August 25, 2003
As the Liberian peace conference in Ghana commenced, President Taylor was backed into the corner as news of his indictment was made public. He promised to step aside if his government was allowed to remain in power until the end of its elected term. The other parties to the negotiations, especially the rebels (LURD and MODEL), rejected the proposal vehemently. Their position was quite clear and to the point: Taylor’s immediate resignation as well as the cessation of his entire government.
Well, a little over two months later, and after an additional two thousand names had been added to Liberia’s death toll, Taylor was finally forced to resign and leave the country. Though he stepped down under international pressure, he still managed to do so in style. (His counterparts from South Africa, Ghana and Mozambique sent him off to be received by his "big brother", Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria).
Before Taylor departed Liberia, the parties to the negotiations grudgingly allowed a part of his original demand: Moses Blah, his vice president and colleague-in arms, would succeed him. However, as is generally true in such complex negotiations, some amendments and compromises were made. Moses Blah would hold office for only a little over two months, it was agreed.
So, as Mr. Blah was taking the oath of office, it was quite re-assuring to note that he would be making history, but not the kind that politicians and other public figures aspire towards. Blah would go down in history in the negative column, that is, he would hold the dubious distinction of being Liberia’s shortest reigning president. After only two months, he would be shown the back door, the exit.
It was only a small price for us Liberians to pay in order to rid ourselves of the monster called Charles Taylor. To downplay the significance of Blah’s ascendancy to power, I referred to him as the "bench warmer" – as in warming the bench before the real players were introduced. In Liberian football (soccer) parlance, "he was only holding the jersey before the real players took the field".
It could be logically argued that the time allotted for his term was too short for him to accomplish anything of substance. It could also be logically inferred that his hands were tied to transact important business with the international community because he was only heading a ‘caretaker’ government. He was in fact, a personification of the definition of the term "lame duck".
Well the good news is Mr. Blah saw things differently. In his biographical profile, he was portrayed as a "quiet man of action". But apparently, he is also a man of wisdom. (Actually, he deserves a great deal of credit not only for surviving the Taylor era in tact, but ending up in charge, after all).
I was impressed that he had gone to Ghana to meet with the conferees, where he was not well received. Understandably, wounds do take time to heal. Nevertheless, he held meetings with Ghanaian government and ECOWAS officials before returning home.
But I was even more impressed to learn that he visited Liberia’s immediate neighbors, Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. His mission, according to reports, was to extend an olive branch. To many, that may be an ordinary gesture of little importance, especially since Blah is preparing to vacate the scene.
To the contrary, I beg to argue that visiting our neighbors and extending a hand of friendship and peace establishes Mr. Blah as a self-less man, in other words, a man of integrity. The significance of this gesture, hopefully one by which Mr. Blah will be judged favorably in posterity, is that he "admitted" the collective guilt of the Taylor administration. By doing so, Mr. Blah established himself partly free of the demon called Charles Taylor.
It would have been easy and probably expected of Mr. Blah to downplay the desire to reach out for peaceful collaboration, knowing his days are quite numbered. But Mr. Blah, painfully aware of the status of "bench warmer", still did the right thing for Liberia.
For such efforts as a statesman, Moses Blah deserves an "A" for effort. He has shown himself to be a man of class - maybe that’s why he survived the tyrant, even after going to jail on his orders. Congratulations and thank you, Mr. President.