The Liberian People Have Spoken


Since June 1996 when the Liberian Democratic Future launched the publication of The Perspective, we had used this space to call to attention the need to promote democracy in Liberia. During that time, we had spent countless hours and written thousands of words to advocate the right of the Liberian people to be given the opportunity to exercise this essential democratic franchise of choosing their leaders.

And during those months when we advanced this argument, we also stated that an internationally supervised elections in Liberia would provide the opportunity for our people to make this crucial decision. So we lauded the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) when it was able to force the various guerrilla factions to agree to have elections in May 1997. We realized then that such elections would be held under extreme, taxing condition occasioned by the cruelest civil war which has devastated Liberia.

On July 19, 1997, the Liberian people went to poll and they overwhelmingly voted for Charles Ghankay Taylor as their president. And from all indications, the elections appeared to be free and fair. We congratulate all participants, especially those who have come to power as a result of the free exercise of democracy. Liberian leaders face a panorama of delicate, competing national expectations in a fragile political environment circumscribed by anxiety and mistrust.

They have the awesome, unenviable task of restoring trust and confidence to a shattered national psyche, beginning the process of dialogue and reconciliation which is an essential requirement to heal the wound and bridge the national division. These new bureaucrats must facilitate appropriate mechanisms to revitalize the economy. Their plate is full since this responsibility is a mixed bag of possibilities and perils as they lead our country to the next century.

Their success will depend in part on the agenda Mr. Taylor will set as president, and on their own commitment and adherence to democratic practices such as fair treatment of all citizens, freedom of speech and a transparent justice system.

If, on the other hand, Mr. Taylor and his lieutenants fail to make the transition from military dictatorship to democratic pluralism, where the people are the master and decisions are based on careful consideration of all sides to a given issue, then Liberia is likely to slip back to anarchy.

Unfortunately for Liberia, the prospect of Mr. Taylor choosing democracy is minuscule, since there is nothing in his political behavior to indicate tolerance for democratic tendencies. Throughout his quest for power, Mr. Taylor clearly demonstrated his dictatorial propensity.

As an advocate for pluralism which has consistently called for the inculcation of democratic culture into Liberian politics, The Perspective welcomes the result of the recent Liberian elections. We urge all parties to accept the legitimate decision of the Liberian people. Our people had chosen peace over war, and they had demonstrated a higher degree of patriotism than those who relied on arms to submit the citizenry into compliant subjects.

But as we all know free and fair election in and of itself is not a panacea for the multiple problems that the country faces. It will take patriotism and commitment on the part of all Liberians, especially those Liberians who have been charged to rescue the country from the abyss of self-destruction. Liberia will need a whole lot of international assistance as its leaders, who have just been forced to accept democracy as the only means to legitimate power, seek ways to maintain the fragile peace, heal the wound and develop an economic framework that will help the beleaguered people to put their shattered lives back together.

Knowing the history of those who have just assumed power - their disdain for human life, aversion to democratic practices and reliance on violence as a means to power - the situation in Liberia demands careful monitoring.

In this regard, it's incumbent upon Liberians both in and out of the country to lead the charge of making sure that this transition to democracy is maintained. It's particularly necessary that Liberian Americans call upon the United States to carefully monitor the policy of the Taylor government regarding human rights, respect for life and the free exercise of democratic principles.

And given Mr. Taylor's contempt for human life and his indifference to human and civil liberties which was clearly evident during the more than seven years of murderous orgy, international assistance, at least for now, must be limited to humanitarian aid and independently run security training programs.

While Mr. Taylor is apt to claim that the people have given him a huge mandate to run the affairs of state as he sees fit, The Perspective would strongly urge President Taylor to be cautious as he exercises power. One of the essential ingredients of democracy is the concept of checks and balances which is effectively absent in Liberia, since no legislator independently won his seat.

The temptation for Taylor and his associates, those who despised democracy and used jungle justice to eliminate their enemies, is enormous. Too much power in the hands of one man is indeed dangerous. As currently constituted, the Liberian Legislature is simply an extension of Mr. Taylor's power. It's within his purview to select individual representatives and senators to represent the various counties.

The Liberian people, like other living beings conscious of their mortality, have opted for survival, peace and stability over war. And we who have promoted the virtues of participatory democracy, equal access to economic opportunity, and value for human life must respect their decision.

However, it's our moral duty to call upon the international community to impanel a war crimes tribunal in the aftermath of the Liberian conflict. One important question is: will Mr. Taylor join us in a bid to urge the United Nations to establish a war crimes tribunal similar to the ones impaneled in Bosnia and Rwanda? In order to bring the Liberian tragedy to a closure, we must engage in substantive matters that have relevant bearing on the mayhem. The symbolism of digging the bodies of former presidents is not as important as individuals being accountable for their actions during the civil war.

Is Charles Ghankay Taylor, leader of one of the brutish guerrilla movements during Liberia's war of attrition, prepared to appear before that body to account for his role in a number of massacres, including the killings at Carter Camp in Harbel and the five American nuns? Or will President Ghankay Taylor shield himself and some of his key lieutenants such as the so-called General John T. Richardson, now minister of public works, who authorized the raping and torturing of young girls and innocent women before killing them in Firestone. What about other death squad leaders such as Prince Johnson, Isaac Musa and untold other human predators who routinely killed innocent and unarmed civilians?

President Charles Ghankay Taylor and his former partners in the destruction of Liberia cannot simply claim: we were at war and these things were bound to happen. This argument is not only baseless and insensitive, it's also an affront to thousands of families who are victims of such cowardly killings.

There are international conventions which govern the conduct of combatants, more so as it relates to unarmed civilians. That's why it is important that we ask the appropriate, credible and neutral world agency to put an independent group of jurists together to examine what happened in Liberia.

This is a national priority which must be placed at the top of our rebuilding agenda. There can be no higher moral purpose than dealing with this thorny, agonizing but compelling issue.

It is not enough to say let bygones be bygones as some indulgent Liberians have been suggesting since the elections. The purpose for a war crimes tribunal is to deter future wars and make individuals responsible for their actions. It's designed to make people think twice before they commit unwarranted acts of violence against unarmed civilians. Liberia is not unique.

Our call is not limited to President Charles Ghankay Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). This endeavor is aimed at all factions and all individuals who played a role in the violence which consumed Liberia over the past seven years. The Perspective urges all Liberians to consider this as a national crusade to save our country from future atrocities.

In Liberia, some people committed crimes against humanity by perpetrating wanton massacres. Such individuals must appear before a panel of credible conscience body to account for their actions. They should not be allowed to get away with murder with impunity.