A look at the Implications of Abuja Accord on Elections 2003 and the term of office of the current Members of the Liberian Senate as Regards the 2003 Elections
(A Presentation by Tiawan S. Gongloe)
|Tiawan Gongloe - photo by Musue Haddad|
One practice which has become closely associated with the Liberian crisis is the repeated holding of meetings and conferences on the same issues without a clear commitment of all participants to the implementation of decisions growing out of these gatherings. It is this behavioral pattern of lack of commitment to the outcomes of meetings that prolonged the Liberian civil war. From Banjul, the Gambia; to Lome, Togo; Bamako, Mali; Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast; Geneva, Switzerland; Cotonou, Benin; Akosombo and Accra, Ghana and Abuja, Nigeria; the issues were the same: the cessation of hostilities and the creation of an acceptable security environment for the holding of free and fair elections. Although the communiqués and agreements that came out of these conferences were clear on the issue of creating an enabling atmosphere for the holding of free and fair elections, the lack of commitment on the part of the warring parties to the implementation of this key element of the ECOWAS PEACE PLAN for Liberia led to the holding of elections under an unacceptable security environment.This symposium is being held because of the unfinished business of creating an acceptable security environment for the holding of elections as was required by the ECOWAS PEACE PLAN.
Mr. Charles Taylor, then a rebel leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia once referred to the constant meetings on the Liberian crisis without implementation of decisions as "talk about talks". He said,"We will talk, talk and talk about talks". What he meant was that meetings on the Liberian crisis were mere forums to prepare for future meetings on the same agenda. With this attitude, Mr.Taylor as head of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia rebel group never changed his strategy of intransigence and lack of commitment to the implementation of the key decisions taken at the various meetings on Liberia during the first Liberian civil war. Taylor succeeded in his strategy because, while he did not change his position on any of the issues discussed at the conferences on Liberia, other parties to the Liberian conflict and mediators kept adjusting their positions in order to move the peace process forward. He became president without giving away anything during the peace process. If intransigence and the failure to adhere to agreements are strategies that helped to make Mr. Taylor the president of Liberia today, then what incentive is there for him to change?
Since Taylor became president, he has convened two major conferences on the issue of national reconciliation. Yet, nothing has changed because he has shown no commitment to seeking national reconciliation. His objective in holding these meetings has been to divert attention from his failure to deliver on his promises to the Liberian people and to create the impression that there are some unresolved social, political and cultural contentions that are hindering his administration.
Unfortunately, many of us have become victims of Taylor's strategy of keeping us busy with meetings while he becomes stronger and stronger in his repressive rule.Taylor's strategy is buttressed by a lack of unanimity on the part of those who oppose him as to a workable way of changing the current conditions in Liberia.
As a result, we sometimes repeatedly discuss issues that are so clear for any reasonable person to understand. For example the argument for restructuring and retraining the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) following the disarmament of the parties to the Liberian conflict was clear to all well-meaning Liberians. It was a necessary step to ensuring security for all, particularly parties to the conflict. But the parties to the Liberian conflict refused and neglected this important element of the Liberian peace process prior to the 1997 special elections. The only portion of the peace process that all parties complied with was the distribution of jobs .Following the 1997 elections Taylor did not find it necessary to deal with the issue restructuring and training the AFL. The failure of the Taylor Government to undertake this important exercise and the implications for the ensuing elections are also clear for every reasonable person to see. Perhaps the only issue that requires some guidance is the issue of whether or not the seats of members of the Liberian senate who were elected in 1997 shall become vacant for the ensuing elections. However, this issue is likely to be debated before the Supreme Court of Liberia. In any case, I hope that these discussions will assist the process of giving direction to the search for real peace in Liberia.
The Implications of the Abuja Accord on the 2003 elections
The idea of reforming the security forces of Liberia was first introduced at the peace conference held in Akosombo, Republic of Ghana on September 12, 1994. Article 6 of the Akosombo Accord provides: "...The parties further mandate the Liberia National Transitional Government to begin the formation of appropriate national security structures to facilitate the disarmament process. Accordingly, appropriate measures shall be undertaken to enable AFL to assume its character as a national army. Until such measures are completed, AFL, like all other parties and warring groups, shall be completely disarmed in accordance with the Cotonou Agreement..." Note that this provision of the accord emphasized the undertaking of appropriate measures as a pre-condition for the AFL to assume its character as a national army.
What measures were required for the AFL to assume its character as a national army? Articles 9 and 12 of the Akosombo Accord contain the measures that were to be undertaken for the AFL to assume a national character. Article 9 provides: "Internal security arrangements, including police, customs and immigration, will be put in place immediately. Planning for restructuring and training of the AFL will be the responsibility of the Liberia National Transitional Government, with the assistance of the ECOWAS, the United Nations and friendly Governments." The key words in terms of measures that were to be undertaken are restructuring and training. The issue of restructuring of the AFL was re-emphasized in article 12 of the same accord. It states: "...The attached schedule of implementation to be attached to this agreement including disarmament, encampment and demobilization of combatants, preparation of status of forces agreement, restructuring of the AFL and dissolution of the parties drawn up by ECOMOG and UNOMIL in collaboration with the parties, shall be given to each of the parties prior to implementation. The parties undertake that they will create no obstacles to the full implementation of any of the foregoing activities." These provisions of the Akosombo Accord were re-affirmed in the Communiqué issued by the Ecowas Committee of Nine on Liberia in Abuja, Nigeria on August 19, 1995. The Committee in its communiqué called for the restructuring of the AFL, the police and other security forces to reflect ethnic and geographic balance. The committee also called on the international community to assist the restructuring and training process. The restructuring and training of AFL was again re-emphasized in the supplement to the Abuja Accord on August 17, 1996 at the meeting that replaced Wilton Sankawulo with Ruth Sando Perry as Chairman of the Council of State of the Liberia National Transitional Government.
It is clear from articles 9 and 12 of the Akosombo Accord that the burden of restructuring and training the AFL was placed squarely on the parties to the conflict individually and collectively through the Liberia National Transitional Government (LNTG). The role of the international community in the restructuring and training of the AFL was not to initiate the process but to assist it. In other words, the international community was required to play a collaborating role in the restructuring and training process such as technical and logistical assistance. This point is important because, even though the parties to the Liberian conflict failed to restructure the AFL, since the 1997 elections, the Government of Liberia has blamed this failure, like every other failure on the international community.
Yet in 1998 when the force commander of ECOMOG Maj. Gen. Victor Malu raised the issue of restructuring and training of the AFL as one of the remaining contributions of ECOMOG for peace in Liberia, the Taylor government felt that the peace-keeping force was stepping beyond it bounds. The lack of status of forces agreement and the need to protect Liberia's sovereignty were the justifications for the Government's lack of cooperation with ECOMOG on the restructuring and training of the armed forces of Liberia. This disagreement between the government of Liberia and ECOMOG led to the recalling of Gen. Malu followed eventually by the withdrawal of ECOMOG from Liberia. ECOMOG withdrew from Liberia without the AFL and other security forces being restructured and trained as was agreed by the parties to the Liberian conflict and ECOWAS. It means that at the time of ECOMOG's departure, the armed forces had not gained a national character as was required by the peace agreements on Liberia. It still has not attained a national character because it has not been restructured and trained since the end of the first civil war.
Why was the restructuring and training of the AFL made an essential element of the Liberian peace process? All who have closely followed the Liberian conflict will recall that during the Liberian civil war the AFL gradually degenerated from being a national army to becoming an armed faction characterized by ethnic domination. In addition, during the civil war the AFL recruited and armed without training thousands of young men to combat the rebels. These AFL recruits were referred to as militias (The same term is being used today to describe most of the recruits that the government has armed to fight the rebel LURD). Against this background, it was important to de-ethnicize and restructure the AFL. It was also important to train those wartime recruits of the AFL who wanted to remain in the Army as well as members of the various warring factions who wanted to join the army. The restructuring exercise was expected to take into consideration ethnic and geographic balance. The restructuring and training was intended to restore public confidence in the AFL as a national security force for the protection of all Liberians without regard to ethnicity or affiliation with any of the disbanded warring factions. Unfortunately, the warring factions did not take this very important element of the Liberian peace process seriously and since the 1997 elections, the government of Liberia has not paid much attention it.
The only thing the government of Liberia has done regarding the issue of restructuring and training of the AFL is to set-up a restructuring committee. Even this modest step was only taken in response to many calls by the press and various civil society groups in Liberia following the 1997 elections based on the constant abuse of human rights that was being perpetrated by government's security forces. Although it was reported on radio in Liberia a few years ago that the committee for the restructuring of the AFL had made its report, the AFL has still not been restructured and trained. What the government has done instead has been to transform the former NPFL rebel force into a national army. While the Government has not formally disbanded the AFL, it has constructively done so by not paying salaries of old members of the AFL. Many old soldiers do not carry arms and are not assigned. In addition to the former NPFL fighters who now constitute the new AFL, there is a special security unit that was created a few years ago called the Anti- Terrorist Unit (ATU). The ATU is an elite security force headed by the son of President Taylor. Further, there is another security unit called the Special Operation Division (SOD) of the Liberia National Police. The SOD like the ATU was created by the current regime in Liberia. The ATU and the SOD are virtually above the law in Liberia. These two units are well known in and out of Liberia for their role in the violation of human rights in Liberia.
What are the implications of the failure to restructure and train the AFL and other security forces for the 2003 elections in Liberia?
To deal with this question it is important to reflect on what happened in 1997. How did the failure to restructure the AFL, the police and other Para-military forces in Liberia before the 1997 elections affect the electoral process? In the absence of a credible national army and police, even with the presence of ECOMOG candidates and their supporters were harassed and intimidated almost everywhere outside Monrovia during the 1997 electoral process. Most of the perpetrators of these acts were members of the NPP and former members of the NPFL rebel group. With the prevailing view that ECOMOG would withdraw from Liberia following the elections it was easy for the ordinary Liberians who were aware of the capacity of these perpetrators to commit evil to easily yield to these acts of intimidation and harassment. As a result, not only did the former rebel leader who had the biggest gun win the elections but also his colleagues who also contested had more votes than most of the civilian candidates. This shows that in 1997 Liberians voted for personal safety, since ECOMOG was on its way out and there was no independent and credible local force to ensure that they would be safe irrespective of how they voted. Therefore, even though the balloting process was by law secret most electorates made no secret of the fact that they voted for the NPP. By making their votes known, they were seeking protection from the party agents assigned at the voting stations, many of whom were former rebel generals of the NPFL. Many Liberians who were brave to vote their conscience and to openly display their opposition to the NPP during the electoral process are in exile today.
Given the this scenario of what happened during and after the 1997 elections in Liberia, what should be expected during the ensuing presidential and general elections, in the absence of ECOMOG and a credible national security force? Should Liberians be optimistic that credible elections can take place in Liberia under the current security environment in Liberia? The answer is a resounding no. With the absence of ECOMOG or some other international security force in Liberia the electoral process will not be free and therefore not fair for opponents of the ruling party. As the government has already demonstrated, it is prepared to show some modicum of tolerance in Monrovia but not in areas outside Monrovia where a majority of the voters reside. This is why with eight months to the scheduled date of elections opposition candidates are restricting their activities to Monrovia and its environs. Their fear is justifiable when one considers what is obtaining in rural Liberia. First, most of the police commanders heading the various county police detachments are former rebel generals of the NPFL who have had no formal police training. Most of these commanders belong to the SOD. Second, these police commanders commit abuses of human rights even in Monrovia with impunity so to be under their exclusive jurisdiction in rural Liberia is quite risky. Third, there is no telephone communication between Monrovia and rural Liberia; therefore, being there under the current security environment is dangerous. It is in view of this gloomy security environment in rural Liberia that Mr. Taylor has repeatedly said that he will win the 2003 elections with a margin bigger than the 1997 elections. If current security situation remains as it is today, Mr. Taylor's prediction will come to past.
What then needs to be done for the holding of free and fair elections?
First, the opposition political parties and civil society groups must work along with the International Contact Group on Liberia on strategies for changing the current security conditions in Liberia. The cessation of the current hostilities between the LURD and the Government of Liberia and the restructuring and training of the AFL are important pre-conditions for the ensuing elections. Many political leaders and groups have raised the deployment of an international security force before elections. The deployment of such force at least six months before elections would be ideal, as it would allow time for such force to take at least the first three months to restructure and train the AFL and the Liberia National Police and to work with them for the remaining three months of the electoral period.
Second, political parties and civil society groups should work on a common strategy to ensure that the government of Liberia stops further political arrests during the rest of the electoral period. To demonstrate their commitment to an open electoral process, political parties and civil society groups must make the release of human rights defender Aloysius Toe and others a pre-condition for their further participation in the electoral process. The fact the government of Liberia is making all kinds of legally unjustifiable motions such as motion for continuance and motion for change of venue clearly shows that the government has no case against Aloysius Toe. The same argument is true for the other detainees including human rights defender Sheikh Sackor and others who have not been charged. These men are clearly prisoners of conscience and it is very unacceptable that they would be in detention while normal political activities proceed. The detention of these men without any legal justification should be a direct signal to all serious opposition politicians as to what lies ahead of them in the unfolding political process. If individuals who have not expressed interest in any political office can be treated as Aloysius Toe and others are being treated, is it not yet clear to those who seek the highest political office as to what actions are possible against them by the Taylor government?
Third following the attainment of an acceptable security and political environment for the holding of free and fair elections, the elections commission should be expanded to at least nine members with the four new members coming from opposition political parties and civil society groups, with a condition that decisions be made by two thirds majority of the commissioners. The ideal composition would be an eleven-person elections commission with six members from the opposition parties.
Fourth, the electoral process should begin with the holding of local government elections at least three months before presidential and legislative elections. Elected local government officials should be installed immediately to replace current presidential appointees in most parts of the country.
Another thing that is essential not just because of its legality but because of the massive population movements due to the civil war and the creation of new counties is the holding of census. Without census, it would be difficult to demarcate constituencies, particularly in the new counties. It is important for political parties to work towards the attainment of these conditions if they want free and fair elections in Liberia. The difficulty of realizing these conditions within the remaining time for the holding of elections should not lead the opposition to avoid them. If any one goes ahead to participate in elections under conditions that are clearly not suitable for the holding of free and fair elections that person will be participating in laying the foundation for another six years of hardship in Liberia. Any opposition political party that participates in the 2003 elections would be merely legitimizing Taylor’s continuation in power and in that respect acting against the best interest of the Liberian people.
Will all seats be vacant in the Liberian Senate for the 2003 elections?
This question must be handled with some degree of caution. First, article 45 of the constitution of Liberia states that members of the Liberian senate are elected for the period of nine years. By this provision of the constitution, except for the death, expulsion or resignation of a member of the Liberian senate no seat will be vacant in the 2003 elections. However, a look at article 46 of the same Constitution provides another conclusion. By this provision, the Senate is divided into two categories based on the votes cast in the first election before the coming into force of the Constitution. The Senators with the higher votes cast are categorized as Senators of the first category and the Senators with lower votes cast are categorized as Senators of the Second category. According to this provision of the Constitution the Senators of the first category are entitled to the full nine year term for senator as required by article 45 and the senators of the second category are required to serve a first term of six years.
The question is whether by the election of 1997 the Liberian Senate could have been divided into the two categories. If so then, the term of some senators shall expire by the next election. If this is not the case then all of the senators have the same term of nine or six years.
The elections that were conducted in 1997 did not provide room for knowing the number of votes cast for each member of the senate. The system of election that was used in the 1997 Liberian election was the proportional representation system. Under this system, membership in the legislature is based on the percentage of votes cast in favor of the party to which the member belongs. In this case, all the senators are of the same category, with no first or second category. Given this situation, the question is whether all of them have a term of six years or nine years. The classification provided in the Constitution of Liberia for the first senators elected prior to the re-institution of constitutional rule in Liberia was meant for a constituency-based system not a proportional representation system, since proportional representation system does not allow for classifying members of the senate in the manner stated in the constitution of Liberia, the shorter term of six years should be required of all the senators so that with the holding of a constituency based election in October 2003 the categorization of members of the Senate can begin. Therefore, the elections commission should declare all seats in the senate vacant for the 2003 elections. The precedents in the history of Liberia for this situation are the Interim National Assembly of 1984(INA) the Interim Legislative Assembly of 1990(ILA) and the Transitional Legislative Assembly of 1994(TLA).
The 2003 elections are very important in rescuing Liberia from further degeneration. It has international categorized as a failed state any further degeneration will lead to the total collapse of Liberia. However, the enthusiasm and desire to rescue Liberia should not lead anyone to participate in a bogus election but should cause every well-meaning Liberian to insist on the existence of acceptable conditions for the holding of free and fair elections. The international community should also assist the Liberian people to create an appropriate environment for the holding of free and fair elections instead of rushing Liberians to participate in a process that will not change the existing conditions in Liberia.