Taylor's New ULIMO Gambit: Implications For Sub-Regional Security

By M. Tarnue Mawolo

The Perspective
February 23, 2001

With Charles Taylor bent on removing the goal post at every turn of the game, it has become increasingly evident that the search for peace in the West African sub-region will for now remain an illusive prospect. The day before yesterday, Taylor blamed the inferno he lit in Southern Guinea on the activities of Guinean dissidents unaided by Liberian manipulations; yesterday, he linked the mayhem to the failure to release detained Guinean opposition leader, Alpha Conde; today, he links the end of the plunder to the expulsion from Guinea of people he considers members of his war-time rival faction known as ULIMO. What he will say tomorrow and what further preconditions he sets, only time will tell. But the interesting thing is, while the situation in Southern Guinea remains confusing to many, only Taylor seems to know exactly what is happening in Guinea and is busy giving various explanations as to why. The pattern is all too familiar and the implications are grave. With the ghost of Taylor lingering in the Guinean forest region, the specter of doom only looms larger than ever before.

Ever gullible and proned to manipulations, ECOWAS itself is fast becoming a hopelessly dangerous and unreliable instrument. Malian President, Alpha Omar Konare, visiting Liberia recently to confer with fellow Libyan payee, Charles Taylor, received more than an ear full of lecture from the Liberian President. Giving his diagnosis about the sub-regional mess, Taylor threatened that, among other things, "unless armed hostilities by ULIMO in the West African sub-region is immediately halted, no further progress will be made by ECOWAS member states to restore civil authorities throughout the continent".

"ULIMO-K" he said "is becoming a major threat to peace and security in West Africa. If the armed hostilities [of ULIMO] are not handled now, it may cause ECOWAS immense problems that may become (sic) unsuccessful in handling".

By this escapade, Taylor is trying feverishly to substitute ULIMO for himself as the real cause of the problem in the West African Sub-region. But if history is anything to go by, then Taylor's lecture on peace and security certainly and accurately foretell the doom to come, and Guinea must now act or brace itself for a more biting calamity.

Why should the activities of ULIMO (if any) in Liberia or Guinea derail progress towards the actualization of civil authorities "throughout the continent"? This warning encapsulates Taylor's ambitious agenda of international destabilization "throughout the continent". The strategy is simple and has always been the same- create turmoil and mayhem, set one precondition after the other, break every agreement imaginable, get one concession at a time and demand for more until you get what you want. Tailor-made, practiced and experimented in Liberia and Sierra Leone, this has been Taylor's Modus Operandi from day one. The current Guinean scenario smells of Liberia and Sierra Leone all over again.

No doubt, with Liberia in his gripped, privatized by a band of international criminal elements, and Sierra Leone engulfed in anarchy and virtually reduced to statelessness, Taylor now eyes the Republic of Guinea. The fall Guinea will complete the iron triangle of criminality; and nothing should stop the domino from rolling to other countries.

While Guinea burns the Liberian government continues to disclaim any involvement. But available facts speak to the contrary. Both western intelligence sources and keen sub-regional observers rightly conclude that no one but Taylor orchestrated and is now fueling the murderous wars in Sierra Leone and now Guinea that has produced a humanitarian nightmare. With this in mind, Taylor's recent prognosis for a cure should be troubling enough.

Taylor knows all too well that Guinea will not arrest and surrender to him Liberians who per force fled his butchering hands and found sanctuary away from home. And since this will not happen, then the war in Guinea will continue and the sub-region and the entire continent will not succeed in the restoration of civil authority. At least according to Taylor. So, the message is clear. What Taylor is saying is that the war in Guinea will continue no matter what happens. Whether the UN gives him two months or two years to sever ties with the RUF or whether ECOWAS deploys troops at the border is of little consequence so far Taylor is concerned. His eyes are set on the implementation of the agenda, one country at a time. All he seeks are excuses to continue the mayhem. Every interim arrangement, therefore, is meant to buy time not peace, as Taylor has never signed an agreement he's not prepared to break.

In Guinea, Taylor is trying to take advantage of the inherent fragility that bedevils all African political systems. Judging from experiences in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Taylor will understand that the success of an inch-by-inch fight from Gueckedou to Conakry is at best inconceivable. But the plotter bets on a different nightmare scenario. Like any African state, dogged by ethnic division and political crisis, prolonged war is likely to trigger opportunistic elements within the Guinean military to contemplate a coup d'etat. Were this to happen, the political equation will be totally altered. The new military junta (whoever that nay be) will be hard pressed to extend an olive branch to the Taylor forces disguised as Guinean dissidents. True to form, the dissident are more than likely to reject the overture and make further demands on the system. The war will then continue, and with any new military junta lacking legitimacy, political mandate, tribal allegiances or entrenched military loyalty, the Taylor backed dissidents are certain to sweep through much of the country with ease. The ensuing political chaos and fallout will be unimaginable. Now, if anybody thought Liberia and Sierra Leone were enough trouble, wait until you get Guinea in the mix. With Guinea done, Sierra Leone becomes an afterthought; and La Cote D'Ivoire, beware.

The events in Guinea must be a wake up call. Having slept at the United Nations while the Malian Ambassador pretended to be their mouthpiece and misled the world about sanctions against Taylor, Guinea is just now waking up and standing firm to the reality. Guinea will have to rise to the realization that ECOWAS will not do for her what the country ought to do for itself. The fact is ECOWAS can only build on its past achievements, but the past unfortunately is not pleasant. ECOWAS in Liberia delivered the nation to the ruinous hands of Taylor and his cronies; in Sierra Leone, they oversaw the rape of a nation while listening to lectures from Taylor about what to do; in Guinea, fifteen hundred troops deployed along a 1000 km long border to do what fifteen thousand troops have so far failed to do in Sierra Leone is certainly a nasty joke. If anything, their stay at the border will achieve only one result- postpone an inevitable confrontation with Taylor.

It is no secret that troops from these beggar nations will remain at the border for as long as the money they now beg for lasts. On the other side of the border Taylor will be busy. He will better prepare his dissidents, arm himself and lie in wait. Once the funds run out and ECOWAS troops pull out or resort to their compromised nature, danger will again stir Guinea clearly in the face; and Guinea will have to fight for its survival, this time against a better prepared and better armed opponent. The solution to Guinea's problem, therefore, cannot be found in ECOWAS' toolbox. Guinea will have to scan the horizon and forge alliances with like-minded forces (wherever they can be found) both in the sub-region and outside to fight and beat the menace Taylor represents. If history is our guide, there can be no other way.

Clearly, the Liberian President's call for the release of jailed Guinean opposition politician, Alpha Conde, is a ploy to divide the Guinean society at a critical time. Like every opposition movement, the Guinean opposition must by now be salivating at the prospect of President Conteh's downfall. But as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish; you may just very well get it. Guinea minus Conteh, but plus Taylor and his hoodlums is not what they want, and may eventually prove a very dire equation to swallow. Guineans must take cue from the experience of the opposition in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Abbas Bundu and others, for example, learned the hard way the lesson of how not to tie ones political fortunes to the exploits of an unpredictable and out of control rogue outfit that thrives on plunder, rape and the amputation of babies in the name of revolutionary change.

In the face of bribery and international double speak, a writer recently wrote: "diamonds are, indeed, forever". Alas, hooked on diamond, Taylor is beginning to think that deception is also forever. But if men of goodwill and determination are listening, I will venture to say: not any more.

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