Jobs, Guns and Peace

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 24, 2003


Liberia Foreign Minister, Mr. Thomas. Nimley-Yaya said that the memorandum signed by the warring factions and submitted to transitional President Gyude Bryant was not simply about jobs. He said it was about creating a new administrative environment where those who had been excluded are again participating in the process of running the government. “We are not attempting to take jobs from people who have served their country for the past 13 years without pay, health benefits of anything of that sort. We simply want to make the administration transparent and include those who have fought to make this transition possible.”

The Minister, who spoke to us from Monrovia, said Chairman Bryant had endorsed and signed on to the famous memorandum of understanding or Monrovia Clarifications that the three warring factions, the NPP/NPFL, LURD and MODEL had submitted to him. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is also the leader of MODEL said the measures in the document would be implemented as soon as possible.

We had called the Minister to follow up on the issue of the Liberian Embassy in Washington, D. C and ask if there were any new development since our last conversation a few days ago. He said there would be no new development and said his appointee in Washington, D.C. was and still is Abdullah k. Dunbar. “For a decision of that importance, the Acting Minister should have consulted with me before hastily writing any letter of recall. Washington is our most important mission and when we make a decision, we need to be sure of what we are doing. Dunbar was trained here at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and he was sent from this Ministry to Washington, D.C. The Ministry of Information sent Kollie there and he cannot just cross over and represent us. As far as I am concerned, Dunbar is our man in Washington.” The Minister did not say if he would reverse the decision made by the Acting Minister under instructions from the chairman to recall Dunbar and keep Kollie at the embassy.

The issue of the embassy is well connected to what is happening in Monrovia. It is about jobs but more so, it is about controlling the government. The fact that warring factions want more jobs for their followers during the transition period should not be a surprise to anyone. The only reason anyone would take up arms to overthrow a government is to take power. It would be naïve to expect otherwise. The warring factions did not go to war to hand power to the civil society or other political parties, many of which were sitting idly, ready to embark on another six years of Charles Taylor.

The transitional government is not an elected government; it is a makeshift arrangement to allow the country to move from a state of war to peace. Its basic underlying logic is that arms would be traded in for jobs; that Liberians would give up certain things to those who fought the dictatorship in exchange for jobs, cars and whatever comes with governance. The UN, the AU, nor ECOWAS would never go against this logic, because this was the trade-off in Accra.

The civil society and other political parties are fighting a lost battle. Between pleasing them and the warring factions, the international community would rather deal with the warring factions. Between another six years of Charles Taylor and a chaotic, corrupt and inefficient two year-government, Liberians and the international community have made the choice, embracing the warring factions. Either one likes the warring factions or not, either one agrees or not with the fact that guns kicked Taylor out of power, the stark reality is that without MODEL and LURD, Liberia would still be stranded in a Taylor-made-ECOWAS-endorsed transition. This is the bitter pill to swallow. Liberians would have to swallow it; it is not a matter of choice. We must not kid ourselves; the warring factions would get what they want, because this is what every one agreed to in Accra. The rest is detail.

Many Liberians – including this writer – have been opposed to warring factions and their pretended mantra of liberations, but we have to face realities. It’s been 14 years since the first “national liberation movement” was launched by Charles Taylor and during those 14 years, 300,000 Liberians have died. People who never thought of leaving their homes are now in exile or refugee camps - Ghana or the US, it is the same thing! – The country went from being on par with Japan in 1973 to almost non-existent in 2003. Liberia is now the only country in the world without electricity and running water in its capital city. Is this bad enough? Let it go. The warring factions want 40 odd jobs? So what?

The tendency to be on the side those we consider as being “the good people” can sometimes blur the realties of things. Every peace loving Liberian loves to hate the warring factions but the nation and the international community has decided to trade government jobs for peace. This logic would be carried out to the end, the warring factions will be demanding more jobs until a new government comes to being. As Minister Nimley-Yaya put it, “we started this war to break down the status quo and we will make sure there is a new government before elections.” The contradiction of course, is that they are teaming up with the same people they tried to kick out of power to break down the status quo. Taylor may be gone but his government is well alive, and the former dictator may not even need to use his cell phone to call the shots in Monrovia.

Rather than fight for few more minor cabinet jobs, political parties must work hard to have credible representation in the next government and win the 2005 elections. Many of the opposition political parties were in bed with the Taylor government. The recent scandal of horrendous payments to members of the Board at the Central Bank may just be the tip of the iceberg. Some other parties never made a secret of their support for the Taylor agenda during the Accra negotiations. It is now too late to backtrack. It is time to prove that there were not just briefcase political parties hunting for jobs and crumbs. Very soon, the country would be open and political parties would need every single one of their members to work for the elections.

As far civil society is concerned, they too must start working with the UN and local populations to ensure that peace, through disarmament and healing reaches every corner of Liberia, that kids are sent to school and that the government operates by upholding the rule of law. They have an important role to play as watchdogs in this transition period. If they reduce that role and their presence to a fight for few low level cabinet posts, they would fail everyone.

This transition government is a warring faction government. This is not a matter of choice, it is the reality. Liberians must accept that fact and work hard to ensure that come 2006, they usher in a new democratically elected government. Until then, their threat of withdrawing from a government they do not control is just… a threat. The political parties and civil society groups should not allow themselves to be dragged into a confrontation about jobs. There are more important things to do for those who want to change the system and lay the foundations for a new Liberia.

This Christmas 2003 is just as full of promises as was Christmas 1989, when many thought that Taylor was bringing freedom and democracy. It never happened. But this Christmas is different, Liberians, for once, can look down the road and prepare their own destiny. But chartering a new course would take real leadership and a national agenda, one that is beyond bickering about jobs that don’t even pay salaries.

Merry Christmas Liberia, there are better days ahead!

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