Where Is Our Moral Outrage?

As 1998 rapidly ebbs into the annals of human events and a new year dawns on the horizon, Liberians everywhere have hoped that their country would have made substantial progress toward mending the rift of war and bridging the national division.

But a careful examination of the state of affairs in our country presents a portrait of pervasive disregard for human life, a disdain for civil liberties and a poignant reign of terror which mirrors the worst days of the civil strife. Instead of recovering from the ravages of the civil war, the authorities have concluded that unless the regime administers death and repression to the traumatized people to bring them into compliance and submission, the citizens would begin to question the legitimacy of the government. This is because Charles Taylor has not been able to make the transition from a warlord whose objective was killing to a peaceful leader committed to healing wounds caused by the brutality of the war. The regime has failed to facilitate the proper economic and political environment that would help the people to rebuild their lives.

Contrary to his rhetoric that he started the war and so he should be mandated to fix its consequences, the reality is Liberia is at a standstill. Almost one and a half years after his election as president, the economic condition remains precarious while human rights and civil liberties have been shredded and legalized death squads have become pervasive.

All of this is the result of the government's failure to advance effective and meaningful reconciliation policy to deal with the serious political problems in Liberia. Coupled with that is the regime's resolve that elimination of its rivals and those who attempt to exercise their constitutional rights by questioning the misdirected public policies is the only way to maintain power.

But no one should have been surprised by Mr. Taylor's decision to ignore genuine peaceful initiatives, including adhering to the Abuja accord which awarded him control of Liberia. Seven years of dealing with this international outlaw should have taught everyone, including West African leaders, not to trust Taylor nor attach a veneer of truth to his words or deem his signature worthy of honor. During the course of the civil war, Mr. Taylor and other warlords signed half a dozen peace accords which he later repudiated for one reason or the other.

With good intention to end the killing frenzy that was consuming Liberia during the civil war, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sought to put in place whatever paradigm that would alleviate the suffering. So after several failed attempts aimed at nudging the warring factions, ECOWAS officials were able to craft what's now known as the Abuja Accord.

The Abuja agreement, which was signed by all the warlords and other relevant parties, consisted of four core stipulations: (a) disarmament; (b) demobilization; (c) restructuring and retraining of the Liberian army and security forces by ECOMOG; and (d) elections and installation of a civilian government. The legitimacy of any resultant Liberian government depends on full and unfettered implementation of the agreement.

But African leaders terribly erred by allowing this common criminal to bully and manipulate them to reward him for his crimes. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has the power to take concrete steps to compel total compliance, using the United Nations - Iraqi precedent as a reference. But so far, the political will is not there.

So we are at square one again. Instead of ending our suffering, Liberia is being engulfed by terror, and the perpetrator is the winner of the "democratic" elections of 1997. What should have been an uplifting period of genuine reconciliation and reconstruction has given way to a nation ensnared by fear of ethnic cleansing with a despotic tyrant masquerading as president.

Moreover, in a classic Taylor's sleazy maneuver, the dictator has kept West African leaders baffled and frustrated by his inconsistent statements about the status and role of the Economic Community Peace Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). On many occasions he had called for the withdrawal of peacekeeping troops only to contradict himself that the force was needed because Liberia was not stable enough. This kind of mind game has characterized his era of torment in Liberian history.

Yet, Mr. Taylor has shrewdly used the peacekeeping force to neutralize and disarm his rivals before his forces moved in for the kill. For an example, prior to the Sept. 18 raid on Camp Johnson Road, ECOMOG and Liberian security forces conducted several search and seizure operations for arms in the area and declared it safe.

Interestingly, in the course of what Mr. Taylor termed a "surgical operation with precision and swiftness", the peacekeeping force quickly retreated to its base and watched as Taylor's loyalists bludgeoned innocent women and children to death.

This kind of hazardous approach to peacekeeping has prompted some Liberians as well as other observers to question the role of ECOMOG. Under the prevailing condition, what is ECOMOG'S mission in Liberia? It is painful to raise this issue because West African leaders saved Liberia from self- annihilation while the rest of the world turned a blind eye. All Liberians are indebted to their bold and courageous decision to intervene to stop a group of evil men from razing Liberia into oblivion. But ECOMOG'S role in the circumstances leading to the Sept. 18 massacre in Monrovia undermine that decisive African initiative, thus, giving the appearance that the peacekeepers are being used by Taylor to eliminate his perceived enemies. The thought that the saviors may be working for this human exterminator is not only alarming, but also compounds the anxiety of some Liberians that the country could slide back to the abyss of violence.

All Liberians must bear some responsibility for this moral failing by our collective complacency to speak out against this genocidal strategy that Mr. Taylor has set in motion. It's a dangerous enterprise which could have disastrous consequences for the country. We ought to condemn it. Where is our moral outrage? Where are those who were carrying coffins when similar acts of deliberate attempts to eliminate Gio and Mano ethnic groups by the Doe regime? What is the difference between then and now? Where are those preachers who held "special memorial services" and implored the Almighty to "relieve us of our obstacle"?

Liberians, especially those of us who have the privilege to live in this democracy, cannot remain indifferent to the truth of what is happening in Liberia. We have the responsibility, indeed, an obligation, to highlight the state-induced terrorism that is taking place in Liberia since those living in the country cannot speak against the regime.

The issue is not that one is against Mr. Taylor. Instead, it's that one is for "liberal democracy", a system which supports the individual's autonomy and dignity against encroachment by the state. In that light, the words of Isabel Allende become relevant to our situation. She said, "When crimes against humanity are committed, humanity has to react." We must denounce violence without regard to its victims or villains.