Will Sanctions Hurt Ordinary Liberians?

By Alphonso W. Nyenuh

The Perspective
May 3, 2001

This is in response to a story published in the April 30th edition of The News newspaper concerning an American family's campaign against the imposition of sanctions against the Liberian Government. According to the family representative, Counselor Benjamin Hough of Minnesota, who was quoted by The News newspaper story, the family thinks that sanctions will hurt Liberia and therefore should be averted. They have accordingly undertaken a "letter writing" campaign appealing to members of the US Congress to avert the pending UN sanctions.

"Sanctions Will Hurt The Country"
Even those who proposed and support the sanctions do agree that sanctions do sometimes hurt ordinary people and that is the reason why they have proposed the kind of sanctions currently pending. The issue here thus is not whether or not the sanctions will hurt the country or ordinary people, but 1) the purpose that the sanctions will serve and, 2) how much hurt will they have on the ordinary citizen and the country.

What seems disingenuous about the family's undertaking is that they know nothing or very little about the situation that conditioned the sanctions or about the proposed sanctions themselves, as Counselor Hough, their spokesman has admitted. They would have done justice to themselves and their friends who are opposed to the sanctions, as well as those of us supporting them, had they made little effort to increase their knowledge about the conditions that necessitated the threat of sanctions as well as get an understanding of the kind of sanctions that are being discussed.

But with the family spokesman, Counselor Hough admitting that "We don't really understand all of the issues involving the sanction", one is left to wonder what the basis has been for their anti- sanctions campaign and what have they been telling the Congress members they have been writing. Liberians resent this kind of mentality about Africa and the African people vis a vis how seriously some people are prepared to take us and our issues. It is more than an insult to us and our country and Africa as a whole, for people who know nothing about our situation and care less to educate themselves about the situation, to go around claiming to know what is good or not good for us. More annoying is the fact that these people even think that they know what is good for us more than we ourselves do. What drives these kind of people like Counselor Hough and his family is the arrogant "superior race mentality" or the un-tampered quest for riches, even on the corpses of other beings.

It is doubtful that the Jewish financier of Counselor Hough's program, Mr. Martin Fiterman, will even be happy with Hough's campaign because Jews know all too well what mass murder and oppression are. They saw it under Adolph Hitler and would not want to see it visited on any other people without any action to stop it.

The sanctions that are being proposed against the Taylor government and that will come into force on May 7, 2001 are intended to address the same kind of abuses that the Jews were subjected to by Hitler and Nazi Germany- massacres, mass murder, looting of their properties etc. Taylor murdered Liberian and Sierra Leonean women and children- like the murders committed by Hitler against the Jewish people. He caused the mutilation of hundreds of children; the dis-embowment of pregnant women and is leading his country down to dust and more violence. Freedom of speech, of association and assembly, which are the bedrock of democracy have been rendered non-existent. Students cannot even hold a rally without being invaded by troops, journalists can not report stories without risking espionage and people must be careful before they are branded dissidents and disappeared.

Counselor Hough and his family should take a trip to Sierra Leone and see the many mutilated children who line the streets with their limbs chopped off in a war Taylor prosecuted for blood diamonds; take a walk around Freetown and see the destruction that has been caused by a war exported to that country by Charles Taylor; Hough should go to Sierra Leonean refugee camps just outside Monrovia and bear witness to the degradation that has been caused those people by Taylor's criminal adventurism; he should visit a few Liberian homes other than those of Taylor's inner circle and see how many families can afford a meal (not even a decent one) everyday. He should ask how much civil servants are paid and when last they received pay. Then he should also find out how much money Taylor accumulated from the blood and suffering of the people; and maybe visit Taylor's home, if he hasn't already been there, and see the gross disparity and injustice- how this man has devastated the country, the sub-region and its people and lives in extreme luxury while the common people starve to death and health services are non-existent.

To say that sanctions should not be imposed without making any attempt to understand the issues is to downplay the lives and general welfare of those Sierra Leoneans and Liberians who have and are being degraded by Taylor. Thousands of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans take serious offense to the mentality that led Counselor Hough to make such statements and to embark upon his anti- sanctions campaign.

Understanding The Sanctions
The sanctions that are being discussed against Taylor are "selective" sanctions. Unlike other sanctions, these are meant to hurt a select group of people. The philosophy of the old sanctions regime was to hurt the population so that it can rise up against the wrongdoing. The new sanctions regime embodies targeted sanctions as the ones being discussed, meant and designed to hurt the government directly.

The pending sanctions seek to place a ban on the sale of Liberian diamond, they re-enforce an existing arms embargo and would restrict the travel of Liberian government officials and their close associates, etc. because they are not sweeping sanctions, their effect on the ordinary people will be minimal. For instance, how would a travel ban on government officials to Europe or America hurt the ordinary people?

The argument from the other side is that the sanctions will create suffering on the common people because they will hurt the government's capacity to deliver needed social services to the people. This is total nonsense. Taylor has been President since 1997, and there have been no sanctions; what social services have he and his government delivered that would be prevented by the sanctions. No electricity, no drinking water, The major government hospital in the country was closed down because of lack of support, etc; yet a military helicopter escorts Taylor's convoy and his family to weddings, he and his inner circle own a fleet of SUV's, and other luxury cars, and build huge bank accounts. So what benefits have the resources of the country brought to the common person that the sanctions are going to take away?

The help that Liberians will appreciate from Counselor Benjamin Hough and his family is to continue their support to the deaf and dumb project for which he took a "purse" to Liberia. By this we will be able to counter Taylor's propaganda that the sanctions will hurt the ordinary people. If our concern is the ordinary people being hurt, then let's provide for the ordinary people through NGOs, CBOs and other non- governmental service providing institutions.

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