PARTIAL DISARMAMENT: A PRESCRIPTION FOR DISASTERS IN LIBERIA
The weeks preceding the annual summit of the heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Liberian warlord Charles Taylor toured the West African subregion in support of his partial disarmament proposal. According to Mr. Taylor, complete disarmament was not possible before elections are held in Liberia. So, he has crafted a scheme under which ECOMOG will disarm those guerrillas who are located in areas that will be declared "safe havens". These include Monrovia and other towns which have high concentration of population. In other words, guerrillas who are scattered in the interior, which is the bastion of Mr. Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), will be untouched. Neither Mr. Taylor nor supporters of this outlandish plan have advanced any reasonable explanation why elections must take place in Liberia under this dangerous condition. And though the idea defies logic and common sense, some West African leaders, especially those whose meager resources have been taxed because of our conflict, were quick to endorse Mr. Taylor's death - trap proposal.
But this ridiculous plan engenders a set of issues which must be addressed in a timely fashion as it could gravely affect security and safety arrangement and undermine the integrity of any elections in Liberia. The following questions must be answered: 1) Why does Mr. Taylor prefer immediate elections as opposed to facilitating immediate safe environment conducive for conducting such elections? 2) What is the rationale of holding democratic elections without full and complete disarmament, demobilization and encampment of unrestrained drugged hooligans? 3) Does Mr. Taylor plan to coerce, intimidate and threaten the citizens with his armed guerrillas as a means to force the voters to support him during the elections? 4) Do Mr. Taylor and his supporters believe in a democracy where the people have the right to freely and openly choose their leaders and, are they prepared to accept as legitimate the people's decision?
All indications are Mr. Taylor does not believe Liberians should have the right to freely choose their leaders. That is Why all Liberians who are committed to the free exercise of democracy, those who have advocated open and free elections in Liberia, must join THE PERSPECTIVE in convincing West African leaders of the danger inherent in this idea. And as a modicum of tribute to the thousands of Liberians who have lost theirlives in this war, we must remind ECOWAS leaders that this scheme is part of Mr. Taylor's continuing strategy to hold the gun to our people's head. The maneuver is designed to intimidate an already terrorized citizenry into compliant subjects, so Mr. Taylor can achieve by subterfuge that which he cannot legally and legitimately receive at the polls. And we should make all efforts to expose the true meaning of this strategy, and urge responsible ECOWAS leaders not only to shelve the proposition of partial disarmament, but also to strongly renounce it as an attempt to circumvent and undermine the entire peace process - As one Gambia diplomat correctly described it, partial disarmament is a recipe for disasters in Liberia.
Moreover, the notion of incomplete disarmament of combatants, the current enthusiasm for immediate elections without adequate security modalities for the protection of citizens in Liberia is consistent with Mr. Taylor's other chicaneries at peace. Throughout the Liberian ordeal, Mr. Taylor has used various tactics in an attempt to impose himself upon the people without their consent; and his main leverage - perhaps his only power - has been the barrel of the gun which he has used ruthlessly to render death to the population.
As a priority, rooting out military dictators from Liberian politics, resecuring the nation's sanity from the warlords' incontinent hands, and ending their routine massacres of innocent people must be the ultimate objective of any elections in Liberia. In this regard, elections must follow complete demilitarized atmosphere in which our people can freely exercise their freedom without fear or interference. But this very concept is threatened by the notion of partial disarmament. And Liberians must be vocal in our denunciation of this gimmick by Mr. Taylor as attempt to gain power by deception and force.
Mr. Taylor and some of his supporters, especially elements of the True Whig party, have advanced this idea because they are not sure if elections free of the threat of violent intimidation by drugged child soldiers can produce the kind of result they want. So they have shrewdly concocted this strategy by which he can both appear as allowing the democratic process to proceed and at the same time insuring himself of disproportionate advantage over other candidates. Certainly, other candidates would not be able to articulate pertinent issues which are relevant to the needs of the country, nor can such candidates freely travel around the nation to present their vision of the future to the voters. Given their traumatic experience, the peasant population which had been thetarget of violent attacks, aimed at reducing them to hapless rubbles, will either be restrained to exercise their franchise or intimidated by armed guerrillas to support a candidate other than their choice, if Mr. Taylor's guerrilla force remained intact during elections.
Besides, Mr. Taylor and his allies are predisposed to a Liberian political culture whose characteristics are inimical to the principles of a pluralistic democracy; hence, the plethora of deceptive maneuvers to come to power by any means but the will of the majority. For many of them, the concept of one man, one vote is unacceptable, because the result is bound to be at variance with their interest; which could further expose them to international ridicule if they fail to honor such legitimate outcomes. Their fear is understandable but unwarranted, because we who are committed to democracy will not allow any Liberian government to institute any policy that is tantamount to reverse discrimination.
However, our resolve to inculcate democratic culture into the Liberian body politic and broaden the political landscape, which would encompass a greater majority of our people, should not be interpreted as an appeasement. In fact, concurrent with our other endeavors, such as setting up war crimes tribunal to try the warlords and other individuals who have committed heinous crimes against our people, research teams are being put together here and in Liberia to develop databases and establish a directory of persons who have played a significantly sinister role in the Liberian civil conflict. Our purpose here is not to engage in a fishing expedition or witch hunt; but as an affirmation of our commitment to realistic atonement. This approach is important, since many Liberians have become schizophrenic hypocrites, publicly assuring us of their commitment to peace while they secretly engaged in activities which run counter to all peace initiatives. Such individuals must account for their duplicity in a democratic Liberia.
Attempting to gain support from West African leaders, Mr. Taylor made reference to the Sierra Leone experience which, he said, could be used as a model for Liberia. The Sierra Leone experience has to do with the recent elections in Sierra Leone during which the Sierra Leone rebels, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) were not disarmed. But the two situations are incomparable. In Sierra Leone, there was a military government which was ready and willing to cede power, however reluctantly, to an elective civilian administration in Freetown. Besides,there was a single rebel group fighting the Sierra Leone military regime for power. Whereas in Liberia, there are several warring factions vying for control of the country. Unlike Sierra Leone, the level of wanton violence against the innocent is bordered on genocide of the natives; and the open animosity between the people and the warring factions is deep - seated to establish any degree of trust for reconciliation in the foreseeable future. Unlike Sierra Leone, some Liberian guerrilla leaders, notably though not exclusively, Mr. Taylor, have political ambitions. In fact, Mr. Taylor has already declared his candidacy for president.
The partial disarmament strategy which Mr. Taylor has advanced epitomizes the ilk of methods spawned by other guerrilla leaders who believe their only path to power is violence. Indeed, this incomplete disarmament approach which has become Mr. Taylor's latest peace sham has the striking resemblance of the tactics Jonas Malheiro Savimbi has employed in Angola to hold the peace process there hostage.
In 1991, after sixteen years of factional fighting, Jonas Savimbi, leader of the UNITA guerrilla movement and the Angolan government agreed to a truce, and multiparty elections which were to usher in the legitimate leaders of Angola. Those elections were supervised by the United Nations and other reputable agencies which declared the results free and fair. But when Savimbi and his National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) lost those elections in 1992, they resumed fighting.
In that light, the Angolan parallel should frighten all Liberians who want an end to violence and destruction in their country. And given his past behavior of assaults on population centers, disavowal of signed agreements and blatant disregard for human rights, Mr. Taylor, backed by armed guerrillas, would be poised to wreck havoc on our people if he was to lose the election. Imagine for a moment, a defeated Taylor at the polls in post-ECOMOG Liberia and without the deferent of rival warring militias, as they would have been disarmed under Taylor's plan. The level of horror will surely escalate as Mr. Taylor advances his operation of vengeance against a helpless citizenry. Some people may say we are engaging in extreme hyperbole or exaggeration but the spectre of renewed violence is real, and the probability that Taylor will use maximal terror to achieve his aim is very high.
At a minimum, we must urge the ECOWAS leadership to give seriousconsideration to a set of measures that should be invoked in the case of non- compliance of the revised peace agreement by any warlord. In addition to the possible sanctions of travel restrictions, freezing personal and business assets and exclusion from the elections, ECOWAS should initiate immediate war crimes indictment of recalcitrant warlords at the United Nations. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, now is the time to lift Liberia from the tyrannical hold of truculent warlords. Enough is enough.
Copyright © 1996 The Perspective
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