Between a Rock and a Hard Place

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

September 11, 2001

Last week, I attended one of the ceremonies marking the reunion of former Tubman high school students in Washington, DC. As I looked around the room and moved from a group to another one, I couldn't help to wonder who was left back at home. When I was at the embassy in Washington, I knew there were many Liberians in this country. When I went home in 1997 to see what the new government was all about and to decide to keep my job or not at the embassy, I was faced with the same reality, every Liberian who could get a passport or a visa got out. The saying at the time was 'by any means necessary.' People did everything and anything to get a passport and a visa. Things are much worse today.

During the ceremony, between getting a drink and a slice of corn bread to munch on, I ran into a colleague from way back. We hugged and started to talk about old times. What I remember mostly from his conversation was that he had given up on the country. "Abdoul, I could never believe that one day, I would tell a Liberian to get out of the country, anyway he could. Because there is nothing left to stay for." I agreed with him. I told him that I had left the embassy after spending seven months in Monrovia and seeing how the government operated, although in 1997, as many did, I thought that Mr. Charles Taylor deserved the benefit of the doubt.

I met another friend who still works and lives in Monrovia. She asked me how I could make blanket statements about people who work in the government in my writing. She told me she had been hurt by one of my articles where I accused everyone who works for Charles Taylor of being a sycophant, a liar and a bandit. She said many people didn't have a choice. That she was stuck in the current making and she thought and continues to think that she could make a difference. I asked her what was her monthly salary. She said twenty dollars American. I asked her when was the last time she received a pay. She said six months ago. I then asked her how could she afford to be in Washington, travelling and attending parties. She said the president facilitated her travel. And I said' this is exactly what I was referring to.' She said I couldn't understand. My friend had no problem, as a professional to go to the president of the republic, beg for a ticket and a few hundred dollars to come see her sick mother. To her, the president was a nice man and people were learning to survive with the sanctions. I listened to her for awhile and then walked away.

Liberians were dancing, talking like Liberians and not pretending to be somebody else. The accent was truly downtown rock town. But there was something missing. There was no sense of real joy. If we were all here, then, one wonders, who was back home. The more they try to make it look like home, the more they missed home. Things people said, the words that were passed around all summarized the despair of Liberians. They want to go home. They want to send their children home. Their parents want to go home. They want this nightmare to end. By the end of the evening, I came to understand why Liberians are not condemning LURD. I understood why nobody spoke against the sanctions although they did not like the idea. Anything that would get rid of the liars, the bandits and the criminals was a positive development. And it seemed many Liberians would take their chances with any group or anything, as long as they get rid of the current set of bandits.

Then, I ran into a young man who had fought for ULIMO and was now a staunch supporter of the LURD. He too accused me of being biased. He asked me why anyone
could equate anybody with Taylor the killer, Taylor the bandit and so on. He asked me if I truly believe that a political party whose chairman was named Cyrill Allen could ever be working for democracy. He was very angry, not with me, as I found out, but the Liberian people, for being so complacent and letting these killers rob them of their natural rights. He asked me if I would quote him the next time I write and I asked him if I could use his name, he said yes. On second thought, that was not necessary. He followed me around, trying to convince me that LURD was different and that the big mess of the 1990s, caused by the Taylor, Kromah and Boley will not happen again. 'We are trying a new thing and you will see, between now and December.' A former student asked me to dance and I left him, with his anger. But I understood what his anger was about.

The bandits. The liars. The criminals. Now that the sanctions are starting to bite, they are looking at each other. Tension is rising in Monrovia. The state of paranoia is at its peak. Many are beginning to dissociate themselves from the regime. The great national backlash against the sanctions that would have given the regime a boost in popularity has not worked. The sub-region is not running to their rescue. Slowly but certainly, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso is taking his distance. He seems to have discovered all of the sudden that a friend in Washington is much more important than one in Monrovia. The Ivorians are zealously enforcing the sanctions. And the RUF is slowly but surely folding up. But the regime is still being arrogant. As we said here a few months ago, the NPFL government will never allow free and fair elections in 2003. Simply because they are not people who know anything about democracy. We said it and will repeat it again and again; there will be no chance of democratic transition in Liberia.

The recent meeting of the political parties in Abidjan is a positive step. But we have to see where it goes from here. The call from Dr. Tipoteh for a new electoral commission is a step in the right direction. Let's hope he keep the pressure. His call never received an echo from anywhere except from the president who said the issue of the commission was not open to discussion. Those who negotiated with the NPFL over the years would understand that this is just a ploy. He is simply bargaining! Just he is now bargaining with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to make a return a great national gesture.

Liberia is now between a rock and a hard place. It becomes more and more apparent that the NPFL would never allow democratic process to follow its course. Every inch will have to be fought. The debate must be carried above the personality of the man. But it took the demise of Sani Abacha to give Nigerians a second to democracy. It took the death of Hitler to put an end to the nazi war. Pinochet, Marcos, baby doc, all these tyrants had to be thrown out by force to allow their countries to proceed with democratization. Maybe, or, very certainly, if Mr. Taylor and his cohorts persist on denying Liberians their chance to a democratic process, the solution could be found in another approach. Which could include but not limited to the people of Liberia taking their destiny in their own hands. An all-out war must be the last resort. But if there is no other solution, well, we have to move from where we are, before being totally crushed. Taylor and his clique don't seem to understand a thing and they seem blind to what it is about to hit them...

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