Liberia: ECOWAS Dilemma
By Solomon Wilson

The recent 21st ECOWAS Summit should have dealt with entirely new issues if the Liberian peace process had produced responsible actors attuned to the necessity of reconciling their people and the imperative for sub-regional harmony. Instead, after eight years of ECOMOG involvement in search for peace in Liberia and the sacrifice of some of the best sons and daughters of the sub-region, the Summit dealt with the simmering bloody cauldron in that pitiful country. Also, the insecurity generated in neighboring Sierra Leone as a result of a fallout from the Liberian crisis is a worrisome development which should be addressed with utter decisiveness. The time is long past when megalomaniacs are cuddled and pampered while their unfortunate people stagnate under terror, repression and genocide.

The recent massacre in Monrovia in which government security and para-military forces hounded and eliminated over 1000 opponents of the regime is an indication that something has gone dangerously wrong with the ECOWAS Peace Plan for Liberia. The realization that the government security and para-military forces are indeed fighters of the faction which was given the elections for the sake of peace points to an impending catastrophe if there is no rectification of the fertile misconception which brought about the disastrous political imposition. Whether by accident or design, the major planks of the Peace Plan embedded in the Abuja Accord has been jettisoned and the regime in Monrovia has abandoned the framework in which its legitimacy should have been nurtured.

Before the elections, the various warring factions and the civilian elements agreed to the Abuja Accord which defined the parameters of political participation in the war ravaged country. The Accord stipulated inter alia, that there would be (a) disarmament, (b)demobilization, (c) restructuring and retraining of the Liberian army and security forces by ECOMOG; and (d) elections and the installation of a civilian government. This was the framework in which the legitimacy of any government in Liberia could be considered and respected. It was also considered the defining limits within which the building of security and the search for reconciliation would take place. Added to this was the hope that the stability introduced in Liberia would alter the situation in Sierra Leone and lead to the isolation and necessary marginalization of the rebels and their accomplices.

What obtained in Liberia was the reverse of what was intended by the Abuja Accord and because of this, the consequences for the Liberian people have been horrendous. First, the disarmament process was a fiasco. The warring factions dissimulated and buried about 65% of their weapons. The largest and most powerful warring faction - that of the NPFL of Charles Taylor - was the most culpable. It buried tons of arms around the Liberian countryside since it controlled the largest portion of the country. Secondly, there was no effective demobilization as no one knew the amount of fighters the various factions had recruited. Thirdly, and this is the most important, the army and security forces were not restructured and retrained; and thus if any of the warlords won the elections, he would rely on his fighters to provide security in the absence of ECOMOG's determination to be solely responsible for the security of the country.

Against the background of the non-compliance with the Abuja Accord, elections were held to address the political order as it was believed by some that the political situation was fundamental to the building of security and reconciliation. Whether this was naivete or sheer trickery by some to deliver the country to the most powerful warring faction is now academic. The reality today is that those who hold power in Liberia have abandoned the framework which would have bestowed legitimacy on them and have shown contemptible arrogance towards ECOWAS and its Peace Keeping Force - ECOMOG. The recent refusal by the Liberian regime to allow a contingent from the Republic of Guinea into the country; the sending of men and arms into Sierra Leone to destabilize the country and inflict casualties on the ECOMOG forces there; the dribbling with the issue of the status of Forces agreement; the equipping of government para-military forces with imported weapons; and the massacre of large number of citizens by the para-military forces bring up the question which is foremost in the minds of many: does Charles Taylor have the legitimacy to be considered a leader within West Africa and to take a seat among the leaders of ECOWAS?

ECOWAS' involvement in Liberia with the formation of ECOMOG is an historic precedent. The logical conclusion to the Liberian imbroglio would have to be an unprecedented move by ECOWAS to correct the military and political anomalies which have plunged the country into terror and insecurity and led to the undermining of ECOMOG's position in Liberia. The dilemma for ECOWAS centers on the question of how to enforce the Abuja Accord which would undoubtedly concentrate on the political and military rectification of the present situation. This would witness the present regime relinquishing power and preparing for new elections after complying fully with all the cardinal tenets of the Abuja Accord. To depose a "leader" based on his non-compliance with an agreement which he signed would indeed be unprecedented; but the Liberian situation and its destabilizing effects on the sub-region call for such drastic and unprecedented move. It is ECOWAS' responsibility to find a lasting solution to the Liberian crisis and put an end to the terror, insecurity and carnage in the country.

Here is where the United Nations comes in. The Cambodian experience is a good reference point. The United Nations took total control of Cambodia and implemented a program of disarmament, demobilization and elections. What the United Nations as a neutral agency did was to provide the framework in which legitimacy could be conferred on the actors after compliance with all the provisions of the peace plan. In a situation of war, hatred and distrust, only a full compliance with a peace plan can provide the atmosphere in which security and reconciliation can be pursued after the effective neutralization of the forces of war and terror. But then again, massive resources must be provided to enable all organs of the agency to complete their functions. In the case of Liberia, the United Nations would have to provide resources and manpower to assist ECOWAS in the final phase of the Liberian peace plan. ECOMOG would have to take on the responsibility of being the sole agency for security until such time as the Liberian army and security forces are restructured and retrained. Also, ECOWAS and the United Nations would have to provide the manpower for the operation of the main political institutions until a new leadership emerges either through a sovereign national conference or another election.

At the moment, the regime in Liberia exists not as a legitimate entity upholding the sovereign will of the people, but as a crude imposition on a fragile and chaotic body polity. The result of this is the avalanche of murder, rape and terror which has bedeviled the Liberian people for the past year. Added to this is the frequent incursion into Sierra Leone of fighters from Liberia to assist the rebels who are fighting against ECOMOG forces. This irresponsible behavior of the regime in Liberia indicates that the sub-region will continue along its turbulent path as long as ECOWAS does not address effectively the situation in Liberia which was created by default.