A Statement Submitted to House Sub-Committee on International Relations
April 5, 2001
Editor's Note: The US House International Relations Committee's Africa Sub-Committee, invited The Perspective newsmagazine to participate in a Hearing held on Liberia on March 14, 2001, on the theme: "Confronting Liberia". While we didn't testify, The Liberian Democratic Future (Publisher of The Perspective) was allowed to submit a statement which would form part of the Committee's record. See below full text of the statement:
A Statement by the Liberian Democratic Future
Publisher of The Perspective Newsmagazine
Submitted to the US House of Representatives
Sub-Committee on International Relations
Wednesday, March 14, 2001
It has been about three years since Liberia's war, which witnessed the massacre of civilians and the wanton destruction of infrastructure. Far from expectations, the conduct of elections has not brought the needed stability. To the contrary, Liberia poses a greater spectre to regional stability that most would admit. Moreover, the recent UN threat at sanctions, without concrete moves at immediate implementation, may achieve the opposite results, that is continued Taylor backing of the rebels.
A key aspect ignored by international peace brokers, particularly members states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was the entrenched level of Taylor's connections with regional rebel movements and his own criminal record. That Taylor was well connected with Sierra Leone rebel leaders searching for a launching pad to start their own war was a well known fact to international and West African leaders. As successive West African leaders battled with Liberia's killing and destruction sprees, many faded away. The emergence of Nigeria's Sani Abacha as President in Nigeria, then the most powerful country and influential country determining Liberia's future, was decisive. Where other West African and particularly Nigerian leaders failed to broker a peace agreement that would lead to disarmament, Abacha was successful. This was primarily because he reached an understanding with Libya's Kaddahfi that Taylor would be given the country. Thus the election of 1997, however free and fair they may have appeared to many, were intended to install Taylor President, who warned a resumption of war if he had lost. This was the beginning of the acceleration of regional instability.
You may recall that Sierra Leone's RUF rebels became better trained and better armed after the 1997 Liberian elections. Their first major victory was to seize power, along with the military junta, in a coup d'etat. With Liberian territory totally at their disposal for retreating, training and receiving arms, and with Taylor now as a legitimate President capable of recruiting international military experts and mercenaries for diamonds and timber, the RUF became stronger.
Over the years, apart from their war in Sierra Leone, the RUF
has served as a buffer Army for Taylor. In 1999, they were instrumental
in expelling dissidents opposed to Taylor from the country. In
countless documents, Taylor has said his relationship with the
RUF goes beyond diamonds. He is right. Without the RUF in power
in Sierra Leone, he fears his opponents could use that territory
to oust him from power. Without the RUF, he cannot defend Liberia's
borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea from tens of thousands of
Krahns and Mandingoes driven across borders and wanting to return
home but can do so only with a gun in hand. But without the diamonds,
maintaining the alliance would have been impossible. With a crumbled
economy, Taylor needs the diamonds to sustain his lavish life-style
and pay mercenaries. He also needs the diamonds to pay debts he
owes Col. Kaddahfi.
Destruction and Refugees
The implications of all this is that the West African region is decades behind in socio-economic development. Schools, towns, villages, clinics, farms have withered. Taylor's security forces have ensured that no viable economic activity takes place in Lofa County, once the country's breadbasket. In 1997, returning villagers told international humanitarian organizations they did not want food and other supplies for fear the Government security would kill them for the supplies since they (the security personnel) are unpaid and must live off the population. One of the immediate impacts of Taylor's destabilization schemes can be seen in the numbers of refugees. There are over 126,000 Liberian refuges in Guinea alone and over 40, 000 in Ghana. Here in the US, there are about 10,000, if not more. Thousands are scattered around West Africa with no prospects of returning home.
Continuing Tyranny and Instability
Dreams that the elections would be the beginning of a mass return home have failed, and may not be realized under the current circumstances. According to the recent State Department Human Rights report, there has been change in the horrible human rights situation since the elections. Summary executions, disappearances continue. Theft of national resources is at an all-time high, particularly the destruction of the rain forests. Fading hopes of democratization can be seen in the recent report of the Economist Intelligence Unit, which states:
"Despite the threat of UN sanctions, the president, Charles Taylor, may retain links with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone. The Liberian government is attempting to use the threat of sanctions to rally the support of the population. Midway through his six-year term of office, having failed to fulfil his 1997 election campaign promise to restore the country's infrastructure and significantly improve living standards, Mr. Taylor has already begun talking of re- election in 2003. Currently, he has a very good chance of retaining the presidency. He has firm control of the media via his private television and radio stations and newspapers (all newspapers are printed by a business closely linked to Mr. Taylor). Many opposition politicians who stood against him in the 1997 elections have fled into exile, having faced continuous harassment and intimidation. Many of those who remain in Liberia have been co-opted by him, while the remainder lack the funds to mobilize an effective anti-Taylor political campaign in the run-up to the next elections".
Freedom of expression is forbidden, the press silenced with continuous arrests and imprisonment, and many media outlets banned. With such environment, democratization, for which the war was launched and welcomed by many Liberians, is lost. But the greater danger is Taylor's regional schemes backed by Libya, Burkina Faso and others. If not checked, we are afraid that country like the US will see a continuous influx of refugees, not to mention the few safe West African countries. After Sierra Leone and now Guinea, the bandwagon will continue to roll. It may then be too late to stop Mr. Taylor. But it will not be too late for calls for expensive peacekeeping projects while socio-economic and human developments are killed for years. We thank you.
Signed: John F. Josiah, LLM
Advisor to LDF/The Perspective
P. O. Box450493
Atlanta, Georgia 31145