Gen. Roosevelt Johnson: Taylor Is Not The Right Material To Bring Reconciliation
By George H. Nubo

During his recent visit to the United States to seek medical attention, The Perspective had the opportunity to interview Gen. Roosevelt Johnson, former factional leader of the United Liberation Movement (ULIMO-J). Gen. Johnson offered his views on the Liberian civil war that killed over 250,000 hapless Liberians, and on current developments in Liberia.

TP: What are your positions regarding the turn of events specifically regarding the Dokie's murder, Camp Johnson Road shooting and the mysterious disappearance of seven of your former commandos?

Gen. Johnson: With reference to the Dokie situation, I think all of you followed the trend of developments as they happened. In the first place, we condemned the brutal murder of Dokie and his family... and then subsequently the trial. We also called on the government and the human rights organizations in Liberia and outside of Liberia to bring pressure to bear on the government that the killers of the Dokie family be brought to justice.

After the death of the Dokies, and the deaths of several other persons who were murdered before the Dokies... I reiterated that this government that came to power after the election did not come to power through the constitution. The constitution was sidelined. Because of the events that we found ourselves in at the time, ECOWAS and the international community deemed it necessary to work out a plan. The plan they worked out to resolve the Liberian conflict is the ECOWAS Peace Plan. Out of this ECOWAS Peace Plan produced the Abuja Accords. The Abuja Accord states three basic cardinal issues: Disarmament, elections, and restructuring of the army and the security apparatus. I know you all, no doubt, agree that the security apparatus is the basic foundation for lasting peace in that country. Unfortunately, the NPP-led Taylor government, which was signatory to the accord, has hijacked the last part of the Abuja agreement and has refused for it to be implemented. So we raised the concern that ECOMOG/ECOWAS should be allowed to restructure the army and that did not go too well with Mr. Taylor because he wanted to have his own way to continue to murder the people. And so he decided to go after me - "let's get rid of the man who's doing all this talking". And that was why they made the attempt.

TP: With respect to this Abuja Accord, since Mr. Taylor has defied the agreement and has insisted on patterning the military and the security forces with his former fighters, we wonder whether there is any discussion between yourself and other former factional leaders as to what should be done about this.

Gen. Johnson: Well, I had discussion with a former faction leader. But I think the issue is the document which is the evidence. It is unfortunate that Mr. Taylor is talking about his constitutional rights that he has the jurisdiction to restructure the Liberian army. It is unfortunate because if we are talking about the constitution of Liberia, then Harry Moniba (Vice President of Liberia during Doe administration) should become the president of Liberia. But the constitution was sidelined by the ECOWAS Peace Plan out of which Abuja Accord came from, and it was the Abuja Agreement that brought Mr. Taylor to power. Now, legally if you implement part of the agreement and leave out another portion of the agreement, that document becomes null and void. So we are saying, in accordance with the terms that we agreed on, that the spirit of the Abuja Agreement must be maintained.

TP: So what is ECOWAS position on this issue with respect to implementing the provisions of the Abuja Accord?

Gen. Johnson: The former field commander, Gen. Malu, has been very vocal about this issue, insisting that ECOMOG must be allowed to restructure the Liberia army. That didn't go well with Mr. Taylor. He started insulting Gen. Malu and accusing Nigeria. And even the present field commander, Brig. Gen. Shelphidi, has been very vocal on the issue too. But Mr. Taylor is so stubborn. So he does not want to do it.

TP: So where does this leave us since Mr. Taylor consistently reneges on this agreement - what does that mean for Liberia?

Gen. Johnson: It's very dangerous. It's dangerous because people will not sit supinely and allow themselves to be slaughtered like chickens. Several people who Mr. Taylor perceived as enemies have been slaughtered or murdered like that - even quite recently you learned of seven of my security guards who were abducted and murdered. We believe that after elections, there should have been some signal to every Liberian that it is now time to put down the guns and try to reconcile, console ourselves, and reconstruct our country. But it is unfortunate that Mr. Taylor does not see it that way. It is important for the international community which has invested a whole lot in Liberia, and all peace-loving Liberians to bring pressure to bear on Mr. Taylor so that these things will stop - because they are not healthy for the nation.

TP: Have you made any representation to ECOMOG/ECOWAS with respect to the abduction and the mysterious disappearance of the former loyalists of yours?

Gen. Johnson: Yes, my people on the ground and their parents have complained to the government and requested the government to have them returned immediately. I have complained to ECOMOG which represents ECOWAS on the ground, I have complained to the U.S. Embassy, and we have also taken the matter to Mr. Howard Jeter, President Clinton's Special Envoy to Liberia. Plans are under way for another meeting with Mr. Jeter. We've communicated to the Chairman of ECOWAS and we are waiting for the result.

TP: Many Liberains believe that the only way the country can move forward, and the wounds created by the war be healed, and our differences reconciled is for the perpetrators in the war to be brought to justice. What is your position?

Gen. Johnson: I have advocated long before now that an international court or tribunal be established so that those who perpetrated criminal acts against humanity during the Liberian civil conflict could be tried. It is unfortunate that at the time people continued to call some of us who were involved in the war as warlords. And I offered to be the first person to appear before the tribunal. I have justification - I have never gone on the offensive, I never brought war into Liberia, I was on the defensive - to defend my life and the lives of our people and we have demonstrated that. We didn't go into that war because we wanted power, we went into it because we wanted our country to be free of arms and to save the lives of our people. And so if this is an offense, if this is a crime that we have committed by defending ourselves and the nation, then of course we stand accused and prepared to stand the consequences. We think that, just as it was done in Bosnia and other areas, an international trial supposed to be carried out for those people who brought war into the country and destroyed several thousands lives.

TP: Gen Johnson, most Liberians as well as the international community believe that stability in Liberia depends on reconciling our differences, restoring trust in one another and working to rebuild our country, apparently the situation on the ground suggests otherwise - what do you think will be essential to let these things happen?

Gen. Johnson: Look, the only person who is causing the problem is Charles Taylor... We have shown by the role that we have played in this conflict to all Liberians and to the international community and we demonstrated that even to the time of the elections. We were no member of any political party, and we have achieved our goal because we said Mr. Taylor should put the arms down and go to the ballot box. And since he agreed to go to the ballot box, for us, the war was over. That was our limitation. Even when he appointed us as minister of Rural Development, only 2% of the national budget was allocated to the ministry. We told them the only thing we want is to demonstrate that we are sincere for stability, and we do not want any witch-hunting. I think it is our (Liberians and peace-loving people of other nations) responsibility to bring pressure to bear on Mr. Taylor that these killings should be stopped.

TP: Many people have given their own views as to what is the cause and result of the civil war in our country. Some feel that the civil war showed that those of you who are "country-people" are incapable of ruling Liberia because you are polarized by ethnicity. What is your own view about this statement? They say country people went after President Doe and that was the basis of the war.

Gen. Johnson: I disagree with that. The so-called country people you are referring to are competent and qualified to run the government. And I think Mr. Doe demonstrated that. During Doe era there was very fast infrastructure construction all over the country. Those who visited Liberia in 1984, or 1985 can attest to that. It was not the natives against natives - it was the few heads of Congo-people who wanted to come back to Liberia and apply the divide and conquer method. What these few Congo people did was to knock the heads of country people together, and before the country people realized, it was too late. We should all realize that Liberia belongs to all Liberians and there is no way that you can marginalize one tribe. What we need now is reconciliation and reconstruction, but Mr. Taylor is not the right material to do that. He has shown the Liberian people that he's not the right material. And I think it is time for him to step down. Instead of uniting us, they are killing us.

TP: So, Gen. Johnson, are you saying that if the killing continues, and Mr. Taylor continues to renege on the Abuja Accord, he must be asked to step down?

Gen. Johnson: Exactly!

TP: Speaking of reconciliation, I wonder whether there is any efforts between groups (the Krahn people and the Nimba people) so as to have some conversation between the two groups. Most Liberians believe that the two groups settling their differences may help the larger Liberian community to follow suit. Is there any discussion between Grand Gedeh and Nimba with respect to this issue?

Gen. Johnson: Believing that the war was a tribal war between Grand Gedeans and the Nimbaians is like falling into trap of the divide and rule tactics. As far as I know, there isn't any problem between Nimba and Grand Gedeh. Since my arrival to the States, Mr. Harry Nyuan, Dorliae and other people have been visiting me. Even when I was in Ghana, Dorliae family and the late Sam Dokie came and they were there with us. The late Sam Dokie and myself were very close before he died... When I was in Ghana, he used to come and spend weekends with me. The problem is not with all the Congo people. The principal problem is Mr. Taylor who wants to perpetuate himself into power. He wants to crown himself from president to king. And he's trying to find an alibi.

TP: Taylor supporters make us to feel that he launched this war to "restore democracy" in Liberia. Why was ULIMO organized to fight the so-called democratic forces of Mr. Taylor if his aim was to restore democracy?

Gen. Johnson: I think at the end of the tunnel, we can clearly see who really was fighting for democracy. At the end of the tunnel, we can see that I was the only one who was fighting for democracy. I said that nobody (including Mr. Taylor) was going to the mansion with guns.... And when they agreed to go to the ballot box, I said "here ends my war." I wanted Liberia to be free of arms and every citizen respected. So who is more democratic?

TP: Let's bring you to the Jesse Jackson's so-called unity mission to Liberia which takes place in few days. What is your view of what Rev. Jackson is attempting to do.

Gen. Johnson: I used to have very high respect for Jesse Jackson. I thought he was a product of a great hero, Martin Luther King. But it's unfortunate, after I checked Rev. Jackson record, I found out that he's not the type of person I thought he was. For example, Rev. Jackson had a conference for reconciliation in Liberia in Chicago. When he got on the stand, he said the only time democracy failed in Liberia was when Doe came to power. He said it was the time the country was sieged. He said that the country belongs to the Americo-Liberians, so the Monrovia conference was organized as a going- back-home conference for the Americo-Liberians who founded the country. These statements contradict the title he has. He is called human rights activist, he's called the Rev. Jackson, he's called a democrat.

Despite all these titles, he is supporting somebody who has killed more than thousands of fighters. When I met Mr. Jeter, Jackson requested an audience with me, and I refused. I said "I am talking about genuine reconciliation for my country." I am not going to meet with somebody who wants to divide our country again." I told him, "we don't need people like Jackson in Liberia, we need more Martin Luther Kings in Liberia, we need more Nelson Mandela in Liberia, we need more Sani Abachas and Bill Clintons in Liberia - and not Jesse Jacksons. Mandela believes in genuine reconciliation after civil war, and respect for human rights. Martin Luther King believed in the civil rights of the people. Sani Abacha believes in African solidarity and brotherhood. This is why he sent his brothers to Liberia to die for us. Bill Clinton believes in human development." These are the kinds of people we need in Liberia - we don't need people like Jesse Jackson. What kind of contribution has he made to his own black cause in the Americas? What has he done? What are his achievements? I understand, he was given $400,000.00 to organize that conference, and he thinks by going to Liberia he's going to get more money. (Mr. Taylor has stated that $2.5 million was spent on the Chicago "Reconciliation" conference, the Monrovia conference on the future of Liberia and the July 26th celebrations).

TP: You were appointed ambassador to India, when are you going to take up you assignment?

Gen. Johnson: I think you know why I am in this country - I am not well. As soon as I recover and get back home, I will discuss it with my family. I can't make any decision here on my own.

TP: We understand that you were a teacher, but out of a sudden you became a general. Were you in the army before?

Gen. Johnson: You know there is a common saying in Liberia, "hunger makes monkey eat pepper" (necessity compels monkey to eat pepper). When the war started it was directed at my tribal men. Because Doe came from Grand Gedeh, they wanted to kill Doe. And not only Doe, they wanted to kill all Grand Gedeans - guilt by association. After we ran away and went to Sierra Leone, Taylor people followed us into Sierra Leone and started killing people indiscriminately. They did not care who you were, they killed people indiscriminately at the refugee camp. The Sierra Leonean government got bitter, because they were killing Sierra Leoneans too. When I looked at it, I asked myself a question: what will I tell my children tomorrow? Will I say that I ran away when the people came to kill your grand parents? And this is what forced us to go into the war.

TP: What kind of message do you want to send to Liberians?

Gen. Johnson: I do not believe in rhetoric. I believe that when I tell you something, I must be able to demonstrate it. I want all Liberians who are patriots, who have that country at heart to emulate my example. My example is that I did not go to war because I wanted power, but to stop those who were destroying the lives of innocent Liberians, and to have a democratic society freed of harassment, and where there is respect for one another, and let by-gone be by-gone! We must know that no tribe or ethnic group can be marginalized. Liberia belongs to all Liberians and it is only Liberians that can rebuild that country through unification. We must look at our plight from that end - not from a Krahn end, not from a Gio end, not from a Lorma end, not from a Congo end. And Mr. Taylor is not the right material to bring reconciliation into Liberia.