TLC Africa

James W. Harris

Email: jimiharris@comcast.com

Other articles by James. W. Harris

A chat with Ambassador Charles A. Minor
Conducted by: James W. Harris


INTRO: Since the present interim government of Liberia, the so-called NTGL, led by the supposedly "neutral" businessman, Charles Gyude Bryant, took over the reigns of power in the now war-devastated country, there has been very little that has been accomplished in terms of relieving the already highly traumatized Liberian people [masses] of their sufferings that they've endured for the past 15 years. Personally, I did not support the conference that took place in Ghana which give birth to this interim government, for the simple reason, that the group that was assembled there really didn't represent the interests of the Liberian people or the collapsed Liberian State. Naturally, many Liberians did. Today, some of the same-old people [Liberians] who blindly entrusted the destiny of their war-wrecked country to the present group of Liberians now running it, find themselves very, very disappointed with the dismal performance of this government. It was on this basis that I took upon myself to have a "little" conversation with the current Liberian Ambassador to the US, Charles A. Minor, to get his thoughts on the overall situation there. The entire interview lasted for about thirty minutes. Please enjoy it!
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CHARLES A. MINOR, Liberia’s Ambassador to the US

HARRIS: First of all, Mr. Ambassador, I'd like to welcome you to the Washington, DC, area.

AMBASSADOR MINOR: Thank you very much… I already feel at home … I have been here for just over nine months now, thank you anyway.

HARRIS: So, how have you found it so far in terms of your mission?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: It's a very challenging responsibility, Mr. Harris, I have not been in the pure diplomatic field in the past…I have worked in the Liberian Foreign Ministry long years ago when it was [then] the State Department and then I've been in economic development, business, academia, international consulting, training and development, corporate governance work…eh…but coming into this position, I can apply practically most of what I've learned, but it also has some major challenges but [I'm glad for] the opportunity primarily to serve our country and people.

HARRIS: In terms of challenges that you've just mentioned, what are some of the challenges?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: Well, I would say one of the first problems is mere communication with Monrovia. You see, I represent the Head of State, I represent our government and our people and one has to be in constant contact with Monrovia to ensure that what one does in such a post is up to date and it's relevant to the state of affairs in the country at the very moment…. and communicating with Monrovia is a huddle [right now] and a very difficult problem to resolve. We do so [currently] by telephone…we can do it by other means of communication as far as we are told .so that's a problem. The other problem is, of course, the lack of adequate resources - both human resource and financial.

HARRIS: Do you have any idea or can you put a figure on approximately how many Liberians there are presently in the United States and/or Canada?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: That's a very interesting question and, often, you know, when you're having a question and answer section and you say that's an interesting question, [it means that] it's a question that you particularly don't like to answer The fact is that we don't know precisely what the number is…[but] there are estimates that range from the top 400,000 to about a 150,000. [However] efforts are being made by one researcher on the basis of the information available from the US Immigration authorities and that's more relevant information and we're talking in terms of a couple of a hundred thousand…so I guess, the estimate of about a hundred and fifty thousand is on the low side, aw…. I'd think that the figure somewhere between 200,000 to 300,000 is accurate. But we tend to use the figure of a hundred to a hundred and fifty thousands because, you know, there may be people [Liberians] that have become American citizens over the years…and so I guess, a hundred and fifty thousand is really not a terribly bad figure to work with…We're hoping, however, that we can improve on those estimates. The embassy and consulate offices around the United States are working together now to try and register Liberians who are living in this country [the US] and get them to participate in this data collection [effort].

HARRIS: Do you have a time frame, Mr. Ambassador, when this program [registration] will start?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: [As the matter of fact], the program has begun already. We started this year and so, I guess, we'll see it continue throughout the first half of this year probably and we may be able to come up with some kind of figure. We'd probably talk to some of those people involved with the research to see if they can update their research and we have access [also] to information from the immigration as well… and so that should give us an indication of the number of those people that are registered under the normal TPS (Temporary Protective Status) program, people who've been here before, people who came here under other climates or conditions. We're hoping that somehow we can get a grip on what the numbers of Liberians here are.

HARRIS: Since your assumption of this position, what has been your focus or goal?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: I have several goals. Last year, our primary objective was to work and ensure that we had a successful donor's conference and get the Liberian plan for implementing the Accra Peace Accord effective on the table and supported…that was our major pre-occupation. Secondly, we moved into ensuring that donor's support was firm and committed and people were to go along with the plan to ensure that peace [was] well established and that we achieve the objectives of the Accra Peace Accord. Today we're beginning now to look more at what can be done really to jumpstart the economy through private sector initiatives [in line with] the Liberian agenda …and keeping the Liberian agenda up front and maintaining it on the front burner and that will be a continuous effort

HARRIS: Mr. Ambassador, does this interim government that you're serving have any priorities?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: Yes, it does. The government is clearly prioritizing the full implementation of the Accra Peace Accord and that Accord stipulates certain priorities…aw…ensuring that our country remain peaceful, ensuring that the Transitional Government remain in place, ensuring that disarmament is done properly, and now the ex-combatants are [being] reintegrated into [the] society, refugees can return to their homes and villages, towns and cities in the country, the internally displaced people can get back to their homes and that we can have free and fair elections.

HARRIS: Personally, Mr. Ambassador, I must tell you straight upfront that I was not one of those supportive of this so-called Interim Government or the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement)… because in my opinion and I have written several articles on this very issue in the immediate past, the group that was assembled in Ghana frankly didn't represent the Liberian people [masses], much more, their interests. In fact, most of the people that were there, first of all, were not duly "elected" by the Liberian people. Secondly, they were all major parties to the brutal conflict in Liberia. Understandably, though, the hope that many Liberians had at that time was that those at the conference or whatever would've broken away from the kind of problems that we've experienced in the past, for example, corruption, financial mis-management, fiscal irresponsibility, etc., and usher in a new chapter in our nation's history. Unfortunately, as we sit here today, we see the government - this interim government - facing the same-old problems as in the past. What in your opinion could be responsible for this?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: Harris, I believe that one must look at this thing with some objectivity and realism. You're right that we've had several difficulties in the past and these problems have carried us through internal civil crisis, civil wars and all sorts of ways we've been trying to resolve our differences by fighting each other, destroying our country…and that's a fact. But if you were to return to the period we're talking about, you've got to put yourself in the position to do something for Liberia. I mean, there was bloodshed in the streets of Monrovia, the destruction of properties, the people having no food, the lack of basic amenities of life… I think the most important responsibility Liberians had at that point in time was to bring about peace…. that was the major concern. Under those conditions, it was ….I don't know if you could have organized a way in which the country could've been more fully represented anywhere in the world or Liberia itself…and for Liberians to decide who would be leaders, etc., it was highly impracticable. Those Liberians who went to Accra, went to represent various entities…and although it's true that they were not the representative group or [were they] elected from the 15 counties, but that was a group that came from definitely all the factions that were fighting each other and there was a large group of representatives from the civil society, including, people from the [Liberian] Bar Association, from women groups, from the political parties…now, while I would accept that it was not a 100 percent representation of the country or not even 50 percent representation of the country, it was a representation and their responsibility was to work towards bringing peace, stopping the bloodshed, and so, the ceasefire was the first thing we had to accomplish - to stop the shooting at each other. They accomplished that. They were able to then put together a Transitional Government…and…the question is, was the country fully represented? We had the international community helping us and that was the best that they could do under the circumstances…that's the best that they could have come up with if we were to achieve peace in the country…. First, we had to achieve stopping the bloodshed, beginning a process of healing and then address the issue of a fuller representative government put in place democratically. And so, when you look at procedures and the condition on the ground, we couldn't have had elections undoubtedly… so that was the best of the worst situation that we could've achieved…. and one must give credit to those who were in Accra through the negotiations. It was tedious… I visited Accra at the time, though, not as a representative, I knew what was happening.. I spoke to many Liberians ….it was not very easy at all sometimes…. it was very difficult…I mean, people spent long hours, the international community, ECOWAS, the European Union (EU) and other countries were spending a lot of time and they were really getting tired because Liberians [there] couldn't come to an agreement. I recalled that for the last few days and nights, the women from the refugee camps were in black and white on the streets day in and day out insisting that we reached an agreement…. and so, we had to do something - something to save lives. And what we got was the [direct] result of those efforts. That was the best that we could do given the circumstances and I must commend those who worked on the agreement, especially, the foreigners, because they didn't have to do that…ECOWAS, the UN and the international community really did do their best given the circumstances.

HARRIS: Isn't this then the more reason why we [Liberians] should be abandoning practices of old? Normally, people always say that they'll change things once they acquire power. As you may know, the living standard of the Liberian people is still well below the poverty line. I don't know if you've seen the recent article by one Stephen Adams that was carried on TLCAfrica.com and other media outlets recently [showing Ambassador Minor a hardcopy of Adam's piece - "The Race to Mortgage our Future: A Catastrophic Tragedy in the Making", and pointing specifically to the still photos that accompanied the article]. Now, if we say that things are changing, then certainly, pictures like these won't be coming out of Liberia to further damage the country's already tarnished image…And then we keep hearing about the appetite of Liberian public officials [Interim Government officials] for luxurious items, like senselessly expensive cars, elegant homes, etc., while the ordinary Liberians are basically "striving" just o survive. Aren't all Liberians supposed to be making the same kind of "equal" sacrifices for their [now war-ruined] country? Don 't you think that the country would be better off if our [so-called] leaders were to abandon such expensive taste and use whatever financial resources we can save to, say, improve the very appalling and embarrassing sanitary condition in Monrovia?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: Yes…I mean, the simple answer is yes. We should be doing something about it…. our people are suffering…our people need to have a far better standard of living than in the past ….we are amongst the poorest in the world…. we've got sanitation problem in the streets of Monrovia…the sewer system needs to be repaired…. electricity is required …we need hospitals and schools reopened, etc…and all these things are needed. But you do understand that these things just don't come out of mere thin air ….we need to work towards having them in place…we need to have the means, the resources …we actually lack…yes there are reports of luxurious cars being bought. …But many of us don't buy that…we thought that other means of transportation or less expensive vehicles should have been bought, but some people are of the view that they have the right if they're in service to their people to get the amenities of life and they feel that the country could afford to buy them…[and they did buy them]. Others may not agree with that, but what profit do we get from saying that, alright, you're using the money to buy [an expensive] car or a number of expansive cars and yet you don't have money to repair the roads or streets…you can't provide electricity...yes all those things are needed to be done but if they hadn't even bought all those cars, the resources still would've been insufficient to do all those things…We really do need to set our priorities straight, although we are doing it, but not as much as we'd want. We are definitely concerned and committed to try to improve the standard of living of our people. And we're doing this in the representation that we make here and we're doing that in the efforts that the government is making to get additional support from our friends around the world. I think that there are some successes on those scores…. but not as much as we'd like to see…and I think that's a problem.

HARRIS: In most cases, I think, Mr. Ambassador, it surely won't be difficult for Liberia to get the kind of help that it needs from the international community because I strongly believe that Liberians presently residing abroad, who in fact are very resourceful, would be more than happy to lend a helping hand. But when we see this Interim Government willfully squandering the little bit of resources that we're getting, it would obviously be very difficult - even for the people with the best of intention - not to hold back. So, I really don't see where we're even attempting to put the little resources we're presently getting to maximum use so that others would be encouraged to get on board.

AMBASSADOR MINOR: Well, this is a very interesting point that you've raised…aw…my answer to this is simple…. because Liberian A may be doing something that is wrong don't mean that we should all abandon Liberia. That's the more reason why we should get involved and say, look, we also have a stake in this country as anybody else and therefore, we would not let you use Liberia's resources for this reason. Therefore, we're coming in to help…we're willing to support [our nation's] recovery…we're willing to help rebuild our country, and therefore, we'd try to ensure that we'll work with you provided you stop this and stop that…but if we decided that those of us in this country should remain here and don't get in to enable our country to see alternatives then it wouldn't be fair. My encouragement is that we should find ways in which to help in the recovery and one day go back home to ensure that endemic corrupt practices of people inside and outside of government stop. And you know this is an issue that we need to address, but the way to address it is not to stay outside and criticize…we've got to find a way to get involved and bring to light people who have done wrong things. …bring to light people who are corrupt and prove it. [You see], Liberians have a way of sitting back [without bringing forward evidence to convict wrong-doers]…we have to "name" and "shame" them so that others may fight corruption We need people who are willing to do that. You see, we've seen in many instances, once you get to the point of proving these allegations, then people [normally] shy away. And that [also] becomes a problem.

HARRIS: In regard to that, I've personally come across "credible" reports that were carried by several reputable Liberian online publications, including the Perspective, involving, for example, the LBDI (the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment), where documents were provided in some cases…and yet nothing has been done…. there were other instances were commissions were set up to look into certain allegations…. and still we haven't heard anything from any of them…. I mean, when there's poverty amidst plenty then something definitely is wrong. And so you're telling me that unless we can pinpoint something specifically, nothing would be done although in some cases documentary evidence has already been provided? How more specific can one get?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: I don't recall or do not know the specifics about the LBDI thing although I've heard a lot of revelations as well as some reports …But…you know, you work for the Fourth Estate and you have the responsibility to keep at this issue…eh…I'd like to see us continue to persevere to say look…we've got to clean up all the dirt in our country…we have to say look, those who are exploiting our country must be brought to justice…. aw…and you know…. that's an issue that is of major concern. Some people feel that Liberians have a way of looking up to their government for all support…My sense is that we need to build up an independent group…aw…what you'd call, a private sector middle-class group - the one group that could put pressure …they can change government, they can make sure that the right people are put in government and not corrupt …and this is something that we're all challenged to do. …This is something that we definitely need to work on…corruption, of course, is not really unique only to Liberia alone...it's all over the world, but we must be committed and not corrupt ourselves and try to expose people who are corrupt …but it's only by "naming" and "shaming" them and bringing them to justice, we'd be able to do this. Don't forget, though, that you're talking about a system that needs complete [overhauling]…eh…. from bottom up…because if you must take people to have their day in court. then the Judiciary must be improved…our judges must be well paid…lawyers must be well paid to represent their clients, to represent the prosecution properly…But under the condition that we're in where the standard is so low…where the level of. remuneration is low, it would be even more difficult to fight this kind of epidemic problem that we have. And we all should resolve towards fighting it.

HARRIS: In view of the fact that this Interim Government was not duly elected by anyone - much less the Liberian people - what gives it the authority to continue signing long-term Concession Agreements on behalf of the Liberian people and State with certain companies without the public having any idea what's in said documents? Isn't this another bad practice of the past? I think that you may have heard about the LAC incident by now, where LAC insists on expanding its production at all costs solely for its own gains under an agreement signed in 1959 even at the detriment of the ancestral people of Grand Bassa County. As you also may know, the Bassa people are strongly against this, especially at this particular time when our country is just trying to recover. Don't you think it would be wise to hold off on continuously signing long-term agreements until a legitimate government comes to power, especially so, when we [the Liberian people] don't even have a single clue as to what's in those contracts?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: That's another very interesting point of view. You see, if you studied the Accra Peace Accord, it [does] make provision for several agencies of the interim government. It's almost impossible to say that you're going to have an interim government with a life span of let's say, two years, that would do nothing to try to improve the standard of living of our people. Let me just give you a few examples of some issues…aw…you are aware that we've already disarmed more than a hundred thousand combatants; the next task is to reintegrate our people…. once they have jobs to do, then they'll be able to generate some personal income with which to support their families. But if you don't provide them jobs, then there'll be nothing for them to do. For instance, if the Firestone Agreement that has been outstanding for so many years and we did nothing quickly so that Firestone could get to work, enhance their productive capacity, hire more people, etc. that would have been a problem. So, what do you do - you either sit down and do nothing and wait for the two years to end with people on the streets having no work to do… or do something to help our people. I think that the government had in place under the Accra Peace Accord several commissions on concessions to look at agreements, review them and enter into certain [contracts]…. sovereign people at any point in time have the right to make the necessary changes that they wish to make even if a new government comes to power. …And so, I don't think that you expect this interim government to just sit and do nothing…If they don't have the revenue, then they can't hire people or improve the well-being of the people until we can really get economic activities started…. so I think that if you weigh the pros and cons you can see that given the fact that they [the interim government] are in power, they have a definite period of time to ensure that the well-being of the Liberian people is taken care of…. It would be wrong to say that okay since you were not elected, you can't do anything…. you should wait until an elected government comes to power before jobs are provided. That's a major issue or question that's debatable.


HARRIS: In regard to that, I see that you're still referring to the CPA…and I've already told you from the very beginning that I have a problem with it…. and I've already written an article or two giving my views on those talks… because, frankly, I don't think that the people involved in that conference, who by and large are the same ones who plunged our country into chaos in the first place, represented the interests of our nation or its people. In fact, the same group that put together the CPA also made provision for the Contracts and Monopoly Commission of which Mr. Dusty Wolokollie is a member. And sometime ago, I read a rather long article that Dusty had written lamenting the fact that they were being shut out completely from the contract process. Again, this shows that this group [the present interim government] just can't abide by anything - not even their own agreement that they had signed "willingly" in Accra.

AMBASSADOR MINOR: You know, eh, that's the kind of concern that worries me. Aw…if a commission is authorized and its members are appointed…the commission's responsibility is to ensure that it does its work. If you appointed me as Ambassador here…it's my personal responsibility to ensure that I run my office. I think that part of the problem lie with those people that are appointed to the positions. Many of them are not taking their responsibilities seriously. Aw…I don't think then that it's the fault of the government. I think that it's probably the individual that's concerned that's needs to be brought to book. I'd say, since it's your responsibility, I think that you should implement it. And if you don't [perform], then I think that we should change you. I haven't read Dusty's article…I know Dusty and he's a very respectable person, and so if he wrote an article on it then it must be partly true and I think that should have brought people to their senses. We need to do what we're here to do. Too many of our people are appointed to positions that they don't have the experience or capacity to carry out…and that's one of our other problems. That's why I'd like to encourage Liberians here {in the US] to go back home, most especially, with the creation of a new government so that they can put in place the people who have the experience, the capacity, know-how and people who know what to do. We've got too many people that lack the experience of what to do.

HARRIS: Mr. Ambassador, I know that we have very little time left and so I'd like to quickly ask you a few more questions, if you don't mind. In that respect, one of the questions has to do with the upcoming elections this October 11. As you may know, the Chairlady of the NEC, Madam Frances Johnson-Morris, said recently that Liberians living abroad, including, the US, would not be allowed to participate in it. Notwithstanding, we've seen a move towards "democracy" in recent times, like, for example, the recent elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, in which their nationals who were based on foreign soils participated so that the process could be more legitimate. And for it to have integrity. Don't you think that the so-called NEC and our government should be doing the same as opposed to preventing Liberians that are currently living abroad from voting? What is your take on this issue?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: Let me tell you, Mr. Harris, …I do have great sympathy for what you've expressed. I'm sitting here where I've received a wide range of requests, recommendations and letters of appeal from Liberians all over the country. I've forwarded all of this to the National Elections Commission already. There's a strong move to do everything possible to enable Liberians abroad to cast their votes. But the Elections Commission finds this proposition difficult because it's costly, problematic, but [admittedly] the Liberians here [in the US] have come up with all kinds of ingenious ways to make this possible. They're willing to even register and pay the necessary fees to augment the economic constraints on the part of the government; there are also organizations in this country that support the view and are willing to provide the mechanism to help to do that. We will again make this known to the commission and the government. We hope that a final decision has not been made yet, because I would like to see that happen. But in this day and age with all of these technologies - electronic media, etc. it should be possible although it's a little bit difficult at this very moment or they [the NEC] may not want to pursue it. But let's see what'll happen.

HARRIS: Do you think it'll be appropriate or fair then if Liberians that are denied their right to vote in the forthcoming elections didn't recognize any government coming out of the process since they did not participate in it?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: Well, let me correct you there. [As the matter of fact], Liberians would be the ones to vote in the new government. Now, we're talking about Liberians abroad. …that's an issue that we're discussing right now, what would be the strategy, what would be the means or possibility by which Liberians who are living here can go home, register, and vote. There's nothing stopping them once they meet the constitutional requirements. And I hope many would do that. But the plea is that those people who won't be able to go home and vote. In some cases, we know of situations where nationals of a country would fly in to vote on the same day of election; arrangements were made to have them registered in advance or to have them registered just before they voted. So, these are all different alternatives that I'm sure the Elections Commission would [hopefully] be reviewing. But those people who'd vote the new government into power will be Liberians - at home. The question is how about the number of Liberians out of Liberia? And that's the issue that we're talking about.

HARRIS: With all due respect, Mr. Ambassador, I probably don't think that you understood my question. Again, the question is, if we (Liberians living abroad, that is) are denied our right to vote in the coming elections, especially so, when other countries have made it possible for their citizens to vote abroad recently, won't it be fair or don't you think that it'd be proper for us not to recognize any government borne out of a process that clearly discriminated against us, even though, a majority of Liberians at home voted for it?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: I mean, nobody would stop you from voting if you were at home during the elections. Aw…the fact that you're abroad, makes it a completely different question. Now, if you say that Liberians are having a democratic election and we say that, for example, we have about three million people in Liberia and of that number, a hundred and fifty thousands are eligible to vote and if you even extended the number that we have here [in the US] to two to three hundred thousands and use the same assumption that fifty percent of them are eligible to vote…. so, you're talking about two hundred thousand versus one and a half million, so, I don't think that the two hundred thousand have more rights - they do have a right to vote, yes - they were not there to exercise their right…although the opportunity to have their rights to vote overseas were not given , they still have their right to fly in or get to Liberia by some other means to cast their votes. But the fact that they couldn't do that does not give them the right not to recognize the government …well, they can still say that they don't recognize the government because we'd still have a government elected by the majority. So their disapproval of the government would be as if they voted for the opposition…. that's the way I'd look at it. Now, don't let us start talking about what penalty we'd want to impose [on the government] before there's a crime for the penalty. The effort that we should be making is to try to find a way by which Liberians living abroad can exercise their franchise. This is where we should put most of our attention that includes the possibility of facilitating the vote over here and/or the possibility of finding a very inexpensive way whereby Liberians can go home for that purpose.


HARRIS: One last question…what in your view has been the biggest accomplishment of the government that you're currently serving?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: Well, I think to the extend of which the Interim Government is up to date in implementing the Accra Peace Accord, they've established reasonable peace and stability in the sense that we've stopped killing each other, we've stopped shooting, people are returning to their places of origin in peace…. I think that's a remarkable success. The other thing is the extend to which the international community and UNMIL in particular has been able to disarm over a hundred thousand ex- combatants…. that's another mark of success. But there are still a lot of challenges…. one of them we've just discussed - the possibility of holding a free and fair election. That's a major, major challenge…. and then another challenge is to get the former combatants fully reintegrated into society and the fabric of our economic life so that we can get the economy moving so that people can begin to improve their standard of living, provide education for their children, health for the sick and earn a decent income. We'd love to see that happen. That's a major challenge as well.


HARRIS:
Mr. Ambassador, please permit me to ask a follow up question. You seem to be giving the Interim Government a lot of credit for the present stability and peace in the country. My question is, do you think that they'd accomplish this without UN forces being on the ground? Or better yet, don't you think that the credit should be going to the UN, the international community, etc? Do you really think that the government would have accomplished anything independently?

AMBASSADOR MINOR: Well, I don't see how it's possible to conceive that a group of people could've established any kind of peace when there were more than a hundred thousand people with arms when they didn't have it…so, the fact that the international community supported the Transitional Government, and have been able to put in place the UN largest peacekeeping forces [in any part of the world] is a very positive thing. If they [the international community] did not have confidence in the government that they had helped to create, then that wouldn't have happened. And so, you can't look at it as a negative thing.

HARRIS: That's why I keep asking…then shouldn't the credit be going to the international community instead?


AMBASSADOR MINOR: Yes, but you just asked me what has been accomplished Now, it's very true that if the international community was not supportive of the interim government, then we couldn't have accomplished what we have…The interim government works with the international community and I'm telling you that the international community was supportive that's why we've been able to accomplish that...if you again look at the plan for two years that was put together by the Interim Government, it called for the DDRR (disarmament, rehabilitation, etc,) so in effect it is their [the Interim Government's] plan that the international community is working towards.. So, you can't say that the Interim Government is separate from the international community because they're all working together to accomplish the same objectives.

HARRIS: Well, thanks very much Mr. Ambassador for allowing me some of your time.


AMBASSADOR MINOR: I'm very pleased that we could have the time to chat. I also thank you for the work that you're doing in the media and I hope that we'd have a very active media focusing on our country, talking about the issues that we currently face and get our people committed to doing something. I hope that we'll have the opportunity to talk to you again about some of the things that we're doing or would like to see happen, for example, finding ways by which Liberians in this country can support the complete restructuring of our country. Not just in the political realm, but also in the economic and social fields, like education and a variety of other areas that we look forward to getting our people involved with.


DISENFRANCHISING LIBERIANS - THE 2005 VOTE
By: James W. Harris

Not too long from now or within just about eight months Liberians will be going back to the polls hopefully to elect another government. But as promising as this may seem to some people, it's very unfortunate that Liberians who are currently residing abroad, many of them forced out of the country because of the various brutal wars that once raged there, will not be allowed to participate in the exercise.

According to the very influential Chairlady of the National Elections Commission in the now run-down capital city of Monrovia. Cllr. Frances Johnson-Morris, "There will be no polling outside of Liberia and we are sorry that refugees who are not repatriated before or during voter registration, will not be allowed to vote [either] in camps", IRIN [the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks] quoted her as saying on February 7 ("Elections Set for 11 October", IRIN\allAfrica.com).

And strangely also, she didn't even bother to say why her commission was taking such a harsh and unreasonable stand at this particular time against Liberians whose basic rights to vote is "supposed" to be guaranteed by the nation's constitution that's been so often ignored or just simply taken for granted.

Honestly, if such a remark came from someone who didn't know better, I certainly won't be as puzzled as I presently am. But because it came from someone like Cllr. Johnson-Morris, who too can be credited for speaking out forcefully against the injustices so rife in our now war-destroyed country in the immediate past, makes it even more troubling to me.
In these historical times when many nations around the globe are apparently embracing "democracy" - encouraging their peoples to vote at least no matter where they are - it's very disheartening that Liberia's NEC, on the other hand, is determined seriously to disenfranchise a major segment of the country's population, which, in fact, has been the main group of citizens to sustain their country economically and otherwise when everything else failed.

The numerous Western Union transfers and other financial arrangements that the country has benefited from in the last 15 years or so immediately come to mind, not to mention the many demonstrations that were held in Washington, DC and other places in the US to draw world-wide attention to the horrendous situation obtaining in Liberia.

Moreover, with all the talk and rhetoric about "freedom" and "democracy" these days, of which elections is 'supposed' to be a key part, I just don't see why the NEC feels it so compelling to deny Liberians in the Diaspora their legitimate rights to vote - something that should be "non-negotiable". But I guess the commission is convinced thoroughly that it can get away with it given the well-known reputation of Liberians to be highly complacent about something as serious as this.
If this wasn't the case, then Cllr. Johnson-Morris and her so-called NEC would've thought twice or even three times before reaching such unwise decision which could possibly make the upcoming elections in fact illegitimate if Liberians who were denied their God-given and Constitutional rights to vote decided not to recognize any government [authority] coming out of such a flawed process. And no one should blame them for that either if this should ever happen in the foreseeable future.

But again, knowing Liberians, I can bet that they'll just sit quietly on the sidelines, while the elections take place without their full participation. And you know what, they'll diligently recognize that government without rightfully challenging the process.
Like in the case of the census issue, many Liberians, both at home and abroad, supported the NEC and their foreign backers in the majority to go ahead with the elections without taking one. Much to their satisfaction, the deal went through with pressure clearly coming from the outside. But now comes the voting issue and I just can't wait to see how Liberians living abroad will react to this one if the commission does indeed insist that no Liberian presently living abroad would be allowed to vote in the ensuing elections.

Although I personally would have rather a full census to have been taken prior to holding the upcoming elections as the Liberian Constitution 'clearly' provides, I, however, did understand why that idea had been rejected outright by most Liberians and their international sponsors, Believe me, I definitely could understand most especially the time factor involved in compiling such a census, but not necessarily the lack of financial resources as another reason that the NEC and some others were giving.
Unlike the census issue, though, I seriously think that the right of every Liberian to vote in the scheduled elections, regardless of wherever they are, should be a non-issue, unless "credibility and legitimacy" are not twin goals of the NEC's efforts. Because, how else could the forthcoming elections be "credible and legitimate" if the NEC is denying eligible Liberian voters their right to participate in the process? Can someone on the NEC please explain this to me!

And folks, please don't tell me that Liberia doesn't have the money to make it possible for every Liberian to vote, most especially, if they're qualified to do so. Because, frankly, if our so-called government can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on ridiculously expensive 'armored' vehicles for Chairman Bryant's personal security, in addition to millions more being wasted on fruitless foreign travels that seldom yield any good result, then it certainly can find the necessary means to ensure the "legitimacy" of the October elections by making it all-inclusive.

Very often, instead of striving to do the correct thing for Liberia, something that future generations could build upon tomorrow, those that are presently entrusted to put our country back on track appear to be determined in doing the complete opposite. Vexingly also, they seem to be doing everything in their power not to make things right in our now war-weary nation, shamelessly blaming others instead, for supposedly standing in the way.

Not too long ago, we saw the once war-torn country of Afghanistan hold what was believed to be its most important elections ever. But instead of trying to keep their foreign-based nationals away from the polls, something they could've easily done, they actually encouraged them to vote in foreign countries where they had settled down, at least, temporarily.
In the latest example, the Iraqis too held their elections recently. And again, as opposed to preventing their nationals who are presently living abroad from voting, they made every effort to ensure that all Iraqis, whether in their home country or not, participated in what was billed as the first ever "free and fair" elections in their now war-crippled nation.

And of course, there are other nations that don't immediately come to my mind, but they too have held "inclusive" elections with due assistance from some of the same groups that are currently involved with the NEC in preparing for ours. The question then becomes - why is it that Cllr. Johnson-Morris and her commission don't want Liberian citizens living abroad to vote in the upcoming elections? The obvious answer is that they're afraid - afraid in the sense that Liberians living abroad are a much more sophisticated bunch.

But Cllr. Frances Johnson-Morris and her commission should've realized by now that Liberians living in the Diaspora constitute a very powerful voting block. Why in fact do they think that Liberians who are presently living abroad, especially in the US, Canada and Europe, are courted so very often by the country's 'wannabe' presidential candidates who in recent years have spent a lot of their time holding town hall-like meetings as well as other functions in the various places?
Just in case the Chairlady and her fellow commissioners still don't get it, then let me put it this way - they need the support [financial and otherwise] of Liberians living abroad, many of them eligible voters by the way. That's why!
They (Cllr. Johnson-Morris and her NEC) know very well that if they allow Liberians in the Diaspora to vote, they'd be casting their votes [hopefully] as citizens that are well informed about issues pertaining to their country and aware of the leadership crisis facing Liberia today. This stands in sharp contrast to what is expected to happen in our now war-ruined country if Liberians living abroad are excluded from the upcoming elections.

As before, Liberians on the ground would vote for almost anyone who can provide them with, say, a bag of rice, 'sweet talk' or a dollar or two. Of course, without fully comprehending the severe consequences of their collective action. But realistically, who could blame them considering the high level of illiteracy coupled with mass poverty currently prevalent in the country.
Unquestionably, Liberians residing abroad are the most educated [or they supposed to be], most affluent, and best of all, in a much better position to lend their support to their nation's overall recovery. But I'm not sure if many of them would feel sufficiently obliged to help if they felt that their right to vote had been wrongly denied.

Also, let's not forget that the deliberate disenfranchisement of many Liberians from the political process on the part of previous administrations has been one of the biggest historical wrongs in our society to date. And by attempting to deny Liberians their rights to vote again this time around, the NEC in many ways seems to be following that trend, which, to me, is ill advised.
In this regard, I surely hope that the NEC gives this issue a second thought - and wisely too! Doing otherwise would only be making the 2005 elections "illegitimate" before it even gets off the ground. Furthermore, disenfranchising so many Liberians really isn't in the best interest of our nation that's already susceptible to conflict.

Therefore, it's about time that we sober up and do the right thing for Liberia as opposed to continuing with the same-old divisive practices of the status quo!



And Now The Main Event
By: James W. Harris

At last, the census issue with regards to the forthcoming elections in war-torn Liberia has finally been put to rest. Therefore, Liberians should now prepare themselves (just in case they haven't done so already) to witness one of the most exciting elections ever in the failed West African state's history. Or at least, that's what some people are saying.

With both the NTLA and the NTGL approving the so-called Elections Reform Bill, never mind the threats and pressure from outside as well as the strong determination of a few shortsighted Liberians to stick to the status quo, the issue of conducting a census prior to the pending elections obviously is now a dead case.

Even in the little poll that was conducted recently by TLCAfrica.com, 234 out of about 320 Liberians that participated in it (including me, of course) responded NO when asked the question: "Should Liberia conduct a census before the October 2005 Scheduled Election". And honestly, I have no problem with the result, except that I was very, very disappointed in the small number of Liberians who chose to actually participate in such a useful exercise. But knowing Liberians as I do, such things really don't interest them.

Also, what I like the most about TLC Africa's little poll was how they had included a section where Liberians could spill their guts (so to speak) on the issue under review. That was really good, wasn't it! Providing such a space made it quite possible for every Liberian, regardless of their present station in life, and serious about the ultimate destiny of their now sick country, to freely and openly express their views and opinions about events presently occurring in their homeland.

And so, let's just assume that the 234 persons or roughly 73% of those who participated in the poll do represent the view of the majority of Liberians. Naturally, what follows next should hopefully be a massive effort, especially on the part of the so-called NEC to prepare the war-wrecked country for the impatiently awaited big event - the elections itself. According to some people, these elections should definitely resolve all of Liberia's chronic problems, including, the nagging problem of mass poverty amongst our people. Or, so they think!
The same old diehard opportunists who incidentally run our country today said the same thing in 1997 - that the solution to Liberia's problems lie in holding elections - when they called for another one to resolve the nation's numerous "structural" problems, thereby, giving some legitimacy to the morally and ethically bankrupt government of the now disgraced former president, Charles Taylor. Sadly, in a rather strange twist of fate, Liberians today find their now war-ruined nation again being ruled by some of the same old losers who 'willingly' collaborated with the tyrannical Taylor regime.
But first, we'll have to wait and see how fast the $17.5 million that the NEC says it wants to conduct the elections will come in. At least, there's no more reason for the international community, including, the US, to withhold much needed funds from the destroyed nation as their representatives had threatened if the so-called Elections Reform Bill had not been passed speedily by the dysfunctional NTLA.

Now, if the Gyude Bryant interim administration is anything to go by in terms of the kind of change that Liberians hopefully desire, then they may as well brace themselves for the long haul, as they'll continue to wallop in abject poverty and endless mystery. If they (Liberians) are so naïve to the extend that they truly believe that the same old failed politicians and so-called civil leaders, who by and large are partially responsible for their present mysteries, can save them from their ongoing nightmare, then they ought to think again.

Very soon, anyone who wants to be "somebody" in the now war-ravaged nation would be given the chance as well as a lifetime opportunity to fulfill his or her lifelong dream. Shortly, the NEC will send the appropriate signal for campaigning to begin and every would-be candidate will hopefully be given the opportunity to go after any public office he or she may desire (yet may not necessarily be qualified for), including, the all-powerful Liberian Presidency or a prominent seat in the much despised toothless Legislature.

But I must forewarn all our would-be national leaders that the Liberian people are generally getting tired, wary and very impatient. If there's any misunderstanding as to how much the patience of our severely impoverished people seem to be running out, then those who believe that Liberians will be tolerant forever should consider very, very seriously two separate incidents that occurred just recently in Monrovia.
The first incident happened in a Monrovia slump area called Waterside where Chairman Bryant, feeling a false sense of security, is said to have gone to launch a campaign to clean up the area. It was during that time that the Chairman decided apparently to do a little shopping.

Not too long after, the raw reality of life in Liberia nowadays hit the Chairman very hard as struggling Liberians, angered by their own sorrowful plight in sharp contrast to their supposed leaders who are living the "life of the rich and famous", began to jeer at Bryant, fearlessly calling him "rogue, rogue; thief, thief; rogue, rogue" at one point in reference to alleged corruption that's wildly believed to be continuing unabated in his (Bryant's) administration - something that has been acknowledged even in the latest UN report (please see - "Liberia: UN Extends Arms and Timber Sanctions Until After 2005 Elections", IRIN/allAfrica.com, December 22, 2004).

Reported the Monrovia-based Analyst newspaper: "Had Transitional Chairman Bryant known, Saturday, December 11, that taking [the] time off his official hours to shop down [the] Waterside would have spelled a disgrace and outright detestation against him, [then] he would have remained at his Executive Mansion office or in the comfort of his home", apparently quoting an eyewitness.
Further, the paper quoted another eyewitness in the same story headlined "Bryant Tests Popularity Rating" (The Analyst, Monday, 13 December 2004) as saying that: "I [really] couldn't believe it. I saw the crowd booing the Chairman as if he were one of those warlords who [had] put guns in the hands of our children to kill us." Sad commentary, eh, isn't it! I mean, when a country (not to mention failed Liberia) reaches a point where its leader (s) can't venture near his own people even with tight security, then it should be clear as daylight that something serious indeed is wrong with that society. Now, whether or not we'd want to continue ignoring or denying it is a completely different matter!

"He knows that he is not a good leader so why must he come among the suffering people at this [particular] time?", asked one bystander who had witnessed the ugly incident. Isn't this a good case of a supposed leader being completely out of touch with his own people? It looks like that to me!
The second incident which should make any wannabe Liberian leader think twice before seeking any public office in the country today is the one that involved the controversial Speaker of the NTLA, George Dweh (and yes, he's the Liberian people's Speaker because they "supposedly" put him there), and students reportedly from the state-sponsored, Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS).

According to various news reports, the so-called House Speaker Dweh was on his way to work at the Capitol Building in the heart of the run-down city of Monrovia on the morning of December 14, when he found himself in the midst of some very angry students who were protesting in support of their otherwise dedicated teachers who had not been paid for months or even years by some accounts by this interim government and the ruthless one before it - the notorious National Patriotic Party government.
"We will not let him go. These are the [same] people who are eating our money and using it to buy big, big cars [amidst grinding poverty]. They [meaning the entire so-called interim government] refused to pay our teachers but they prefer to look after themselves and [send] their children [and girlfriends] abroad and [put them] in private schools", the Analyst also reported in an article captioned "Drama At Monrovia Port" (The Analyst, Tuesday, 14 December 2004).

The paper further quoted the students as saying that: "If we don't get anything out of [Speaker] Dweh, [then] he will not leave from here today. We all will march to town so that he will see what it means to suffer."
In both cases that I've just mentioned above, neither the Interim Chairman, Bryant or NTLA Speaker, Dweh, would probably have made it out of their respective situations unharmed by the angry crowds [who have every right to be mad by the way] were it not for the UNMIL soldiers that are presently on the ground. Thanks to some of us who have always called for the total involvement of the UN in resolving the Liberian mess as opposed to those who, as usual, prefer the same old ECOWAS plan. Vexingly, these are the same old folks who are now taking credit for the little peace and stability that the country is currently enjoying today. But that's how professional opportunists typically behave.

Of course, I certainly have my own beef to grind with the ECOWAS, but most of all, I just don't think that Africans are yet ready to resolve their problems all by themselves, although I must admit that I greatly admire men like South African President, Nelson Mandela and President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, amongst a few other genuine African patriots for their concerted efforts in trying to find lasting solutions to the continent's many problems - a good number of them man-made.

Yet the fact shouldn't escape any of us that UNMIL will not be in Liberia forever. At some point in the future, Liberians will have to be left all by themselves. And at that time, what would our so-called leaders do when UNMIL security personnel no longer can protect them? Perhaps, they'll then go right ahead and form their own private militias like in other failed African states. To give you a better picture, just imagine if UNMIL were to pull out of Liberia abruptly right now - at this very moment. You know what would happen right? Our already collapsed nation will definitely descend further into chaos.

Therefore, the only reason why many Liberians have this false sense of peace and stability being in Liberia is because of the visible presence of UNMIL on the ground and not necessarily because things are going on so well today in the country. With UNMIL on the ground, I'm almost convinced that any Liberian could do Chairman Bryant's job. And so, let's not base our hopes and aspirations for Liberia on false premises - false starts.

While the so-called NEC, NTGL and all their local and international friends will surely bask in their newly won victory of passing the so-called Elections Reform Bill successfully, they should not underestimate the will and determination of the Liberian people to take their destiny into their own hands at any time.

Just in case the Bryant and Dweh incidents haven't yet unraveled you and you still intend to seek public office in Liberia in the immediate future, you may also want to follow the trend in some counties there, for example, Bong and Grand Bassa, where the local citizens in those places have totally rejected administrators imposed on them by the so-called central government in Monrovia, the NTGL. Citizens and residents in those counties know exactly who they want as their leaders and would have it no other way.

For those Liberians who want to hold on to their old mindset believing that our people can be fooled perpetually, they may want to think soberly again or else they may just end up in a far worse situation than that of Bryant's or Dweh's.
So far, only Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine and former soccer maestro, George Oppong Weah, seem to be popular with the Liberians masses. But how long the Liberian people's love affair with these two will last is anyone's guess. Again, it depends on how they carry themselves or more importantly, who they surround themselves with going forward, although on Cllr. Brumskine's part, he still has to level with the people about his close association with the wicked Taylor regime.
Although the majority of our people, who unfortunately are now highly traumatized, are still illiterate - thanks to the inhumane policies of successive administrations that have kept them exactly that way on purpose - Liberians hopefully would know a good leader when they see one come October 2005.

You know, in conclusion, commissions just like people, should always be careful about just what they wish for, because in the end, they just may get what they want. In this particular case, the NEC undoubtedly will get what it wants by going ahead now (barring any other obstructions) to hold the pending elections in Liberia. But after that, what's next? Will the new government introduce new policies and/or practices that would endear it to all Liberians or would it suffer the same fate like Bryant's - estranged from the common people? That's the looming question!

Let's just hope that our future leaders (including, the present 'failed' bunch as well as the young ones that are coming after), won't fall prey to angry Liberian mobs as the Chairman and Speaker did. Of course, it would depend to a very large extend on how that government conducts itself with respect to meeting the people's basic needs.
Ultimately, when all is said and done, there's no doubt in my mind that the Liberian people will have the last laugh. Hopefully, the ensuing elections will be more then just a popularity contest. Happy New Year Liberia and welcome to democracy!!!



THUMBS UP TO THE NTLA…. BUT WITH DEEP RESERVATIONS
By: James W. Harris

I must admit readily that like a few other Liberians, I certainly disagree respectfully with the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) on many burning issues affecting our now war-wracked country, including, the very way that it was put together. I also don't like the way that the NTLA functions, serving more or less as a complete rubber stamp to the all-powerful Executive Branch of successive Liberian governments to the sad detriment of our poverty-stricken people and overall progress of the nation.

Notwithstanding our differences about the ultimate destiny of our now demised nation, I recently found myself agreeing with them on at least one key issue, that is, the issue of taking a national census prior to the 2005 elections as our constitution - the Liberian Constitution - clearly stipulates. I must therefore take great courage to highly commend those few members of the so-called NTLA who have rejected the proposal by the National Elections Commission (NEC) to suspend Article 80 (d) of the present Liberian constitution which states specifically that constituencies must be determined according to the result of a national census, including, population census particularly before elections take place.

But regardless of just what may have driven them to take such a bold stand, choosing instead to stick with the existing constitutional provision regarding elections this time around as opposed to relying only on voters' registration as the NEC had proposed, it surely is a good sign of things yet to come. It just could be that Liberia is now about ready to turn the corner at last as far as upholding the law is concerned.

Whether they acted to "slyly" extend their own time in office as some professional pundits are saying or whether or not they are acting stubbornly to show their disdain for the current interim government of Gyude Bryant, I truly hope and pray that they stick to their position as a way of compelling Liberians to return to their written constitution as we seek ways to resolve our bitter differences and move the sick country forward.
In like manner, I also hope and pray that we'd begin to return to our constitution at last when it comes to resolving other matters, like, governance, etc. In this way, we'll have a better shot in the long run of reviving our now completely collapsed nation based solely on the Laws of our land as enshrined in the Liberian Constitution.

The argument by some people that a national census couldn't be conducted prior to the pending elections because it would take a lot more time (at least three years as some are projecting) as well as jeopardize the already shaky peace process in some way is kind of having a defeatist attitude to me.

Frankly, I really don't think that the NEC has made its best efforts in seeking help from the international community when it comes to the issue of census, simply because it has already made up its mind that only a voters' registration was needed.
Honestly, I'd be naïve or stupid outright to think that elections couldn't be held using mainly voters' registration, because, of course, it has been and still can be done. But shouldn't we at this very late stage be leaning more toward doing things as much as we can based on the existing Liberian Constitution rather than expediency? That's my main concern as we move forward.
And what is this thing about returning the battered country back to so-called "democratic rule' so hastily as if we had ever practice it in Liberia? After all, what value is there in a so-called "democratic government" when such a government can not even feed its own people or provide the minimum security for them? More significantly, what good is a so-called "democratic government" when such a government can't obey the constitution or uphold the rule of law in the country? Think about this folks!

I just don't know why Liberians generally like to take the short cut when doing things regardless of how important those things are. I mean, we've already wasted more than 14 long years - years characterized mostly by wicked acts of brutality against each other that's never before seen in our country. Yet again some people want us to rush the process and hastily install another so-called "democratic government" even at the expense of putting our supposedly sacred constitution aside once again. Such unbecoming attitude is typical of Liberians as their unique handshake that usually makes a pop sound.
Folks, let me tell you up front one of the things that really gets me fired up - when people that should know better by virtue of their formal education or personal experiences in the unending University of Life tend to make very crucial decisions based on not what is correct but what is expedient. Isn't it sad! By now I certainly thought that we would have learned our lessons well by not abandoning our constitution ever again, but apparently not.

As Liberians, it seems like most of us have forgotten the popular saying that goes something like this: "Short cut kills deer", meaning that if you try to do something hastily you'd more or less end up on the wrong side. So, why is all this haste about seating another likely corrupt administration that would possibly care less about the dismal plight of our already suffering people as the ones before it? Is there something that I'm missing when it comes to governance in Liberia? I certainly hope so.
For all I care, it could take three years or even ten years in order to conduct the relevant census in preparation for the upcoming elections as long as the constitutional provisions are met. This would in fact give our election process the real legitimacy and credibility it desperately needs.

Understandably, it seems like some people just can't wait to get rid of the Gyude Bryant bunch because of various reasons, including, alleged ongoing corruption, fiscal mis-management, the lack of transparency and accountability, etc. Some people may even want to get rid of him (Bryant) for personal reasons, like, having the nation's coffers all to themselves.
But for whatever reason (s) they may have, we would all be doing our nation a great favor by insisting that we adhere to the constitution as much as we humanly can. This would definitely be a good way to go forward.
For those Liberians that want to simply circumvent the constitution just because they don't like Bryant now for whatever reason after handpicking him in Ghana, I've got a suggestion which I'm sure many of you would find to be very radical or even unthinkable. Here it is. Since you can't stand the Gyude Bryant administration any longer and it would take at least another three years to get the census thing done, then let's replace the present interim government at the end of its current term with a group of Liberians consisting of our traditional elders, religious leaders as well as other prominent citizens who still have their integrity in tact. Won't that be something! I'm thinking obviously on the line of a Loya Jirga, like, in Afghanistan.

Oh, before you start dismissing my 'little two cents' (to put it in Liberian parlance), the latter group (prominent citizens with integrity) that I mentioned above regarding the possible make up of the next interim government, would be responsible for the day-to-day running of the country until elections are held at the end of the formal census period. These individuals would be Liberians that the majority of our people trust and have confidence in based on their past and present records.

If Liberians were really serious about putting their country once and for all on a solid path, they could also use this interim period to put their house in order by demanding accountability and transparency on the part of the new group. During this period, we'd also want to ensure that whatever is now left of our nation's much depleted resources are protected and no new agreements or contracts be entered into regarding our shared natural resources, such as, timber, iron ore and possibly oil, among others, until a new government is seated based on the elections results. It shouldn't be that difficult to do, but we just must have the will.
But truthfully, I doubt seriously that my model for the next interim government would be given much thought, in case we decided to go down this route. You see, Liberians always talk about change but seem to be hesitant to try something new. To me, the group that I've just described would be more representative of the Liberian "people" than anything that Liberia has ever known. And yet our so-called "educated folks" would resent such an idea, but still continue to use (or may I say misuse) the name of our badly traumatized people in vain.

When senseless violence broke out just recently again in Monrovia, guess who everyone, including, the international community and the sitting government, called upon to quiet the storm that had begun to rage? The answer is - members of the different groups that I just named above. Did any of you notice? I know that I did!

On the one hand, Liberians often say that they're now tired of wars. They also say that we should instantly forget about all that have happened in our country for the past 15 years or so. But on the other hand, they seem to be very determined to hold on to the old system (the status quo) that have played a major role in getting us into the mess that we find ourselves in today. Well, folks, guess what…we definitely can't 'have our cake and eat it too' as Americans usually say. Therefore, we either have to change for the good of our country or continue to make the same old disastrous mistakes that'll take us nowhere. Basically, that's the choice before us today!

Recently as I read through an article titled "Trouble Hangs Over Civil Rule" that was carried in the Monrovia based newspaper, the Analyst, on 23 November, 2004, I just couldn't believe some of the statements attributed to people like, Cllr. Frances Johnson-Morris (a Liberian that I have very high regard for), Conmany B. Wesseh and Dr. Charles Clark, amongst others.
I mean, for them to express their disappointment in the NTLA for not adopting the so-called Electoral Reform Bill in its original form as it had been submitted weeks earlier by the NEC, and particularly for adding Article 80 (d) to the bill, appear to me as Liberians who want to continue living in the past when the constitution was shelved all the time to serve specific purposes.
However, I'd like to take this time to appeal to them directly to use their better judgment for the sake of our now crippled nation and begin to refocus their attention on the possibility of conducting a national census prior to the 2005 elections. Believe me, I do understand how very difficult it is sometimes for an individual or a group of individuals to break away from past practices, but they should understand that the ultimate fate of our nation is now at stake. And what would be a better way to put it back on the right track than to move on forward with a deliberate return to our constitution - a document that each of us should be holding in sacred by now.
Furthermore, for some people to suggest that our traditional friends and even the international community would abandon us soon just because we want to do things correctly this time around is nothing but absolute nonsense. I'm very confident that we'll get all the help that we'd ever need to conduct a meaningful census if we demonstrated how serious we were about reviving our country based entirely on the rule of law. If Liberia was abandoned now it clearly won't be because we want to do the right thing, rather it'll be because we continue to make the same sorry errors again and again. I mean, this much is clear to me and should be to every Liberian.

As for the suggestion that taking a census would compromise the elections deadline as stipulated in the so-called Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), I'd simply say that such a deadline surely isn't written in stone that it can't be moved for very good reasons - because it can. If anything, it's us Liberians that don't have the guts to ask for exactly what we want, thereby, leaving our destiny in the hands of others always! When will we ever learn?
By preferring their version of the Bill (Electoral Reform), Cllr. Johnson-Morris, Wesseh, and Dr. Clarke, amongst others, seem to be forgetting what elections are all about. Well, if they have, then I'd like to gladly remind them. Elections, no matter where they're held, are about legitimacy and credibility - nothing less.

Frankly, they collectively have the power right now to do whatever they want, like, conducting the 2005 elections using their preferred method - voters' registration. But seriously, would that make the ensuing elections more credible and legitimate than if we actually were to take the time to carry out a census prior to the expected 'big event' next year? Personally, I don't think so. But again, who am I in the continuing game of vampire politics in Liberia!

In another part of the Analyst story that I had referenced earlier in this article, the UN Special Representative in Liberia, the ever popular Jacques P. Klein, was quoted as warning Liberians, especially, members of the so-called NTLA [who had supported the inclusion of Article 80 (d)] that: "Tempering (?) with the proposed legislation (Electoral Reform Bill) would undermine the credibility of the ensuing elections." Again, such a warning by a very prominent figure in the ongoing Liberian drama is very unfortunate.

Respectfully, what is Ambassador Klein trying to say here in effect, that 'tampering' with the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia (although the country admittedly has fallen to its knees) is more desirable as compared to altering a certain portion of a mere so-called Electoral Reform Bill? I sincerely hope not. As for me, I'd always prefer the latter.
And for those who would want to stick forever with the status quo by continuously by-passing the Constitution of Liberia, all I'd say to them is get a life, please, and while you're at it move completely out of the way for a change.

I'm also greatly appalled at both the International Contact Group on Liberia (ICGL) as well as the International Republican Institute (IRI) for kind of threatening the Legislative body in a way by saying that the refusal of the NTLA to not pass the Bill "As Is" would more than likely undermine the war-weary country's ongoing peace process that they're presently supporting. [Please see "Compromised Electoral Reform Bill Talks Deadlocked" and "Ratified Bill Impedes Elections' Date", respectively, carried on November 25, 2004, again in the Analyst newspaper].

Contrary to what both groups, namely, the ICGL and IRI believe along with their allies, I don't think organizing elections haphazardly or having a "quick fix" to Liberia's chronic problems is in the best interest of our now war-ravaged nation. What they should be doing instead is to make every efforts to see at least how census could be conducted using the latest technology if possible, instead of criticizing the NTLA for seemingly standing on principle this time. After all, don't we usually criticize them when they refuse to act on principle? We certainly do.

But in order to fully understand the main issue involved here, I'd like to refer you to a brilliant article that was previously written by the veteran Liberian lawyer, Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe rather than just quoting directly from the so-called CPA. I'm talking about the article, "Elections in Liberia without Census Would Be Unconstitutional" (The Perspective, May 20, 2004). His arguments are well in place and crystal clear when it comes to this particular issue under discussion.

And let me just mention here another key benefit that our job-starved country could also reap from a major exercise like conducting a national census at this time. Undeniably, it would provide some much needed jobs for Liberians on the local market who find themselves languishing hopelessly, even after attaining some formal education from institutions, like the good-old University of Liberia, Cuttington University College as well as other universities and technical schools there. Additionally, it would give those who may be fortunate to participate in it a sense of worth. This would also make them feel as an integral part of the nation-building process. Not to mention, easing the pressing unemployment situation in the nation at least temporarily.
Seriously, though, regardless of what happens next, the NTLA has made history already in no small way by rejecting the idea of carrying out the elections in 2005 without first conducting a nation-wide census as the Liberian Constitution clearly provides. Their action is now on record, if not for anything else, for the sake of posterity.

In closing, I'd like to remind Cllr. Johnson-Morris, Wesseh, Dr, Clarke, the ICGL, the IRI and anyone else who cares to listen that a brand new day is about dawning in Liberia where our constitution will be taken more seriously than ever before.
Therefore, the days when a few Liberians and their international supporters decided the fate of our entire nation behind tightly closed doors without regards to the opinions of others and the principles involved are just about over. That's why I'll continue to call on Liberians wherever they are to be vigilant and voice their concerns, particularly so, after all our so-called leaders had failed the country miserably, leading to the carnage, bitter tribal and ethnic divisions as well as the complete collapse of our once relatively peaceful country just in the last 15 years alone.

While they just may have their way in the end on this one, I'll make sure that they understand my position in this matter as well as where I stand on other major issues concerning our one country that's been destroyed totally by some of the same failed individuals running it sadly today. The fight for Liberia's future has just begun as far as I'm concern.



SEARCHING WITHIN OUR OWN SOULS
By: James W. Harris

Once again, just this past week as the matter of fact, senseless violence has reared its ugly head in our 'poor' country, Liberia, particularly the bullet-scarred seaside capital city of Monrovia and its adjourning suburbs.

At a very crucial time like this when the international community led by the United Nations (UN) is doing all that it possibly can to help us resuscitate our collapsed country, it is absolutely imperative that Liberians immediately refrain from doing anything that could derail the ongoing peace process. After being totally destroyed by a few conscienceless Liberians and their criminal cohorts, Liberians should be more than grateful to the international community for coming to their aid.

But instead of showing our appreciation and gratitude to the international community and working with them side-by-side to first stabilize our country and then revive it, a few disgruntled Liberians seem to be desperately bent on spoiling everything. To them, violence is the only way to resolve any problem - a lesson that they may have learned sadly from their warlord bosses who in fact are responsible for our nation's total destruction.

To the contrary, violence alone even if it can be justified, cannot indeed resolve problems on its own. In most cases, it exacerbates them instead. That's why Liberians will have to learn to restrain themselves when dealing with each other, as violence surely will take us nowhere.
While the "real" cause of the latest carnage in the 'red light' district in the Paynesville area as well as other parts of Monrovia is not yet known, I'd like to call on the Gyude Bryant interim administration to set up a committee preferably made up of our various religious leaders, traditional elders and other prominent Liberians, to immediately look into this very troublesome matter.

Similarly, I'd also like to make a personal appeal to Jacques Klein, the Special Representative of the [UN] Secretary-General and UNMIL Chief in Liberia, to undertake a separate investigation that would be independent of the Liberian Government in order to find out basically two things: (1) What really happened? And (2), who were the main perpetrators? The answers to these two questions along with their motives could go a long way in determining how peace could really be secured in Liberia without further disturbance.
In my view, an independent investigation is needed simply because the present Interim Government just may not have the necessary resources, financial and otherwise, the wherewithal or even the kind of courage that it would take to do an impartial investigation of the matter at hand.

With a lot of time and money spent already trying to bring peace to our bitterly divided country, it would definitely be disastrous if we were to allow a few selfish Liberians to have their own way by derailing the shaky peace process through the use of brute force and ancient tactics. And so, if there ever was a time for Liberians of goodwill to come together to avert another round of senseless bloodletting that has gripped our country for the past decade or more then that time is now! This new violence, I may add, should serve as a wake up call for all of us to begin to sober up, especially those of us that haven't done so already.

This latest episode of naked violence should also send a signal to all of us as an indication that Liberia really isn't yet secured as some would like us to believe. But admittedly, one major problem with Liberians is that we like to fool ourselves and take everything for granted. For one reason or the other, many of us would prefer to hide from the truth and live in fantasy rather than face issues head on and deal with them, as we should. We always like to sweep our problems under the rug rather then find lasting solutions to them. That's why we just can't seem to break the circle of violence that keeps on haunting us and destroying our once vibrant country even further.

Since this latest disturbance in Monrovia and some of its surrounding suburbs, Liberians both at home and in the Diaspora, have been trying to put their own twists and spins on the violence, especially, what was responsible for it. As usual, many of them were not even willing to wait until all the facts came out, while others choose to dismiss outright the notion that religion too could have played a role.

"This is not a religious war", declared my good-ole friend, Abdoulaye W. Dukule of the web-based magazine, the Perspective, although almost every news outlet that first broke the story had made some kind of reference to religion as being partly to blame for the mayhem. Dukule could well have been very correct, but the thing is, that when something like this happens, it's always good to wait until all the facts are in before making any declaration. Because after all, even his own webzine (short for web magazine) had carried a story right above Abdoul's article ("Liberia On Fire, Again", November 1, 2004) proclaiming loudly, "Religious Warfare In Monrovia and Kakata…", the Perspective, November 1, 2004). All I'm saying here is that in times like these we have to be very patient and open-minded, taking nothing for granted!
We should all remember that the world is not what it used to be ten or even twenty years ago. It's completely different today with ever shifting interests.

But frankly, such dismissive remarks by a person of Adboul's caliber seem to be more like a symptom of what is actually preventing Liberians from engaging in a serious and honest dialogue about their country. In his article, for example, he (Abdoul) says also that "Liberians need reconciliation, they need to trust each other again and they need to reconcile their differences." All of the above are true. But then again, Abdoul goes on to say that: "None of this is however possible in the absence of justice." I agree with him too on this score.

However, what I'd like to point out here is that justice also has to do with the "conformity to the truth, [to the] fact or [even] reason" - something that's apparently lacking in many Liberians today, I'm afraid
Unless Liberians can individually search within themselves and their own souls and drive away the demon of hate that has caused us to tear each other apart and replace that hate with love and honesty toward one another, it's very difficult to see just how our one country could eventually overcome hate and move toward peace after more then 15 years of absolute chaos.
In order to achieve peace, Liberians will first have to learn to be sincere and dead honest with each other, because that's the best way to build or even restore trust. And that trust, not to mention, must be based solely on what we do and not what we say. The time for empty talk is just about gone. It's now time for action - positive action!

As our now destroyed country still lies in coma on its deathbed waiting for its sickness to be thoroughly diagnosed like any other patient, it's only fitting that we give it the correct medicine to prevent it from dying. Honest dialogue, therefore, on the part of each and every Liberian, must become the main vehicle for finding the most adequate prescription for our ill country.
In diagnosing our country's many problems in this light, Liberians need to lay everything bare. Everything must be put on the table for frank discussions, whether its about religion, tribalism, ethnicity, corruption, etc., putting aside our individual preferences and preconceived ideas about these things. We really need to think soberly about what is currently happening to our country with the hope of opening a new dialogue. We need to put away our own prejudices and make our natural differences the source of our strength. Doing it any other way would only be pretentious or superficial! At best, it will only prolong our nightmare.

Given the present situation on the ground, the Interim Government or even the UNMIL could clamp down harshly or arrest any number of people. But honesty, would such measures be sufficient to prevent another carnage from taking place in Liberia? I really don't think so! What we need to do is to find out the actual cause (s) of the violence, then take the appropriate steps to fix it or them.

This is where sound or good leadership comes in. This is also where our religious institutions, elders and other prominent citizens have a significant role to play, doing away, of course, with egotism, opportunism and all the other negative vices that have been preventing Liberians from coming together as one people. I must admit, though, that our religious institutions, notably, the National Muslim Council of Liberia and their counterpart, the Liberian Council of Churches, have done their best in the immediate past to keep religion completely out of the picture in our national crises. And I strongly urge them to keep doing just that.
On the other hand, we can't totally ignore the possibility that our religious leaders too may be polarized just like the rest of our seemingly sick society. But there's always room for "honest" dialogue as we try to find solutions to our mounting problems. As such, we need to look deeply within ourselves.

In any case, notwithstanding, we must begin to separate the good guys from the bad ones in the literal sense. This is very important as a single bad apple can ruin the whole pile - a rather simple fact of life.
Obviously, we can't go on indefinitely finding only artificial solutions to our huge problems. As Liberians, we must together begin to find "real" solutions to our "real" problems instead of constantly taking everything for granted. If we should fail to do the right thing for our country then I can say that it is doomed forever.
Already, the NTGL has begun to point fingers at some so-called "unidentified individuals", who it believes, "organized and financed" the latest riots, according to recent news reports.

But actually, the government needs to do more than that. What this interim administration or any future Liberian government really needs to do is to try and resolve some of the longstanding issues that have been plaguing our country, Liberia, and its badly traumatized people. I'm talking about issues of mass poverty, crippling illiteracy, raw tribalism, continuing inequality, fairness, etc.

In short, I'm referring to issues that generally give rise to discontent and envy which normally lead to senseless violence. Finding lasting solutions to any of the above issues that I've just raised above would in turn deny the ammunition to all those who want to destabilize our country for their own selfish ends. Resolving such issues would also help to contain supposed enemies of the Liberian state since they would have no other excuses to take on the government. Or, to put it more bluntly, the government really needs to start focusing on improving the socio-economic conditions of our people. We know that this certainly is no small task, but it surely can be done with the right kind of leadership, commitment and foresight. To me, that would be the surest way to dig ourselves out of the mess that we find ourselves in today (thanks to the Bacchus Matthews and Charles Taylors of the world).

Individually, though, Liberians need to look deeply within themselves (their very own souls), bearing in mind that "we're all our brothers' keepers" regardless of the few hoodlums, gangsters and losers amongst us. I mean, we just can't permit them to steal our hopes and dreams of a peaceful Liberia for all of us.

In this regard, I'd sincerely like to appeal to all Liberians, especially those at home, to remain calm and patient as the appropriate authorities hopefully investigate this case of unwarranted violence. I'd also like to urge them to desist immediately from further disturbing the already shaky peace that our people are presently enjoying - thanks to the UN and others who have assisted us so far. But the fact still remains that the destiny of our country lies in our very own hands.

At this very critical time in our nation's turbulent history, we just can't afford to let the bad guys win, because, after all, they're not the only ones that have claims to Liberia - we all do, don't we!



AUTHOR'S NOTE: I actually wrote the article that follows just before the conference in Ghana that eventually give birth to the now incumbent NTGL headed by Charles Gyude Bryant. I had first submitted it to a prominent Liberian-operated website but it was "killed" instantly and never made it to press. Now that I have the opportunity to publish again, I thought to present it here in its original form for the first time for the benefit of TLCAfrica.com's vast reading public in view of what I had earlier predicted - that nothing would ever change in our now destroyed country (Liberia) as long as it remains in the 'soiled' hands of the same failed politicians and diehard opportunists who destroyed it in the first place. What baffles me though is that the same folks that were so shortsighted so much so that they tried to silence me are now themselves questioning the dismal performance of this so-called Interim Government. Did they not see the writings on the wall all along or were they just playing politics as usual? It's definitely a little bit too late now, but I surely hope they've realized their mistake since. In trying times like these, Liberians must learn to put principles and morality over partisanship and opportunism if we want our country to survive in tact. Please enjoy it and send me your comments to jwharris@verizon.net!

THE AKOSOMBO TALKS - HOW LONG WILL THE CIRCUS CONTINUE?
By: James W. Harris

In the past few days, some weary Liberians, many of them 'direct contributors' to the present ongoing mess in our once relatively peaceful country, have been descending on the West African state of Ghana [Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana], in what many believe, is a last-ditch attempt to broker some sort of agreement with the help of regional and international facilitators, aimed at 'finally' bringing elusive peace to our now severely war-damaged nation.
Were Liberians like many other nationalities or peoples around the world that "truly" love their respective countries, there's no telling that our war-torn nation would be enjoying some semblance of peace and stability by now as opposed to continually engaging in senseless wars that are subjecting our people to a life of despair, abject poverty, untold misery and hopelessness. But, I guess, we [Liberians] are just of a very different breed of humans or mankind!

Now, why do I say this? Because time and time again, these particular groups of Liberians that are busy assembling in Akosombo and other parts of Ghana, have proven that they would definitely stop at nothing short of completely destroying their "own" country just for the sake of attaining state power by whatever means in total disregard of the rights of the Liberian people to live in peace as they so desire. Instead of putting aside their personal egos and trying to save their now war-wrecked nation, all they seem to care about is to remove Charles Taylor from the Executive Mansion and reward themselves with the Liberian Presidency - something that many of us would dare to acknowledge simply for cowardly reasons. Yet, we talk deceitfully about bringing peace to Liberia. What a sham!

But what amazes me the most, though, in the ongoing mess that's taking place in Liberia, is that these groups of Liberians, for some cynical reasons, really believe that they can fool the people "all the time", even though it should be abundantly clear by now that they collectively have nothing NEW to offer the now war-crippled country. I mean NOTHING; ZIP! If they had anything good to offer Liberia, one would think that they would have done so when they held high government posts in previous Liberian administrations. Wouldn't they! But they were completely satisfied at that time and too comfortable with their elegant life-styles [built usually on highly corrupt practices, such as, accepting "cold-water" (bribe) for performing a task related to their particular assignments] to care about anything that was going wrong with the country. And now, here they are again in 2003 holding the entire country hostage just because everyone wants to be President of Liberia with no real vision, goals, plan of action or the now more familiar term, "road map".

How then can they save our country? You tell me! I mean, let's be honest - just look at the public records of some of the so-called "stake-holders" that are presently in Akosombo unfortunately deciding the fate of our now war-scarred country. It's all out there, but you would have to be interested enough in order to evaluate them on your personal standards. But just in case you don't have any standards, then there are the widely acceptable standards of good governance, personal integrity, honesty [in terms of what the person may have done or did not do to promote the public good when he or she held a certain position in government], etc.

Sadly, the same people that have helped to wreck our country in one way or the other are in Ghana today deciding the future of our nation without us holding them sufficiently accountable for their past selfish deeds or misdeeds. For example, many Liberian can quickly point out what Charles Taylor is doing or has done to set Liberia and the entire West African sub-region on fire, but just ask them about, say, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Charles Brumskine, Cletus Wotorson or Dr. Marcus Dahn, amongst others, and their roles specifically in the Liberian mess. They become completely mute and defensive of these people, mainly due to their personal likeness for them. That's why I always say that we're not going anywhere until we can learn to be FAIR in examining past and recent events in Liberia in its totality.

Already, as it has become a common practice amongst Liberians, various individuals, interests groups, etc., or even the ruthless and lawless Taylor regime, for that matter, have issued statements [ridiculously "flowery"] registering, what I personally term, their 'false hope' about the outcome of this particular meeting that's currently taking place in Akomsombo, Ghana. As if to suggest that Liberians have never met before to discuss the same burning issues that they're engaging in today, everyone seems to be optimistic about the outcome of these talks, even though it's very likely that one of these "career opportunists" could emerge from the talks to lead Liberia. Of course, we all know that they have met, not once, twice, three times, etc., but on countless occasions! And the result - very, very disappointing at best as the Liberian people continue to bear the heavy burdens of the senseless wars that are raging between rivals in this bitter conflict.

Except for the involvement of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, a former military Head of State of Nigeria, who admirably stopped his own country from plunging into chaos by handing over power to an elected civilian government headed by Olusegun Obansanjo (himself a former military ruler), that was designated to mediate these rounds of talks, the ICGL (International Contact Group on Liberia), the UN and a few other groups, very little has changed on the Liberian side. So, what's the optimism about! More or less, we still have the same players - don't we, although many of them have regrouped into different armed camps, like LURD, MODEL, GDF (Grebo Defense Force), etc. Let's not be fooled, because they're the 'same old wine in new bottles'. Most of all, they're not even interested in the general welfare of the severely impoverished Liberian people, but themselves and settling old scores at the detriment of our once respectable country.
And for this, we'll always hold them responsible and accountable for the seemingly endless destruction and misery they've brought upon us regardless of whatever accord or agreement they reach in Akomsombo. While some people may become less vocal on issues pertaining to Liberia once the Taylor regime no longer holds power, I can assure you that many of us will still be around by God's help to keep any succeeding government in check because it's our sacred responsibility and we strongly believe in FAIRNESS and the rule of law.

Even with the participation of a credible statesman like Abubakar and others in trying to find a lasting solution to the nagging Liberian crisis, I can say with some degree of skepticism, based on the results of past conferences, meetings or what have you, and the records of the so-called "key players" involved, that the outcome of the Akosombo Talks could be no different from previous ones. And frankly, I'll be very surprise if the talks actually achieve peace for Liberia!
But let's say that the outcome of these talks is good - an agreement reached. What then? Well, the next phase logically would be to implement said agreement. Now, would the international community have the WILL POWER to ensure that whatever the participants had agreed upon is fulfilled? I guess, we'll just have to wait and see, because, based on past experiences, the implementers of such agreements have not shown the courage to see them through for whatever reasons. Maybe it could be different this time around, but personally, I really don't think that the international community is truly committed to resolving the Liberian crisis.

As far as I can see, there are two main impediments to resolving the 'man-made' Liberian problem. First and foremost is the inability of Liberians to be sincere, frank, honest, etc., in discussing issues relating to their now dead country, not to even mention issues pertaining to themselves. Secondly, from my perspective, is the lack of WILL on the part of the international community to follow up on such agreements to the "letter" once they are signed.
In the first instance, Liberians generally could be said to be very deceitful with each other. They tend to say one thing and do completely the opposite - something that seems to be ingrained in our national character. Take for instance the issue of the appalling human rights situation in the country. Many Liberians have come out to condemn the Taylor dictatorship, but remain silent when it comes to dealing with atrocities being committed by LURD, MODEL or the so-called warlords that are widely believed to have helped to ruin our country. Blaming one party to a conflict as delicate as ours, while ignoring crimes committed by the other, clearly is nothing but deceit. Why not hold everyone to the same standards? I mean, it's only fair!
Another example would be that many Liberians find it convenient to talk about human rights by way of a press release, statement, etc., but unwilling to show up when a mass rally is called solely to highlight the problem in Liberia as demonstrated recently by the poor turn out for Aloysius Toe and others that are continually being held illegally by the brutal Taylor regime. I'm not even sure whether their names would even be mentioned in Akomsombo since their freedom does not seem to be a priority for our so-called "stakeholders" at the talks. That's what I'd call hypocrisy; insincerity; deceit; dishonesty, indifference or whatever.

On the second count - the lack of WILL on the part of the international community - the ongoing Liberian carnage says it all. I mean, if the international community, say, the US, based not on it's so-called "traditional relationship" with Liberia, but its professed role as a defender of democratic values, were to demand of the Taylor government to either straighten up or step down, I'm sure that our country would have been stable and peaceful by now.
As the matter of fact, I've always advocated the dire need for a stabilization force in Liberia, especially one that would be lead by the UN as compared to the ECOWAS. My reason for advocating this is simply to provide some level of security for the Liberian people that so often fall victims to Taylor's ill-trained security thugs as well as LURD, MODEL, etc. Unfortunately, that has never been considered up until now. Yet today, that seems to be the clarion call of many Liberians, except those that are comfortable with the very repressive Taylor regime. Why it took some Liberians so long to realize this fact is something that I certainly can't explain. All that I can say is that they were probably shortsighted!
To be more brash, I'd say that the Liberian situation could be resolved today, say, for example, if the US or some other powerful country were to give the Taylor administration an ultimatum - "you either do this or else…" We have seen this done in Iraq, Bosnia, and so on. And closer to home, Sierra Leone with the British and the Ivory Coast with the French. All it really takes is the WILL! But of course, Liberia is not in the "strategic interest" of any of the countries mention above and so, our nightmare continues unabated.

As a solution to the ongoing Liberian mess, some Liberians have begun to talk about the idea of yet ANOTHER INTERIM GOVERNMENT or whatever you may want to call it for Liberia as an alternative to the dismally failed National Patriotic Party (NPP) regime. Given our unique situation, there seems to be no other choice due to the fact that conditions in the country are not conducive for the holding of elections as required by the Constitution when Taylor's term ends this October.
Honestly, I'd support any arrangement that would eventually lead Liberia towards peace and stability. But an interim government led by whom? That's the million-dollar question! Hopefully, it would not be one of our so-called opposition leaders that our people already distrust, preferring even the tainted Taylor, who incidentally has now been indicted as a war criminal by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone that's presently sitting there, to remain their Head of State.
Again, if we were to be sincere with ourselves, we would spare the country a lot of trouble if we were to select a candidate for that position based "solely" on his or her past and present records as well as the ability to unite the country, irrespective of tribal affiliation, social or economic class, etc. Simply, a person of integrity and unquestionable character, among other "good" qualities. But certainly, we have apparently not reached that point where we could separate the "sheep from the goats" based on their past records or deeds. And that seems to be our biggest fault; our dilemma.
Unless we can resolve such issues and isolate the cast of characters that seem to be prolonging our nightmare, it looks like the CIRCUS WILL CONTINUE until a new core of Liberian leadership emerges - one that would put our nation first. So far, nothing seems to be on the horizon, while the 'career opportunists' are having a field day in Akomsombo determining the destiny of our now pariah nation.

Finally, while we continue to pray for peace and revival for our now destroyed homeland, we must simultaneously demand JUSTICE. Justice for Aloysius Toe, Sheikh Sackor and the many others that have fallen victims to the inhumane conditions imposed on them by all sides to this maddening conflict.

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Other related articles by this author:


S.O.S. - A LIBERIAN FINANCIAL “WATCHDOG” GROUP NEEDED!
By: James W. Harris

Arguably, it could be said that corruption does indeed exist today in almost every country on the face of the planet earth. As defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, corruption involves the “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle” or the “inducement to [do] wrong by improper or unlawful means.” Also, it (corruption) has to do with “a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.”
Given the simple definition above, it can then be said that our now war-torn country, Liberia, is not exempt from this ridiculous practice which often leads to the raw exploitation of one group of people by another or the shameful abuse of public resources on the part of a tiny minority against the interests of the majority.

But what really bothers me the most about our pathetic situation is that corruption continues to become widespread and go unchecked albeit the honest efforts of a few patriotic Liberians to end the bad practice by exposing it. Another thing that seriously disturbs me is that in our country, corruption is done with impunity, sheer arrogance, indifference, etc., hence the total destruction of our once peaceful and vibrant society.

And frankly, it’s got to stop one way or the other! Or the very least, those who engage

in it must be made accountable to the people of Liberia.
As I continue to follow events unfolding on the ground in our now severely wrecked nation, especially, the level of corruption that seems to be taking place there as reported almost daily by the local media, I’m really not sure what it would take for our so-called leaders to realize that our poor people have had enough.
I’m quite certain that some of you are already saying: “There he goes again! How dare Harris make such a blanket statement without providing the necessary proof?” But my fellow compatriots, the jury is out and the evidence is abundant and crystal clear - the miserable and deplorable conditions that our poverty-stricken people continue to live in. Or, can there be any other evidence that’s better than this? I seriously doubt it… Need I say more!

But I must state here in very clear terms that corruption [“the impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle”] is definitely not new to Liberia neither is it unique to the present group of people who call themselves our leaders [if we can even call them that]. I can also say that corruption actually started in our now war-scarred country long, long ago…way, way back when successive Liberian administrations deliberately engaged in the practice, thereby, neglecting our people and failing horribly to improve their general welfare.

What makes our situation (the Liberian situation) kind of hopeless is that perhaps due to the high level of illiteracy in the country, Liberians by and large seem to still be sitting on the fence apparently waiting for someone else to come and save them from their economic and political vampires. Whereas in many other countries around the globe, the masses [the people] are beginning to take their destiny into their very own hands by demanding their God-given rights to a fairly decent life. They are demanding that their respective governments immediately cater to their basic needs. They are demanding accountability and transparency from their leaders. Also, they are demanding to know exactly what is happening to their scarce resources (natural, financial, etc.).

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Liberians as “business [seems to be continuing] as usual” with the silly mentality that “every man or woman is for himself or herself and God for all.” But really, it doesn’t have to be that way with the kind of natural resources that Liberia is endowed with, even after many years of exploiting and misappropriating them. With the kind of resources that we still have in Liberia, including, diamonds, gold, rubber, timber, among other valuables, and the combined income derived from them, every Liberian should be well off if state resources were being properly and efficiently managed. Really!

However, the main difference that I personally see between Liberians and peoples in other places is that the latter usually have the correct kind of leaders that are dedicated not only to seeking their welfare, but also fighting relentlessly for their other causes whatever they may be.
As I continue to read news stories and other materials about the scandal-plagued NTGL, such as, the abrupt disappearance of a whole ship load of iron ore valued at an estimated 10 million dollars from the ‘quiet’ seaport city of Lower Buchanan, Grand Bassa County [please see “Debate Continues Over Reported US$10m Government Scandal”, The Analyst/AllAfrica.com, August 30, 2004]; the reckless spending of the Liberian people’s money by the so-called interim government on things like brand-name cars [The Inquirer/AllAfrica.com, “EU (European Union) Representative Frowns on NTGL’s Lavish Spending”, August 30, 2004], amongst others, I surely can’t help but feel sorry for our now war-ruined nation as well as our badly traumatized people.

But they (people) are waking up slowly though! If Chairman Bryant thought that the Liberian people were still sleeping or joking about holding their leaders accountable this time around, then his recent trip to Lower Buchanan should be a wake up call, a rude awakening, as it was widely reported how he had been booed and jeered by the Bassa people who wanted to know how it was in fact possible for a whole ship load of iron ore worth millions of dollars to have disappeared mysteriously from their port despite a Prohibition issued by the Supreme Court of Liberia against the vessel’s departure. Their action should be a sign of things yet to come!
Quite frankly, all isn’t lost! In most of my writings, I painfully try the hardest to inculcate into the minds of Liberians the dire need to wake up and do the right thing by taking their destiny into their own hands. Obviously, they’ll have to do better than what they’re presently doing if they really want things to turn around for the good of their country. First of all, we need to ensure that whatever is left of our already depleted resources, financial and otherwise, must be used for the total benefit of all Liberians regardless of their current mission in life as opposed to a small clique of corrupt, selfish and conscienceless individuals who seem to have no idea how a government should function.

I really don’t know where my message is getting lost, but Liberians, particularly, the professional types, just aren’t doing enough to make their government accountable. For the most part, many of us remain complacent and satisfied with just about anything, leaving the future of our country in the hands of people that are evidently bankrupt in a moral sense.

For example, if and only if, a few of our relatively young Liberian professional accountants as well as other financial and economic “experts” were to come together and form something like a “watchdog” group to monitor the country’s financial sector, it would go a very long way in making our government accountable at last. I may be wrong, but I personally don’t know about the existence of such a group today. Won’t that be good!
Not only would the group that I’ve just described above be very useful in giving us a clearer picture of our nation’s financial and economic health, I’m quite confident that any information or data collected by a group like this would be highly credible and irrefutable. In addition, we would know exactly how this interim government as well as the one immediately following it is spending our little money.

Basically, I can see a “watchdog” group like this serving three primary purposes: First, it would collect the relevant data about our nation’s overall economy perhaps on a quarterly basis. Secondly, it would make such information readily available via publication to the Liberian people and our international donors and friends. And thirdly, it would suggest ways in which corruption [that beastly creature) could be minimized, being fully aware of the fact that corruption could never be eliminated entirely from any society today. So I guess, the best that we can do given our current circumstances is to streamline it; keep it in permanent check and under tight control. In short, the activities of this group would be geared towards complementing the work that’s presently being done already by various NGO’s, human rights groups, civil organizations, amongst others, operating today in the now destroyed country.
When one realizes how the incumbent Charles Gyude Bryant’s interim government still hasn’t yet come clean on the allegations that were levied against it recently by the Commissioner of Customs, the LURD appointee and the Chairman’s namesake, Charles Bennie, coupled with other ongoing scandals involving senior members of the NTGL, the need for a “watchdog” group becomes even more compelling.

But honestly, the challenge to make the above proposition a reality lies squarely with those “conscientious” Liberians, who, by Providence, find themselves today in the financial and economic sector of society, whether at home or in the Diaspora. Instead of just boasting about their various and many degrees as they normally do, Liberian financial and other professionals ought to put their talents to work by finding workable solutions to their country’s numerous problems. That’s partly what education is all about in addition to taking pride in hanging degrees and certificates on the wall to gather dust. There’s a lot of work to be done my friends!

Although Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf [who incidentally shares some of the blame for the mess that our country is currently going through] has recently called for open discussions on the present Liberian budget as the head of the so-called Governance Reform Commission [“Mrs. Sirleaf Calls for Public Hearing on Budget”, The Inquirer/AllAfrica.com, September 2, 2004], that is hardly enough.

Given our immediate past and present sad history, Liberians would do well not to rely solely on their government that so often seems to be morally bankrupt in the face of ongoing human sufferings and raw injustice. The Bryant administration is a clear example of how NOT to form a government, especially so, when the masses have no confidence in their so-called leaders. Don’t you see the chaos? I do!

It’s about time that we act independently, putting the interests of our people and nation first. We should let our government know in no uncertain terms exactly what we expect of it and demand strongly that it do better this time around. It’s only then that we can truly begin the long process of reviving our country for the benefit of all.

On a final note, I hope and pray that the Supreme Court does put its foot down on the “missing iron ore ship” issue and let the Liberian people know exactly what happened. And if it should find out just who are responsible for such daylight robbery of the people’s resources, then such bandits should be given the full weight of the law. There absolutely should be no exemptions, because that’s the only way that we’ll ever be able to reclaim our nation from those losers and diehard opportunists who continue to pillage it for their personal gains without any remorse.

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