A Look At Relations With Neighboring States
And The U.S.
By Gbalee Quaye-Choloply
In his inaugural address Taylor promised, among other things, to maintain good neighbourliness, but recent events prove that he is the major source of insecurity in the region. The effective pursuit of Liberian foreign policy which is reflective of the country's post-war realities is hamstrung by the lack of properly trained and an experienced foreign minister. The present national legislature can not play any meaningful role in shaping Liberian foreign policy because it is not independent of the Executive branch of the government. Even worse is the fact that Taylor himself lacks any knowledge of inter-state relations. It is still not known who actually handles Liberia's foreign relations. This assumption has been verified by the way in which the regime has handled both regional issues and US-Liberian relationship.
(1) Regional Politics:
Since his inception, Taylor has been distrustful of ECOMOG. His fears date back to the arrival of the force and its pursuit of him for being overly intransigent. Since then, the relations between the force and himself has been on shaky grounds. Prior to his assumption of power, the Abuja agreement dictated that the AFL be reconstructed and trained by ECOMOG but Taylor has refused to honor this agreement. Though in the past he asked ECOWAS to withdraw the ECOMOG forces, at the recently held ECOWAS summit in Nigeria (30-31 October, 1998) Taylor is reported to have requested that the force remain in Liberia but under his control. The major problem facing the regime is that on the one hand he does not trust ECOMOG but yet he can not rely on his own forces for security. It is this catch-22 situation that is suffocating Taylor.
The most worrying thing for Taylor now is the relations between Liberia and its Mano River neighbours: Sierra Leone and Guinea. There have been claims and counter-claims of each supporting subversive activities against the other. In recent times, troops from Sierra Leone clashed with Liberian forces leaving several persons dead. This ugly incident occurred just after the naive President Tejan Kabbah tipped Taylor off about plans by Johnson and others to destabilise his regime in Monrovia. By informing Taylor about the plan, Kabbah naively thought this would ease the security situation in the region and enable Taylor to stop his support to the rebels in Sierra Leone. Whether Taylor is convinced about Kabbah's sincerity is doubtful because what Taylor really wants is to ensure that Liberia's neighbors are run by faithful allies and not 'enemies' such as Kabbah and Guinea's Lassanah Conteh.
Taylor has been distrustful of the authorities in Guinea for two reasons. First, during the war Guinea was the only francophone country that contributed troops to ECOMOG much to the chagrin of Taylor. Second, Guinea and Liberia share the Mandingo ethnic group which was one of two prime targets of NPFL rebels. The leader of the Mandingo-dominated ULIMO(K) is currently resident in the United Sates and has been accused of being part of the Johnson plot to overthrow Taylor's regime.
Having failed miserably to win the hearts of his neighbours who he has been trying to lure into a false sense of security, the US Presidential Envoy to Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson, was brought in to save the day. This explains the rationale behind the recently convened MRU meeting in Conakry, Guinea. Yes, neither Taylor, nor his Foreign Minister could achieve any diplomatic success in the region and this is why Jackson was brought on board to resolve the crisis of confidence between the Conteh and Kabbah on one hand, and Taylor on the other hand. One thing that is clear from the present situation in the region is that as long as one of the countries is insecure, there can be no security for the rest. Monrovia should take the initiative by putting a stop to support for the rebels in Sierra Leone. This could ease the tension but anything other than this would inevitably lead to regional crisis that will engulf the whole of West Africa. For the ordinary people in these countries, this will be a total mess. The wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone should have taught good lessons to Taylor and his cronies but it seems as though not much has been learned.
Meanwhile, while Taylor's relations with his neighbors have not been on solid grounds, U.S.-Liberia relations have also suffered and has continued to decline.
(2) US-Liberia Relations:
The shooting into the US embassy by Liberian security forces has caused a fracas between the two countries. For Liberia, this does not help the declining relationship that needs to be rebuilt. Presently, Liberia is not strategic to the United States both in political and economic terms. The end of the Cold War sealed the strategic significance of Liberia. Hence, during the civil war, the US has played a behind the scene role by providing support to ECOWAS and it failed to recognise neither Taylor's so-called government in Gbarnga nor the successive interim regimes in Monrovia.
After the 18 September crisis, the US temporarily closed its embassy and reduced its staff. They refused to hand over Johnson, the alleged chief culprit in the present treason trial and some of his close associates who sought refuge in the embassy. Moreover, the US government has demanded an official apology from the Liberian government. After having raised their voices in Monrovia about Liberia's 'sovereignty' the foreign ministry in Monrovia was forced to deliver a diplomatic note to the US State Department apologising for the incident. Whatever convinced the Taylor government to apologise is yet to be known but it points out that he and naive and inexperienced Foreign Minister Monie Captan just failed to learn the hard lessons of inter-state relations. Initially, they were bragging about Liberia being a sovereign country but failed that in practice; sovereignty has never been absolute. It is limited and constrained by various internal and external factors. What would Taylor and Captan say about the conditions set by the Paris Donor Conference for aid to Liberia? Yesuah, why such a bad luck on Liberia?
The shooting into the embassy may have infuriated the US authorities for a number of reasons. For the purposes of this essay, a mention of few will suffice. Libyan-Liberian relationship is tight; and in August 1998 US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salam were bombed by Islamic forces. Therefore, the shooting incident in Liberia could not be taken lightly by Washington and further places the declining US-Liberia relationship on shaky grounds. The extension of the TPS to Liberians resident in America could therefore mean two things: Washington is aware that Liberia is still insecure and it does not have confidence in the gangster regime of Taylor.
For Liberia to be taken seriously by its neighbours and other countries within the international society of states, the present regime will have to sort its foreign policy priorities out more properly. During the height of the civil war, Taylor developed links with French business people and his extensive links with Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast further threw him into the arms of francophone West Africa. In recent times, he has continued to court French support. The point is that French aid to Liberia is likely to be tied in within the wider European context because of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). EU aid is now tied with respect for human rights and environmental issues. In this vein Taylor will have to show respect for human rights as one of the pre-conditions for such aid. Perhaps Taylor has forgotten the demands of the Paris Donor Conference on Liberia. This brings home the point raised earlier that the world has changed since the fall of the Berlin Walls. Brutal regimes around the world run the risk of being isolated internationally. Either the regime in Monrovia will heed to this caveat or run the risk of being characterised as a pariah within the international society of states.