If the words of a cornered warlord-cum-dictator can be believed, by 11.59 a.m. on Monday 11 August 2003 Mr Charles Taylor will resign as President of Liberia,
a new transitional President would take over and Charlie Boy and his immediate wrecking crew will leave the country for their sunset asylum in Nigeria. I do
not know what is so special about that day for him or the country. Maybe in his grand delusions he wanted his departure to piggy-back on the infamy of 11 September.
The day cannot be sooner.
While there is nothing automatic about a return to peace following his departure, it is the plain truth that no kind of peace is possible with him around. So his
exit will increase the prospect of ending the carnage and bringing the long suffering of Liberian people and their neighbours to an end.
Once Taylor is out there are challenges that must be surmounted. There are too many negative media reports about the role of the first West African Intervention
force in the country in the early 1990s. But while one does not condone the excesses of the forces it must be borne in mind that the world of 1990s is quite different
in many respects from the world we live in today even if some things never change.
In 1990 the ECOMOG intervened primarily to shore up the bloodthirsty regime of Master Sergeant Doe. The region was dominated by military dictators of various
levels of mendacity against their peoples. The regional power, Nigeria, was under the Jackboots of Babangida and later Abacha. Babangida, Jerry Rawlings, Compaore,
Joseph Momoh of Sierra-Leone and others saw the Charles Taylor uprising against Doe as a dangerous precedent in a region where Soldiers (initially only Generals
but later Junior officers and even NCOs) had complete veto over the political process. The business of changing governments was that of the army not a bunch
of civilians. They reacted out of self-interest but as time went on the intervention became the only positive thing that ever happened to the country. It stemmed the
tide that was heading for the oceans culminating in the transition that saw Taylor successfully intimidating the populace into "voting" him to the Executive
The so-called international community (often meaning Europe and America, sometimes, the UN, and these days, the US, alone!) failed Liberia then as it was engaged in the Gulf. And even today, despite claims of historical linkages with Liberia - like father like son, Dubya is still more interested in Iraqi oil than saving Liberian lives.
ECOWAS responded to Liberia then and it is doing so now. One hopes that the bitter lessons of the past have been internalised to facilitate a comprehensive
settlement this time.
The omens are good. First, there is greater sensitivity and attempt to adhere to universal standards and rules of engagement in addition to greater awareness.
They cannot escape with the excesses today that they did before. No bush is beyond the Internet and other multimedia attention these days. Second, there is AU and
UN support and even America's grudging and miserly support. Third, ECOWAS can play an honest brokerage now better than it did in the last intervention. It is
not supporting a crumbling dictator and most of the states have no loyalty to the rebels. But in spite of these factors, there are other challenges.
First, is the future of Charles Taylor. There has been a spate of criticism of Nigeria's offer of asylum. While understandable I believe this is misplaced.
What are the alternatives? To leave Taylor there to continue to destroy the country until the rebels get to finish him off like Doe? While no one will mourn his violent
end, what about the thousands of innocent Liberians who are being raped, maimed, killed and pained? How many more have to? Getting him out of Monrovia does not
translate into impunity. Even if the Nigerian government wishes, he is so unpopular within the Nigerian civil and political society and also the military establishment,
his being in Abuja can only be temporary. So let us do the first things first: Charles Taylor has no hiding place. There is enough to hang him even in Nigeria!
The second and most crucial challenge is the management of the post-Taylor situation in the immediate, medium and long terms. On no account should the armed
rebels, LURD, MODEL and others be allowed to capture power. For once, Africa has to show that it is no longer willing to reward militarists. The government that
will emerge should be broad-based to include all interests and sections of the Liberian society. Also, they must not be beholden to any partisan interests. This
must require that all those participating must rule themselves out of the immediate post transition political offices. If not, the transitional government will be weakened by factional manoeuvres.
Therefore the ECOMOG forces have to be more than just a peacekeeping operation but also have in its mandate a capacity for offensive and coercive action. The
leaders of ECOWAS have to avoid being hoodwinked into imposing candidates that may be known internationally but often unpopular locally.
This article was first published as Dr Abdul-Raheem's weekly column, "Postcard"
in Uganda's National Daily, The New Vision.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.