Liberia not ready for Elections, Says Carter Center

(Taylor and US (Part II))

By Abdoulaye Dukule

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 15, 2003

Amb. Gordon Streeb
After our last article on this subject, a Liberian scholar at the Carter Center in Atlanta called us and said that Ambassador Gordon Streeb wanted to make some clarifications about their presence in Monrovia, at the Executive Mansion. This led to a telephone conversation where Ambassador Streeb said that reports in the press did not reflect the content of his discussions with the Liberian government regarding a possible participation of the Carter Center in the upcoming electoral process. We had raised questions about the prospect of the Carter Center returning to Monrovia to lend legitimacy to what would amount to anything but a free and fair process.

According to Ambassador Streeb, President Taylor sent a letter to President Carter and asked him to help with the electoral process in Liberia. As a response, Carter asked him (Ambassador Streeb) to go to Monrovia to find out if the country was ready for elections and what were the prospects of holding free and fair elections. Ambassador Streeb went to Monrovia and said his conclusions, after meeting with political and civil society leaders, were that there was no way Liberia could have free and fair elections in October 2003 under the present security conditions. He said he did not see much going on on the ground in terms of organization for the holding of elections and every one seemed to share the view that the country could not hold elections in the next several months because there was so much left to do. He said that he raised these concerns with President Taylor and in his subsequent meetings with other officials of the government. Ambassador Streeb said that issues of security, free movement of people and free speech, as well as a national census are all important issues that the government must deal with before elections could be held, adding that the Carter Center had no intention of being part of a process that could be considered flawed before it even started.

When I asked him under what conditions would the Carter Center consider going to Monrovia to monitor the elections, he said when and only when all major opposition parties came up and said that they were ready to go to elections. He said that from what he heard on the ground, only one party, the New Deal of Dr. George Kieh said it was in the position to canvass, campaign and participate in nationwide elections.

In 1991, Liberians looked forward to the involvement of the Carter Center in the Liberian peace process. However, that involvement did not live to the expectations of many Liberians because many saw the Center as working hard "to salvage" Taylor whenever he faced difficulties. The most memorable moment was the handwritten letter President Carter sent to ECOWAS leaders in June 1992, asking that ECOWAS withdrew its "big and heavy" war machines from Liberia just a few months prior to Operation Octopus. The withdrawal of the Carter Center from Liberia about three years ago was a sign that they finally understood the nature of the regime in Monrovia.

As the only major American political institution concerning itself with Liberia, the Carter Center can play an important role in fostering peace and stability, not only in Liberia, but also in the entire region. Their involvement in the crisis must go beyond what many Liberians perceive as a continuous attempt to salvage the Taylor regime by being party to fraudulent exercise.

At this time, the most positive involvement the Carter Center could have in Liberia would be to help Liberians restore peace and forge ahead with democracy - to help Mr. Taylor find a safe heaven and leave power. The Carter Center under the leadership of the Nobel Peace Prize winner is certainly the only American group with the credibility and the capacity to work out such a scheme and salvage peace and stability in the sub-region. Any other intervention in the Liberia peace process that would lead to elections under Taylor would further exacerbate the situation in West Africa. Sooner or later, the Taylor regime would be toppled through violence and the Carter Center can help save Liberia from another blood bath. Taylor cannot be salvaged but Liberia can be redeemed.

Which way for Taylor

For Charles Taylor, the issues are clear: he has to win another election to stay in Monrovia. Short of being elected, he is left with few other choices: 1. Being indicted by the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal and this is almost a certainty; 2. Getting thrown out of office through free and fair elections (something he would never allow); and 3. Getting thrown out of office either by armed dissidents or his own troops, sooner or later.

A year ago, we did suggest that among the solutions, there is one, less painful to all and that would be a Taylor leaving Monrovia and moving to somewhere in Europe as did Baby Doc of Haiti. We hope that the Carter Center can and will help to do this.

Taylor cannot bring peace to Liberia. As long as he is president, there would be a war from one group or the other, either the Mandingoes, the Krahns or as it is staring to brew, a revolt from the Nimba people who are starting to come to terms with the fact that their survival in a better Liberia means breaking away from Taylor. He created too many victims and failed to live up to the one chance he had to foster peace and reconciliation among Liberians.

Liberia in the International Community

In West Africa, governments who either fear the Taylor regime or would in no way deal with him surround Liberia. President Conte of Guinea last month refused to even grant audience to a West African parliamentarian delegation that was trying to start a peace talk in the Manor River Union. The Sierra Leone government has made it known to both the US and Britain that instability would return the day peacekeepers leave the country, because they said, Taylor has thousands of arms thugs waiting for any occasion to carry on their master plan. In Cote d’Ivoire, last week, on Thursday April 3rd, 2003, both the leading opposition newspaper Fraternité Matin and the government newspaper La Voie had the same headlines: they both said Taylor and Blaise Compaore were behind the financing and training of the armed rebellion. The government paper went further to say that leaders of the western rebellion admitted having been trained at a military barracks near Monrovia. In a meeting with elders of Western Cote d’Ivoire, on Monday April 7, President Gbagbo told them that Charles Taylor brought the war that was ravaging their region to them. President Gbagbo remarks were played on national television and reported in all newspapers.

There are as many Liberian refugees now as there were in 1992. There are as many Liberians trying to leave the country as there were ten years ago. There are more displaced people now than there were in 1997. The average Liberian in Liberia is much worse off today than s/he was in 1997. The future does not look any brighter. With the continuous UN sanctions, the total control of the economy by a handful of international bandits, Liberia is a long way from any type of recovery.

On the diplomatic front, Taylor was even barred from attending the France - Africa Summit where President Mugabe was welcomed. Can Liberia afford a president who cannot go to Conakry, Abidjan, Freetown, Washington, DC, Pretoria and Paris? And for how long?

Manipulations for elections and LURD

Elections in 2003 would only perpetuate the chaos. As many speakers stated at the MDCL March Conference in Maryland, USA, the only way to have elections in Liberia is a full implementation of the Abuja Accords.

The political society is now slowly being drawn into a big lie on a dangerous slope: people are being manipulated into believing that a "peace accord" between LURD and the government would mean peace. This is what Taylor has been planning for a long time. After dragging his feet, he would finally accept a ceasefire with his own version of LURD, dish-out a few ministerial positions to people who have been on his payroll for a longtime and then call everyone to go to elections.

LURD is a fragmented group and that has no real military presence in the country. The many so-called LURD attacks that create fear among poor Liberians and panic among farmers and villagers are carried out by roaming bandits of the Taylor militia. The many reports of BBC are now well-concocted strings of lies. The BBC stringer in Monrovia is the only embedded journalist travelling with Taylor’s generals to "hear gunshots" and witness victory laps by the ATU. Those reports create the impression that indeed LURD is ravaging the country, when everyone in Monrovia knows that it is the government militia preying on the people. How does LURD manage to get to Gbarnga, take over the city, with all the checkpoints that are at every mile on every road in the country without a single person from LURD or the ATU being shot? How does LURD always manage to get in the heart of Liberia just to be "thrown out" by government troops without any fight? LURD takes over government positions and never says anything until the government says it had lost a town to them. There is LURD that is being used by Conte to secure his borders and there is LURD that Taylor has created and is using as a trump card to get a "new peace accord" and a victory at the polls.

Liberians deserve justice, peace and a good government, all things that the Taylor regime does not seem capable of providing. Liberian politicians can change this process by refusing to be part of a charade. There are many Liberians capable of running a peaceful Liberia. The last statement of political parties is a welcome sign, however, they must not be fooled in accepting a ceasefire between LURD and NPP as the end of hostilities.

Some politicians are, however, ready to take part in a national fraud, to pave the way for another six years of Taylor presidency. They know very well that elections cannot be held in Liberia within 6 months, under no conditions. The presence of "stabilization force" would not change anything much, except provide an illusion of security to politicians. Those who are getting ready to participate in this process, sometimes at the prodding of international election-makers, know the process is flawed from start to finish and know they are serving Taylor’s interests. Those politicians could simply join the NPP and stop pretending to be voices of opposition.

A few months ago, an opposition leader said that Taylor needs elections more than anyone else. Do we have to offer him one with a sure result at the expense of millions of Liberians? At times, some Liberians say that the problem is not Taylor, but it is. Nigeria, Uganda, and Mali just to name a few countries changed for the better after sanguinary corrupt dictators were thrown out of office. Liberians deserve a chance at peace and democracy. Nothing is wrong with us as a people. We only have bad leadership.