The Liberian Peace Conference
Three weeks ago, Liberians across the political, socio, and economic divides converged at the Accra International Conference Center for the official opening of the ongoing Liberian Peace Conference. The Conference is held under the auspices of ECOWAS, the African Union, the International Contact Group on Liberia, the United Nations, and the European Union. The opening ceremony was graced by the presidents of South Africa, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast.
The Liberian Peace Conference was convened against the backdrop of an escalating two-pruned rebel attacks on the Taylor government from northern, western, central and southeastern Liberia,. This combined military advances by LURD and MODEL have placed the NPP government under siege-thus making Mr. Taylor a virtual city Mayor of Monrovia. Central to the fighting on all sides is always the humanitarian crisis such situation creates. In the face of the appalling security condition coupled with the extreme economic hardship imposed by the NPP government on the people of Liberia, the Ghana Peace Talk is seen by many as a window of opportunity for a political settlement of the crisis to emerge. It is good to have hope in the resolution of a crisis as long as such hope is based on recommendations that address the fundamental cause of said crisis.
One may rightly argue that one of the most memorable days in the life of Mr. Charles Taylor is June 4, 03. Amidst the pomp and pageantry among Liberians and friends of Liberia on June 4, 03 in celebrating the official opening of the Peace Conference, little did conference delegates and observers know that Mr. Taylor would have been indicted for a war crime by the Special United Nations War Crime Court in Sierra Leone that day. The announcement of the indictment momentarily took away the focus of the conference. For most Liberians living in Accra and other leading Ghanaian cities including the Buduburam Refugee camp, they had anticipated that the government of Ghana would have effected the arrest of Mr. Taylor as requested by the Special Court. On the contrary, the government of Ghana pushed Taylor out of Accra in a big rush to avoid further embarrassment of the Kuffor regime.
At his brief remark during the opening ceremony, Mr. Taylor said that if Liberians think that he is the problem, he would resign. Although he appeared somehow subdued and hiding behind a mafia type dark shades, Mr. Taylor told the audience that his delegation headed by Mr. Lewis Browne had the full authority to negotiate on behalf of his collapsing regime.
The Peace Talk which began official business in the Volta Region city of Akosombo sought to address the following:
1. Military/Security (a) Ceasefire Agreement; (b) deployment of International Stabilization Force
2. Political/Governance arrangement; 3. Elections
After a week of deliberation in Akosombo, the Conference was transferred to Accra. No one should expect that there will emerge a consensus among Liberians at the Peace Talk in consideration of the suffering of the people of Liberia. The reason is simply conference delegates and observers serve diverse interests. There are some political parties, observers, the fourth estate who directly or indirectly were funded by Mr. Taylor to champion his view at the conference so that the status quo may be maintained. Let's add that there are a number of persons at the conference who have ambitions that extend to the Executive Mansion. They too have people lobbying for them as democratic practice dictates. We also have the two warring factions with their own agenda that transcends the removal of Taylor from power. Crucial in this equation are the ECOWAS mediators.
Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the Executive Secretary of ECOWAS is a name that informed Liberians of the history of our crisis hate to hear about. Dr. Chambas has always played the role of someone in the service of Taylor for reason best known to himself. His Malian deputy, Gen. Diarra is no better. The only exception on the team of untrustworthy people is the the chief mediator, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar. This complicates our case because the reputable General has to rely on Chambas and the rest of the predominant military team. The ECOWAS Executive Secretary pre-occupation is how to rescue his "African President." Neither Chambas nor his staff can afford to ignore the fact that Mr. Taylor is the personification of the atrocities that has engulfed Liberia and by extension the entire sub-region. The question of an "African President" being hunted by Western powers is an attempt at evading the issue of what the so-called African leader has been doing in terms of committing crime against humanity. In the great United States, President Richard Nixon was forced to resign while some of his top aides were jailed for obstructing justice. The Rev. Jim Baker was jailed for engaging in corrupt practices in his church. Quite lately in the Balkan, Slobodan Milosevic was arrested and is presently in prison in the Netherlands. There is nothing African, European or American when it comes to a criminal. Those who tend to cover a common criminal in the face of overwhelming evidence need to be scrutinized for their motives.
The ceasefire agreement entered into among the GOL, LURD, and MODEL was greeted with jubilation by war weary Liberians especially those displaced in Monrovia and its environs. Humanitarian supplies have been in short supply owing to the inaccessibility and insecurity of aid workers to contested war zones. Moments after the ceasefire agreement was signed, both LURD and MODEL announced that their positions were attacked by the GOL. That was expected as long as there are no monitors on the ground to verify any complaints. The terms of the agreement, which addressed the transition from Taylor to an interim arrangement is at best unclear. Even as ambivalence as the agreement is, Mr. Taylor cannot live with it because of the exclusionary clause that prohibits him from being part of a new interim dispensation.
With the military/security aspect of the conference still fragile, the political/governance seem to be even more problematic. While on the one hand the NPP delegation along with its surrogates are arguing for the rest of the delegates to appeal to the U. N. Special Court in Sierra Leone to drop the indictment on Taylor as a pre-condition for continuing the conference, most conference delegates and observers consider the issue of the Mr. Taylor's indictment as being outside of the purview of the conference. On the other hand, there are just many names surfacing as contenders for the interim leadership. Some of the names that are emerging leave a lot to be desired regarding the quality of leader that we deserve as a people and country. I think people are taking Mr. Charles Taylor as a yardstick for determining a leader for Liberia. It is sad to point at Taylor as an example of a leader. Post conflict Liberia needs a leader whose credentials both at home and abroad need not to leave anyone in doubt.
Firstly, there is a need to clearly identify the tasks that the interim leadership will be required to perform within a given time frame. Key among the mandate of the interim government will include : disarming, demobilizing and resettling former combatants; the training of the new army and para military entities; revamping the economy; planning, organizing and conducting the general and presidential elections that will meet international standard; providing basic social services (ie water, electricity, education and health care delivery)etc. We need a leader with a proven track record who will meet these challengers. Such a leader be it a woman or man will have to be the engine that will attract foreign aid as well foreign direct investment.
My fear is that with unscrupulous business men from Liberia already parading through the corridors of M Plaza Hotel and making late night calls on some key players, one can safely deduce that the conference may not be keen on selecting a leader who can not fit in the pockets of Lebanese and Indians business tycoons. This time around we have to elect a competent person who will not bow to Lebanese, Liberians, and Indians merchants. As the saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune.
Taylor has realized that he now has no future. The fact that he would renege on agreement reached at the conference is no surprise to anyone. Lewis Browne and co cannot represent Taylor. He is the both the NPP and the government. Taylor's tenure of office expires as of August 1, 03. There is no justification for him to be in office beyond that date. The question of January could only come to play if we were to have an election in October 03. Let for once in our lifetime elect someone to the interim leadership void of money influence. If this critical period does not produce the best among us, my fear is that the general and presidential elections may be unduly delayed. Let it not be said that the Liberian Peace Conference was all about seeking job disregarding competence and nationalism.