mistake for him and others to have helped sustained Charles McArthur Taylor.

Liberian politicians have a long history of making costly mistakes. Their failure to think strategically has proven costly to Liberians. Cases in point are:

1. In 1952 Liberian politicians permitted William V.S. Tubman to amend the Liberian constitution to succeed himself for the third term after his eight- year term expired. It was the beginning of the death of 'settler democracy' in Liberia. As Reed Kramer quoted Amos Sawyer's book in his 1995 article, Liberia: A Casualty of the Cold War "Tubman ruthlessly suppressed efforts to organize opposition parties, both by the growing indigenous intelligentsia and by dissident members of the Americo-Liberian elite. He in effect introduced one man rule with the assistance of an "enormous patronage network and an elaborate security network" which lasted for 27 years.

2. William R. Tolbert, Jr. came to power in 1971 with the promise of an open political system, however, no sooner did he make that promise than the suppression of political activists begin. His attempt to silence Gabriel Baccus Mathews, Amos Sawyer, Boima Fahnbulleh, Togba-Nah Tipoteh and others had two unintended consequences - (a) it gave attention to their causes, (b) it galvanized rapid public support for political change which cumulated into the 1980 military takeover that brought the dictatorship of Samuel Kanyon Doe to power.

3. By 1985 one would have taught the new generation of Liberian politicians would have learned their lessons from the mistakes made by past politicians, but they did not. When it was apparent that Samuel Doe and his followers would steal the October, 1985 presidential elections, the politicians failed to take counter measures that would have made it difficult for Doe to succeed. For example, they could not agree on the formation of a political coalition to challenge Samuel Doe. Instead, decided to field more than five candidates against Samuel Doe. Only after Samuel Doe and Emmett Harmon had stolen the elections that they agreed to form a coalition to protest the result. By then, they were basically irrelevant.

4. On November 12, 1985, General Thomas Quiwonkpa with the support of exile politicians including Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Harry A. Greaves Jr. Harry Yuan, Moses Duopu, among others invaded Liberia with the attempt to overthrow Samuel Doe. General Quiwonkpa and his followers poorly executed their coup plot. The coup attempt failed because: (a) the coup plotters under estimated the United States Government support for Samuel Doe at the time. According to Stephen Ellis' book, The Mask of Anarchy (1999), the U. S. embassy in Monrovia "tipped Doe off about the invasion". (b) Quiwonkpa and Company failed to conceive that Samuel Doe had purged the military of nearly all other ethic groups except his Krahn followers. Without capturing Doe, Quinwonkpa and his supporters prematurely announced the names of countless numbers of Liberians and asked them to report to the Executive Mansion. It was immediate death sentences for all those who reported at the Executive Mansion. Samuel Doe and his Krahn soldiers massacred thousands of Liberians during the aftermath. I am sure those that participated in this blunder will forever live with the guilt.

5. Liberian politicians' support for Charles Taylor was short sighted. Harry A. Greaves, Jr., Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and others should have known the character of Mr. Taylor. Taylor was not a saint. His integrity was suspect at the beginning of the civil war. They should have known that it is unethical for a politician to associate with any one that lacks integrity. He stole money from the Doe government and used government resources at the Liberian General Services Agency to support a lavish life style in Monrovia.

6. Amos Sawyer's interim government encouraged the formation of the ULIMO rebel movement led by Alhaji V.G. Kromah and Roosevelt Johnson, and the Liberia Peace Council to serve as pressure groups to force Taylor to the peace table. I wonder what were they thinking, that Alhaji Kromah, Roosevelt Johnson and George Boley would capture territories and give it to the interim government? That decision gave birth to the proliferation of rebel movements like ULIMO K, J, and the Liberia Peace Council. In response, Taylor orchestrated the formation of the Lofa Defense Force (Ellis, 1999). These rebel groups systematically participated in the atrocities committed in Liberia and the depredation of Liberia's resources.

7. The decision to allow warlords to participate in the presidential elections was yet another pivotal error by the Sawyer interim government and ECOWAS. First, it made the desire outcome of the elections predictable. Amos Sawyer should have known that nobody stood a chance against Charles Taylor. He had controlled over 90 percent of Liberia for more than seven years and he was the only source of information for those seven years. Importantly, he amassed wealth as the result of the massive looting of the resources. Second, the participation of the warlords eliminated the need for accountability by the warlords and their collaborators. They were now the judges, jurors and executioners.

8. During the 1997 general elections that brought Charles Taylor to power, Liberian politicians again exhibited their lack of ingenuity by failing to form a political coalition to challenge Taylor. Baccus Mathews, Boima Fahnbulleh, Togba-Nah Tipoteh, Cletus Wotorson, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf among others, again, underestimated the political reality in Liberia. The result was a "volcanic" victory for Taylor. The politicians behaved as if they were completely ignorant of third world political reality.

I believe the present generation of politicians have failed the Liberian people. The Liberian people can longer count on them. It is now time for a new generation of politicians to help shape the course of events in Liberia.

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