Obasanjo's "No Sanctions",
No Alternative Policy
March 22, 2001
As the 2-month UN ultimatum for Charles Taylor's Liberia to desist from backing Sierra Leone's rebels or face sanctions recedes, signs are that West Africa's regional organization ECOWAS, which lobbied and convinced the Security Council for the grace period, had no intention or influence in forcing the ex-warlord to comply with stipulated UN demands. ECOWAS simply wanted Charles Taylor to be left alone as he hatches his regional destabilization plots.
Thus Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, one of the key Taylor lobbyists credited for convincing the UN, now says, "The issue is not sanctions. It is peace. If we can get peace, there will be no need for sanctions." According to the Nigerian Guardian, Obansanjo told Nigerians after his regional tour, which took him to Guinea and Cote D'Ivoire that sanctions should be imposed if Taylor fails to comply, but added, "We can call on our friends for additional pressure".
But even as Obasanjo was championing Taylor's cause, the ex-warlord was indicating his preference for chaos and confrontation, not peace, by expelling the Guinean and Sierra Leonean ambassadors and once again closing his border with Freetown. These moves indicate that far from West African rulers meeting their commitment to the UN Security, Taylor will ensure that they fail, for he has no intention to comply with UN demands. Yet, Obasanjo sees peace where others see intransigence and continued theft. In his desire for continued conflict, Sierra Leone says Taylor has restricted the movement of its diplomats in Monrovia, describing the move as "very serious unfriendly acts." Freetown further says Taylor's actions were "not unconnected with the tremendous pressure being exerted by the international community regarding Liberia's support for the RUF and the illegal exploitation of our diamonds." Sierra Leone Foreign Minister said Taylor's border closure was only symbolic, for the border between the countries, determined in most cases by the rainforest, is too difficult to control. In fact, Mr. Taylor may be closing his border to provide another justification for siphoning Sierra Leone's diamonds across and then denying as usual.
As Liberia opts for war and tension with neighbours, what is evident is that a man who reneged on over 12 peace agreements during the Liberia war (except that which endorsed his presidency) , refuting his own witnessed signature at some points, is determined to maintain his regime of death, destruction and theft, thus preparing to shame his ECOWAS backers when the deadline for UN results expires in May. While the UN Security Council is counting on West African states "for additional pressure" on Taylor, Obasanjo is calling on unknown friends to apply "additional pressure" for the achieving of peace. Regrettably, West Africa, led by Nigeria, implanted the seeds of death and destruction in Liberia that were proclaimed as the seeds of progress, peace and regional stability. Guineans, Nigerians, Senegalese, Tanzanians, Ugandans, Sierra Leoneans, etc., have all died in the search for peace in Liberia. But to the contrary, peace remains illusive, with Liberia's endemic disease of war and poverty infecting neighbours, something that West African rulers knew would happen but endorsed on the altar of self-interest.
Yes, peace may be the desired objective. But how would such peace emerged and when? Nigeria says it has spent US$13b on regional peacekeeping, mainly in Liberia and Sierra Leone. And yet, what such money has done is to entrench instability and embolden the merchants of war. At the end of Lagos' military-political adventure in Liberia, late Gen. Sani Abacha led an array of fellow rulers to crown Taylor as a member of the self-styled "new breed of African leaders" despite all signs that he was building a private army next-door in Sierra Leone and preparing another for Guinea. What followed were clear signals that West Africa was ripe for a new breed of anarchy and terror waged in the name of politics.
We recall that Taylor's first act after his Abacha "coronation" was to repudiate the West African peace agreement that brought him to power. He decreed that as President, all power was built in him, and not in an agreement that he said violated the Liberian Constitution. He adopted a series of terror tactics, including the arrest and flogging of Nigerian military officers and journalists and accusing them of spying. After several disagreements with the Nigerian commander in Liberia, Gen. Victor Malu, the West African force was forced to withdraw, with Malu announcing that Taylor's failure to abide by the Agreement he had signed was a time-bomb against internal and therefore external peace. Despite appeals from the United States and the European Union, and from several Liberian civil and church organizations, for the Government to allow the troops to remain as guarantors of post-war stability, Taylor adopted a conqueror's posture. The fact that even after the fall of the Soviet Union sovereign Europe has allowed American troops to remain as a safety-valve for peace did not influence the Liberian warlord in his decision to expel West African troops. About 4-years later, he is now lobbying to have them back in the belief that they will save him from dissidents.
Therefore, it is not enough for President Obasanjo to preach the sermon of peace, not sanctions for his comrade without given us alternative measures designed to halt Taylor's regional destabilization schemes. Moreover, Nigeria's role in regional search for peace, despite the astronomical price tag it has presented, has been far from satisfactory given the evidence in Liberia and now Sierra Leone. Allegations of corruption and inefficiency have rocked their peacekeeping schemes in Sierra Leone. According to sources, Guinea is deeply dissatisfied for what Conakry considers as Lagos' pro-Taylor policy adopted as Guinean towns, villages wither and hundreds of its people die or made homeless as Taylor's child soldiers roam the region. Guinea is said to have made its grievances against Nigeria clear during President Obasanjo's recent visit. Guinean troops were the first to land in Sierra Leone, and they played a key role in ending Liberia's 7-year war, fighting side by side with Nigerian and Ghanaian while many francophone West African states stood by or sending in troops only if paid for by Western powers. Thus Guinea feels betrayed, stabbed in the back by an ally of yesterday.
But Lagos's policy towards Liberia is understandable for several reasons. The strings around Obasanjo's neck were tied by late dictator Abacha, who, along with Col. Kaddafi, ensured Taylor's victory to humiliate Washington, among other reasons. Obasanjo is aware that to overtly push an anti-Taylor policy would anger Taylor's Libyan masters who, according to the Paris-based publication Jeune Afrique, recently tried to bribe President Conte with a briefcase containing half a million dollars. With the flames of Islamic fundamentalism spreading in Nigeria, and with a case of hyper-corruption made against Obasanjo's Government by the country's Catholic bishops, the Nigerian President is walking tightropes as trade unions and the population cry for benefits of the transition from military to civilian rule. Obasanjo cannot afford to antagonize Tripoli, although Nigeria recently refused permission to the Libyan leader to address a congress of Muslims. Therefore, Obasanjo's fears of Kaddafi are real because during former President Clinton's visit, fundamentalists with believed links to Libya mobilized over 20,000 protesters in Kanu against the American. Thus Obasanjo's West African "peace" policy is geared more towards saving his own neck than rescuing the crumbling region from the tentacles of anarchists.
Liberia is no longer a West African problem. West Africa itself is becoming a problem. Nigeria's capacity to influence issues within the region is compromised by the interests of its leaders. Let Obasanjo provide an alternative sanctions or let him take a backseat and watch Taylor face justice.