Liberia 2003, Elections Makers and Taylor's Indictment

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 12, 2002

Last week, a friend who has worked for the US government, Congress and now is in "private practice" called me out of the blue and asked if I had time for lunch. We met at a downtown restaurant and exchanged ideas about the current political events on the continent, from Cote d'Ivoire to Kenya, we agreed on most things. Then when coffee was served, my interlocutor came to the real issue that had prompted the invitation. My friend is now a consultant for one of the lobbying firms in Washington, DC, and specializes in Africa.

"A group of people, let's say people who have Liberia at heart, want to help the process and make recommendations to the government on how to get things moving. It seems like you guys are in a deadlock... When are elections again...?" my lunch friend asked.

"October, next year. Why?" I said

"Well, we want to help the process. We think that Liberia can and must have elections next year to keep the democratic process on track."

"What democratic process?" I asked.

"Well, elections. We want to make recommendations to the State Department and put together the outlines of what is needed for democratic elections to take place in Liberia," my friend said.

"Well, maybe you should send somebody in Liberia or just ask your ambassador in Liberia, John Blaney, he could tell you what is needed. He has been in contact with Taylor and some members of the opposition in Liberia..." I replied.

"Yes, I know but we need the input of people here. What Liberians in the US say or do can influence the process. We have talked to some in the opposition and we think they would participate in elections if certain conditions were met..."

"Like what?" I asked.

"Well, some propose that there be an international stabilization force on the ground to monitor security in the country. They also want elections monitors to be sent as soon as possible, not at the last minute, so that they can participate in the voter education and registration process. Of course, every one agrees that the elections commission be revamped. But some people are totally unrealistic and who want Taylor out before any democratic elections can take place..."

"Well, there you have it... " I added.

"OK... Don't go around with me. Tell me what you think is needed before elections can take place in 2003," my friend insisted.

"You mean elections in a Banana Republic or elections in a free and open atmosphere, where people have the freedom to speak, to move around and go to bed in peace after campaigning and voting without any other fear than not winning the elections?"

"Well, Liberia is a special case. That's why we are talking about it, right?" my friend said.

"What makes Liberia special?"

"Well, Taylor is president. He is a former warlord and he is under UN and US sanctions and no other country wants to deal with him... that would make Liberia a special case, wouldn't it?"

"So, what makes you think you can have democratic elections in such a country?" I asked.

"Well, there are has to be a solution, some type of movement... Taylor is there and he is president and unless you kill him or force him out of the country, I don't see how else you can you can get the type of elections you want. Killing him would not solve your problems. And a war crimes tribunal would take years and years to set-up and who would finance it, anyway?" my friend said.

It went on and on. I learned from my friend that some opposition members and parties have accepted to stand in elections organized by Taylor next year as long as they have the freedom to move around the country. My friend also told me that some of us could be underestimating the Liberian people at home who could decide to vote against Taylor and his guns and goons and thugs. "Why don't you trust your own people? They could vote for one of those people against Taylor," my friend said, trying to make me see things from a "realistic" perspective.

My friend works for one of those elections specialists and monitors who make their living by going around the globe to "certify" elections in developing nations. They receive money from the United Nations, from the different organizations that support democracy and mostly from the United States government.

For example, if it became apparent today that elections would be held in Liberia in a year or so, the organization my friend works for would bid for a number of things, among others printing ballots, running radio programs for voters education, reprinting booklets on election laws and procedures, printing and distributing the Liberian constitution, serving as advisors to the Election Commission, helping with voters registration and etc. The $1,7 million dollars that the US government has promised to help with elections would be shared amongst the election makers and they would field "specialists in Liberia." More money would come from the UN, the European Union and others.

There are also Liberian organizations in the US that are following the process closely. They would not get money directly from the US government but would line-up to receive grants from the "international" NGOs to go set up shops in Liberia. They serve as "political sub-contractors" and will receive a pittance and carry out most of the work on the ground. Their stamp of approval makes a difference between "rigged elections" or "free and fair elections" and that difference makes a government to be accepted or rejected by donor nations. Now, in the case of Liberia, another aspect of their profession is surfacing, another side less appealing. Some are trying to make elections take place at all cost, because that is how they make a living. As someone recently told me, "elections could go on with or without Liberian opposition." In other words, Taylor can create his own opposition and go to elections. In that case, he wouldn't need to move a finger to rig the process.

The firm my friend works for has connections in every major department dealing with Africa. They are luring some Liberians, opposition leaders in search or recognition, cash-trapped politicos looking for a few months consulting job, recruiting other Liberians, influencing politicians to go into elections and "test" Taylor's resolve. They organize meetings between Liberian politicians with congressional staffers and State Department functionaries. In the end, maybe by March 2003, they would convince enough people both amongst Liberian opposition and US government officials that elections could be held in Liberia by October 2003. Elections would go on. And as by a magical wand, " a special formula for elections in Liberia in 2003" would pop-up, endorsed by all "peace-loving Liberians" except a "few spoilers."

In November 2003, my friend would certainly write an "educated opinion," to say that Liberian elections were free or not, that Taylor abided by the constitution or not, that the results were credible or not. The firm would then turn their attention to other elections, somewhere in the Third World and many of us would still be in exile or refugee camps, waiting for Godot...

OK, may be I am being too pessimistic. It is possible that Taylor would lose the elections and decides to retire from politics and move to his farm near Gbarnga with his wives and a few hundred farm hands, former ATU members, soldiers of the AFL, police officers, ministers and clowns and hoodlums. And the new President would have free hands to set up a war crimes tribunal, a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the war years, including the killing of the 5 American nuns...

(L-R): Chester Crocker, Amos Sawyer, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Mark Bellamy
The future of Taylor
On December 9, 2002, many Liberians and friends of Liberians thronged the conference room of the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) run by former Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker (anyone remembers Samuel K. Doe?). Dr. Amos sawyer, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and William Bellamy, Deputy Assistant Secretary took part in a panel discussion to talk about Liberia as "the eye of the hurricane". The words "cancer" describing Taylor was used at least a dozen times. Dr. Sawyer called for the indictment of Taylor and said there was no possibility of having elections in Liberia under the current circumstances. He said that Liberians would need to first get rid of Taylor, set up an interim administration (pointing out that he has no intention of being of that arrangement) and then have elections. Mrs. Sirleaf shared the same views, without however endorsing the idea of an interim government. The speakers all confirmed what we all know very well: the Taylor regime has become a "predatory" state in West Africa and as long as the current regime continues to operate, either intentionally or unintentionally, the West African sub region would continue to be enflamed.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State said something that could determine the future of Liberia and this thing about elections. He said: "I just don't see how he [Taylor] cannot be indicted by the [Sierra Leone war crimes] tribunal... I just don't see how he cannot be indicted..." adding, "and if he is indicted, he could be arrested once he steps out of Liberia and he does not come out, Liberians would deliver him."

At one point ECOWAS leaders told Samuel Doe to look at alternatives. He didn't listen. By now he could have been living somewhere in London or France, with or without Nancy, and finishing that doctorate...

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