Liberia: A "Victim of widespread insecurity and a dysfunctional socio-economic system, fuelled by corruption from top to bottom"

A Presentation by Cletus Wotorson

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

March 5, 2003

The following was made by Cletus Wotorson on Behalf of the Liberian Leadership Conference/Liberian Leadership Forum at the Two-Day Symposium of Liberia's Political Future, College Park, Maryland, USA, March 1, 2003

Fellow Liberians, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

On behalf of the Members of the Liberian Leadership Conference and the Liberian Leadership Forum, two prominent organizations which, in pursuit of the supreme interest of our nation and people, did recently merge into a single entity, I have the honor to thank the organizers of this meeting and to express our appreciation for the kind invitation extended us, both individually and collectively. We are particularly heartened to note the presence here of so many important persons and organizations, and believe that their participation in these proceedings can only serve to strengthen and enhance efforts toward solving the Liberian crisis.

A word about us: As many here may know, we are currently drawing up merger documents, to include, among other things, a new name for the Liberian Leadership Conference and Liberian Leadership Forum. For the time being, we refer to ourselves as the LLC/F. In fact, once the paper work is done and both sides signal their approval, like-minded bodies and individuals will be invited and encouraged to sign on and thereby join in creating a single pro-democracy movement dedicated to seeking the supreme interest of the people of Liberia.

We are a non-partisan coalition of concerned Liberian men, women, and young people, comprising, inter alia, members of political parties, civic and religious organizations, Liberian opinion leaders, professionals, and individuals from all walks of life. Our primary objective is the immediate liberation of Liberia from a brutal tyrannical regime and the restoration of peace, justice, economic opportunity and democratic government in the land. Hailing as we do from all socio-economic backgrounds, from every nook and corner of Liberia, we consider our rich multi-ethnic heritage a blessing and not a curse.

Fully committed to the rule of law and to the principles of non-violent positive action, LLC/LLF seeks to achieve its objectives through diplomacy. We are an advocacy group, motivated by a high moral commitment to end the vicious misrule and mismanagement of our country, to arrest the abysmal decline of our national sovereignty and collective dignity, and to harness our rich ethnic diversity in the cause of bringing all the Liberian people together again as one nation under God.

Against this background of a moral and constitutional obligation, four meetings have been held in Africa and the United States, from which have emerged several important resolutions, crystallizing the LLC/LLF's aims and objectives for national redemption. Most distinguished participants in this room may have had the opportunity to read the pertinent documents.

Now, because the horrendous record of the incumbent Liberian government is a matter of general knowledge, it is hardly necessary taking the time of this meeting to present a litany of their failings and crimes. Except perhaps to recall how we arrived here in the first place. Largely as a consequence of International fatigue fueled by sub-regional geopolitical miscalculations, a highly problematic post-war special election was imposed on unsuspecting Liberians, in the hope that the winner would promote peace in the country. But that was not to be. Instead the incumbent has failed (whether from shear incompetence or from moral turpitude) to effectively heal the wounds of the people, restore their lost hope and properly manage their business. Some four years into its six-year presidential term, Liberia today still suffers widespread insecurity and a dysfunctional socio-economic system, fuelled by corruption from top to bottom.

It is nothing short of paradoxical that a Government, which of late claims to espouse dialogue and political accommodation with intent to harmonize differences among Liberians, would sharply contradict its own declarations and overtures to provide guarantees of security for opposition members and the population. Each day now, news reports tell of the imprisonment of Liberians under the guise of state security interest. In fact the Government has gone to its well of excesses to re-introduce a despicable executive order of past governments, previously abolished, to restrict the free movement of people, demanding an exit visa to travel out of Liberia. One would have expected someone who canvassed against the abuses of state security in past Governments to resist or abhor such excesses.

Interestingly, the opinions, exchanges and chatter of the chart room on the Liberian websites in the United States and discussions in Liberia, provide ample evidence that Liberians very well know the problems of their country. As healthy and necessary as these debates are, it is becoming increasingly clear that Liberians are losing sight of their priorities and order. For while we continue to muddle along in our complex problems, because a ruthless President has cowed the population into submission, the International community continues to contend itself with humanitarian aid, while expending most of its political capital in other geographical areas that serve their present national interest. While it is evident that we need the goodwill and assistance of the International community, they will not do for us what we can and ought to do for ourselves.

We Liberians need to be more focused at these meetings. This will entail prioritizing the endless list of issues and problems to be dealt with from time to time. As I glance over the agenda and issues for this symposium I am bewildered, as these very issues have formed the agenda of several Liberian meetings for more than a decade, with little or no follow-up action. In our various meetings, we have identified problems and outlined strategies for solving them; but more often than not, we have lacked the political will and moral courage to implement our resolutions. We must do better.

Now that we have a functioning Contact Group with whom to work, we should hasten to place before them a few critical issues for immediate attention. A full laundry list of “needs” may convey the impression that Liberians do not know what they want, and that we have our priorities all confused. With this in mind, the Liberian Leadership Conference/Liberian Leadership Forum wishes to reaffirm its heartfelt congratulations to Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the African Union, and the United Nations for accepting the challenge to seek comprehensive peace and stability in Liberia. We are especially heartened by the series of meetings they have held so far, as part of a comprehensive response to the anarchy that is engulfing our country.

Please permit me therefore to seize this opportunity to submit to the Contact group a few recommendations for their consideration and urgent action, as way forward to a new Liberia.

· The resurgence of hostilities in Liberia continues to exacerbate an already existing human tragedy and to fuel instability and insecurity in the sub-region. Towards this end the LLC/LLF again calls for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire by the Government of Liberia and the armed opposition, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). Our appeal is underpinned by the fact that this internal conflict continues to cause needless loss of life and the displacement of our people in areas that have been hostile to them, thereby further increasing their suffering.

· That to keep the cease-fire honest enough to create the enabling environment for the restoration of national security and political normalcy, the LLC/LLF repeats its plea for the deployment of a multi-national and multi-purpose stabilization or peace enforcement force with a robust and clearly-defined mandate, combining elements of the Namibia, Cambodia and Sierra Leone experience. Such a force would take total control of the security apparatuses of the country and all their linkages, separate the rival warring forces, disarm, demobilize, restructure and retrain them.

· That the mandate and authority of the force be derived from the UN, Au and ECOWAS, thru the International Contact Group on Liberia.

· The LLF/LLC urges the Contact Group to do its utmost to ensure that early action is taken by the Tribunal to bring to justice all those (including any Liberian authorities) who have contributed to the atrocities and war crimes in Sierra Leone. This action is desirable to vindicate the integrity and dignity of the Liberian people. It will further serve as a major deterrent to the spreading of conflict in the sub-region.

· The LLC/LLF recommends further the establishment of a mechanism and/or an institute (for example, a Truth Commission-South African style) to handle all questions relative to the hostile actions and criminal behavior that have turned Liberia into a pariah state. Bringing the central players of the civil war to account for their deeds is fundamental to our future co-existence. These actions can neither be explained away, no matter the prowess of the pen and clarifications, nor can they be overlooked or swept under the rug. An international tribunal that has global jurisdiction should investigate the issues An international institution with global jurisdiction should investigate the issues, adjudicating the cases on the basis of evidence presented. It is only through such impartial investigations can the facts be established. Since investigations of this nature and magnitude require conditions that currently do not exist, the work of the Truth Commission could be part of the reconciliation process and could therefore await the return and resettlement of refugees, and establishment of a democratic post crisis government.

· That for any credible elections to take place in 2003, the enabling security, structural, financial and political pre-requisites must be addressed to create political and security space for transparent, free and fair elections. Until the enabling environment for free and fair elections is created, it our belief that jumping to elections when our people are in such miserable conditions might not be in the best interest of long term durable peace and stability. It is our sense that without a ceasefire, a stabilization force to counter-balance all the opposing armed militias and disarm them, any attempt to impose an election in such a hostile environment is to invite a fraudulent outcome. At this time, it is our conviction that true patriots should be concentrating on the identification of issues that will contribute to the alleviation of the poverty of our people, respect of, and the protection of the rights of all Liberians, and the development and implementation of a broad-based results oriented common and collective approach to arrest the further deterioration of Liberia.

· The LLC/LLF recommends that the Contact Group enlist donors' support to undertake a comprehensive social rehabilitation and reintegration program, which could be done in tandem with actualization of the peace force.

· We are aware that the resurgence of armed hostilities in Liberia is creating untold hardships for our people who once more find themselves in displaced camps and environments that maybe hostile to them. The Ivorian situation has exacerbated their plight. The LLC/LLF therefore appeals to all donors, both bilateral and multilateral, to provide urgent and adequate assistance for their security and well-being.

· The arms embargo on both Liberian Government and the armed opposition are an important statement of international community's abhorrence with the senseless use of arms by the militias and other fighting forces of Government and the armed opposition against innocent people- especially the vulnerable, women, children and the aged. The sanctions on the sale of blood diamonds and those banning travel of certain individuals known to be direct beneficiaries are also a statement of moral outrage when one looks at the amputees and the massive destruction. The regime and the armed opposition, as well as collaborating states are not respecting these embargoes and sanctions. There is also the lack of an enforcement mechanism. They should not only remain in force; but also be strengthened and expanded to include a ban on Liberian forests products as well.

And in conclusion the LLC/LLF wishes to renew its commitment to pursue dialogue with all like-minded pro-democracy groups as it seeks to enlist the support and solidarity of the international community.

In this connection, it wishes to reassure all friends and well wishers of Liberia that with the creation of a safe and peaceful democratic environment, Liberians who are quite knowledgeable about the proclivities, weaknesses, strengths, and experiences of those whom they believe can heal their wounds and govern them, will select their leader. For it is only Liberians who are qualified to do this.