The Indictment of Taylor is Part of the Uncertainties, not the Solution to Liberia's Problems

(Letter)

By Nat Galarea Gbessagee

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 12, 2003


As a Liberian, I feel compelled to participate in the ongoing debate about the indictment of a sitting president of Liberia for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, and the outcries over the apparent refusal of the Ghanaian government to honor an international arrest warrant by not arresting the president while he was attending a Liberian peace conference in Ghana. I am perturbed by both the emotional displays over what seems to be a legitimate Ghanaian action, and the apparent jubilations in certain Liberian circles at the indictment of President Charles Taylor for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, instead of crimes committed in Liberia. I wonder what happened to the crimes committed in Liberia? More so, the jubilations at the indictment of Taylor, and the condemnation of Ghana for taking action in its own national interest only show that we Liberians still have long bridges to cross before we learn our lessons.

The fact that President Taylor is an inept administrator of Liberian resources (economic, social, human), and a bad promoter of Liberia’s international image and domestic unity, should not be cause to rejoice over the ill-timed indictment and international arrest warrant against a sitting Liberian president at a peace confab on Liberia. We, Liberians, should not have expected the Ghanaian government to do the dirty work of the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal, if the tribunal restrained itself for nearly three weeks from publicly announcing the indictment and arrest order of Mr. Taylor until the Ghana peace conference on Liberia. Perhaps, the tribunal has its own reasons for such tactical delay. But I do not think the Ghanaian government was obliged to honor such carefully crafted attempt to lure a president to a peace conference and then capture him for crimes committed not in his own country but in a foreign country. The hatred of Taylor should not permit Liberians to applaud a bad precedent when it is being set. After all, if the arrest of Taylor were justified under such a circumstance, which other African head of state would be immune from summary arrest or similar treatments in the future? Or should unpopular African leaders accused of crimes outside their borders await secret indictment and arrest at international conferences? I think not!

It is no secret that Taylor has brought untold sufferings on the Liberian people both in his role as president and a former leader of one of the most barbaric opposition groups in Liberian history, the rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia. If Taylor should be tried for his crimes, Liberians should have the first shot at him. Liberians are sophisticated enough to dispense justice, and determine the course of their own national existence as a peaceful nation and people, and should not seek to relegate that responsibility to the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal, no matter how expedient. Ample evidence exists for Liberians to indict, try, and convict Charles Taylor for crimes against humanity, and there is no need to hide behind the Sierra Leone Tribunal to do for us what we are capable of doing for ourselves.

Taylor’s NPFL rebels decimated the Liberian populace and wrecked havoc on the entire nation. As president, Taylor assumed total control of Liberian economic, political, and social life, and threw his political enemies in jail at will, and some of them even disappeared without traces. Liberians must therefore muster the courage to indict Mr. Taylor at home, if indictment is what we want. Hiding behind crimes allegedly committed by Taylor’s surrogates while seeking treasures in Sierra Leone will not solve the Liberian problem. It only shows the extent to which Liberians are willing to rely on outside help to solve their problem, even in matters of life and death. I think it is time we face up to the problem we created collectively by our rush to judgment on many issues pertinent to our survival as a nation and people. We must now learn for once to solve our own problems the best way we can. We cannot continue to blame other people for not solving our problem while we sit greatly divided in our strategies and approaches.

At the end of the day, the indictment, arrest, trial, conviction, and imprisonment or execution of Charles Taylor for his crimes in Sierra Leone will not solve the Liberian problem. Perhaps, not even the Sierra Leonean problem! Worst still, that will not quench the anxieties of wailing mothers, fathers, and children who saw they loved ones perished under Taylor’s watch. Neither will health and education facilities, farm to market roads, affordable housing, and basic utility services (water, electricity, telephone, etc.) be restored or built throughout Liberia. Nor will political infightings and corruption be relegated to the past. The present performance of the very Liberian political and social groups whose members are likely to hold high posts in the next Liberian government after Taylor, including ULAA, LINSU, New Deal, and ALCOP, as well as the so-called former “professors club” and “Liberian intelligentsia”, if I may sarcastically add two new logical social groupings, leave much to be desired today as yesterday.

Liberia will not experience democracy when the people currently in line to assume power in the new Liberia are uneasy about democracy and rule of law. Take the infighting in ULAA over basic rules as an example. Liberians have a general tendency to rush to judgment, violate basic rules and procedures as long as such violations serve their interests. The capacity to analyze situations to determine their benefits and implications before taking action is sometimes overlooked for the sake of expediency, as in the case of the present uproar over the indictment of Taylor, and why Ghana did not arrest him. No one questioned the motive of the Sierra Leone tribunal for the secret indictment and arrest warrant, nor the implications for African diplomacy generally. We wanted Taylor arrested so badly that any chance is the best chance, and anybody who differs with us is bad, as with the waves of condemnation of Ghana. And this is exactly one of the major problems contributing to the present instability in Liberia. We have adopted a negative attitude to do what we can do now, and then think about the consequences later. But we ought to know from the civil war that breaking down is easier than building or rebuilding!

It is these very kinds of miscalculations that brought Taylor to power. Taylor was in jail on embezzlement charges when some Liberians used their influence to set him free to unleash havoc on his own country because they were unsatisfied with the election of the then sitting president. It was expedient at the time to launch a military revolt to even up the scores than to challenge the matter in court, or take other civil actions such as mass strikes. Instead, the emotional rush to judgment that the target was the sitting president and nobody else greatly caused Liberia in manpower and national socio-economic development. We are beginning to make the same mistakes again. A new rebel group with military advantage as Taylor’s NPFL in 1990 has given the sitting president an ultimatum to step down or be captured and killed. And the sitting president is pledging to step down and give power to his surrogates or not to run in the next elections. No one cares to listen the same way Taylor and the opposition did not listen in 1990 when President Samuel K. Doe was on the receiving end. Everybody wanted to get rid of Doe because he was the problem, in the same way Taylor is the problem today. President Doe died that year (1990) but the war continued for another six years for yet unexplained reasons. I hope Liberians are not repeating the same mistakes of 1990 by refusing to compromise and work out a modality for the peaceful transfer of power. Taylor is definitely cornered for the first time by suggesting the formation of an interim government in which he will not be part. LURD, MODEL and the other Liberian opposition groups would do well to draw up appropriate conditions and take Taylor at his gamble than to propel Liberia down the road of continued anarchy and uncertainty. And the indictment and international arrest warrant are just part of those uncertainties, not the solution to Liberia’s problems!