Troubled Indicators, Needed Remedies (Editorial)
August 14, 2000

Once again, all signs indicate that Liberia is headed towards the path of self-destruction. Renewed fighting in the country, after seven years of crude struggle for power that saw a tenth of the population killed, points to disaster despite the many promises of peace, stability and development. On the other hand, the Sierra Leone war hangs around the neck of Liberia like a hangman's rope, chocking the country and people to death in view of international isolation and condemnation.

Regarding the ongoing fighting, while we denounce any form of violence, we are very well aware of the necessity of removing those barriers in society that force people to opt for violence. It is not enough to condemn violence without condemning those who erect the pillars of violence and feed on infinite chaos.

We note that after his election, Mr. Taylor promised reconciliation but offered retaliation. Real or imagined opponents were forced to flee. Those not so lucky, like the Samuel Dokie and many others, were tracked down and killed in the belief that their death meant peace. Thousands of Liberians in refugee camps around West Africa preferred humiliation, deprivation than to return to their beloved country. Thus, in all honesty, the curtain for war was left widely open. It was only a matter of time and condition.

Any sane mind conscious of the enormous socioeconomic problems created by the war, such as the massive uprooting of the population and the wanton destruction of economic and social infrastructure, would have concluded that the most important task that awaited any postwar government in Liberia was that of healing the terrible wounds inflicted, assuring the vanquished that they had nothing to fear, building bridges to ensure social and political harmony, creating the conducive conditions for fleeing refugees to return home and pick up the pieces, and, above all, ensuring that Liberia is for all Liberians regardless of ethnic origin, political belief, religious affiliation.

These tasks were even more difficult by the fact that the perpetrators of Evil were now the governors, determining the fate of their victims and callously doing so. To our disappointment, Mr. Taylor chose the road to revenge, blaming others for problems he created. He defined victory to mean humiliating losers and expelling them from the country. All concessions in the Abuja Agreement that paved the way for elections were rejected and dumped by "Charles Taylor the Man," just as he did with 13 peace agreements during the war that did not make him President. The case of the exiled ULIMO-J leader is a classic example. Taylor openly urged the UN to ensure that the man is kept away from Liberia's borders as far as possible, meaning he must never return to his home country after the butchering of over 300 of his kinsmen, the Krahns. Such arrogance, based on the belief of the powerfulness of possessing the biggest gun, provided a platform for disaster, and the surprise is that it did not come earlier. Do we have to remind Taylor that the barriers created for him to return home peacefully, and the personal economic difficulties that confronted him as an exile, were the locomotives for his war against Doe at the expense of the nation?

When reconciliation becomes the casualty of greed and arrogance, peaceful coexistence falls victim. Hence, Liberians in and out of the country have been crying in the wilderness for a shift in policy but their cries have been answered with executions, imprisonment, arrest, exile or intimidation.

Voices like that of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) of which Taylor was once a member, have noted "The uneventful pattern of human right abuses, as well as the mismanagement and personalization of scarce natural resources (which) continue unabated"
In a recent statement regarding Liberia's implication in perhaps the greatest scandal in West Africa in recent times linking a head of state, ULAA observed that, "Liberians had to face all the humiliation of our beloved country being involved in unscrupulous acts. However, Liberians everywhere must continue to exercise restraint and not resort to violent recourse. The innocent people of Liberia who have suffered enough during the Civil War will continue to suffer."

But it is not too late to make amends, although the difficulties are imminent. In the case of the ongoing war, the Government and the dissidents must see logic and sit at the negotiating table if both sides love Liberia and its impoverished people. Negotiation, not war, is the answer. We urge respectable opinion leaders such as the Inter-Faith Committee, to once again get on its feet and bring the parties to a negotiating table. Furthermore, such negotiations must be in good faith. The seven-year war revealed how some parties went to the negotiating table only to buy time to butcher the opponent. This level of deceit must stop in the interest of the country.

We recall that failure to negotiate, and lack of good faith in keeping promises after negotiations, were the most important factors that led to the loss of innocent lives, 250,000 of them, and the total destruction of the country now on its knees begging for international this and that. Strength is not how fast one's pulls the trigger on one's enemy, but how willing one is to forgive in magnanimity in order to coexist with development and stability as the common objectives binding victors and losers.

We therefore urge Mr. Taylor to abandon his bravado and adopt a reconciliatory policy in solving the fighting. Mr. Taylor can bare witness to fertilization of violence when all avenues to peaceful resolution of conflicts are sealed. He launched a destructive war against Samuel Doe because the late President closed all avenues for peaceful, orderly change. That Taylor imagines succeeding where Doe failed, adopting the same policies and posture, indicates his extreme political naiveté. Now the wealthiest man in the country, he and his disciples have just too much to lose. It can no longer be a case of winner takes all.

On the other hand, the Sierra Leone war hangs over Liberia like an executioner's knife. Mr. Taylor's arrogance in appointing himself judge and jury in another country's affair can be seen in his proposition that:

"The ECOWAS formula used then, is still the most reasonable and relevant of the many prescriptions that are now being proposed to end the hostilities in Sierra Leone. The Liberian peace formula, basically embodied in the Lome Agreement, remains the best hope for a final resolution in Sierra Leone"

We are troubled by this position. It is a position of defiance against international public opinion about Liberia's disgraceful and tragic role in the current troubles of a sisterly African country. To insist that Liberia's so-called "peace proposals" are "the best hope for a final resolution" of the crisis in Sierra is to admit that Mr. Taylor and his followers are determined in their support of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. This is a disturbing and dangerous gamble against the interest of Liberians who are carrying the brunt of such policies in terms of global isolation and therefore the death of much needed reconstruction.

To further confuse the situation, the rubber stamp Legislature is appointing itself to investigate these serious allegations of gunrunning and diamond smuggling in an effort to divert international attention from Liberia's involvement. But members of this Legislature, many of them tainted, must listen to their colleague Rep. Joseph Cornormia when he says that such an investigation is a "mockery. I think what we need to do is to demand proof through an independent organization. We cannot investigate ourselves. We cannot indict ourselves".

Dark clouds hang over Liberia. We urge Mr. Taylor to see the futility of his games and gambles because in the end, the Liberian nation and people are the losers, not him and his squad, for they have millions to flee with and live on while the nation will be left with the scars of their policies.

Let us all move swiftly to put our house in order before it is too late.

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