Desperate Taylor, The Next
By Abdoulaye W. Dukule
June 1, 2001
President Taylor's warning to the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General, Oluyemi Adeniji, that the sub-region could be inflamed if nothing is done about the conflict with Guinea should not be taken lightly. Taylor is not just crying wolf, he is a man with his back to the wall - or the sea in his case - and desperate enough to do anything, using his army of killers and child soldiers to start a new conflagration. He proffered similar threats against Monrovia, in June 1992, after the Interim Government accepted to talk with ULIMO. He said that ULIMO had found sanctuary in Monrovia and he would go after them in the heart of the city. When the Interim Government informed General Ishaya Bakut, the ECOMOG Field Commander that Taylor had infiltrated Monrovia and was preparing to launch an attack, his response was that "Taylor was not that crazy." The Interim Government also spoke at the time with the people in the international community, including the UN, the WFP and the Carter Center among others and they all said that Taylor would not be crazy to attempt to take over Monrovia. At the time, Taylor had lost Bomi and lower Lofa to ULIMO where he got his diamonds. In October 1992, he attacked, sending waves after waves of child soldiers, who died by the thousands in the swamps of Monrovia.
Mr. Taylor now finds himself in the same desperate situation. LURD, according to him, seems to be gaining grounds. RUF is losing battle in Sierra Leone and is starting to disarm. The secure Ivorian backdrop is no longer so secure and the political support in ECOWAS is slowly eroding. When he launched his war on Monrovia in 1992, he wasn't sure of winning but it resulted in bringing the international community to his rescue to start a new peace process. He can and may launch an all-out frontal war on Guinea or Sierra Leone to be rescued. When and how? That's just matter of time.
The diplomatic support Mr. Taylor enjoyed a few years ago has all but evaporated. Before the elections in 1997, every body gave him the benefit of the doubt. From the Carter Center to the United Nations' Gordom Summer to Friends of Liberia, everyone thought the man who had ignited the war, brought the downfall of Dictator Doe deserved a chance to prove himself. The United States, although not providing him the long-awaited and coveted invitation to the White House, dropped the jail-breaking charges that were hanging over his head and in 1997, and even sent a group of specialists to train the police force. This cooperation did not go far, because Taylor would not get rid of Mr. Joe Tate, the very famous police director, who later died in very tayloresque circumstances. He kicked out ECOWAS peace keeping force, slamming the doors on any possibility to re-organizing the military. One after the other, those who had thought he would make the transition from a ruthless warlord to a statesman gave up all hope. The change in his backdoor land, Cote d'Ivoire has changed drastically in the few years. While President Houphouet Boigny and his successor Konan Bedie embraced Savimbi, President Laurent Gbagbo just returned from a state visit to Angola, and has embraced Dos Santos. There is no need here to talk about Conteh in Guinea and President Kabbah in Sierra Leone.
Taylor now finds himself in the position where he needs a war. Like in 1992, he is almost certain that he will not win nor defeat Guinea or Sierra Leone in an open war. But a conflict will give him a respite, a chance to occupy the headlines and control a deadly war. Such a war, with its human toll will get international attention and will propel him in the driver's seat for peace negotiations. He will be taken seriously and the world will have to negotiate with him. The United States, which has tried to ignore him so far and refused to accord him the smallest respect, will have to deal with him. The United Nations, which now condemns him, will have to sit and talk peace with him. He will then dictate the terms of peace. Taylor walked over the bodies of thousands of child soldiers to reach Monrovia. He would walk over the bodies of thousands more to get the world to pay attention to him.
Those who have negotiated with Taylor over the years know how much he loves to gamble. The cost in human suffering is the least of his worries. The destruction of infrastructures and displacement of people worry him the least. Hunger, poverty, and malnutrition of babies are not among priorities. Bombing villages and setting villages on fire never stopped him and will not stop him now.
Liberians, West Africans and members of the international community should listen. We should all be prepared when he threatens a war in the sub-region. He is losing ground, he is losing face and he feels that he is being ignored. The international community should brace itself for another war, which may make the past ten years look like a boy-scout picnic. He will do anything to get out of the position of a pariah he finds himself in. The cost in human life and disaster will be great. Instead of waiting to send food-aid and cater to millions of refugees, something must be done, now, to avert the catastrophe.
Editor's Note: Abdoulaye w. dukule is a former press counselor at the Liberian Embassy, Washington, DC.