Peace in the MRU - What Kind of Peace?
By: James W. Harris
In the past few months, the three nations that comprise the Mano River Union (MRU), namely, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, respectively, have been holding a series of meetings, which they say, are aimed at establishing peace in their West African sub-region following years of upheaval there.
"I do not believe that Presidents Lassana Conte and Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, including myself, have a choice other than seeking peace for our people. We do not have a choice; we must bring peace to our peoples", Charles G. Taylor, the Liberian head of state recently declared. But how? And what kind of peace? These are just a few questions that are begging for "sober" answers.
But to understand why, in fact, peace will continue to elude the region in the foreseeable future, we must take some time to explore just exactly what is occurring "on the ground" while these leaders say theyre "honestly" pursuing peace.
First of all, with the exception of Sierra Leone that now seems to have the best chance ever to shun violence once and for all and embrace peace through "democratic" means (thanks to the United Nations [UN] and Great Britain, its former colonial master), Liberia and Guinea, in sharp contrasts, are sadly moving the other way - towards complete anarchy.
How can Liberia and Guinea, particularly, talk about peace when the regimes of Presidents Taylor and Conte continue to intentionally subvert their respective Constitutions without regard to their earlier pledges to uphold them?
In President Taylors Liberia today, many "innocent" Liberians are still being kept behind bars (dungeons) indefinitely against their will without the "due process" of law until it pleases the head of state to finally set them free (if they are lucky enough). Amongst them are the remaining ten or so Krahn political prisoners; most recently, Cllrs. Marcus Jones and Ishmael Campbell, two prominent Liberian lawyers, who have been charged wrongly of Legislature contempt; and quite possibly, Thompson Adebayo, a local human rights activist, who had given himself up following a well-publicized nation-wide manhunt that was led by none other than the top cop, Mr. Paul Mulbah.
Additionally, the current National Patriotic Party (NPP) governments record on freedom of the press and human rights, among others, is all but envious. For example, in terms of press freedom, all the administration has to show after almost four years in power, are those so-called "independent" newspapers that usually appear on the government-owned website. But guess who own them? Youve got that right some of the same officials of government. Surprise? If the Taylor government, therefore, is really serious about peace, it should first allow "truly" independent media, like, Radio Veritas, to operate freely in the country, hindered only by the limits of the law (Constitution).
And on the "burning" issue of human rights, the NPPs record remains dismal up to this very day to say the least, despite numerous calls by the international community, including, lately, the European Union (EU), for it (government) to take the appropriate measures to curtail widespread abuses by Taylors notorious private army, the ironically named, Anti Terrorists Unit (ATU). A very recent example of such abuses is the "cold-blooded" murder of a Nigerian national and Monrovia resident, the late James Enakerakpo, allegedly over some jewelry. Again, who are the alleged culprits in this case? You bet a former senior cabinet minister (Bedell Fahn) in the NPP government as well as four top officers (Roland Dehmie, Emmanuel Dao, Varney Hoff and Stephen Nyegar) of the fearsome ATU.
To put it simply, no significant changes are taking place in Liberia (at least not right now), even though, the President and his men are going all over the place talking deceitfully about peace when they really arent up to it.
Meanwhile, over in neighboring Guinea, storm clouds are said to be gathering momentum over that MRU country after President Lassana Conte, who also came to power through the barrel of a gun just like his "brother" Mr. Taylor, allegedly rigged the electoral referendum which ultimately gives him the "opportunity", not the "right", to remain "Mr. President for Life". Strange, eh, isnt it!
But President Contes apparent egoism is bound to cause disturbance, not only in his own country, but probably the entire region as the people there struggle daily to rid themselves of oppression and other negative vices. Now, thats another good way to pursue peace isnt it!
Most importantly, though, the international community, particularly, the UN, should not condone this sort of ugly behavior as it tends to completely destabilize the MRU region. It (UN) should make it quite clear to Presidents Conte and Taylor that their respective governments would be fully sanctioned if they continue to do things that would jeopardize the peace. In fact, there are already some indications that the behavior of both Messrs. Taylor and Conte are doing more to sink the MRU deeper into chaos as opposed to creating the conditions for peace and stability. Therefore, they should also be told in no uncertain terms that they would be punished personally if they choose to go down that rugged path. Both of them should be urged seriously to pursue peace by their "deeds" and not "empty words", especially at this critical point in time.
On the other hand, if Presidents Taylor and Conte think that Liberians and Guineans will stay silent because the whole world is presently pre-occupied with the United States (US) led war against terrorism in Afghanistan, then they are surely mistaken. They can rest assure that their every move will be watched carefully until the peoples of Liberia and Guinea can enjoy some kind of freedom and democracy as guaranteed them by their respective Constitutions. Otherwise, the MRU could well degenerate into chaos, mayhem and lawlessness as recent history has shown. I mean, theres no way around it!
As for Sierra Leone, the upcoming elections there presents the best chance yet for that country to completely abandon violence and institute some form of genuine "democratic" rule. With the help and direct involvement of mainly the UN and Great Britain, the disarmament process there seems to be moving right on track, despite the recent revelations by the Washington Post, a US-based newspaper, as well as other foreign media outlets, about the continuing importation of arms into the region by the beleaguered Taylor government for their "blood" allies, the limb-chopping so-called Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. But this has got to stop, if this is in fact true and if peace is to be achieved at all. Also, the welfare of Sierra Leones "limbless" citizens (thanks to the heartless RUF) should be brought to the forefront and adequately addressed if the nation is to move forward with a clear conscience. Their collective welfare should not be put on the back burner or ignored, because someone has to care for them. In this regard, their mass rehabilitation would be most appropriate, and moreover, they certainly deserve it!
And as if to say the "crisis of leadership" in the MRU isnt enough, it is mind-bugging to learn about the recent arrest of a senior Sierra Leonean government minister, Momoh Pujeh, and his wife, for their alleged involvement in the mining and smuggling of diamonds illegally. Their arrest, no doubt, will create a major problem for the incumbent Kabbah government as well as the administration that might likely succeed him no matter who. The chronic problems of personal greed, corruption, diamond smuggling, etc., on the part of some public officials in the MRU need to be addressed permanently as they have overtime become nothing but "severe" diseases that are destroying the entire region for the benefit of a few.
Now, given the picture above, isnt it safe to say that no "real" peace can come to the sub-region until and unless the "fundamental rights" [i.e. freedom to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness, among others] of all peoples in that part of the world are secured? I personally think so, and so do many others I hope!
Finally, this is precisely what the UN and the world community must ensure if the lessons that we are currently learning from Afghanistan will mean anything in the future. The up coming elections in Sierra Leone should be a significant test for the MRU. Yes, the whole world will be watching to see just how "democratic" the elections there will be. Those elections will determine what kind of government the people there want. And they definitely can be given back that choice with the help, involvement and commitment of the international community.
There is no doubt in my mind, that in order for the MRU or the whole of Africa for that matter, to catch up quickly with the rest of the world, it will take a core group of "new" African leadership. This group of "new leadership" must be relatively young, vibrant, energetic and deadly focused on building democratic institutions, like the courts, or encouraging freedoms of all kinds, like the press. Above all, such leadership should know exactly when to quit when their constitutional term(s) end without a fight. They must be willing to pass on the mantle to the next generation so that they too can contribute their quota towards national development. With the up coming elections, Sierra Leoneans will have the chance to "hopefully" choose someone in this category to lead them.
In effect, whatever the current leaders of the MRU are presently doing will only stall the peace process temporarily. But "real and lasting" peace will come to the region when leaders there see sufficient reasons, for example, as Ghanas former head of state, Jerry Rawlings did, to let their nations go forward. Some people obviously may criticize Mr. Rawlings for various reasons and thats their right; its also fair game. But, at least, he had the guts, audacity, courage and decency to step aside "willingly" in the national interests and allow Ghana to move on.
The reality today is that it is only when, we, as Africans, can learn to transfer power "peacefully" and "smoothly" from one hand to the other without senseless bloodshed, that peace, stability and progress can come truly to the MRU and all of Africa.