Is it Still Possible to Make Peace with Guinea and Sierra Leone?
By Abdoulaye Dukule
May 23, 2001
The burden of bringing peace in the West African sub-region rests on nobody's shoulders than that of our President, Charles G. Taylor. The war that is going on now in Sierra Leone, Liberia and in Guinea could have been averted had Taylor kept his promise to his colleagues of the Mano River Union, Presidents Kabbah and Conteh. To understand this situation, one needs to go back in time and take a look at the relationship between Conteh and Taylor.
In 1992, at a special ECOWAS meeting on Liberia in Dakar a few weeks after the killing of the Senegalese peace- keepers by the NPFL rebels, President Conteh declared emphatically that ECOWAS was going to fail in Liberia and that ECOWAS was wasting its time. He said that Taylor was like a cancer and that unless it was extracted from the sub-region, it was going to kill it. He said that ECOWAS, in the first place, had no business sending professional military men and women to baby-sit or talk peace with a rebel. He said the only solution was peace enforcement. Before walking out of the room, he said that ten years from that day, ECOWAS would still be there, talking about how to deal with Taylor. In his prediction, he said after Liberia, Taylor would bring his rebellion to one country after another, because he had amassed dissidents and criminals from every country in the sub-region.
Conteh never made a secret of his mistrust and dislike for Taylor and this was not lost to the Liberian warlord. Conteh readily helped the Interim Government in creating the "Black Berets", a military group instrumental in repelling the NPFL attempt to take over Monrovia in October 1992.
Regional politics, however, makes strange bedfellows. In 1994, after the Interim Government left power and was replaced by the Kpomakpor- led Transitional government, things changed rapidly. First, Dr. Amos Sawyer introduced Alhaji Kromah to Conteh as the man IGNU was doing business with during a meeting In Cotonou. Since Alhaji was based in Guinea, Conteh somehow started to look at things in Liberia from a different perspective. Because Alhaji Kromah had taken three counties from Taylor's NPFL and forced him to accept a peaceful settlement leading to disarmament and elections, Conteh somehow thought that in the absence of Amos Sawyer, Alhaji would keep Taylor in check. We all know who ended up wining that equation. Meanwhile, Joe Mulbah, who became Minister of Information in the Transitional Government, representing the NPFL, had ethnic ties with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guinea, a Lormah. Mulbah was therefore able to establish contacts inside the inner circle of Conteh. Conteh became more and more relaxed with Taylor but did not go to sleep.
After the elections in Liberia, Dr. Bangaly Fofana who had negotiated with Conteh for the training of the Black Berets for the Interim Government and was trusted by Conteh, entered the Taylor's government as Minister of Commerce and Industry. He and Joe Mulbah worked to lessen the tension between Taylor and Conteh. The two men succeeded somehow. Taylor and Conteh finally met, with President Kabbah. The main course of their talks was peace and security. Conteh agreed to expel Liberian dissidents, headed at the time by Alhaji Kromah. Kromah was asked to leave Guinea immediately or expect to be turned over to Taylor. In Sierra Leone, Kabbah asked Roosevelt Johnson and his group, including Joe Wylie and others to leave. In exchange, Taylor was to kick out of Liberia the RUF and Guinean dissidents headed at the time by the son of the late President Sekou Toure.
After Kabbah and Conteh carried out their parts of the deal, rather than following suit, Taylor saw an opportunity to destabilize both countries. The RUF launched an attack on Sierra Leone and almost captured Freetown while attacks on Guinean border towns multiplied. The betrayal was blatant to both Conteh and Kabbah. Short of sending their own armies to fight Taylor, they decided to return fire, by providing sanctuary to Liberian armed dissidents.
The war that is currently ravaging Liberia, inexorably moving towards Monrovia and creating tens of thousands of displaced people and war victims, is one that Taylor called on himself. Conteh may say that he only intends to provide himself with a security perimeter. Taylor would have a difficult time convincing Conteh and Kabbah that they can all live in peace in the sub-region. In the meantime, just as Conteh said in Dakar in 1992, ECOWAS is still dealing with the destabilization caused by Taylor. Billions of dollars have been spent in peacekeeping efforts and humanitarian aid. Citizens of most countries in the sub-region (from Senegal to Nigeria), have lost their lives for one man's greed for power. And it seems that things are far from being over.
The problem, at this point is not if the war can be stopped in the sub-region, but rather, can Taylor convince anyone to trust him? Taylor wonders why the Americans no longer want to do business with him. He should just remember that it was at his prompting that the US footed the bill to send the Senegalese contingent, followed later by troops from Kenya, Tanzania and the UN to give credibility to the peace keeping force in Liberia. He should also remember the promises he made in meeting after meeting to disarm his rebel army and restructure the security forces in the country. He must not forget that instead of peace and tranquility, his thugs are reigning terror on innocent civilians and political leaders who dared to point to his many costly mistakes. President Jimmy Carter finally understood that this former rebel would not become a statesman.
The solution is, of course, peace. This means a Liberia where violence gives way to peace, where theft gives way to accountability and that this one - man reign is replaced by popular democracy. It also means that Taylor will dismantle his terror machine and replace it with a security apparatus geared towards the protection of the people. It also means a Liberia where freedom of speech is respected, where news organs can operate fully and unabridged and that the President ceases to be the owner of the only viable media outlet in the country.
Taylor must understand that he no longer lives in Gbarnga among a rebel army submitted to his whims and where he could outwit the resolve of impoverished sponsors of ECOMOG or use the greed of the likes of Abacha and Ivorian politicians to achieve his objectives. He is at the helms of a nation. The call is his to make. Times have changed and exporting national revolutions are no longer possible, even Libyans have understood this. They are now trying to adjust their policies accordingly. Instead of blaming the international community, he must begin to clean his own back yard. It is said that every revolution eats her children. He is the last survivor of the Samuel Kanyon Doe revolution. Can he wake up and make amend?
Editor's Note: Abdoulaye Dukule is a former Press Counselor at the Embassy of Liberia in Washington, DC