Global Policy Forum

Liberia; "I'll keep them Busy in Sierra Leone"


By John F. Josiah

The Perspective / Africa News
July 5, 2000

How soon people forget bitter lessons. Immediately after the July 1997 election, Charles Taylor told operatives, "I'll keep them busy in Sierra Leone".

The "them" were the Nigerians who, for more than 7 years, deprived Taylor of a military victory needed to declare himself president, although they finally crowned the butchering warlord president, giving him more legitimacy than if he has seized power militarily.

Indeed, Taylor is keeping the Nigerians busy in Sierra Leone, just as he kept them busy in Liberia, sending hundreds of them home in body bags in his quest for power and wealth. Taylor's promise is coming to bear increasingly for the Nigerians. Although, they left Sierra Leone after unsuccessfully fighting against the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), hopes are now pinged on their return to do what they failed to do the first time.

It took about 14 peace agreements, dozens of peace summits and conferences, and hundreds of thousands of lives before the Liberian war could end in a Taylor presidency. Speaking in Monrovia recently, Taylor urged ECOWAS to end the Sierra Leone war by adopting the Liberian solution, which in clear terms mean a president Foday Sankoh. Otherwise, he hinted, there could be more trouble. His information Minister Joe Mulbah recently declared that "War in Sierra Leone is war in Liberia", and that because Liberian dissidents were allegedly fighting along side Sierra Leone government forces, Liberia's Security was threatened.

In retrospect, Taylor, referred to by RUF commander Sam Bockarie as "Chairman", is operating the RUF along identical lines he ran its Liberian counterpart, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). The strategy adopted by the NPFL, now copied religiously by the RUF, entails, among others, the following:

(a) unrestrained terror for political gains; (b) propounding the rhetoric of peace while preparing for war.; (c) encouraging of endless peace agreements with no intention to honor them; (d) calling for peace when defeat is imminent.

Throughout Liberia's civil war, Taylor's tactics were built around these principles. "We will talk, and talk, and talk about the talk," he once vowed on his private radio. Sensing defeat in his 1991 Operation Octopus, he sued for peace. Prior to that, he convinced former American President Jimmy Carter that he desired nothing but peace since his people were dying. A credulous and admiring Carter circulated a hand- written note to ECOWAS' leaders asking them to remove all heavy weapons from Liberian soil as a precondition for peace.

Barely a week later, Taylor struck, coming close to taking the last remaining obstacle to his Presidency, Monrovia. Without Ibrahim Banbangida's resolve in sending heavy reinforcement, along with the bravery of many of Liberians irregulars, the warlord would have succeeded.

This strategy was repeated recently by RUF after the Nigerians departure. Taylor's calculations, almost correct, were that the U.N. forces would not fight. One must note that the same language used in defending the RUF and condemning any trial of Sankoh in 1997, is the same unaltered language used in the recent lobby for the RUF. He denounced the Sankoh trial then as now, as "foolish" when the world and Sierra Leoneans refused to listen, he invaded Freetown, leaving over 5000 dead. That same year, 1999, he succeeded in somehow intimidating the British against training and arming the Sierra Leoneans Army, contending that it was now time for peace. Both he and Sankoh condemned British attempts to arm and train the restructured Sierra Leone Army because of their plans to militarily seize power. In 1999, following RUF defeat in Freetown, Taylor campaigned for peace. The result was the Lome peace agreement which gave the diamonds to the RUF - ensuring their ability to make war.

During the entire Liberian war, Taylor attended peace conferences only if they provided an opportunity for his presidency. At one point, when ECOWAS approved a national conference that would have decided the leadership question, Taylor walked out, threatening his ally Blaise Compaori for endorsing an agreement which would have deprived him the presidency." I'll get even with you", he shouted at Campaori in the corridors of the conference hall despite the fact that the Burkinbe President had sent 700 troops to fight in Liberia for Taylor's Presidency. Taylor would sign publicly witnessed peace agreements only to dispute them later once his presidential dream was threatened.

All these factors make one wonder why ECOWAS and the international community are bent on believing that there will be no peace in Sierra Leone without Taylor's blessing. The Washington Post has presented a far better understanding of the problem than West Africa's corrupt and compromised leaders:

" When Liberian President Charles Taylor forced Sierra Leone's rebel last Saturday to free the last of the 500 U. N. Peacekeepers they held captive, he delivered a clear message to the United States and other countries trying to resolve the eight-year civil war in Sierra Leone: He Taylor is the man they must deal with".

But what is needed to save Africa, and cannot be expected from the continent's leaders, is a " Zero tolerance" approach against men like Taylor. The alternative is to live with a so-called leader, as London's Sunday Telegraph revealed this week, who uses child labor to dig his diamonds, flies with the stones to European Capital on presidential visit to sell them, buys Italian villas for his personal comfort while his people have no drinking water, and then buys more guns to perpetuate and export his tyranny. With such a criminal as president, those who expect peace and development in West Africa are simply dreaming, something Senator Judd Gregg has warned us against. We better listen to his warning, that there can be no peace in Sierra Leone as long as Taylor remains in Liberia, before it gets too late. Meanwhile, Taylor will keep the Nigerian definitely busy.

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