Is President Taylor Ready for Reconciliation?

The Perspective

July 10, 2001

It has recently been reported that Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh has been making efforts to bring about reconciliation between Mr. Taylor and opposition politicians and former factional leaders in the Diaspora. This initiative launched by the former presidential candidate of the Liberian People's Party may sound good and Dr. Tipoteh must be commended for trying. It's men like Dr. Tipoteh who have their country best interest at heart, and are not inhibited from taking bold steps in searching for a lasting peaceful resolution of Liberia's problems. Certainly he has the moral authority as well as the political stature to propose such an important meeting. Our country is in desperate need of more citizens like Tipoteh who are dedicated to nation-building rather than uprooting Liberian lives.

But those same attributes, unfortunately, cannot be accorded President Charles Taylor who has shunned all previous efforts aimed at meaningful reconciliation, and, has instead, instituted a series of draconian measures to run his opponents out of the country. As the cliché goes, it takes two to tango. And for any reconciliation effort to be successful, there must be a willingness as well as the desire by the main political players, particularly, Mr. Charles Taylor. Such initiative should have as its objective the reconciling of all Liberians, especially the ordinary citizens who bore the brunt of the war, not just politicians and former faction leaders.

The New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary defines reconciliation as the act of reconciling parties at variance; renewal of friendship after disagreement or enmity. This meaning aptly applies to Liberia today, where various groups are at variance with one another. Liberians need a renewal of the bonds of unity after the traumatizing experience we have had in recent years. So we are amenable to the proposition of substantive reconciliation overtures that could bring a national closure to the Liberian tragedy.

We believe that a conference on reconciliation must have as one of its paramount objectives the purpose of healing wounds that have been broken as a result of the evil that dangerous men perpetrated against the innocent people of Liberia. Such a process also must have as a core component of people taking responsibility for their actions. We strongly believe there can be no reconciliation without justice.

While we applaud Dr. Tipoteh's endeavor about resolving the political problems that are consuming the basic fabric of Liberian society, we believe the process of reconciliation must take place in Liberia, not packaged elsewhere and exported to the country. There can be no substitute for the face to face engagement between the predators and their victims. But as we understand the Tipoteh proposal, it is designed to reconcile political differences between Mr. Taylor, opposition politicians and other former faction leaders, and such a meeting would take place outside of Liberia under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

We must admit that very little detail is known about the initiative, perhaps since it's in the evolving stages. However, the absence of a key relevant party - the citizens of Liberia - is a major drawback. As it is being promoted around West African capitals, the plan presupposes that only politicians and former faction leaders need to be reconciled. We disagree! The success of any national dialogue would depend in large part on the inclusion of many Liberian groups and organizations across the globe that are emboldened to no political party or faction, but are equally outraged by the virulent banditry, the aversion to democratic values that have consumed their country. These groups are opposed to anyone who relishes violence as a vehicle to political power. They are committed to all aspects of genuine practical democracy in their country.

Given the background and past behavior of the principal player in this undertaking, we cannot help but wonder if Dr. Tipoteh has received any assurances from Mr. Taylor that the latter is prepared this time to give serious consideration to the proposition. In the past Taylor had shown contempt to the whole idea of reconciliation in Liberia, primarily because of the admission of responsibility and possible penalty associated with it. National dialogue and reconciliation entails greater political freedom and the free flow of competing ideas that could benefit the country, but not necessarily healthy for the emerging Taylor dictatorship. Some analysts believe as a matter of strategy, Taylor is not interested in a stable region, corollary of which would be a peaceful Liberia, since that would crystallize his dismal performance as president that could lead to citizens' uprising.

Against this backdrop, it is appropriate that we raise a number of critically important questions that must be considered as we move forward with the reconciliation issue. First of all, is Mr. Taylor prepared to drop all the bogus treason and sedition charges that he has liberally leveled against his political opponents and allow them to return to the country without molestation? Secondly, what guarantees are there that he will adhere to any agreement reached at such a conference? Thirdly, is Taylor prepared to release all political prisoners who have been languishing in prison simply because of their ethnicity, reduce and disarm the extortionist ex-combatants that terrorize political opponents and the general public? Finally, can the Liberian ruler be trusted?

We have serious reservations given Mr. Taylor's history of reckless disregard for international accords that he would suddenly be persuaded to honor any reconciliation agreement.

Another component to this proposed reconciliation initiative - and we would like to make it clear that we are not privy to its details - is that it would help ease tensions between Liberia and its neighbors, specifically Guinea and Sierra Leone. Both countries have accused Mr. Taylor of supporting rebel groups to destabilize the regimes in Conakry and Freetown.

If this is true then we can understand why Tipoteh has sought the involvement of ECOWAS leaders to help mediate the international aspect of Mr. Taylor's actions. As longtime proponent of reconciliation discussion in Liberia, we would urge Dr. Tipoteh to modify his proposal by detaching the regional portion from the national dialogue and assigning that to regional leaders. In this case Liberians can best confront the malady that has consumed a greater portion of their lives.

In the above regard, the following sets of ideas could be considered as part of the Tipoteh reconciliation initiative:

1. That a key condition for such an initiative be that Mr. Taylor is not the central and controlling force of the reconciliation process, in that his government is not allowed to dictate the terms and peace mechanisms that will evolve from the process.

2. That the international community, particularly the UN, ECOWAS, the European Union, international donor governments, and financial institutions, provide their full backing and support to the future implementations of all peace mechanisms that will be obtained from the reconciliation process. This is necessary to ensure and provide confidence to all parties that such mechanisms will be enforced, and Mr. Taylor shall in no way abrogate such peace arrangements in the future.

3. That Mr. Taylor be prepared to drop all the bogus treason and sedition charges that he has liberally leveled against his political opponents and allow them to return to the country without molestation; and that he should release all political prisoners who have been languishing in prison simply because of their ethnicity, reduce and disarm the extortionist ex-combatants that terrorize political opponents and the general public.

The key to any meaningful reconciliation is the willingness to accept responsibility along with a commensurate penalty as a basis for justice and national peace. Until Mr. Taylor is willing to accept the compromises that are cornerstone to any national dialogue of this nature, unless and until he is prepared to shelve his dictatorial ego in the interest of Liberia, reconciliation would be only a distant dream.

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