Liberia: How to Make the Peace Deal Work
Lesson #1: Don’t Let the Warring Factions Have Their Way

By Ezekiel Pajibo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 19, 2003

"Not all gutter rats were born in the gutter and therefore not all gutter rats will die in the gutter." - The Secretariat/LURD National Headquarters, Voinjama City, Lofa County, Republic of Liberia

In 1997 when Charles Taylor "won" the elections, the slogan that captured international attention was "you killed my pa, you killed my ma, but I will vote for you [papay - Charles Taylor’s nom de endearment]." At the time I had written that Taylor’s proposition to the Liberian people was "your vote or the bullet." Liberians parted with their votes and Taylor became the "democratically elected president." LURD understands this very well and that is why they are talking about gutter rats. In their recent press release, "Bryant Beware," the veiled threats about returning to war was palpable. But Liberians don’t want to go back to war and therefore LURD needs to be reminded that all steps will be taken to prevent this from happening. The most available means to make this come about is to ensure compliance with the August 18 Comprehensive Peace Accord (as problematic as some may view it) as well as ensure compliance with the public statements of the three warring factions in the country, in other words the Government of Liberia and its allied militias, LURD and MODEL.

If, as LURD’s leadership intimated in the past, their objective was to rid Liberia of Taylor and accord the Liberian people the opportunity to exercise their democratic liberties, they should stand by their word and we should make them stand by their word. I can only recall the early days of the Doe dictatorship when any and all criticism of the creeping authoritarianism and corruption within the regime was met with: "Let the boys enjoy too". LURD, the reincarnation of that tendency, appears keen on expanding their share of the "spoils of war," they seem determined to continue to plunder the country. What is one to make of the fact that they want to single-handedly control the government agencies where historically corruption has been the norm? They were allotted the Ministry of Finance, responsible for revenue and expenditure, the National Port Authority, the gateway for international commerce, and the nerve center of the Monrovia economy, the General Services Agency, the chief procurement agency of the government (incidentally, the same place where Taylor initially made his plundering foray before he decided to go to war and get it all), the National Investment Commission, the Liberia Free Zone Authority, the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation, the Liberia Produce Marketing Corporation, and the Transport and Labor Ministries. In all they are likely to control about 11 strategic agencies where money, contracts and deals are made. Their Siamese twin, MODEL, gets the Foreign Ministry, the Forestry Development Authority, Roberts International Airport, the Bureau of Maritime Affairs (where the notorious thief Benoni Urey made his "killing" during the ancien regime), and the National Social Security and Welfare Cooperation (I believe Jackson Doe, brother of late military dictator, Samuel Doe, once headed this one), again, all agencies with the reputation of being used for pilfering Liberian state coffers.

Yet, in the very peace accord where the "spoils of war" were divided, are stipulations, which Liberians need to be aware of and ensure compliance. According to the accords that they signed in Ghana, nominations to these posts by the warring factions do not guarantee appointment of the nominees to the offices. Appointment is not automatic, so we should not take as a fait accompli the announcements that Mr. ______ will be the new Foreign Minister or that Mr. ______ will be the new Justice Minister. According to the accords signed in Ghana, the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) can accept or reject nominations. Therefore, Liberians need to be enabled to make representation to the NTLA on these matters. Civil society organizations, including professional bodies and the Church, should begin to seek and acquire access to these nominations and do the relevant background checks to ensure that these people are competent and honest. The media, including Liberian news websites, need to do so similarly. Indeed, when we say the solution to Liberia’s problems must come from Liberians themselves, this is a concrete example of some of the ways that this can come about. The NTLA must hold public hearings on the nominees; members of the public should be allowed to give testimony for and against the nominees. Let us demand that nominees declare their assets, as a safeguard against "get-rich-quick " schemes. It is past time to stop the plunder.

About the author: Ezekiel Pajibo currently lives and works in Harare, Zimbabwe. Mr. Pajibo has taken it upon himself to make regular commentaries on efforts of Liberians to contribute to the unfolding political process in their country.