Liberia: Another Chance to do Good
By Abdoulaye W. Dukule
August 13, 2003
The demise of the Taylor regime has been expected from the day it was inaugurated into office. A friend with a cynical mind once said that the best way to get rid of Charles Taylor was to give him power, then he would make every possible mistake and would ultimately work himself out of power. And indeed, it worked. Liberians can pat themselves on the back for pushing out of office one of the most cruel and corrupt human beings to ever lead a nation. Those who doubt this only need to look at Monrovia at its worse in January 1989 and Monrovia in 2003. The country is so bad off that it no longer figures on the United Nations development index, as if it has ceased to exist.
Taylor came into Liberian history in the midst of uncertainties. The Doe regime was shaky and had become as corrupt as a militaristic and tribal-based government could be. The raids in Nimba and the total disregard for basic human rights and dignity had exacerbated the social fabric of the nation. This situation had brought to the surface anger, frustration and hatred, well embedded in every normal human being. By the time Taylor launched his national manslaughter, the nation was ripe for anything.
Hitler got good Germans to become Nazis, Idi Amin managed to get good Ugandans to kills each other and bad politicians got Rwandans to kill people they had lived with and loved for generations. Taylor banked on the history of hatred between “settlers” and “natives”, the hatred the people of Nimba had for the Does’ regime, with Krahns and Mandingoes the primary targets. The hatred later extended to every person who worked for the government. He exploited fear and greed among his partisans. It would be a mistake to think that these universal human traits are solely Liberians. Every human culture has greed, hatred and fear in it and every now and then, under some extraordinary circumstances, someone comes up as a catalyst for the full expression of these negative sentiments. With ignorance, tribal and religious petty differences as a backdrop, these sentiments can turn into killer machines. This is what happened to Liberia and any healing process must first accept these facts. The people of Nimba, the Mandingoes, the Krahns or the people of Lofa are not different from other human beings in the world, they simply were faced with a situation that made them used the worse part of their humanity.
Liberians missed a chance to do good in 1980 and Taylor missed a chance to go good in 1997. In both instances, Liberians had decided to move forward and let “bygones be bygones.” But Samuel Doe, semi-literate that he was, manipulated and used by a few advisors failed to lead the nation into a new era. He had nationalistic tendencies that never translated into nation building. Taylor came and turned his chances at being a national leader into failed policies. He is lucky that he can go to Nigeria, to ponder on why he failed and how he could have transformed Liberia in 1997. The reasons are simple: we wrote it here many moons ago that Taylor never grew out of the 1960s. He never realized that Tubman had died and that every well meaning Liberian would rather forget that era of godfather politics. Taylor missed the boat and failed to understand history. He promises to come back. Liberia wishes him well and maybe and he Prince Y. Johnson can now compare notes and reminisce about their past deeds.
Up to the last minute to his departure, Taylor was bent on doing what he does best: killing. While his colleagues of ECOWAS and the African Union were negotiating behind the scenes to save his head, Taylor, as treacherous as he is, was importing more arms to kill more Liberians. A former ally of our departed president said: “the man is evil. Whatever he touches turns into dirt. Who ever he comes into contact with becomes dirty. Whatever he embarks upon turns deadly.”
Many innocent people became criminals through working with Taylor. Many students from the University of Liberia in 1989, joined what they thought was a real revolution just to be disillusioned. Some of them left because they saw right from the start of what the “revolution” was about. Others stay, either out of fear of out of greed. Orphans, whose parents or siblings had been massacred by Doe saw a chance for revenge and the Nimba people, listened to Sam Dokie and allowed their children to go fight Doe. They turned into killing machines, drugged and filled with hatred, kept in the lowest state of humanity, as Charles Taylor rose on prominence on the pile of cadavers they put under his feet.
The first impulse would be to go after all Taylor’s men, as was suggested by a recent article by our colleague Musue Haddad at The New Democrat. This would be the easiest thing to do because that is what our politics had been for the past 20 years. The day the PRC (People’s Redemption Council) assassinated President Tolbert (Doe actually used the word assassinated in his first speech), thousands of people were killed in their homes, women were raped, and homeowners were thrown out of their homes. A neighbor, who had worked twenty-five years to built herself a small house on 11th Street, in Sinkor, was raped in front her children and taken away at BTC, for no other reason that she had an Americo name. Her father who had a job a generation earlier had changed the family name, sent the kids to school in America and etc. There were many such cases. This same awful reaction of vengeance played again and again. Liberians must grow out of that trend.
Are people who worked with Taylor guilty of crimes? What types of crimes did they commit? Economic crimes? Human rights violations? Rape? How about the Doe regime? Who killed and burned the villagers in Nimba? How many people were sent to force labor or were tortured and killed at BTC? How about the Tolbert regime? Who benefited from the eroding land deal of Hotel Africa? Who used government money to buy and resell the land the Fendell campus is built on? Where did Tubman get the money to leave millions to each of 23 children? Who own the estate the JJ Roberts still makes money out of? How about the killings in Lofa by ULIMO or the deadly raids on peaceful villagers by drugged teenagers of LPC in Southeastern Liberia? Where do we start? The most recent or the oldest crime?
Liberia has a great legal system on the book. Liberians must and should go to those books, find witnesses and bring culprits to book, no matter what political regime they operated under, from the Tubman administration to the Charles Taylor group of criminal enterprise. What happened to Liberia’s wealth? Where did the Maritime Funds go? Who killed whom? Who committed rape? Who singed what illegal contract? Who took whose land?
The immediate focus should be on the immediate issue of putting Liberia back on track, with the hope that those who killed, stole and raped would live long enough to face justice. Liberians can and must take their time to tackle these issues. As the saying goes, “hurry, hurry bust trousers”
When a house is on fire, one does not stop to ask who started the fire.
Like in 1980 and 1997, Liberians have again a chance to put their country on the right path. What Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor could not do, Liberians may be able to do it now. For once, they have a chance to put together a structure that could set the foundation for a new nation without guns at their heads. Neither Doe nor Taylor gave Liberians much choice. But with Doe dead and Taylor gone - never mind Taylor saying he will be back, hopefully by then we would have retirement homes - there is a possible new beginning.
There are presently 70 people in Accra holding the future of our country in their hands. The first tendency is to dismiss them and call for any other arrangement that would involve more Liberians. But emergency situations call for urgent solutions. ECOWAS, the UN and other friends of Liberia, think that this is the way things should be. It is almost a repeat of Banjul 1990. The great difference being that the transitional government out of Banjul never got the recognition nor the means it needed to get the job done.
The government to be set-up in Ghana is certainly the best formula Liberia could get under the circumstances. Liberians can reflect on the traumatizing experience the country went through. They can put in place a government of transition that would lay solid foundations for a great nation or they could follow their petty greed and give a transitional government that would be weak, corrupt and devastating and postpone our chances of nation building for the next 20 years.
Can they do it? Do they have the right candidates? Are they freed from the traumas of the Doe and the Taylor years to look only for the goodness of Liberia?
There are good potential leaders in Accra, from Dr. Tipoteh to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Harry Moniba. They have all participated in the recent past. There are also new comers, like Theresa Leigh-Sherman and Roosevelt Quiah, who owe their rise to special circumstances. Are these people good enough to lead Liberia into that new era every Liberian has been craving for? In the next few days, we would look at their path in the sand, how they managed to get to where there are and what makes them illegible or not to be the leader of the most important Liberian government since JJ Roberts. This transition is the one that would lay out the map for the next many years.
Liberians in the US are represented through MDCL (Movement for Democratic Change in Liberia – Nohn Kidau, President) and ULAA (Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas – President Mohammed Kromah). The press is represented and so are all political parties. There are also five civil society groups, from religious to women associations.
Liberians in the US can make an input. They can make sure that the party they belong to, the people they know do not make the wrong choice when the time comes for a vote.
Liberia has another chance. There is a lot to do in the next few years, before the country bounces back in the comity of nations.
The most urgent task ahead would be to start a national healing process. Too many people have been hurt in the over the last 14 years. There are tens of thousands of children who were robbed of their childhood. Rather pen and pencils in classroom, they were handed machineguns and taught to kill their fellow Liberians. There are thousands of young adults who dreamed of liberating their country from the claws of Samuel Doe just to be exposed to killing, corruption and total disregard for human life and dignity. Government turned into a criminal enterprise. There is enough blame to go around for every one, except for those who refuse any sense of responsibility and stand on the sideline of history.
Taylor is gone and every Liberian can now take a deep breathe. This is real. It is over for Charlie but the hard work is just beginning for Liberians. Retaliation, guilt by association, kangaroo justice like under the PRC or under Taylor would not help move the country forward. Liberians need to take a breath and find a way to move on.
Charles Taylor brought the worse in every Liberian, now is the time for every Liberian to put their best up for the good of the country. Justice will come in time for those who deserve it. Now, the most urgent thing is to put off the fire that has been consummating the nation for almost a generation.
Delegates at talks can be reached the M-Plaza Hotel in Accra, fax 011-233-21 763 416. You can write to whoever represents your political party or your association. Do not let the delegates make the wrong choice. Write and fax.
Bye bye Charlie. God Bless Liberia.