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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.