Rapprochement, Reconstruction and Reconciliation: The challenges to Liberia's Foreign Policy after the Elections of October 2005.

A Comprehensive Analysis of Liberia's Foreign Policy Objectives Prepared by Jeremiah J. Kringar Harris, Former Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs

OVERVIEW

After 14 years of civil war, including a brief dalliance with the utterly destructive, ineffective, and unprecedented corruption of the Taylor presidency, Liberia was left completely shattered. With all of the semblances of nationhood, civility and modernity discombobulated beyond comprehension, as an aftermath of the horrors of the civil conflict and the brutality of the regimes of Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe, our nation is now a Failed State. All hopes for the rebuilding of Liberia must now rest with the new government that will be elected in October, 2005, and the good will of the International Community. This of course will demand an extraordinary display of diplomatic dexterity.

The elections of 1997 were won by Charles Taylor. From the outset of his incumbency, Taylor initiated a process that progressively destroyed the good relations with the countries (Sierra Lone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast) that share common borders with Liberia. Those relations had been carefully crafted over the years by career Diplomats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Closer regional cooperation between Liberia, Sierra Lone and Guinea were further fostered by the creation of the Mano River Union, in addition to their mutual memberships in the African Union, ECOWAS, and the United Nations. However, Taylor's narrow minded policy of revenge against the leaders of Guinea and Sierra Lone soon upended the good will between the three countries. To fully comprehend the depth of this rivalry, it would serve our purpose well should we probe into the factors that led to this breakdown which embroiled the entire region in unnecessary warfare, subsequently leading to the fall of the Taylor Regime. A starting point in understanding the regional nature of the current conflict is the late 1980s, when a corrupt and brutal regime under a young military officer, Samuel Doe, ruled Liberia. Doe was eventually captured and assassinated in September 1990 by forces loyal to Prince Yormie Johnson, who also sought the presidency.

President Doe was a key Cold War ally of the United States in the region, and its financial support was vital to keeping him in power. This relationship attracted the hostility of Libyan leader Muammar Ghadaffi, who made Liberia a prime target in his plan to sponsor an Africa-wide wave of insurrections to displace Western influence.

Charles Taylor was one of the first graduates of Libya's elite school of insurrection at Mathaba, and a key instrument of Ghadaffi's designs. On December 29, 1989, Charles Taylor led his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) forces, backed by Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso, in an invasion of Nimba County, Liberia. The group advanced rapidly but a Taylor rival, Prince Johnson, broke away to form a separate faction. Despite the infighting, both Taylor's and Johnson's factions were poised to take Monrovia by early 1990.

This offensive set off alarm bells in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), including Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia and Sierra Leone, largely because Taylor's rebels included Libyan-trained dissidents from all these countries except Nigeria. France was also believed to be in support of the NPFL. The specter of Liberia as a permanent regional revolutionary base led to the creation of an intervention force, the Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG), backed by Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, that deployed to Liberia's capital in 1990, denying Taylor his victory. In response, Taylor angrily vowed that Sierra Leone, the rear base for ECOMOG, would soon "taste the bitterness of war".

On 23 March, 1991, 100 fighters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) invaded Sierra Leone. The force included almost 50 Liberian and Burkinabe mercenaries, and was led by Foday Sankoh, another Libyan trainee and a close Taylor associate. The RUF was then, and remained dependent upon Taylor. Though Sierra Leone was fragile, and suffering from endemic corruption, economic decline and large numbers of disaffected youth, the RUF was unable to tap into these grievances to gain popular support. On the contrary, its brutal and parasitic nature quickly unified Sierra Leonean opposition. Sierra Leone and Guinea counterattacked in May 1991, organizing Liberian refugees, mainly former Krahn soldiers from the late President Doe's army, into the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO).

ULIMO became Taylor's principal armed opponent on Liberian territory for the ensuing five-year war. Using Guinea and Sierra Leone as a base, it received training, weapons and support from those states, and traded in diamonds and other commodities with them. The Mano River War raged through Sierra Leone and Liberia until 1995, when ECOMOG, finding Taylor formidable on the battlefield, reached an accommodation in the hope he would curtail support for the RUF. This "accord" was embodied in the Abuja Agreements of 1995 and 1996.

Neighboring states supported the July 1997 election that made Taylor president in a contest that, while marginally free and fair, was also distorted by corruption and intimidation. Initially, Taylor did seem to reduce support for the RUF, who were pushed back to the Liberian border by a South African mercenary firm, Executive Outcome, hired by Sierra Leone's new president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, working in conjunction with disgruntled elements of Sierra Leone's own military, led by Major Johnny Paul Koroma and his Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). However, the RUF was able to topple President Kabbah on 25 May 1997. It dominated the new military regime, and took power for the first time in Freetown. In turn, and demonstrating how interlocked the cycle of violence would become, Kamajor "hunter" militias, who backed deposed President Kabbah, were forced to retreat into Liberia, where they developed close ties with anti-Taylor ULIMO fighters who had backed ex-President Doe. In response to RUF gains in Sierra Leone, ECOMOG deployed to Freetown.
By February 1998, with encouragement of the U.S. and British governments, it drove back both the military regime and the RUF. The U.S. and UK pushed through UN Security Council authorization after the fact. ECOMOG coordinated with the Kamajor hunter militias and their ULIMO allies, who attacked across the Liberian border. The "Kamajor" hunters are a militia group that developed after 1995 out of the efforts of communities in Southern Sierra Leone, mostly of the Mende tribe, to protect themselves from the RUF and later the army.

By mid-1998 ECOMOG had reached parts of the Liberian border. Its dynamic Nigerian commanding officer, General Maxwell Khobe, was convinced that Taylor continued to play a central role in supporting the RUF. Consequently, he took a direct hand in organizing Liberian dissidents operating in Sierra Leone to apply pressure. Subsequently, he sponsored a small incursion into Liberia's Lofa County by a group of dissidents called the Justice Coalition of Liberia (JCL) in August of 1998, and played a key coordinating role in cementing the alliance between Liberian dissidents and the Sierra Leonean Kamajors hunter militias, including chiefs Sam Hinga-Norman and Eddie Massally.

This loose coalition would later form the basis of the most militarily powerful rebel group in Liberia today, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

However, the RUF soon made a spectacular counter-attack late in 1998, which General Khobe blamed on an influx of weapons, supplies and men from President Taylor. There were also charges that Taylor had somehow befriended or bought off a number of General Khobe's fellow Nigerian officers. Despite an exemplary military record and universal respect, Khobe was removed from command of ECOMOG and placed in charge of the remains of Sierra Leone's army. He died in April 2000 from complications of combat wounds.

By 1999, Charles Taylor was poised to win the Mano River War. The RUF and its military regime allies had taken Sierra Leone's capital Freetown in an orgy of destruction and cruelty. Foday Sankoh was now Sierra Leone's Vice-President and the RUF substantially controlled the country's mineral resources and had received a full criminal amnesty as part of the badly flawed July 1999 Lomé Accord that attempted to end the conflict. The roles of Nigeria and the U.S. in forging the accord are controversial, particularly the work of U.S. Presidential Peace Envoy Jesse Jackson, who famously likened Liberian President Taylor to Nelson Mandela.

Following the signing of that accord, however, the RUF became increasingly split between commanders loyal to Sankoh, and senior military commanders who remained more directly loyal to Charles Taylor, including Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie and Dennis "Superman" Mingo. Like many of the disputes in the region, the Taylor-Sankoh split can most likely be traced to control of Sierra Leone's diamond fields. This led to the events of May 2000, in which the Lomé Accord collapsed and the RUF took hostage over 500 UN peacekeepers.

The collapse of the peace accord, the attacks on UN peacekeepers and the RUF march on Freetown were the last straw for the international community, particularly the U.S. and British governments, who began a campaign in May 2000 to turn the tide in the war. The British deployed troops to Freetown, coordinated a counterattack by pro-government forces and stepped up training and supply of the Sierra Leone military. Taylor's links with the RUF were substantiated and documented by British intelligence services, and he was strongly criticized in a variety of diplomatic settings.

RAPPROCHMENT

Although today Taylor remains exiled in Nigeria, in compliance with arrangements stipulated within the context of the Comprehensive Peace Accords, there have been demands by the Governments of Sierra Lone and the United States that he be surrendered to the Special Court in Sierra Lone, to be tried for war crimes committed against the people of Sierra Lone. The Court is U. N. sponsored. So far, the Government of Nigeria has insisted that it would only hand Taylor over to the Government of Liberia, and, that it would only do so following the elections of 2005, with the installation of a new government.

The Taylor affair, all things being equal, might well be one of the first foreign policy challenges faced by the new president. This, it is needless to say, is a very delicate matter, and, should the occasion arise, must be addressed with extraordinary caution, in the light of certain domestic realities. Firstly, it would be extremely foolhardy to take lightly the fact that Taylor still has many supporters in Liberia. Hence, if it is accepted that reconciliation is a factor that would ensure stability in Liberia, it would be ill advised for a newly elected government to make a decision with haste in this affair. It would augur well for stability in post transitional Liberia if this decision is left to the government of Nigeria. Taylor, after all, is their Official Guest, as a part and parcel of the Accra Accords, a document initialed and endorsed by several Sovereign Governments, and, In essence, the African Union, in a legitimate geopolitical setting. It is of interest to note that, the arrangements that sent Taylor to Nigeria were fully endorsed and promoted by the United States.


On the other hand, in terms of our relations with our immediate neighbors, and in the interest of regional stability, a decision not to take custody of Taylor, and subsequently remand him to the custody of the Special Court, would adversely impact our relations with our regional friends. This would pose a definite dilemma for the government. Again, diplomacy must be the solution. In the recommendations made hereunder, I specifically call for the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission of Veteran Diplomats to formulate our foreign policy objectives. The solution of this problem, for all intents and purposes, must be a major priority of the Commission.

These developments have created bottlenecks that would pose considerable challenges to the attempts by any newly elected president in Liberia to foster cordial relations with our immediate neighbors. Moreover, Taylor compounded the situation even more with his support of forces attempting to overthrow the government of Guinea. Significantly, it must be noted that Taylor's asinine and undiplomatic attempts to interfere in Guinea's domestic affairs motivated the Guinean leader to intensify his support for LURD. Eventually, LURD played a paramount role in the fall of Taylor's Government.

The election of a new government in October, 2005 will be a milestone in Liberia's difficult trek to stability. This will involve an enormous outlay of funding from Donor Nations and International Financial Institutions to bankroll the monumental tasks of reconstruction and rebuilding, Of course, it would be foolhardy to countenance that this could be accomplished in the absence of a rapprochement with the International Community. Diplomacy must be the glue that binds all of the appurtenances necessary for Liberia's reemergence to the position of respect it once enjoyed in the comity of nations.

In this regard, I propose the following:

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. That a Blue Ribbon Commission of career diplomats be appointed by the new President to formulate Liberia's foreign policy objectives and strategies for the first 4 years of his administration.
  2. That a maximum effort be made through diplomacy to restore our relations with our immediate neighbors to pre conflict levels in order to ensure stability in the region.
  3. That we seek to reclaim the Special Relations between Liberia and the United States.
  4. That our Major Diplomatic Missions be staffed and strengthened with career Diplomats.
  5. That we restore our relations with Israel: this nation provided immense technical assistance to Liberia in previous years.
  6. That we foster closer ties with the nations of the European Union.
  7. That closer relations be developed with our traditional friends in the Arab World (Egypt and Morocco).
  8. That our ties with China and Japan be solidified.
  9. That the salaries and allowances of all personnel at our diplomatic missions be made current.
  10. That all sales of diplomatic properties during the period of the Government of National Transition be investigated as the sale of these properties are not within the mandate accorded the NTGL under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Accord(CPA), and may thus be illegal. Accordingly, the recovery of these properties through diplomacy should be prioritized
  11. That the major offices of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs in Washington, London and Geneva, be placed under the aegis of our Embassies in those respective capitals. This should be coordinated with the Ministry of Finance.
  12. That, in view of the influence and power of two of Africa's most powerful nations, South Africa and Nigeria, and in cognizance of their roles in negotiating the CPA, cordial relations be cultivated and maintained with these nations.

RECONCILIATION AND RECONSTRUCTION

The next president of Liberia will be tasked with the enormous responsibility of reconstructing the infrastructures throughout the nation that were destroyed as a result of the war. But, even more so, he must be the progenitor of reconciliation in our country. In the absence of reconciliation among our people, there is a genuine risked of the reemergence of an era of conflict. In order to preempt the rebirth of this scenario, our new leader must embrace the views and services of individuals with the realism and the perception of the direction the nation must take. If peace and harmony must prevail in our nation, the influence of those who would promote disunity among our people must be minimized. This period in our history will determine the survival of our great nation as a Body Politic.

 

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