The Right Kind of Fear
By Tarty Teh

We all are driven by fear, all kinds of fear: Fear of losing, fear of hurting, fear of disappointing, fear of failing, fear of being abused, fear of being perceived as weak, etc. But we strive for joy and pride as we manage these fears.

I think that our most often chosen test of courage is war. However, when war breaks out, we fear for the lives of our young people. But what do the young people fear? Almost nothing. And that's another source of fear for us as grown-ups and responsible people. But much as we would like to minimize conflicts, it is through conflict that our natural gift of goodwill and the right kind of courage, if we have any, are brought to the surface through the right kind of fear, perhaps the fear of letting our nation down.

I believe it was mostly the right kind of fear that led to many of the agreements we signed with Charles Taylor as a rebel leader through the seven years of war he waged against us for no perceptible reasons. Our kids, for instance, had fallen behind one year in school as we fled the war. Another year might add to the accumulation of ignorance if we did not sign an agreement that would end the war just then. But each agreement took Taylor closer to realizing his private goal of becoming president of Liberia. And we were still afraid to question our own inner suspicion about the man. So we added a couple more agreements even as the pattern of deception grew evident. Taylor signed and destroyed 13 peace agreements in all.

Of course we all were not sitting in one ideological camp and therefore did not perceive Taylor in the same exact light. Some people felt he had a goal worth striving for; some didn't care if he had a goal as long as he created opportunities they would not otherwise have had to enrich themselves. Still others felt that Taylor represented a chance for returning to a more familiar arrangement in which nothing was promised because the people had no expectations. That left a small group to consume our national wealth in relative peace. All these different believers in Taylor formed the core of his adviser corps. Notable among these people are former President Amos Sawyer, opposition politician Gabriel Baccus Matthews, cabinet officer Blamoh Nelson, and lawmaker Nyondueh Mornkomana.

These people are noteworthy because they have such experiences and are now in positions from which they could change the focus of the Taylor government. But I guess they, like the rest of us, have their own fears. What could be different about them could be that they also saw opportunities which they have taken advantage of even while the problems fester. Among these people might perhaps be mere opportunists, but there are also core believers. I think Mr. Gabriel Baccus Matthews is a believer in Taylor as a means to the familiar state of our national existence which I have already described.

This will be particularly the case if it is true that it was Mr. Matthews who advised President Taylor to use his state authority to end what both men felt was an unwanted presence of Krahn people on Camp Johnson Road. This led to the ambush that killed over 300 people and ended at the gate of the United States embassy in Monrovia on September 19, 1998. Of course the Camp Johnson Road massacre is not beyond the scope of actions Taylor could have initiated himself, but the fear here is the presence of two like-minded people in a deadly plot, yet one is seen but the other isn't.

There were seven years of surprises in dealing with Charles Taylor until the pattern became obvious. Yet the need for returning to democracy forced elections in an atmosphere that could have used a bit of improvement before attempting something as noble as multi-party elections. The result was also a surprise that we tried to live with for three years now.

I can tell that we are at the beginning of what is now a familiar cycle because we are pissed enough to have initiated a surprise instead of waiting for Taylor to spring another on us. That's how I see the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). But whereas we had sought negotiations when we were treated to Taylor's surprises, Taylor responded to our surprise by typically bringing out his artilleries. But this time around his military positions are not being manned by determined Liberians, but by disgruntled ones aided by Burkinabes who are on the clock but hope to go home to their wives and kids when it is over.

We already know that it will be a while yet before the Burkinabes can return home ­ if they can. The reason is simple, our kids are pissed. But rather than feeding on their anger, we need the right kind of fear to limit the scope of the pending disaster. Can we negotiate?

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