Fighting Terrorism the Liberian Way
Posted July 11, 2002
For a long time, the tiny West African state of Liberia was widely regarded throughout Africa as “Little America” not for copying U.S. democratic values, but for copying American popular culture (music, dress, hairdo, television and radio news formats) and such national symbols as the flag, the constitution, congressional and cabinet structures, the pledge of allegiance, language and educational structure, and the like. So when U.S. President George Bush declared war on terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Liberia was bound to follow suit.
But, unlike George Bush who with a proven track record of leadership as an oil industry mogul and two-time governor of one of the largest states in the U.S., rose to power in a fought-out democratic election, Liberia’s President Charles Taylor has track record as a jail breaker and ruthless rebel commander who pillaged the natural resources of his country only to rise to power later in a hastily-arranged special national elections and then blame the international community for not helping him rebuild his ruinous country.
And, as to Bush’s war on terrorism which is intended to safeguard the physical landscape and interests of the United States, Taylor’s war on terrorism is intended to silence his political opponents, and general dissent in government, the media, civil, religious and educational institutions regarding his government’s failed policies and inability to pay civil servants on time, or simply to deliver basic social services such as water, electricity, and housing,
Since last May when the dissident Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) surprised the Taylor government and the world by briefly capturing the president’s hometown of Arthington near Monrovia, and war-time capital of Gbarnga in Central Liberia, the government has intensified its witch hunts of political opponents and critics under the guise of fighting terrorism, by imploring extra-judicial means in arresting persons perceived by the government as “terrorists”, or potential sympathizers of the dissident, LURD.
In May, Human Rights Lawyer Tiawan Gongloe was arrested and tortured in prison for making alleged anti-government statement at a conference in Guinea, while scores of youths were rounded up by government security forces in the Duala section of Monrovia as alleged “terrorists”. The government even paraded on national television and the local media some youths identified as LURD fighters, who the government said it had granted clemency as part of its commitment to peace and reconciliation.
But the government’s reconciliation efforts in the case of the alleged LURD fighters was short-lived as the independent Analyst newspaper was closed down for publishing an alleged anti-government article, and when the paper was re-opened, its editor, Hassan Bility, and two others were arrested for allegedly plotting to assassinate President Taylor. The government is basing its evidence on a series of emails it said were exchanged between Bility et all, and Alhaji Kromah, a former warlord during Liberia’s seven-year civil war. The government has refused to honor a court order to produce the living bodies of Bility and the other two men, claiming they are “unlawful combatants”, again a phrase borrowed from Bush’s war on terrorism.
Last Friday, July 5, the government again raided the Monrovia home of Ivory Coast-based Liberian exiled politician Conmany Wesseh at 4:00 a.m., and arrested his brother, Suku Wesseh, an employee of UNHCR, on suspicion of stockpiling arms and ammunition at the home. Suku Wesseh is still under interrogation by agents of Liberian National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), but the government has yet to make public whether or not it found any arms and ammunition at the Wesseh’s home.
But a local Monrovia daily quoted an eyewitness at the Wesseh’s home as saying "As God may have it, they did not find any arm, neither did they find ammunition; [instead] they took some video tapes at the house, took him ... in their car and brought him to town…I asked them where was Suku detained, but the NBI refused to account for his whereabouts, saying that they will not do so until they complete their investigation," the eyewitness said.
Conmany Wesseh, Executive Director of the Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE), fled Liberia after he and Dr. Amos Sawyer, former President of the Interim Government of National Unity of Liberia (1990-1994) were severely flogged by some unidentified former fighters of President Taylor’s erstwhile rebel organization, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), after the former fighters raided the CEDE offices in .Monrovia, in anger that the CEDE was allegedly preventing the U.N. from helping with the rehabilitation programs of the NPFL fighters aimed at reuniting them with the Liberian society as productive citizens.
In the meantime, the human catastrophe in Liberia looms as the government and dissidents LURD continue their battlefield war and war of words. Initial reports of displaced persons in the Gbarnga, Kakata, Tubmanburg and Arthington gun battles stood at 60,000 in May, and it is reported that some 10,000 civilians have been displaced in the Sawmill area alone, about 100 km north of Monrovia, as a result of weekend fighting between the government and dissident forces. Even yesterday, July 10, the government and the dissident LURD acknowledged an ongoing gun battle between their forces in Tubmanburg and adjacent areas, though each group has issued press statements claiming to be in total control of Tubmanburg. So the battlefield war and the public relations war continue as the Liberian people are trapped in their miseries.
The state of emergency imposed by the government last February at the start of LURD’s “major offensive” in four years is still in force. The government has snubbed ongoing peace initiative in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and is pressing ahead with hosting its own National Peace and Reconciliation conference in Monrovia later this month. But the government’s war on terrorism continues in lawless fashion, or what Liberians will generally refer to sarcastically as the “Liberian way”.