Of Sanction and Misery: Reviewing the Salim Fallacy

By M. Tarnue Mawolo

The Perspective
Jan 10, 2001

As if that is why we elect them, African Leaders never cease amusing and amazing people; and last week was no different. The week itself was a rather momentous one as it gave steam to the decisive global democratic drive to rid West Africa of the ever- sickening Taylor menace. Of importance here is the fact that on the critical question of sub-regional sanity, freedom, security and the dignity of life in West Africa, there were two important voices that echoed loud and clear. One voice spoke from Europe and America in the form of a determined effort by leading members of the UN Security Council to push for the imposition of sanction against the monstrosity of Charles Taylor for his relentless campaign of terror and plunder in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Men of conscience the world over who have "no selfish fish to fry" in the tragic West African saga applauded this move. Then entered the OAU Secretary-general, Salim Ahmed Salim, who raise an argument that was not only self-serving but evidently a throw back into history. Salim rather baselessly maintained that the imposition of sanction against the criminal enterprise that goes by name "Government of Liberia" would only hurt the ordinary people of Liberia. He further noted that Charles Taylor has legitimate concerns and a point of view that merits listening to. As opposed to the voice form Europe and America, this was the African voice of the week. The tragedy, however, is the voice from Africa spoke utter nonsense. So empty and shallow were the OAU Chief's pronouncements that I was left asking: et tu Salim? But you see, there are no surprises here; this is déjà vu all over again, I thought. What is to be done was my next question.

When people like Dr. Salim show insensitivity to the plight of the Liberian people and play to demagoguery in the pursuit of questionable causes, only one thing can be done. Such people and their logic must be challenged with the full clarity of facts. This is the story.

Salim flew into Taylor's hell hole on a so-called OAU peace mission; he drove to the President's "pepper bush" and by all accounts came away more confused than ever before. No surprises here! Dr. Salim simply dramatizes the tragedy of the African reality - the fixation with symbols, structures and concepts that are of little or no value so far as our peoples' struggle for survival is concerned. Make no mistake; the OAU Secretary-general is entitled to his right to be as confused as he chooses to be. But what he is not entitled to is the right to confuse the rest of us and mislead the world at large. To be fair to the OAU boss, his arguments must be put into proper perspectives.

Dr. Salim's argument that the people of Liberia are the only ones to suffer the punitive bite of sanction may seem benigned on the surface, and appears to show a genuine concern for the well being of the common man. This could only be true if the realities in Liberia manifested themselves the way Dr. Salim wants us to believe they are. Unfortunately, they are not. When one looks at the obtaining realities in Liberia, you cannot help but conclude that Dr. Salim's judgments are based solely on a set of fallacies and factual inaccuracies that have no bearing on the truth.

To argue that a catastrophe will befall Liberia and that only ordinary Liberians stand to suffer the choking bite of sanction, is to assume falsely that the people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and now Guinea are not being paraded through a catastrophe, and that they are not already suffering. Nothing could be further from the facts. Truth be told, the people of Liberia have suffered and are still suffering in a state of deprivation and callous neglect and may have even exceeded the threshold of pain. These are the facts, your Excellency: ever since Charles Taylor and his marauding bands of wig-wearing murderous vigilantes took hold of Liberia, catastrophe descended upon the country and the West African sub-region in general. When years of mass murder, terror, intimidation and chicanery finally translated into a Taylor presidency, barbarism then wore the crown of legitimacy. In Liberia, Sierra Leone and now Guinea, Taylor and Sankoh route is a simple one to find. The path to power laid and still lies through the carcasses of our people. So, why doesn't Salim know exactly what everyone knows- that after more than one thousand days in power, Taylor and his hangers-on have nothing to show but a track record of murderous escapades and a stranded society in a state of total collapse where nothing works.

It is important for the learned OAU messenger to know that all available evidences including those of the United Nations point to only single fact-that Taylor and his entourage have taken in hundreds of millions of dollars from the diamond trade in Sierra Leone and Liberia; millions from the uncontrolled pillaging of the nation's timber resources; and tens of millions more from Liberia's maritime levies. Despite this intake of revenue and the amassing of personal fortunes, Taylor still presides over a Liberia that bears more similarity to a zoo than a state. The only thing left to symbolize a state in Liberia is the country's vain but much-touted "sovereignty" and the bloated imagination and graft of its cane-carrying leader. The basic and rudimentary exigencies of life are nowhere to be seen. There are no roads, no running water; mortal darkness greets the eye as there is no electricity; public schools can hardly stay opened, the nations only university ­the University of Liberia- is almost always closed for lack of support; telephone lines are off more often than they are on; the public health system has collapsed; the country's only referral hospital ­the John F. Kennedy Medical Center- has been shut down for lack of medicine, doctors and the prevalence of administrative incompetence and abuse; the per capita ratio of citizens to doctor in Liberia miserably has degenerated to about 70,000 : 1; and civil servants go unpaid for months without end. Where a little amount is found to pay salaries, it gets stolen before it ever reaches the nearest paymaster. In the midst of all this despoliation, the President rules in unexplained and unimaginable luxury. Dr. Salim, no harm intended, sir; just the facts.

One will then wonder as to what if anything does the Government of Liberia spent the proceeds from its stolen diamond and other money on? The answer is all too easy to find. In a sea of poverty, Taylor and his praise singers amass personal fortunes, buy arms and ammunitions, helicopters and other military aircraft, hire mercenaries and other foreign trainers in the prosecution of their ill-conceived agenda of sub-regional destabilization and the archaic utopia of a continental revolution according to brother Gadaffi. For them, meeting the real needs of the people is surpassed by the raw quest for personal power. This is the status quo in Taylor's Liberia. How then can anyone honestly argue that the imposition of sanction, which seeks to rob Taylor of his ability to survive making wars will only, hurt the people of Liberia? Can anyone actually suffer from the withdrawal of something he did not derive benefit from in the first place? Perhaps Salim will answer in the affirmative. But I beg to differ; and the burden of proof is on him to make his case. Maybe the OAU Secretary-general should have taken a little time off in Monrovia to have his blood pressure checked at the J.F.K. Medical Center. There he would have come face-to-face with the supposed blessings that our people derive from the sale of Taylor's blood diamond and other resources.

These lame and self-serving arguments against sanctions are as old as the concept of sanction itself. Wasn't it the OAU that championed the imposition of sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa? Wasn't it some elements in the West that argued then that sanctions could only hurt the African population? What a deception, Salim? We are today playing witness to a great reversal. What a difference time makes?

The question of listening to and trusting Taylor, I do not wish to belabor. The litany of broken promises, failed peace accords and unfulfilled hopes is self-evident enough to convince anyone that listening to Taylor's baloney and trusting him is not a worthwhile undertaking. When it comes to deception and lies, Taylor is a repeat offender. To think otherwise is to demonstrate that Dr. Salim is tuned in to a totally different frequency than the rest of the world, and is reading from a different and obviously distorted page of history. What the Salims of the world fail to see is the image of a bigger picture. Like it or not, the truth is, what you have in Liberia is not a government in the true sense of the word. What exists instead is the full manifestation of a gang and a criminal enterprise led by a dangerous and out of control egomaniac that must be stopped.

These are the realities of which the OAU Boss should have taken due note. But I am not the least surprise that Salim Salim has not been following these facts. Being a moribund citadel, the OAU has been remarkably AWOL throughout the Taylor carnage that has engulfed Liberia and Sierra Leone. It took Nigeria initially to try stamping the madness. Then Britain, from across the Mediterranean, moved into the void to provide conscientious leadership. How then can Dr. Salim try to lecture us on the danger of a problem he and his organization have avoided for years? This is vanity, and vanity stinks. The world will, therefore, be advised not to reverse itself from its chosen course. I agree with Tom Kamara that the real catastrophe will be for the world to lend one more ear to this messenger of a clinically dead organization. In this case, salvation for democracy and humanity is paramount and takes precedence over narrow geographic proximity.

Through it all, we take consolation in the fact that when reality finally settles in, Dr. Salim, the longest serving Secretary General of the Pan-African body, which has the history of aligning more with African leaders than with the masses of Africans, will have learned ruefully the tragic truth of how not to parlay with a well-known and self-ordained pariah. And whatever (if any) lesson he learns will not be pleasant.