Taylor's One Year In Review:
All Promises, No Substance
By his own admission, Charles Taylor has said that his first year in office has been a failure. He attributes the failure of his government to the international community whom he says refuses to come to his aid since he was elected president of Liberia.
Thank goodness, Mr. Taylor saw the light this time and didn't dare blame his political enemies at home for this latest fiasco.
Speaking at the Unity Conference Center in Virginia, at the occasion of the national conference on the future of Liberia, Mr. Taylor acknowledged the shortcomings of his administration, and the incompetence that is characteristic of his NPP-dominated government. Taylor remarked verbatim: "... you elected me one year ago, but I have to admit to you [that] I am catching hard time [difficulty], and I have failed you in my first year."
Casting blame on the international community, he said: "Our people want to go to school. They want hospitals, roads, and other things, but all we get from the international community is promises as if they want to see Liberia torn apart." Putting blame on the international community without mentioning failures of his government is a clear demonstration of the lack of honesty to level with the Liberian people. True to his style and trade mark - Mr. Taylor known quite well by the dubious distinction of acting on his impulse first then apologizing later, or admitting his mistakes first before thinking of the horrible consequences, has played the game well before the Liberian people. That policy of "act now and apologize later" has now become a prevailing strategy of convenience that the regime has adopted to win him sympathy and support - a much-needed support he will need if he wants to continue to be president come the millennium.
After a year in office, Mr. Taylor's performance as president must therefore be reviewed objectively. And to do so, various areas must be evaluated to understand where the country was a year ago and where it is today.
Human rights, national security, governance, the economy, and domestic concerns are cardinal to such a review. These areas, while not exclusive to others, are critical to establishing the formation for constructing a democratic society.
HUMAN RIGHTS: The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, a leading human rights advocacy group and other human rights organizations abroad, have reported that there is rapid deterioration of individual liberties in Liberia. "When a member of the national Human Rights Commission is assaulted, almost beaten to death, this clearly speaks volumes of the state of human rights in Liberia," says Samuel Kofi Woods, director of the Peace Commission. He added that the government and civil society are at "war" with each other.
The litany of human rights abuses seems endless - starting with the gruesome murder of Sam Dokie, his wife and others whose perpetrators are yet to be found and brought to justice; the recent disappearance of six former ULIMO-J members who were reportedly en route to the Gambia; the recent disappearance and possible murder of Nowai Flomo, an outspoken Liberian Market woman, and the continued practice of force labor in Southeastern Liberia where citizens are reportedly been made to work without pay.
NATIONAL SECURITY: One of the key elements enshrined in the Abuja Accords which was agreed upon by all of the warring factions was the need to have the Liberian military restructured to reflect regional balance. This critical factor which would have laid the foundation for a secured national security infrastructure has been scuttled. A national security crisis now looms large. Had the Abuja Accords been implemented, a national army would have been organized to reflect the diverse regions of the Liberian society. All warring factors would have also been represented within this national army. Sad to say, the national army is being dominated by ex-combatants of the former National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). There is also an overwhelming presence of the NPFL in other para-military forces such as the police, the presidential special guards, the national security agency, national immigration service and the like. Not only has this been a cause for continued concern and heightened tension in the country, but these same security personnel have been linked to the missing, killing, flogging, harassment and intimidation of civilians. This has led to a gradual erosion of law and order which threatens stability.
GOVERNANCE: A government for the people, by the people and of the people still remains a remote possibility since Mr. Taylor came to power a year ago. Whereas the three branches of government - the executive, legislative and judiciary - are to provide the necessary checks and balances on one another to facilitate a functioning democratic process, these institutions have not only become nominal but unequal more than ever before.
Both the legislative and judiciary lack independence which undermines their capacity to provide the necessary checks and balances on the executive branch. The erosion of this valued democratic process has created the breeding ground for totalitarian rule which doesn't augur well for the future of Liberia. By using the imperial presidency, President Taylor has advanced some of the most controversial ideas, such as his calls to grant citizenship to people of non-negroid descent, and the legalization of polygamy (polygyny). It is feared that in the absence of any real national debate on these issues, they would be enacted into laws without the participation of most Liberians.
Dahkpannah - "the Supreme Zo" - one of the many titles Mr. Taylor has acquired typifies the new level to which the Liberian presidency has been elevated, by becoming the most dominant institution in our history. There continues to be a ubiquitous presence of the long arm of the president in every facet of our national life, usurping the legitimate powers of other branches of government, as well as abusing and suppressing individual rights, and brazen disregard of the constitution.
Taylor's record on the economy has been at best a dismal failure. The president himself has admitted to this failure. It is now more than a year since he assumed power, and yet his government has been unable to at least create the basic conditions for mobilizing the key productive forces of the economy. Labor morale is now at its lowest due to high unemployment and low wages (the average salary for government employees still lags behind US$20 or L$800). The government's inability to produce an acceptable development program, coupled with serious economic management uncertainties (e.g., fraud scandals and uncontrollable finance and banking problems), is depriving the economy of needed capital. Basic infrastructure is also still in ruin. About 80 percent of Monrovia is in darkness and without running water, and telecommunication services are non-existent nation-wide. Instead of taking serious steps to address such desperate conditions, the Taylor regime is antagonizing foreign capital by accusing international donors of neglecting Liberia.
With low productive investment and soaring unemployment, the economy now operates far below its full capacity. Consequently, the cost of living in Liberia is very high. A 100 pound bag of rice, which before the war sold for about 30 Liberian dollars, now sells for between 1,000 to 1,300 Liberian dollars. Consider this against the average salary of L$800 for civil servants, then you feel the impossible living conditions of the Liberian people. On the other hand, government officials ride in flashy vehicles costing between US$11,000 to US$47,000. What an ugly turn of events!
DOMESTIC CONCERNS: The real baskets for growth and for gauging the state of the nation, namely - education, health, public infrastructures, and the quality of life and environment - have not shown any real change in terms of the public good in the past year. With government overemphasis on security, these important social sectors have suffered. The government $41 million budget announced last year allotted 80% to national security issues while 20% was allotted to these domestic concerns.
Furthermore, while the government has devoted much attention of trying to change the school year, very little has been done to revitalize the public school system. "Mr. Taylor speaks glowingly of putting computers in every school, but most schools (public) ruined by the war have not been rebuilt, and the few public schools that are operating lack the basic necessities such as chalks, chair, desks, pencils, etc.," remarked one Liberian who recently visited home. The health condition in the country leaves much to be desired as well. There has been reports of outbreak of "cholera" due to lack of purified drinking water and unsanitary condition in some parts of country, and a reported potential outbreak of aids. Of course, needless to mention, most public buildings, roads and bridges destroyed by Taylor and fellow warlords during the war remained unattended.
Judging from the above, should Taylor admission of failure be taken seriously? Is it really an honest admission? Is the international community a scapegoat for the lack of a plan and commitment in addressing the domestic problems confronting the nation? What does this mean for Liberia's future?
Quite clearly, it is one thing to admit to failure, but it is completely another thing to find corrective solutions. The president didn't pinpoint any corrective measures and based on his record, there is clearly nothing to suggest that anything new or fundamental will change in the existing status - quo. In short, the basic living conditions of the majority have not changed in any measurable way since one-year ago. For most Liberians, Taylor's one-year rule has been "all promises, but no substance." Should we expect anything more? "There is nothing more to Taylor than the past year" noted a Liberian analyst and a regular contributor to this paper.
There is a real danger, however, that aside from Mr. Taylor's personal failure, the country itself will become a "failed state" - stagnant, crisis- ridden, isolated and forgotten about like Somalia. This is the real and present danger Liberia faces as it enters the next millennium.
For seven years, Charles Taylor held Liberia hostage, demanding and killing innocent people, that unless he was president there would be no peace. He led the crusade of opportunists that ruined and plundered the country, and irreparably damaged the psyche of the people. Now that he is president, Taylor has no meaningful solutions to address the problems he and others have created.
Mr. Taylor belongs to a category of people who are good at destroying rather than building. He is not a nation builder. He has completed his task, which is throwing the country back to its earlier stages. Taylor is only interested in what is good for Taylor. His record is a catalogue of deceptions and sleazy manipulations designed purely to enrich himself at the expense of the nation.
The verdict of most Liberians is that Mr. Taylor lacks the political will and capacity to effect the necessary political transformation Liberia desperately needs. As long as he remains president, reconciliation, genuine peace and stability will remain elusive and conditions in Liberia will further worsen. And that's why he must come to grips with the inevitable reality that he cannot serve any useful purpose for the country by offering his immediate resignation. Liberia indeed deserves better.