My Comments Were Mischaracterized and Exaggerated
By Morris S. Dukuly, Sr.
In the past five years since leaving Liberia, I have maintained a policy of silence, not disengagement or indifference, on the unfortunate human tragedy that continually unfolds in Liberia.
Yet my attention has been drawn to a recent article written by one of your contributors, Dr. Abdulaye W. Dukule, in which he copiously quoted and attributed a number of statements to me that have had the unintended consequence of achieving the following objectives:
· Given the erroneous impression and perception that an interview was granted in which a wide range of issues on Liberian and sub-regional politics - and specifically the ensuing Akosombo peace talks - were discussed.
· Mischaracterized and exaggerated references to Nigeria, former Head of State General Abdulsalam Abubakar, ECOWAS Executive Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, and the countries of Nigeria and Ghana and their respective leadership.
· Since the publication of the referenced article, I have received many telephone calls from family, friends, and political associates here in the United States, as well as others in Europe and Africa. Many of the callers have sought to know if I indeed had granted an interview to "Abdul", and if so, why didn’t I more comprehensively address the myriad of issues facing Liberia today. Some of the callers were concerned about the consequences for my family members, friends, and former and current political associates.
My initial reaction following your publication was to shrug it off for two reasons: I do not believe that the Internet provides a safe and meaningful forum for discussing serious national issues. Secondly, "Abdul" is a good and trusted friend with an infectious passion for Liberia and a dedication to contribute to efforts targeted at finding solutions to our ongoing conflict. My judgment, therefore, was that although he (Äbdul") clearly mischaracterized our conversation (He had simply called to let me know that he was going to Africa to attend the ECOWAS peace talks!), did not request an interview, and did not indicate to me that he intended to publish what was from all intents and purposes a private conversation, the professional lapse, which was excusable, was necessitated by an apparent self-imposed timeline to get the article published prior to departing for Africa. I remain convinced that if "Abdul" had read and edited the article, he would have minimized, if not removed, the "padding" and erroneous attributions.
But the issues raised in the statements attributed to me transcend "Abdul’s" pardonable professional misjudgment. They misrepresent some of my core values as a consensus builder and a person who shows gratitude and appreciation for a kind deed. Importantly, too, they challenge, if not question the integrity of West African leaders whom I regard highly. Specifically, I call attention to the below statements contained in the article, and would like to offer some clarifications, as follows:
1. That the ensuing peace talks would be "an exercise in futility because Ghana and Nigeria have done everything they can to make Taylor president and maintain him there…it would be a waste of time."
2. That ECOWAS "has deceived Liberia too many times and that they are again plotting with Taylor to give him relief …They expect Taylor to change but that won’t happen."
3. That I said, "I don’t trust Chambas, I don’t trust the Chief Negotiator … This is a foolish attempt because a leopard cannot change its spots …The only way Taylor negotiate [sic] is to have his back against the wall, with no where to go … The only language he speaks is that of violence. He cares about no one and does not care about Liberia.
4. That I was minister of Information
Let me quickly address the least important of the issues, namely, that I was Minister of Information. Here, "Abdul" clearly jumbled his facts. I was Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. I have never served as a minister of information of Liberia.
Now, to more substantive issues, and in pecking order of personal importance, I will deal with item # 4 above. I know Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas personally. I interacted with him on a number of occasions during the time I served as Speaker of the Transitional Legislative Assembly (National Legislature) of the Republic of Liberia and attended many ECOWAS peace meetings on Liberia in Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, and Benin, etc. I consider him a decent gentleman and a fine intellectual. I did not always agree with positions he espoused on Liberia on behalf of his government (Ghana), but even when I disagreed with him, I knew he was just a foot soldier for a government and an institution whose leaning in the Liberian conflict was widely known. It would therefore be out of character and unfair for me to have stated categorically that I did not trust Dr. Chambas.
Furthermore, it has been more than six years since I last saw Dr. Chambas. Much has happened in his life, and much has changed in terms of his personal political fortune as well as the political circumstances and environment in which he now operates. My reasonable assumption is that he would not want to preside as Executive Secretary of ECOWAS while the entire sub-region is engulfed in armed conflicts and distracted from its raison d’etre, namely, promoting socio-economic development in West Africa - and becoming an active player in the emerging global economy. I am therefore convinced that Dr. Chambas would desire and work for nothing but for Liberian and West African peace built on democracy, fundamental freedoms (freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech), free enterprise, and unfettered respect for human rights and the rule of law. I therefore regret any inconvenience that statements reportedly attributed to me may have caused my good friend, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Similarly, regarding statements attributed to me in relation to General Abdulsalam Abubakar, I would like to preface my comments with this statement: In terms of the aggregate number of human lives lost in the Liberian conflict by any foreign government between 1990 and 1997, no country paid a higher supreme price in Liberia than Nigeria. No country bore greater financial and other burdens than Nigeria. ECOMOG was created because of Nigeria’s demonstrated commitment to Africa and its dogged determination to restore peace to Liberia. I know this because I was connected to persons who played leading roles in the diplomacy and other efforts that led to the sub-regional and international agreement on the formation of ECOMOG. Out of recognition of this fact, and out of difference to the memory of the Nigerian men and women who died trying to help Liberians restore peace to their country, as well as the generosity of individual Nigerian citizens, I could not and cannot make any statement that could be construed or intended to cast aspersions on the Federal Republic of Nigeria or its former leaders.
Moreover, I had the privilege of meeting General Abubakar on at least two occasions, if not more. Each time, he struck me as a disciplined gentleman-soldier with high integrity and a keen sense of history and destiny. This was in fact why I was not surprised when he presided over the transition to a democratically elected government in Nigeria. I have told friends that I was one of the persons who believed that the "good General" could achieve that feat.
General Abubakar, like Dr. Chambas, worked for a military government that is no longer in power. His role was different then. His role today is similar to the role he played as the Interim Nigerian Head of State who dared to lead his country to democracy. His challenge, as he leads others to Akosombo, Ghana, is to invoke the Wisdom of Old Wise Solomon to ensure that any decision that emerges from their meeting and deliberations will be a decision that will guarantee a more enduring peace and security for Liberia and West Africa. I genuinely believe that if there is any one African leader at this time who can achieve this goal, that leader is General Abdulsalam Abubakar. He demonstrated this in his own country, and is acutely aware of the judgment of history and the fact that without peace in Liberia, the sub-region remains perilously poised on the brink of an implosion the likes of which the world has never seen. To the good General, I therefore send my sentiments of deep regret for the mischaracterization and misrepresentation of my private conversation and the attribution of statements to me that appear to impugn his motive (s) and character.
Regarding the statements that ECOWAS deceived Liberians, I would like to say this: ECOWAS itself was deceived and threatened that if the elections were not won by a particular presidential candidate, there would be a renewed war. Here, too, I understand the factors: sub-regional and international fatigue, domestic political rumblings, especially in Nigeria, which, along with Ghana, Guinea, and Sierra Leone with substantive United States financial and material support, was the fulcrum upon which the entire Liberian peace process was balanced. Add to these factors the haste to end the Liberian civil war on a high, successful political note.
Fortunately, however, the two countries that influenced the Liberian peace process the most, Nigeria and Ghana, now have democratically elected leaders who are not beholden to past commitments, and who, I am inclined to believe, would want to carve their own positive places in history. There is therefore no doubt in my mind that the special arrangements which existed between former Ghanaian President, J. Jerry Rawlings, and one of the faction leaders, about which much has been recently written by persons privy to those arrangements, as well as the brief but special relationship that existed between the late Nigerian President, General Sani Abacha, and the same faction leader during the weeks leading to the Liberian elections, about which there are emerging stories, are arrangements of the past and will not in any way influence the leaders of these countries’ governments. I therefore believe that nothing will be done in Akosombo to try to maintain an untenable situation, especially one that will not lead to ending the Liberian conflict and restoring a more enduring peace in Liberian, Cote d’Ivoire, and Guinea.
Regarding whether the ensuing peace talks will be worthwhile or meaningless, my perspective is this: Now is the moment of reality in Liberia. Whether the members of the Contact Group, ECOWAS, United Nations, European Union, and others acknowledge it or not, the fact is that many Liberians know and believe today that the July 19th 1997 "elections fix" did not and has not worked. In fact, it seems that the goal that that " fix" sought to achieve has remained woefully unmet. The question then is, do we want another "fix" based on fear or coercion or on conditions that will not create peace and security for all Liberians? Or, will we acknowledge that because that "fix" did not work, we must formulate a new "fix" that will not seek to appease anyone but will seek to create a peaceful, secure, and stable Liberia ready and willing to welcome all of its citizens, residents, and friends, friendly and at peace with its neighbor, and reclaiming its status as a respected member of the international community?
I do have apprehensions. But, something tells me that neither the United States, Great Britain, France, the United Nations, nor the collective international system will allow Liberia to continue to be a nagging source of sub-regional, regional, and international instability and a distraction in the global campaign to combat international terrorism and AIDS and poverty and disease and ignorance.
So, my plea to all meeting in Akosombo starting today, June 4, 2003, is to muster the courage to face the realities that Liberia presents and to make decisions that will lead to peace, security, and stability for itself and its neighbors. At the heart of such decisions is the imperative of introducing an international stabilization and disarmament force to create peace throughout the country and conduct total disarming of all forces locked in armed conflict, including all security, paramilitary, and military forces of the Liberian government; reconstitute the Liberian army into a small geographically and ethnically balanced national army, constitute and define specific mandates for a national unity government comprised of the combating forces, civil society organizations, and political parties (such mandates may include planting the seeds of democracy and free enterprise in all facets of Liberian life and organizing and holding free and fair democratic elections); reconstitute the judiciary, including the Supreme Court and appoint eminent and courageous jurists; dissolve the legislature and replace it with a small national unity assembly; dissolve the elections commission and replace it with an independent ad hoc elections commission. A general agreement should be forged regarding the constitution of a truth and reconciliation commission immediately following the elections, which it seems to me, could be held in October 2004. The real challenge in Akosombo will be to face these tough questions and insist that all Liberian parties compromise.
The issues that have underpinned the Liberian civil war are neither as complex nor as difficult as we would like to think. In 1989, it was the perception and in some ways the reality of political exclusion and democratic disenfranchisement. In 2003, it is more than the combination of these two factors and is based on a systematic attempt to keep citizens out of Liberia while literally enslaving those who have dared to continue to remain in the country through the presence of mushrooming security agents and agencies. Peace must be for all Liberians, not just a few Liberians.
I would like to close this letter by paraphrasing a statement President John F. Kennedy made near 50 years ago. "Those who make peaceful protest impossible", he reportedly remarked, "make violent revolution inevitable." The challenge for General Abdulsalam Abubakar, members of the Contact Group, the warring parties, United Nations, ECOWAS, the belligerent parties, and all fellow Liberians as they assemble in Akosombo, Ghana, is to heed the time-tested logic of the statement of the late United States President. I know everyone will do what is good for Liberia. We must end 14 years of mindless wars in our common country and begin the process of healing and rebuilding.
Thanks for the space allowed, Mr. Editor, and thanks also for being a consistent microphone through which Liberians and others venting and project their anguish and frustrations and views so that they resonate across the globe.
About the author: Mr. Morris M. Dukuly, Sr. is a former Minister of Posts & Telecommunications and former Speaker of the Transitional Legislative Assembly (Liberia).