Peace in Pieces is not Peace

Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

August 9, 2001

Since his arrival on the West African political scene, Mr. Taylor has proven himself incapable of maintaining or creating peace around him. With his past record in mind, his recent overture towards his political opponents is bound to surprise many. Therefore, Liberians and others in the sub-region have certainly held their breath over the past few weeks and are waiting where he would take the country.

The reactions from our politicians have so far been hesitant, rightly so, because of the propensity of Mr. Taylor to renege on his words. But the country must go forward and we must not give in to pessimism or infantile optimism. Some may say that the leopard does not change its spots. Mr. Taylor may not be able to change his character but he can and must be forced to change his political behavior, not only for his own survival, but also because the country must move forward. To reach this far, it took the combined pressures from the international community and Liberian democratic forces and armed dissidents. He must be made to stay the course. In other words, the peace must be pursued with or without him. Whether our president is capable of changing or not is beside the issue, the debate must transcend his person.

The necessity to take the political debate beyond the person of Mr. Taylor is important because it would bring to the surface the root causes of the crisis. It will help to find an answer to the structural problems that lead us to the current situation and how to get out of it. Also, by taking the debate beyond the personality of Mr. Taylor, we will see how other actors are making this system work. At some point, dictators become hostages of their own structural designs. Simply because they know his weaknesses, the people around a dictator can make him/her do anything they wish. This may or may not be true about Mr. Taylor but it has happened many times in history. Dictators are monsters and they provide fertile ground for little monsters with bestial appetite. Those little monsters end up eating up the dictator for their own cause. The same little monsters that made Sergeant Doe are there today, complemented with younger and more voracious monsters. From Kekura Kpoto to Cyril Allen, from Jenkins Scott to Benoni Urey, one can see a trend follow the trail.

Taking the debate beyond the personality issue brings out another important aspect of the problem. The lifting of treason charges, concocted through lies and machinations is not a sign of progress on the road to national peace. Pardoning people who have been falsely accused is not a sign of magnanimity and should therefore not be celebrated. By celebrating this con political act, important issues that are to be dealt with are pushed on the backburner.

The peace process was aborted because the leadership of Sani Abacha at the helms ECOWAS failed to live up to the spirit and letter of the various accords signed over the years. Those accords contained the solutions to some of the major problems of the crisis. One of the most important aspects of that peace accord concerned the total disarmament of all warring factions and another was the re-organization of the military by the ECOWAS under the supervision of the international community. As long as these tenets have not been implemented, there will be no peace in Liberia, because the cronies of Mr. Taylor will continue to use his militia to terrorize the people.

The NPFL and its various militias controlling the country have created a spider web all-across the national life. The meager resources of the country are ransacked to maintain the NPFL. The few millions of dollars of the maritime funds are spent without any regard for the basic needs of the population. Goods are imported without due process of taxation because some higher-up of the NPFL receives a percentage of the value of that merchandise. A member of the NPFL, has turned the passport office into her personal business and is only accountable to the head of the militia.

The NPFL operates like a gang. Its members can do anything to outsiders without impunity. Mr. Taylor uses this policy of total impunity very efficiently. By not submitting NPFL members who commit crimes to the rules of law, he kills two birds at the same, he ensures the total submission of the militia members while the general population is terrorized by the fact that people committing heinous crimes parade the street.

National reconciliation must take all this into account. Justice must be part of the process. Accountability must be included in the process. The crimes committed against the people of Liberia under the NPFL are also economic in nature and they must be accounted for. Any movement forward must deal with these facts. This is why we strongly believe that the debate must transcend the personality issue and deal with facts.

It will be a mistake for Mrs. Ellen Johnson -Sirleaf to jump on a plane to go to Monrovia. Her presence now in Liberia under any pretense would give the impression that everything is fine when nothing is going right. Mr. Taylor may allow her to hold meetings or organize rallies to give the impression of freedom of speech and movement. She would only be playing Mr. Taylor's game, under his rules, with his courts, his security services, his laws and the limitations he wishes to impose. She would be harming the very process she is claiming to be fighting for. Her partisans are mobilized, with or without her and they don't need her at this point. She is not going to pay their salaries or protect them - to the contrary; she would just expose them to dangers. Her return to Monrovia should be linked to more tangible moves from the government. A man wakes up one day and accuses you of a crime you have not committed. Another day he wakes up and says you are pardoned. And you are supposed to celebrate. That turns you into a puppet.

Beyond the person and political ambitions of Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, there are bigger issues to be looked at now. There is no doubt that sanctions are biting and we must not give in to cheap propaganda and defeat the sacrifices of those who have been working hard to bring about changes. Our national reconciliation and peace must not be conditioned on the bickering of political leaders. Before any exiled political leader goes to Monrovia and drink champagne with Mr. Taylor, there must be a consensus as to where they plan to take the country. Therefore, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf's return must be part of a national salvation plan, not a personal peace pact with the president.

National peace must go beyond games between politicians. Our national life should not be controlled by the whims of political leaders. That Mr. Taylor and Mrs. Sirleaf or Mr. Kromah or others get along should not be the determining factor for peace. In 1997, all politicians got along, but that did not do anything for the common Liberian. People still lived in fear, national resources were squandered and children were suffering, with no education and no health services. Things have gotten worse since then. Peace among politicians is only a start. Liberians don't have to choose one politician over another one, they must ensure that all politicians abide by the basic principles of peace building, democracy, national development and human decency.

Mr. Taylor may find it hard to convince those around him who have enriched themselves in the most indecent and scandalous way that it is time to turn things around. They will certainly tell him that he needs to buy more arms and multiply his sleeping places so that they can continue their decadent lifestyle. They may tell him that he needs another layer of security men. It would be a pity if he listens to them. Political leaders need to put their acts together and stop reacting to gimmick and put an end to their thirst for headlines and sound bites. Building strong political institutions must supercede everything at this time. Liberia has never stood in need of men and women of great patriotism as it does today. The debate must transcend the personality of Mr. Taylor - it must also go beyond the whims of every political leader. The constitution has been violated in as many ways as possible. Is the NPFL government capable of reversing that trend, AND HOW? THAT IS THE ISSUE!

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