Wotorson's Belated Call for Opposition Unity
By Nat Galarea Gbessagee
Posted May 2, 2002
No doubt former Liberian presidential contender Cletus S. Wotorson is as frustrated, saddened, and heartbroken by the lack of unity, peace, security, stability, democracy, and meaningful economic development in his homeland as any ordinary Liberians and friends of Liberia. So when Wotorson vented his anger and frustration at the sad state of affairs in Liberia in a recent article in The Perspective (http://www.theperspective.org/wotorson.html) and called for a meeting of Liberian opposition politicians, civil leaders and peace-loving Liberians as a means of fostering opposition unity and garnering a common national strategy at crisis resolution and nation building, it all made perfect sense, no matter how belated the call.
But as sincere as Wotorson might be, a call to unity not only borders on selflessness, patriotism, pragmatism, nationalism and sincerity of purpose, but presupposes that a people as divided and entrenched in their various positions as Liberians are about the best prescription for remedying their country's political and economic woes will suddenly see reason to abandon old habits of greed for power, wealth and influence and rally around a common cause to resurrect a damaged national identity. Good for Liberia if such sudden change of heart by our politicians were to materialize, but even Wotorson admits that the virtues of altruism, self-respect and patriotism are either secondary or totally lacking in the present trajectory of Liberian politics and intellectual and civil discourse.
"We who should be the natural and logical leaders for this search for peace and reconciliation have been contented to just sit back, on the sideline, wasting our energies on petty ethnic, social, economic and political differences to gain trivial personal, political and maybe economic benefits and advantages at the self-evident expense of our conflict-ravaged country" - Wotorson bemoans in his public invitation to Liberian politicians and peace activists, the aloofness and insensitivity of him and fellow politicians about the plight of ordinary Liberians as these politicians continued to juggle each other for wealth, power and prestige in an otherwise dying country.
Wotorson relived the days when Liberia was "torchbearer for freedom and self-rule for our brothers and sisters throughout Africa", and lamented fellow Liberian politicians for the "excess baggage containing our subjective feelings of bias, distrust, arrogance, confrontation and revenge..." which he believed directly and indirectly accounted for the failure of the numerous peace conferences hosted by ECOWAS and the international community to stop the carnage in Liberia during the seven-year of civil war. "Our perennial lack or inability to evolve a broad national consensus on the future of our country has contributed and continues to significantly contribute to our continuing loss of the respect, the corresponding solidarity and support of the international community," Wotorson said.
Well, the reasons for the continuing bloodshed, insecurity, poverty and lack of progress in Liberia today could not have been articulated so clearly and so vividly by a person other than a prominent politician as Cletus Wotorson who like fellow Liberian politicians in 1997 thought legitimizing the reign of a ruthless warlord in a special national elections, which they knew they could not win, was a good price to pay to enhance their individual political profiles. Sure, Wotorson rose from obscurity as a former cabinet minister to double as standard-bearer of the Liberian Action Party and a consensus candidate of the Alliance of Political Parties in the 1997 general elections. And a large number of his fellow politicians can certify that they too contested the 1997 elections as presidential candidates. But to what end?
Did it occur to Wotorson and other prominent Liberian politicians that by participating and losing in the 1997 elections they risked being taken less seriously by the international community for any grievances they might have concerning the undemocratic activities of an internationally-sanctioned "democratically elected" government? Were it not wise for them to sit back, if they could not stop him militarily, and let the warlord shoot his way to power through military conquest and then mount a vigorous campaign afterwards for international support to remove a dictator? What different did it make by electing and legitimizing a warlord if peace were the object? It would have prudent for Wotorson and other key Liberian politicians to have insisted on a provision in one of the Abuja Accords that would have barred warlords from contesting the elections as precondition for their participation in any national elections since it was obvious that civilian politicians stood no chance against any warlords? So, to paraphrase Baccus Matthews in the aftermath of the 1985 elections after he pulled his UPP party from the Grand Coalition of opposition parties, "Liberian politicians are a little too late [for] the boat when sailing with a warlord."
Moreover, as I chronicled in a previous article in The Perspective, Liberian politicians missed the boat in 1980, 1984, 1985, 1990, and 1997 to the detriment of the Liberian people by failing to unite and work towards creating the necessary conditions for the multi-party democracy they have so desperately craved, and continues to crave even today. The "petty ethnic, social, economic and political differences," Wotorson so ably noted prevented him and fellow Liberian politicians from reaching a national consensus on the best strategies to nurture and sustain the evolving multi-party democracy experiment in 1985. And it is this callousness that sometimes leads me to wonder as to why Liberian politicians are so inclined to be impatient, imprudent, and susceptible to hasty actions, but careless and somehow clueless about the consequences of such actions.
Perhaps Wotorson construed these shortcomings as a tendency by Liberian politicians and ordinary Liberians to rely on outside help for resolving their internal problems rather than taking initiatives themselves. "Ironically, this collective negative behavior has continued to inform the further deepening of our individual and collective dependence on external mediators and facilitators whose personal and/or national interests and agendas either may not always be similar to, nor consistent with the deeper and longtime interest of Liberians," Wotorson observed.
Wotorson reviled the international characterization of his beloved Liberia as "a pariah and failed state" and saw the “deteriorating national and shameful tragedy" of Liberia as reasons for his call to Liberian "stakeholders" to meet and map out common strategies to salvage what remains of their battered homeland. But Wotorson seems well aware of the tenuous nature of his proposal, and the likelihood that he might be accused of attempting to gain political capital and advantage at the expense of potential contenders in the 2003 general elections, if at all elections are held, that he consciously relinquishes any direct responsibility for organizing or leading the proposed meeting of politicians, civil leaders, peace activists and stakeholders. So he left in limbo the timing and venue of the meeting, except to volunteer to "consult on establishing a secretariat for planning the meeting" depending on responses from "mutual consultations, via e-mail, faxes or telephone communications..." What a brilliant escape route should the meeting fail to materialize, or should the meeting be held but not achieve its stated objectives!
Here, I am reminded of a prominent Liberian politician and legislator whom I interviewed back in 1983 moments after his election to represent his county to the impending constitutional advisory assembly meeting in Gbarnga as to what he thought about the historic event, and the state of affairs in Liberia prior to the 1980 coup from his vantage point as a former legislator. This tall man of statue looked me right in the eyes and said: "Son, I can tell you this. We were forced to take instructions from above whether we like it or not, or whether the people we represented like it or not." At that moment, I got the feeling that this elderly former legislator wanted to tell me more, but he was not as euphoric as most Liberians were at the time about a new constitution and the ushering in of multi-party democracy and thought to keep his options open. And with good reasons too, considering developments in Liberia after 1983.
Notwithstanding, Wotorson deserves a great deal of credit and respect for his bold initiative to appeal to the sensitivity and patriotism of Liberian opposition politicians and potential stakeholders in a free and democratic Liberia to unite their efforts now in formulating appropriate homegrown strategies that would rid the country of its "democratic dictator" and put in place the requisite institutional framework for national security, rule of law, national development, and justice and fair play for all. But to achieve the desired impact, there are several hurdles or challenges that must first be overcome.
First, if Wotorson's implied depiction of Liberian politicians as a bunch of ambitious people fixated on petty infightings and trivial personal pursuits were true, then it is inconceivable that any Liberian politicians will volunteer to participate in a loosed meeting without credible leadership, organization and meaningful political agenda. After all, Liberian politicians are as divided as the extremities of their various positions on peace, war, democracy and the economic viability of Liberia.
Second, if Wotorson has the political clout, moral authority and financial resources to host the kind of meeting he is proposing, then he ought to take the lead and directly organize and chair the meeting, even if it meant foregoing participation in any scheduled Liberian national elections to ally fears of posturing for unfair advantage. Otherwise, the notion that a meeting of such magnitude can be organized and held on a purely voluntary basis via fax and email exchanges will never materilize.
Now, granted for instance that potential participants were within the same city limits, which in this case they are not, it will still require careful planning and abundance man-hours to pull off such gigantic undertaking. A conference venue and stationeries must be secured, a suitable agenda and format of the meeting must be agreed upon, presenters must be selected and positions papers must be prepared, overnight and long distance participants must be accommodated, and so on. So sure, volunteers will be needed to work on the secretariat as Wotorson rightly indicated, but no volunteers will rise up in thin air and commit to a project without clear leadership or organizers.
Third, if the meeting were held at all under the prevailing circumstances, who will the participants be, and will any resolutions and recommendations reached at the meeting be binding on all opposition politicians? Is the opposition ready at this time to bury the hatchet and work for the common good of the country? Or will it be any forum to exchange pleasantries, munch on pastries and then talk, talk and talk about the talk? I hope our politicians have come of age to see the devastations to the socio-economic and politico-cultural fabrics of Liberia as a result of their numerous miscalculations, inactions, and infightings. Liberians have a Herculean task ahead in salvaging a bleeding nation, and politicians like Wotorson may have the vision, but it takes political capital, selfless sacrifice and economic resources to make indelible inroads. Good luck to those Liberian politicians who will for once put national interest above personal interest!