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The Lesson Guinea Must Learn

By M. Tarnue Mawolo

(Encore Publication of a  March 1, 2001 Article In The Perspective)
Guinea, it seems, is now waking up to the reality of the danger Taylor poses. And this is good news. At least, for once, the reality is dawning that the monstrosity is real. With disaster stalking the country, and the West African sub-region facing the prospect of yet another catastrophic fallout from what is already the world's worst refugee crisis, the Republic of Guinea is now called upon to make critical choices for its own survival.

Here, the choice is clear and unmistakable. It is a choice between life and death; between proactive action and suicidal inaction; between stubborn and determined defense of truth and the life of the innocent, and acquiescence to the unrepentant lunacy of the Taylor terror and refugee-producing machine. The choices Guinea makes will determine whether the country lives in peace or perish on the alter of slaughter on which Liberia died, and where Sierra Leone now lies surviving on life support, feeding solely on the humanity of Britain as the organ donor.

In matters like these, confronting the menace is the only rewarding course of action. Under the circumstances, neither reticence nor stupidity can be an excuse for surrender. Commonsense will dictate that the people of Guinea take cue from hindsight. Like Liberia and Sierra Leone, Guinea will definitely dissipate into madness if, in the fuzzy name of sub-regional cooperation, she swallows the ECOWAS pill unexamined and allows other countries (many with questionable motives and long standing ties to Taylor) to make judgments and exercise veto power over what is best for Guinea's national security interest. This will be a costly mistake with far reaching consequences.

Wisdom lies in avoiding the pitfalls of history. Fools die because they simply ignore the lessons of yesterday and go on repeating the errors of the past, pretending, as it were, that history has never existed. One only needs to look across the border in Liberia and Sierra Leone to discover what lies ahead for the people of Guinea. In both countries, the Taylor and Sankoh elements have utilized murder as an instrument of leadership to cow the population and ensure compliance; societies have been wrecked, taken over and held captive by criminal elements led by timber and gem traffickers who by milking the nation have emerged far richer than the state. This is the reality the ECOWAS leadership chose to ignore in Liberia and Sierra Leone while campaigning against UN sanctions and prolonging the misery of the two countries' peoples. For them, the survival of a fellow dictator takes premium over the lives and well being of the country's people, and the long term security interest of the sub-region.

Having won a two months reprieve for their client, Lasana kouyateh and his ECOWAS organization have now transformed themselves into the new parole officers with responsibility for the Liberian criminal network. The danger, however, is that these parole officers feel strongly that the judges were wrong in the first place, and that the criminal was unfairly treated. The reason for this twisted logic lies in the fear that arise when some parole officers begin to feel that they share much in common with the criminal, and that further sentencing of the criminal will lay the basis for the prosecution of other offenders who currently sit on the parole board. What a sham?

With two months in hand to polish and ensure Taylor's compliance, ECOWAS will now go to work. Sooner than later we will hear a litany of reasons from the ECOWAS leadership showing Taylor's compliance with the wishes of the international community. The world will hear lofty tales of a remorseful Liberian President "severing ties" with the limb-cutting RUF, the creation of a corridor of tranquility for refugees, etc. To this end, Guinea will be given assurances of the Liberian President's deep commitment to peace and good neighborliness. But the fundamental and inherent danger Taylor poses will be left untouched. Let off the hook, it will only be a matter of time when Taylor regroups and bounces back with vengeance. Clearly, when that time comes, it is Guinea not Mali or Burkina Faso that will pay the ultimate price. If anything, Blaise Campoare and his counterparts stand to reap the usual booty that results from the plunder. As blood and tears soak the soil of Guinea, there will be calls all around for negotiations with the plunder masters. For Guinea, the day of reckoning will have come, and they will have sadly realized that had they acted previously, an ounce of prevention would have been worth more than a pound of cure.

Some will question that this argument is simply a case of hyper-conspiracy theory. Far from it! When it comes to broken promises and breach of faith, Taylor is a repeat offender. Abundant evidence lies in the past to confirm this. The recent history of Liberia and Sierra Leone is the graveyard of countless promises and agreements Taylor signed but was never prepared to fulfill in the first place. Allowed to get away with a chain of deception, Taylor brought West Africa to where we are today.

When he launched his Liberian rebellion in 1989, Taylor took advantage of the reticence of the established political forces and transformed a popular quest for democratic change into a personal slaughter machine aimed at the settlement of ethnic scores and the satisfaction of the nostalgic yearnings of a parasitic Liberian minority that feeds on nothing but the state. But the reality of his pogrom soon became clear, and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, then President of Nigeria, mobilized ECOWAS to interdict the lumpen avenger. ECOMOG was created and dispatched to Liberia, and the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) was also created as a result.

But saddled with inefficient leadership, lack of political will power and vision, and bent on executing business as usual, IGNU was doomed to paralysis and failure. So, while they sat in Monrovia trapped in their dreams and feeding sheepishly on defeatist and appeasement slogans, Taylor plotted his game. The Liberian people spotted the folly long in advance and came to parenthetically refer to the IGNU as "Interim Government of No Use". Taylor, always disinterested in any peace formula that did not award him the presidency, saw the opening and ceased upon it. As a precondition for his cooperation with ECOWAS, Taylor demanded the dissolution of Amos Sawyer's IGNU and called for the formation of a national transitional council government grouping various warring factions. Taylor got his wish and IGNU with its plethora of failed leaders was history.

Meanwhile, Gen. Babangida relinquished power and his Defense Chief, Sani Abacha, staged a palace coup to replace him. What a difference leadership makes! The bespectacled Gen. Abacha and his team of foreign policy advisors lacked every sense of strategic consideration. Abacha resorted to the pursuit of parochial goals and questionable foreign policy objectives in Liberia. ECOWAS spirit waned and Taylor knew it.

With IGNU out of the way, Taylor plotted to create a leadership vacuum. He objected to joining the new Liberia National Transitional Government created at his behest. It took the breaking away of key members of his NPFL (Laveli Supuwood, Sam Dokie and Tom Wowiyou) to force the warlord's reluctant participation in the Government. Even then Taylor kept on setting endless preconditions to the attainment of peace and disarmament. He created one trouble after the other. He dragged the country through countless broken peace agreements, three different transitional governments and two brutal street battles in Monrovia that killed thousands in the city and its suburbs.

There was no relenting for Taylor until a tragically flawed and farcical ECOWAS organized and Abacha supervised election donated the presidency to him and crowned him king. Having been politically awarded what he failed to win on the field of battle, Taylor now has a personal fiefdom in Liberia. The surrender of Liberia to Taylor and his Libyan paymasters was complete, as Nigeria turned its eyes to the problem in Sierra Leone. How the Nigerians expected to resolve the problem in Sierra Leone while maintaining Taylor at the helm of power in Liberia defies any logic. But for the Ikimis, logic and strategic vision were not as important as the expediency of political opportunism.

While his Liberian package unfolded, Taylor prepared and launched his crony, Foday Sankoh, into Sierra Leone to lead an NPFL offshoot called the RUF. As they went, the RUF left nothing but mayhem and human carcasses in their wake. In Sierra Leone as in Liberia, Taylor and his RUF stooges demanded that then President Joseph Momoh quit the presidency as a precondition for peace. Through the turmoil of the war, President Momoh was toppled in a coup led by Capt. Valentine Strasser. Long after Momoh was gone, the RUF fought on and the pillage continued. Strasser was toppled and elections held but the RUF demands multiplied. We were simply back to basics. It was Liberia all over again.

Consumed by naivet�, it took numerous broken peace agreements, two babaric forays on Freetown and a brief stint in exile to send the message to President Kabbah that Taylor and his creatures were never serious about peace in the first place. With Kabbah holed up in exile and his Nigerian forces cornered at the Lungi Airport, Taylor and the RUF negotiated Sankoh out of prison into the number two position in a power sharing government, with responsibility for the diamond fields Taylor so desperately sought. The Liberian drama was about to be replayed. It took the courage of ordinary Nigerian soldiers in the fields, exemplary leadership from the late Gen. Maxwell Kobe, the determined support of the British and the extreme foolhardiness of Foday Sankoh to reverse this nightmare scenario.

Now Guinea is next and she will do well to know that. These arguments in no way suggest that Guinea ought to isolate itself from the sub-regional body. She neither has the resources nor the clout to do so. In fact, there is no need for that. But the country must become more assertive and aggressive in defense of its vital interest. To sit supinely and expect Taylor to censure himself and transform his rogue outfit into an instrument of peace in the sub-region, is to indulge in a massive self-destructive delusion. Taylor and the RUF both survive on the basis of a mutual reciprocity of criminal needs. To this end, they will only do what they know best- the art of plunder and destabilization. What else should we expect any way? After all, as Gloria Gaither will say, "we all sing the tone we know". To expect otherwise, will amount to nursing a foolish hope.

About the author: M. Tarnue Mawolo is a Liberian political commentator and analyst resident in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He can be reached at email or tarnuemawolo@thepalavahut.com. All Views expressed in the Plan Talk column are those of the Author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Palava Hut Magazine.

President Conteh of Guinea

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