Taylor and Kabbah no comparison: Johnson-Sirleaf Tells Ambassador Streeb

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted May 20, 2002

Liberian Opposition politician Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has taken former U.S. Ambassador Gordon Streeb (Ambassador Streeb works with the African Governance Program at the Carter Center/Emory) to task for attempting to compare the 1997 Special Elections in Liberia that brought Charles Taylor to power with last weekend's General Elections in Sierra Leone in which incumbent president Tejah Kabba was re-elected. She said "fundamental differences" existed between the electoral processes in the two countries, and indicated that unlike Tejan Kabbah, a respected man with many years of international service behind him, Charles Taylor is a ruthless warlord with high marks for "murder, mayhem and dishonesty in his life experience".

"Unlike Tejan Kabbah a gentle and respected man with many years of international service to mankind, the prime contestant in the Liberia elections was Charles Taylor, a warlord with nothing but murder, mayhem and dishonesty in his life experience. Unlike Tejan Kabbah a man whose lifestyle depicts concern for the conditions which have made his country poor, in Liberia Charles Taylor's ostentatious and rather vulgar life style demonstrates no concern for the plight of his people. Unlike Tejan Kabbah a man trying to promote regional harmony and collaboration, Charles Taylor has done everything to destabilize neighboring countries with the sole interest of putting himself in the position to exploit their resources for self gain." Johnson-Sirleaf said in a letter to Ambassador regarding his recent BBC interview in which he was reported to have said that unlike Liberia, and he hopes the Sierra Leonean people will accept the results of their national elections and "move on."

"I would like by this note to take strong exception to your BBC interview a few days ago by which you made comparison of the ongoing Sierra Leone elections and the Liberia general elections of 1997. I believe you said, inter-alia, that you hope that, unlike Liberia, the Sierra Leone people (and the contestants) will accept the results of the elections and move on with their lives," Johnson-Sirleaf told the former US Ambassador to Zambia.

"We expect that the incumbent Tejan Kabbah will win the Sierra Leone elections and we join you in hoping that the Sierra Leone people as well as all of the contestants will indeed accept the results and move on. However, let me remind you of certain fundamental differences between the two processes. The Liberia elections were held under the general supervision of ECOWAS based upon an accord among the several warlords agreed a few years previous in Abuja. Unlike Sierra Leone whose elections were reasonably free and fair, and observed by a neutral international community, the Liberia elections were held under conditions of fear and massive fraud facilitated by the Abacha and Rawlings regimes", she said

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf reminded the Ambassador that "Jesse Jackson once likened Foday Sankoh to Nelson Mandela and your BBC interview implied a likening of Tejan Kabbah to Charles Taylor. The Sierra Leone people condemned Jesse Jackson for this preposterous comparison and the Liberian people will similarly condemn you for yours", adding "although we are convinced, Ambassador Streep that your mind set regarding Mr. Taylor and Liberia is so made up that you don't want to be confused with the facts, I am enclosing copy of comments on the U.S. State Department's recent report on human practices in Liberia."

"This very accurate account of Mr. Taylor's character and ambition was done by a Liberian who had given Mr. Taylor the benefit of the doubt by leaving the opposition to work at a high level for the Taylor government after the 1997 elections. He, and the many capable like him, now reside in exile, while Mr. Taylor plunders and deinstitutionalize our country," Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told the Ambassador.

Apparently, Mrs., Johnson-Sirleaf strongly-worded letter to Ambassador Streep points to the frustration of Liberian opposition politicians and human rights advocates at the lukewarm attention given to their message by the international community that the so-called "democratically elected" government of President Charles Taylor is corrupt, inept and unrepentant violator of fundamental human rights of the Liberian people.

In fact, the very 2001 State Department Report on Human Rights Practices in Liberia dated March 4, 2002, which Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf alluded to in her letter to Ambassador Streeb , is being vigorously challenged by a Liberian political scientist Sogou Digen, for reported inaccuracies in some areas. Mr. Digen said though he found the report as an outstanding work on keeping track of the numerous abuses of the Taylor government, he had "difficulties capturing the total picture and ultimate impact of President Taylor's bad administration, and in upstanding whether the recorded incidences were connected or not; or served some common purpose(s) or not; and for whom if they did..."

"First, the Report does not mention the grotesque mismanagement of the state, particularly the pillaging and irresponsible utilization of state resources by the President, specifically. For example, in the midst of the extremely degenerated global human conditions, the President rides in four sets of convoy vehicles of Mercedes jeeps and limousines; he has a half million dollars boat in hiding somewhere, while his friends and chain of concubines flaunt the Streets with his largesse of modern vehicles. This cruel attitude constitutes the first case of willful human rights abuse. The flagrant diversion of state resources to acquire the wealth which the President and his friends so remorselessly display has created a level of destitution that illiteracy and unemployment rates cannot convey by any measure," Digen said.

"On the other hand, to condemn everyone in government as extortionist, as the Report attempted, is a very unfair categorization of those officials who have demonstrated over the years, and still demonstrate today, great integrity and strong commitment to our country. Sweeping censure of this kind could undermine their resistance to wrongdoing. After all, the President and his host of beneficiaries of the bounty of his booty are known; they openly exhibit the gains of their presidential affiliation, with absolute insensitivity," he noted.

Digen pointed out that "It is no secrete that President Taylor's real ambition is to be the wealthiest and most dominant head of state in the ECOWAS Sub Region. Therefore, he continues to loot the properties of all former thriving companies, rather than encourage their revival; and extract diamond, gold and trees from wherever it is possible, this time as a principal shareholder in every logging, mining and other successful businesses in the country. And, since 1998, he has seized and expended, outside of the fiscal program and process, all proceeds from the maritime program and taxes on petroleum products and forestry operations; which are the only assured sources of revenue and together contribute a hefty 60% or more of government's yearly income. In 2000, the IMF discontinued interactions with Liberia when it could not get the government to re-channel and redirect these streams of income to proper state use, including priorities identified by the government itself."

Degin took preparer of the state department's report to task for listing Mr. Taylor's ethnic background as being both native and settler misses the issue altogether, and added that "President Taylor is a kleptomaniac, full stop. And that has nothing to do with ethnicity. The reference also creates the impression of even-handiness in dealing with the both groups, which does not jive with his conduct. If actions really speak louder than words - I believe they do- then Mr. Taylor, no matter what he claims to be, is a settler on a revenge mission. All of f his slaughtered victims: Messrs. Gabriel Kpolleh, Jackson F. Doe, Stephen Daniels, Senator David Toweh, Dr. Stephen Yekeson, Samuel Saye Dokie, his spouse and two other relatives, Francois Massaquoi and so on are country. He has only denied the settlers access to their investments and other assets in the country. He is, therefore, detested by both groups, yes; but for different reasons. For the country group it is for his cruelty; and for his settlers' kin, excessive greed. The evil, in both cases, is the issue of everyone's concern."

Mr. Degin conceded, however, that Liberians are responsible for the problem in their country, and it was now time for Liberians to find their own solution to the problem. He also conceded that while national resuscitation is always a tall order, Liberia's case is made most difficult "by the persistent scavenging of the country and exodus of skilled labor and professionals. (And) the resulting mass illiteracy, which poses one of the major challenges to rehabilitation and reconstruction, presents for President Taylor a vast pool of willing recruits into his army of bandits that he will utilize to control the country and terrorize the neighborhood."

In the meantime, the Liberian Leadership forum is inviting all political parties, civil society organizations and key national figures to a meeting on June 14 and 15 2002, to revisit the resolutions of the March 2002 Abuja Meeting of Liberian political parties, civil and opinion leaders and map out appropriate strategies for their implementation. No exact venue has been selected for the meeting, but it is likely to be held in West Africa, according to a statement by LLF's working group

The statement said in order to give further momentum to these initiatives; we propose a meeting of the drafters of the Abuja Agenda, the proposed Working Group to Organize the Forum (WG). This meeting is being planned to take place in West Africa, outside Liberia on the 1. Once confirmed, the exact venue will be communicated to you. The objective of the WG meeting will be to finalize the program for the first formal meeting of the proposed Forum. It is also proposed that signatories to the Abuja Agenda and other leaders/representatives of registered political parties and key civil society organizations as well as national personalities working on building peace and democracy will meet between the 16 and 19 June 2002 to formalize the Forum and take decisions relevant to its policies and activities.

All persons and groups desirous of participating in the working groups are advised to contact the organizers via email at cede-reg@afnet.net, hagreaves@aol.com, and peugene@afnet.net, Messrs Harry Greaves, Jr.< hagreaves@aol.com>; tel: 214.850.0248 and S. T. Eugene Peabody <peugene@afnet.net>; tel/mobile: (225) may also be contacted for further information.

Key highlights of the proposed meetings will include security, elections, and national reconciliation. And the subtopics under security includes. Establishing a ceasefire between the Government and Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), Disarming, disbanding, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of all rival armed groups. . Deploying an international security stabilization force to take charge of national security for a limited period, The creation, by ECOWAS and the international community, of a national security system that shall include the recruitment, training, and organization of new military and paramilitary forces, not to be dominated by members of any warring faction or ethnic group and The creation, by the UN and regional and sub-regional organizations, of mechanisms to address acts of impunity. These would include the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, boards of inquiry and special investigation committees to look into grave cases of a criminal nature and human rights violations.

The Elections component will focus on Advocating electoral and judicial reforms to ensure a balanced and impartial elections commission, as well as the establishment of conditions that will lead to the holding of free and fair elections in accordance with internationally accepted standards, while Reconciliation will include such subtopics as Removing the climate of fear and distrust by addressing the security issue, Creating an environment for the participation of all Liberians in the political process., Accounting for past wrongs perpetrated in the Liberian society, with the government demonstrating its readiness to put an end to the culture of impunity by punishing wrongdoing and Instituting reforms to ensure the independence of the Judiciary.

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