Taylor's Soiled Olive Branch to the Opposition

The Perspective
February 8, 2001

After reserving for himself the notoriety as Africa's leading pariah, Charles Taylor is offering the exiled Liberian opposition an "olive branch", but on his terms. Taylor wants Liberians who have fled the country to save their necks, and in protest of his internal and external policies, to return home once they "obey the law", his "law." But there are laws that enslave men and laws that set them free, as the saying goes. From 1989 to the present, Taylor's laws have meant enslavement, and butchering, as was the case with thousands, including five American nuns raped and hacked to death by his rebels now policemen and women, judges and ministers.

Declaring that he will win the next elections, Taylor said he would the drop so-called treason charges against leading opposition figures, including Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. But Taylor's electoral victory claims even before the certainty that elections will be held cannot be dismissed, for he now, more than ever, has a total monopoly over the means of terror and has immensely enriched himself via Sierra Leone's diamonds and the depletion of Liberia's forests. Thus to imagine elections under the prevailing scenario is to legitimise a farce a la the 1997 Abacha elections. By now, even those who made the Taylor presidency possible must be convinced that elections do not necessarily lead to democracy nor peace.

We believe Taylor's "olive branch" announcement provides all the reasons why the Opposition should keep a distance between them and Taylor. The dictator must be made to realize that Liberia is not his father's property for which he sets conditions. Like others before him, he may succeed in determining who lives in Liberia, who dies and who flees. But this success is temporary, for history continues to show that dictators are a temporary aberration to social order and justice.

Since his installation as President, Taylor has reneged on all promises for reconciliation and peace-building. He has opted for brute force instead of compromise. He has used terror to silence the opposition instead of persuasion for coexistence. His Security Forces have executed scores of opponents. He has clamped down on the press and human rights organizations, sending many rights advocates and journalists in exile, with the recent being the flogging of former interim president Dr. Amos Sawyer and his key lieutenants and the shutting down of their pro-democracy office. He has used national resources to enrich himself and his cronies. As long as these conditions prevail, internal political opposition is dead. Therefore, any serious move towards reconciliation and democracy-building must address the following demands, among others:

1. The full implementation of the Abuja Agreement that paved the way for Taylor's installation, particularly the provisions on security reorganization,

2. The removal of hoodlums from the streets and restoration of civil order,

3. The restructuring of the elections commission to free it from the grip of cronies and give it a democratic balance by including credible opposition members,

4. Total breaking of ties with Sierra Leone's rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and showing concrete examples that he has disengaged from regional destabilization schemes,

5. Ensuring the independence of the judiciary through practical steps such as appointing credible individuals and removing cronies,

6. An end to a spree of looting of national resources, including the expulsion of foreign criminals such as the Dutchman Gus van Kouwenhoven and halting the depletion of Liberia's forests,

7. An investigation into the assets of leading Government officials before and since the elections,

8. Reopening of Star Radio and ending harassment of the media,

9. An end to the militarization of the country and arms imports, with money spent on arms geared towards social services, and

10. Credible internationally-supervised reforms of all security forces to dismantle unnecessary ones.

These steps will indicate whether Taylor is prepared for nation-building or for the continuation of the policy of terror and anarchy. Since 1997 when Liberians thought they had a chance for a new beginning, they have been plagued with terror and mismanagement. State management under the current regime is by far the most corrupt, the worst in Liberia's contemporary history, including the period of the Samuel Doe junta. Mr. Taylor will have to accept honourable negotiation on Liberia's future or face perpetual opposition. In the end, justice will prevail for no dictatorship is infinite. He must read the handwriting on the wall and make amends before it is too late. Until then, his offer is nothing more than marching the feared opposition to their execution.

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