CHARLES TAYLOR’S MANO RIVER WAR
The Mano River Union was established in October 1973 under the Mano River Declaration – initially between Liberia’s President William Tolbert and Sierra Leone’s President Siaka Stevens. Guinea, under Sékou Touré, joined in 1977. It was designed to facilitate regional economic cooperation, transparency and shared ideals. The aim was to build an economic and customs alliance and achieve a common market in which goods, services and people would move freely across the region.
Unfortunately, almost 30 years later, the Mano River Union has instead become synonymous with the interlocking conflicts that have devastated those countries and continue to undercut hopes for development. In a bid to revitalise cooperation, representatives have been meeting since August 2001 and various peace initiatives have been proposed, but after more than twelve years of cross-border incursions and proxy war, suspicions run deep and cooperation remains elusive. For the international community, the appalling tragedy of Sierra Leone’s conflict – replete with adolescent warriors and use of amputation as a tactic of war – was the most obvious manifestation of the troubles that raged throughout the Mano River region (Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea).
Eventually shamed into action, the international community sent a large peace mission into Sierra Leone to bring relief from twelve years of anarchy, brutality and cruel neglect. The well-led and carefully planned intervention succeeded in stopping the war in Sierra Leone. While the UN played an indispensable role, no single nation deserves more credit than the United Kingdom. But as the situation in Sierra Leone has improved, it has become painfully evident that the war is not its own, but rather part of a larger conflict that began in Liberia, engulfed Sierra Leone and Guinea, and is now back inside Liberia.
While the European Union (EU), UN and regional powers have all officially announced a policy of “a regional approach” to tackling the war, the international community has largely failed to unravel the interconnections and linkages between what is a single conflict – a continuous narrative of gradually intensifying regional fighting driven by power politics.
A useful starting point in understanding the regional nature of the current conflict is the late 1980s, when a corrupt and brutal regime under a young military officer, Samuel Doe, ruled Liberia. Doe was captured and assassinated in September 1990 by forces loyal to Prince Yormie Johnson, who also sought the presidency. President Doe was a key Cold War ally of the United States in the region, and its financial support was vital to keeping him in power. This relationship attracted the hostility of Libyan leader Muammar Ghadaffi, who made Liberia a prime target in his plan to sponsor an Africa-wide wave of insurrections to displace Western influence.
Charles Taylor, a Liberian once escaped from prison in the United States, was one of the first graduates of Libya’s elite school of insurrection at Mathaba, and a key instrument of Ghadaffi’s designs. On 24 December 1989 Charles Taylor led his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) forces, backed by Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, in an invasion of Nimba County, Liberia. The group advanced rapidly but a Taylor rival, Prince Johnson, broke away to form a separate faction. Despite the infighting, both Taylor’s and Johnson’s factions were poised to take Monrovia by early 1990.
This offensive set off alarm bells in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), including Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Gambia and Sierra Leone, largely because Taylor’s rebels included Libyan-trained dissidents from all these countries except Nigeria. France was also believed to be supporting the NPFL. The spectre of Liberia
as a permanent regional revolutionary base led to creation of an intervention force, the Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG), backed by Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, that deployed to Liberia’s capital in 1990, denying Taylor his victory. In response, Taylor angrily vowed that Sierra Leone, the rear base for ECOMOG, would soon “taste the bitterness of war”.
On 23 March 1991, 100 fighters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) invaded Sierra Leone. The force included almost 50 Liberian and Burkinabe mercenaries, and was led by Foday Sankoh, another Libyan trainee and a close Taylor
associate. The RUF was then, and remained dependent upon Taylor. Though Sierra Leone was fragile, and suffering from endemic corruption, economic decline and large numbers of disaffected youth, the RUF was unable to tap into these grievances to gain popular
support. On the contrary, its brutal and parasitic nature quickly unified Sierra Leonean opposition. Sierra Leone and Guinea counterattacked in May 1991, organising Liberian refugees, mainly former Krahn soldiers from the late President Doe’s army, into the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO).
ULIMO became Taylor’s principal armed opponent on Liberian territory for the ensuing five-year war. Using Guinea and Sierra Leonean as a base, it received training, weapons and support from those states, and traded in diamonds and other commodities with them.
The Mano River War raged through Sierra Leone and Liberia until 1995, when ECOMOG, finding
Taylor formidable on the battlefield, reached an accommodation in the hope he would curtail support for the RUF. This “accord” was embodied in the Abuja Agreements of 1995 and 1996.
Neighbouring states supported the July 1997 election that made Taylor president in a contest that while marginally free and fair was also distorted by corruption and intimidation. Initially, Taylor did seem to reduce support for the RUF, who were pushed back to the Liberian border by a South African mercenary firm, Executive Outcome, hired by Sierra Leone’s new president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. Working in conjunction with disgruntled elements of Sierra Leone’s own military, led by Major Johnny Paul Koroma and his Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), however, the RUF was able to topple President Kabbah on 25 May 1997. It dominated the new military regime, and took power for the first time in Freetown. In turn, and demonstrating how interlocked the cycle of violence would become, Kamajor “hunter” militias, who backed deposed President Kabbah, were forced to retreat into Liberia, where they developed close ties with anti-Taylor ULIMO fighters who had backed ex-President Doe. In response to RUF gains in Sierra Leone,
ECOMOG deployed to Freetown.
By February 1998, with encouragement of the U.S. and British governments, it drove back both the military regime and the RUF. The U.S. and UK pushed through UN Security Council authorisation after the fact. ECOMOG coordinated with the Kamajor hunter militias and their ULIMO allies, who attacked across the Liberian border. The “Kamajor” hunters are a militia group that developed after 1995 out of the efforts of communities in Southern Sierra Leone, mostly of the Mende tribe, to protect themselves from the RUF and later the army.
By mid-1998 ECOMOG had reached parts of the Liberian border. Its dynamic Nigerian
commanding officer, General Maxwell Khobe, was convinced that Taylor continued to play a central role in supporting the RUF. Consequently, he took a direct hand in organising Liberian dissidents operating in Sierra Leone to apply pressure. He sponsored a small incursion into Liberia’s Lofa County by a group of dissidents called the Justice
Coalition of Liberia (JCL) in August of 1998, and played a key coordinating role in cementing the alliance between Liberian dissidents and the Sierra Leonean Kamajors hunter militias, including chiefs Sam Hinga-Norman and Eddie Massally.
This loose coalition would later form the basis of the most militarily powerful rebel group in Liberia today, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).
However, the RUF soon made a spectacular counter-attack late in 1998, which General Khobe blamed on an influx of weapons, supplies and men from President Taylor. There were also charges that Taylor had somehow befriended or bought off a number of General Khobe’s fellow Nigerian officers. Despite an exemplary military record and universal respect, Khobe was removed from command of ECOMOG and placed in charge of the remains of Sierra Leone's army. He died in April 2000 from complications of combat wounds.
By 1999, Charles Taylor was poised to win the Mano River War. The RUF and its military regime allies had taken Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown in an orgy of destruction and cruelty. Foday Sankoh was now Sierra Leone’s Vice-President, the RUF substantially controlled the country’s mineral resources and had received a full criminal amnesty as part of the badly flawed July 1999 Lomé Accord that attempted to end the conflict. The roles of Nigeria and the U.S. in forging the accord are controversial, particularly the work of U.S. Presidential Peace Envoy Jesse Jackson, who famously likened Liberian President Taylor to Nelson Mandela.
Following the signing of that accord, however, the RUF became increasingly split between commanders loyal to Sankoh, and senior military commanders who remained more directly loyal to Charles Taylor, including Sam “Mosquito” Bockarie and Dennis “Superman” Mingo. Like many of the disputes in the region, the Taylor-Sankoh split can most likely be traced to control of Sierra Leone’s diamond fields. This led to the events of May 2000, in which the Lomé Accord collapsed and the RUF took hostage over 500 UN peacekeepers.
The collapse of peace accord, the attacks on UN peacekeepers and the RUF march on Freetown were the last straw for the international community, and particularly the U.S. and British governments, who began a campaign in May 2000 to turn the tide in the war. The British deployed troops to Freetown, coordinated a counterattack by pro-government forces and stepped up training and supply of the Sierra Leone military. Taylor’s links with the RUF were substantiated and documented by British intelligence services, and he was strongly criticised in a variety of diplomatic settings, culminating in UN Security Council demands that he cease support for the RUF and involvement in its diamond trading. Britain also sought to have EU aid to Liberia cut off. The long Liberian-directed proxy war in Sierra Leone was about to return to Taylor’s own doorstep.
IV. LIBERIA’S INTERNAL SITUATION
Liberia is a democracy in name only. President Taylor has effectively used intimidation, patronage and corruption to hold power. Liberia’s quasi-democratic status, and the role of both the Economic Community of West Africa and the international community in accepting the election that brought Taylor to power, have only complicated the challenge ahead. President Taylor was sworn into office on 2 August 1997, after winning a landslide victory – an estimated 83 per cent in a field of thirteen. The closest challenger, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the Unity Party, polled just 8 per cent. The 19 July elections took place in an atmosphere of intimidation, but domestic and international monitors judged them free and fair.
Most outside the Taylor camp say that Liberians voted with their heads, not their hearts, in part because Taylor had openly threatened to return the country to war if not elected. The bitter choice was summarised in the popular campaign song: He killed my pa, He killed my ma, I’ll vote for him. Thus, many saw the election perversely as a “referendum for peace”. Ordinary people sought to “give Taylor a chance” or at least the benefit of
doubt. His victory also received considerable international endorsement. Having fought against him for seven years, several ECOWAS states, notably Nigeria, orchestrated the end of the same intervention force that had been created to prevent Taylor’s ascension to power.
That body lifted the economic sanctions and arms embargoes it had imposed in May 1993.
It did not take long to see that a devil’s bargain had been struck. Taylor immediately announced that as a democratic leader he was not bound by the Abuja Peace Accords, which required him to restructure the army and facilitate reconciliation. The army was not reformed, and only half-measures aimed at reconciliation with opposition figures were taken. Some were murdered or threatened into leaving the country, and freedom of expression was restricted.
Taylor ran the country as a personal fiefdom in much the same way he had organised his occupied territory “Taylorland”, during the civil war. The country’s resources were systematically divided among supporters, and a cut was taken from the operation of many major businesses, particularly logging firms.
A. THE SECURITY SECTOR
Taylor was confronted in 1997 with a national army dangerously opposed to his leadership. Most soldiers were Krahns recruited by the late President Doe, who held Taylor responsible for their leader's death. The army was also strongly linked to Taylor’s chief opponent in the civil war, ULIMO-J, which was also Krahn-based. Tension rose when Taylor retired 2,400 mostly Krahn soldiers, on grounds of old age, in November 1997. Taylor's fears led him to reject the ECOMOG plan to restructure the army to reflect geographical and ethnic balance. Rather than attempt to eliminate partisanship among state security forces, he promoted it by retaining his wartime militia and slowly peeling away the army’s strength.
By fall 2001, after a final two rounds of retirement released 4,000, the army had almost ceased to exist, replaced by a collection of armed units loyal only to Taylor. The most prominent of these is the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), an elite force drawn from the National Patriotic Front of Liberia ranks, but predominantly foreign nationals from Burkina Faso and Gambia. The Anti-terrorist Unit embodies Taylor's hunger for complete control over security and is essentially a praetorian guard. Its personnel are well trained and highly disciplined, and receive an unheard of U.S.$150 per month salary to ensure loyalty.
Alongside the Anti-terrorist Unit is the predominantly National Patriotic Front of Liberia
Special Security Service (SSS), a protection force that watches over its master, and the Special Operations Division (SOD), a paramilitary unit whose acronym is wryly said by locals to mean “Sons of Devils’. Each of these elite units, though given similar responsibilities, is kept separate by Taylor to avoid any chance of cooperation in a
The elite guards are aided by rag-tag militias and ex-combatants who regularly loot civilians to compensate for the fact that Taylor cannot pay them. They have been responsible for vicious attacks on political opponents and still inspire much fear in Monrovia residents. The net result of lack of security sector reform is that Taylor loyalists are spread right across the security sector, a constant source of intimidation to ordinary Liberians and political foes.
But Taylor has also created a security sector that is dangerously spinning out of control. While continually feeding the ego of his elite Anti-terrorist Unit and Special Security Service forces with vehicles and money, his inability to pay his militia and army has led to severe competition for looting. Ill-discipline among the rank and file is
widespread. With guns plentiful and competition over loot, Taylor's ability to control the chaos is in doubt. Nowhere is this chaos more evident than in the outlying provinces, where a regime similar to 17 th century Europe holds sway. Local strongmen able to mobilize 200 or more fighters are given pickup trucks and weapons by Taylor and the right to loot and exploit resources in a given area. The country is carved up among such barons,
among whom the Anti-terrorist Unit plays an overarching role.
Key figures include Kuku Dennis (a.k.a. General Death), who has timber rights in
Nimba County; Oscar Cooper, a businessman with a private army in Sinoe County; Roland Duo, who commands a militia in Lofa and also guards the port at Buchanan for the Oriental Timber Company; and Siafa Norman, who commands a force which technically guards all communications installations but in fact circulates as a quasi-mercenary force for the government. Melvin Sobandi, the Deputy-Minister of Transport, also heads a motley group called the Marines, who are placed in the furthest border areas and whose only
standardized equipment appears to be yellow T-shirts reading “Navy Rangers”.
The 2002 LURD offensive has greatly strained this chaotic security system. Some militia forces, such as that led by Kuku Dennis, have been required to abandon their area to join the fight against the LURD. Others, such as the Lofa Defence Force in Lofa County, have abandoned Taylor to join the LURD. Finally and most ominously, Taylor has begun rapid remobilisation of National Patriotic Front of Liberia “veterans” in Monrovia. Groups of
mostly young boys are sent into deep bush to engage the LURD, while the Anti-terrorist Unit and other elite units wait at road junctions to shoot those who attempt to return to Monrovia. These militias are major concerns because they are the least disciplined of Taylor’s forces, and likely to commit atrocities and even ethnic massacres.
B. RECONCILIATION PROCESS
After his election, Taylor initially showed signs of wanting to produce a reasonable measure of inclusiveness, a promise he made during the campaign and in his inaugural speech on 2 August 1997. He did appoint former political opponents to his cabinet. Tom Woewiyu, a one-time ally and co-founder of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia
who defected to form a rival faction in 1994 was made Minister of Labour. Former Justice Minister and member of the All-Liberian Coalition opposition, Jenkins Scott, became Associate Legal Counsel. Armed Forces of Liberia commander, Phillip Karma, was placed at the Ministry of National Security. More significant, however, were the appointments given to Taylor's arch-rivals. Roosevelt Johnson of ULIMO-J became first Minister of Rural Development and then Ambassador to India after he clashed with Taylor. Johnson, however, fell ill and was reportedly given U.S.$46,000 for medical treatment in the U.S. ULIMO-K's Alhaji Kromah was offered, but did not accept, the non-cabinet post of chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission.
While both appointments were unlikely to heal deep divisions, they were useful signs of
reconciliation. Neither, however, offered Taylor a hand in return; Kromah left the country shortly after the election with accusations from Taylor's security forces that he (and Johnson) planned an insurrection. Hunger for power kept Johnson and Kromah vehemently opposed to Taylor's presidency. This was reflected in the 18 September
1998 Camp Johnson incidents, already discussed, following which a number of Taylor's opponents fled the country and were charged with treason, while thirteen Krahn men were imprisoned. This ensured that the intense animosities of the civil war persisted.
In 1999, Taylor charged Kromah and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with treason, on suspicion that they were supporting dissident attacks. At the centre of Taylor's problem with his political rivals is a desire for them to recognise his presidency. He seeks legitimacy, especially from political sponsors who were openly or quietly supportive of his war, such as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. But some of these feel betrayed by Taylor’s conduct both during the war and afterwards. The disdain held for Taylor by some of his opponents, combined with the stark reality of an uncompromising regime, has made reconciliation largely impossible. As a result, thousands of former fighters and supporters have left Liberia since 1997. Struggling to survive in West African countries where they are mistreated
and cannot get jobs, they form a volatile and powerful constituency committed to the regime’s overthrow.
C. POLITICAL MURDERS AND THREATS
Taylor's presidency has driven most principled opponents into exile. From 1997 to 2000 political killings and forced departures of rivals or critics testified to the increasingly insecure environment. The death of Samuel Dokie, who supported Taylor’s 1989 rebellion against Doe and co-founded the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, typified the gangster style that has marked Taylor's rule.
Dokie broke ranks with Taylor during the civil war to form the Central Revolutionary Council-National Patriotic Front of Liberia, and became a prominent post-war political opponent. In his inaugural address, Taylor vowed that there would be no witch burning, but the gruesome murder of Dokie, his wife, sister and cousin was a rude awakening.
The Dokie family was last seen on 29 November 1997 in the custody of the Special Security
Service. Their burnt bodies were discovered three days later on a road leading to Monrovia. Taylor still denies involvement but his own Special Security Service boss, Benjamin Yeaten, has admitted involvement. This episode sent a powerful message to foes that political inclusion was off the agenda.
A second incident was the abduction and mysterious disappearance on 10 July 1998 of
Nowai Flomo, a market woman and government critic by nine members of the Special Security Unit presidential guard. Although the police reluctantly detained two of the nine uspects, they were released without trial. President Taylor appeared on his private television to declare that since the corpse had not been found, there was no evidence
A third incident, reminiscent of the Dokie affair, was the death of Vice President Enoch Dogolea in June 1999. During a meeting in Gbargna, he is reported to have told Taylor to withdraw support for the RUF and warned about the situation in the country, which was fostering the LURD’s growth. Dogolea was beaten and poisoned. Though Taylor denies involvement, there has been no official investigation or commission of inquiry to look into the death.
Other cases of gangsterism involved threats or attacks on opponents. A number of prominent and high profile public figures were forced to leave in 1999 and 2000. First was the forced departure of prominent human rights lawyer Samuel Kofi Woods in July 1999 after he demanded more scrutiny over the government's handling of the Camp Johnson incidents. Second were the vicious attacks against former Interim President Amos
Sawyer and his prominent political protégé, Conmany Wesseh. Wesseh’s wife, Medina, herself
a protégé of Taylor's key political rival, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was also attacked. The attacks were linked to Wesseh's statement in July 1999 that the government and not the UN Office in Monrovia should pay for the welfare of ex-combatants and Sawyer's statement in November 2000 that the National Patriotic Party had presided over lawlessness. That these attacks were in broad daylight shocked Taylor's opponents. He has sought to maintain plausible deniability by ensuring that those who commit brutal attacks are not directly
from the “official” state security force.
The promise of a cessation of political feuds has been a pipe dream in “post-war” Liberia. Taylor's refusal to reform the security sector has ensured that the war-time environment of political intimidation and violence by armed groups continues, making it difficult for many opposition members to stay. Those who have fled now use Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone as launching pads from which to challenge Taylor – thus further illustrating the tangled regional web of politics and security ties.
D. HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RULE OF LAW
While the list of abuses by the Taylor government is long, it has avoided some excesses that usually characterise brutal authoritarian regimes. Key political opposition figures have much to fear but the government does not systematically repress ordinary citizens. Taylor’s authoritarianism defies simple characterisation, since Liberia’s political
culture, with its strong American influences, is built around strong rhetorical support for basic rights and freedoms. Taylor adheres to those freedoms as long as they do not encroach on his ability to keep power.
The tensions and contradictions in the regime are perhaps most evident with regard to freedom of expression. While some reasonably independent and critical newspapers are allowed, others have been shut, and still others are both threatened and given incentives to moderate their opposition. The government operates with changing rules, sometimes democratic, other times repressive. Mostly it cultivates the impression of chaos to
deter people from thinking about issues. Taylor closed media outlets such as the short-wave frequency of Star Radio in 1999 and Catholic Radio Veritas in 2001, but he has given them permission to re-open, though Star Radio will only operate until the 2003 elections.
Taylor is keen to portray his country as one that extols the rule of law. A billboard in Monrovia reads “Liberia is a country of laws not men, let’s keep it that way”! It is signed by Taylor, and the message belies less principled reality. Presidential interference, resource constraints, inefficiency and corruption hamper the courts. Citizens' rights to due process and a fair trial are under constant threat, especially for some ethnic groups. The government continues to discriminate against some ethnic groups and individuals that opposed Taylor in the civil war, particularly Mandingos and
E. SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CONDITIONS UNDER “LIBERIA INC”.
Little has been done to improve economic or social conditions, and Taylor’s confrontational style and vision of a Greater Liberia have alienated the donor community. No aid, except for humanitarian and emergency relief, enters the country. Most people are desperately poor while others rely heavily on remittances from relatives abroad. Within the last year Western Union offices have proliferated to tackle increasing demand for
“The entire intellectual and middle class have voted with their feet leaving the country to be run by brigands”, said one civil society leader. For example, in the 1980s there were 400 doctors in the country, but by 2002 only about 30. The ruling political class has not been immune to this brain drain. The same civil society activist argues, “The
country is run by group of people who are illiterate and rely on rumours, lies and arrest of detractors”.
The poor quality of life in Monrovia is a harsh reality of Taylor's rule. The President’s greatest fault is his callous indifference and inability to tackle poverty. People feel they have lost out, and counties such as Nimba and Bong, where Taylor had considerable support, have been particularly disappointed. For example, Bong County, along with Lofa County was a leading site for food production, but little has been done to improve
farming conditions and repair war damage. Many say they are barely surviving. Sensing this
frustration, Taylor has yet to complete the house he was building in Bong County.
Admittedly, Taylor faces a steep task to rebuild the country. When he entered office, he found only U.S.$17,000 in the treasury, a foreign debt of at least U.S.$2 billion and a domestic debt of U.S.$200 million. Infrastructure is widely destroyed. There are no government structures to support a population needing housing, jobs and social services. Unemployment is 85 per cent, and for more than a decade, Liberians have not had running water and electricity; and t.
Liberia’s woeful social and economic conditions are, in part, due to the kleptocratic nature of Taylor’s government. The system was started in National Patriotic Front of Liberia territory in 1990 and merely extended to Monrovia when Taylor won the presidency. It might be described as appropriating the entire tradable economy into a single firm, with Charles Taylor as Chief Executive Officer and majority shareholder. Industries are parcelled out to the small group of businessmen in Taylor’s inner circle – fellow
shareholders in “Liberia Inc”.
Large shareholders of “Liberia Inc.” also include Lebanese businessmen, some of whom have
financed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia since its beginning and have full or virtual monopolies on rice and car imports, cocoa, coffee, fuel, cement, beer and printing presses. In addition they have substantial interests in banking, fisheries,
textiles and construction. Other key Taylor allies enjoy a large percentage of the timber trade and of profits from the Maritime Registry (Liberia has the world’s second largest flag fleet). Cyril Allen, chairman of Taylor’s ruling party, is a wealthy half-Nigerian businessman with a large plastics company, who also owns Liberia’s Atlantic Wireless Company, handling long distance communications.
In some cases, Taylor takes a personal ownership share, such as in Lonestar communications, the country’s cell phone firm. Mostly, however, he demands an up-front fee for the rights to an industry and then a cut of profits. Each of the inner circle makes money by grossly inflating prices. The price of a gallon of fuel is raised from U.S.$1 at import to U.S.$3 on sale. A bag of rice is increased from U.S.$16 to U.S.$21. In some cases, part of the increase goes directly to Taylor. For example, he receives U.S. 25 cents for every gallon of fuel sold.
“Liberia Inc.” controls much more than the economy. All real economic and political power
actually rests with this inner circle, which some Liberians call the “Congo Clique” since most members are from Taylor’s own Congo ethnic group. The President can comfortably appoint more than half his official cabinet from opposition parties and various ethnic groups since, financially and otherwise, the government is virtually irrelevant. No money passes through its treasury.
All export and import duties go directly to Taylor. The government has no official budget. Taylor regularly makes U.S.$100,000 “personal gifts” to government agencies and ministries to be shared among staff. He says he has no personal wealth and that the money is donated by friends abroad. In the time-honoured manner of the patronage state,
Taylor accumulates all resources and then generously distributes them back among various
recipients, all the while taking care to obtain their gratitude.
This system is almost legalised. The National Patriotic Party government (Taylor’s party has 21 of 26 seats in the Senate, and 49 of 64 in the House of Representatives) has passed the Strategic Commodity Act declaring that all “strategic” resources in air, on land, or in the sea are within the right of the President to administer personally.
Senior Liberian officials defend “Liberia Inc.” with the argument that the economy has always been controlled this way. Worryingly, they say that economic reform is off the agenda in international negotiations, arguing that the monopoly system is “a matter of national security” in order to avoid price fluctuations and shortages of goods.
“Liberia Inc.” is also the basis of the security structure. Many of Taylor’s barons command semi-private armies with profits they earn from their concession. These militias guard each firm’s assets and aid Taylor when requested. Economic reform is, therefore, at the heart of the changes Liberia must make if the vast divide between Taylor’s fantasy world of Liberia as a land of laws, and the reality of political power is to be bridged.
Amidst this systemic swindle, the 15 per cent of Liberians with jobs have a 25 per cent income tax deducted from their salary. Some scholars of the Liberian civil war have estimated that Taylor personally earned up to U.S.$400 million between 1990 and 1997. There are no estimates on how much wealth he has amassed since coming to power.
F. DOMESTIC SUPPORT
Taylor does have a certain popularity. But overall, a majority of the population would like to see a leadership change. Loss of faith is apparent in counties that supported him during the civil war, notably Nimba, the birthplace of his revolution. The National Patriotic Party planned on having its bi-annual convention there in December 2001, but
locals refused to host the event. The convention was shifted to Bassa County, but residents there tore down the posters. It is likely that supporters of Charles Brumskine, a prominent Bassa Senator who fled the country under duress in 1999 and has declared his candidacy for the presidency, did this. Nevertheless, the protest indicates the levels of
frustration in areas that were formerly key bases of support for Taylor.
Internal conditions appear ripe for a rebellion, which the LURD can easily tap into. But the civil population has not yet reached a level of dissatisfaction where it will or can challenge the system. People are traumatised after the seven-year war and the years of stagnation that have followed.
G. CHANGE FROM WITHIN?
Many policymakers and observers with whom ICG met expressed despair about the lack of real
alternative to the Taylor regime. They saw the LURD as illegitimate, the opposition as fractious and self-interested, and civil society as weak and co-opted by the government. However, substantial international engagement can help empower the institutions and stakeholders of Liberia’s democracy, and promote change from the bottom up.
1. The Opposition
Liberia’s opposition parties are almost as disappointing as its government. Fractious and
squabbling, they have proved unable to unify around a common agenda or presidential
candidate. Weak, tainted and self-interested, many parties and leaders are implicated in Liberia’s quagmire, both past and present. Their divisions and weaknesses have only strengthened Taylor's hold on power. Many civil society leaders bitterly agree with the criticism of a senior Liberian government official: “It is not just strong government that threatens democracy, but weak opposition that threatens democracy”.
To be fair, many opposition weaknesses are of Taylor’s making. The President has taken care to undermine any efforts at opposition coordination by encouraging government sympathisers to involve themselves in order to scuttle them. He has also been effective at buying off and co-opting some opposition figures. In addition, much opposition weakness comes from the fact that many prominent leaders are out of the country. Dr.
Togba-Nah Tipoteh, the economist leader of the Liberian People’s Party, is the only prominent opposition leader currently in Monrovia, and he is allowed to remain only as a result of his friendly relationship with the President. Of the thirteen candidates who contested the 1997 election, only two remain in Liberia, Baccus Matthews of the United People's Party and Dr. Tipoteh. Political parties are also starved of resources in Taylor’s Liberia, where all wealth is controlled by the ruling party and the president’s inner circle.
But the lion’s share of the problems are of the opposition’s own making and speak to the deep challenge of bringing true democracy to a country that has never known responsible governance. The most pressing challenge is the intensely personalised and mercenary nature of politics, which is organised not around issues, causes or agendas, but rather the elevation to power of individual candidates, supported by networks of people who stand to personally benefit. Lack of principle and ideology mushrooms party numbers
and makes it impossible to sustain unity among them, as each leader’s first loyalty is to his own presidential aspirations. In 1997 an opposition primary was held to choose a single candidate to confront Taylor. Despite having agreed beforehand to support the winner, the coalition fell apart immediately after the vote.
Another major obstacle to an empowered opposition is the intense distrust and suspicion
among key figures. Newer parties accuse older parties of having contributed to the country’s problems. Many leaders discount one another as tainted by some past association or action, such as having been an early supporter of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia.
One of the most prominent opposition figures is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a long-time participant in Liberian politics who was finance minister in the Tolbert regime, a former UN diplomat and UNDP Africa Director. She was supported by the West in the 1997 election but missed a chance to be the candidate of a unified opposition and finished second with a disappointingly low vote. While she enjoys broad name recognition in Monrovia,
Sirleaf lacks the kind of appeal Taylor generates among rural chiefs. She is also widely criticised among the opposition as an early Taylor supporter, a charge she denies.
Amos Sawyer, Interim President from 1990-1994, is another key figure. An academic, he is the godfather and mentor of much of Liberia’s progressive political class. But although he is respected in some circles for impartiality, others see him as irrevocably tainted by his actions in the presidency. Principal among these was urging that ECOMOG not seek Taylor’s military defeat. Other rumours hold that Sawyer had inappropriate business dealings as president, though nothing has been substantiated.
Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh is also widely respected in progressive circles. With strong records of achievement in working for poverty alleviation and disarmament of combatants, Tipoteh has cultivated a reputation as a grass roots candidate, despite holding a PhD in Economics. The Liberian People’s Party leader is also quick to point out that unlike Sawyer and Sirleaf, who have close ties to the Congos, he is a “native” Liberian and,
therefore, more appealing across the country. Although a promising candidate, Tipoteh is
handicapped by his ambition, and largely discredited by having broken with the opposition
coalition when it did not choose him as its leader in 1997. It was largely Tipoteh’s defection that destroyed the coalition, although Sirleaf did not participate either.
Sawyer and Sirleaf have recently formed what seems to be a strong alliance, and have jointly conducted shuttle diplomacy in the region to build opposition to Taylor and promote the idea of an interim government. In January 2002, Sawyer and Sirleaf held a meeting with President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Taylor's key regional ally, in the hope of getting support for the democratic process. There are indications that
they are in contact with the LURD but do not want to be seen as associated with it. This has caused some resentment among LURD leaders, who feel they are being used by Sawyer and Sirleaf. Tipoteh does not appear likely to form any alliance with his Congo competitors, as he is opposed to interim government, and would be unlikely to accept any coalition position except leader.
The most talked-about contender in Monrovia is Charles Brumskine, a member of the Bassa tribe, former close associate of Taylor’s and ex-President pro tempore of the Senate. Though in exile since 1999, he recently announced his intention to stand for the presidency. Bizarrely, his once close association with Taylor is widely seen as a point in
his favour, as many believe he will have the savvy to outwit Liberia’s Machiavellian president. Empowering Liberia’s political opposition will require intense international pressure, first to obtain the return and then to ensure the security of all parties and leaders, particularly to work in rural areas. Taylor’s record of brutality allows him to
intimidate with the slightest of signals so the security guarantee issue will be particularly important if opposition leaders are to be effective. The full success of Liberia’s potential opposition will depend critically on the ability of its most
prominent figures to come together in a coalition united behind a specific and principled agenda for change and a credible candidate.
If they cannot, the hope for politics will be that younger activists will leave these figures behind. There is already the germ of a new political alignment, with the formation of the “New Deal Movement”, composed mainly of students, civil society activists and a prominent Liberian academics abroad. Taylor appears genuinely
concerned about this movement and has already raided its offices. But it will be a long road if the opposition needs to be completely renovated.
2. Civil Society
Popular perception outside Liberia is that the independence and effectiveness of civil society has been virtually destroyed by Taylor. It reached its peak in 1994, when civic groups organised an exemplary “stay home for disarmament” with the aim of pressuring armed groups into giving up their guns. Since then, many activists most dangerous to the regime have been driven out, and many that remain have been co-opted. Behind many civil society initiatives that subtly favour Taylor positions is the generous gift of a
U.S.$50,000 Mercedes-Benz to a key civil society leader. Civil society work tends not to pay well anywhere, but in Liberia’s dilapidated and desperately poor economy, Taylor’s money is impossible for some to resist.
Despite this, it is a testament to the ingrained culture of rights and freedoms in Liberia that a principled, activist core of civil society survives, not just in the diaspora, but in Monrovia itself. That core is composed mainly of lawyers, students,
and a few journalists. A critical institution at the centre is the Catholic Church in Liberia, led by Bishop Michael Francis, a legendary figure in Liberian politics. He has remained in the country throughout its troubles for over 30 years, accomplishing the extraordinary balancing act of courageously and frequently speaking out critically on political issues, while maintaining a reputation for impartiality and non-partisanship.
He presides over the most powerful institution in Liberia aside from the government.
The Catholic Church provides the large majority of the country’s medical services and many of its schools. In most rural areas it is the only provider of such services, and it is the only civil society institution that works throughout the country. The Church’s Justice and Peace Commission is the principal human rights organisation in the country,
and its Radio Veritas is a key source of independent journalism. Unlike colleagues in other West African countries, Bishop Francis has been willing to use his leverage on the regime to promote rights and freedoms. When Taylor attempted to shut Radio Veritas down, Bishop Francis compelled him to retreat by threatening to close Catholic services.
Liberia’s principled civil society is small but well-networked and has much promise if it could be empowered by the international community. While the U.S. has legal restrictions barring military aid to Liberia, it can take a more active role in promoting civil society organisations. The empowerment of civil society is important for more than a critical voice and force to counterbalance the government. The problems facing Liberia go beyond just one man. Taylor is in many ways a creature of his time and place, and
thrives in the violent, patronage-based, and corruption-riddled, big-man focused political
culture that afflicts the country. These systemic problems pervade every part of Liberian life; a politics of petty personal advancement paralyses any effort for change. Sustainable improvement of Liberia’s political and social conditions will, therefore, require deep social change, which challenges the mindsets that not only put Taylor in
power but render him, still, popular with a section of the country.
The renovation, return and empowerment of the most principled elements of Liberian civil society will require a great deal of insider know how to avoid government manipulation. Donors will need to work on the advice of trusted local voices. However, it also offers one of the best avenues for pursuing constructive change in Liberia. Taylor is an old fighter who is on familiar ground with the LURD insurgency. He will be out of his element if confronted with a popular, broad based movement for change. The key challenges for such a movement would be to stay unified, non-partisan and non-violent. These are daunting, but they have a good chance of being met if they are the conditions of international support.
V. THE DILEMMA OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
Since Charles Taylor came to power in 1997, the international community has wrestled with whether to treat his government as part of the solution or the problem in dealing with regional conflict. After initial calls to “give Taylor a chance”, opinion has increasingly recognised that he plays a very provocative role in fuelling conflict. The UN
Security Council will have to make choices again when the sanctions on Liberia expire in May 2002. From 1997 to 1999 Liberian opposition figures were murdered or threatened into leaving the country, freedom of expression was restricted, the army was not reformed as promised and efforts at genuine reconciliation were half-hearted. Taylor has run the country as a personal fiefdom, and continues to take a cut from the operation of most
Yet, it has been Liberia’s foreign policy that has most infuriated others in the region and key members of the international community, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States. Attempts to encourage Taylor to play a responsible role were made almost continuously but he has maintained support for the RUF in Sierra Leone, and the Lomé Accord has become seen by many as a cynical ploy by the RUF and Taylor to take power in Sierra Leone.
Even more damning was the Taylor-backed invasion of Guinea in September 2000 which
aimed purely at the destabilisation of that country and acquisition of its rich diamond and mineral resources. That attack was also a direct challenge to the U.S., which had increasingly made Guinea a key regional ally.
The final straw in Taylor’s declining reputation was his repeated failure to comply with Security Council resolutions to withdraw support from the RUF and cease trading in its “conflict diamonds”. His angry denials of both practices angered many U.S. officials, including Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, who left Monrovia in July 2000
disgusted after a heated exchange with Taylor. A UN expert panel appointed to look into Liberia’s compliance with Security Council resolutions issued a strongly critical, well-substantiated report in December 2000, and by January 2001 the U.S. was urging sanctions in the Security Council. A Liberian response announcing “total disengagement” from the RUF revealed that the government previously had lied about its policy. Despite the pressure of subsequent travel and diamond sanctions, as well as an arms embargo,
however, Taylor has maintained his links with the RUF in his country, as well as with one of its leaders, Sam “Mosquito” Bockarie.
However, it must also be acknowledged that international demonisation of the Taylor regime
has produced a somewhat skewed view of internal conditions in Liberia. While Taylor's lack of commitment to reconciliation, development and the rule of law are self-evident, he won an overwhelming majority in 1997. He is appreciated in Monrovia for having ended the long war and brought some security and stability to ordinary people. He is widely supported by local rural chiefs for his respect of local traditions and governance, as well as his patronage. He has been initiated into tribal secret societies, and become a
senior member (Dakhpanna) of those societies. In keeping with West African political practice, he is generous with the money he steals, doling out huge amounts and expensive cars to secure support, silence or at least limit opposition. He typically tries to buy off or befriend opponents before using harsher measures. He is famous for sharing women
friends with foes and allies alike.
As President Taylor is a charismatic, stylish leader in the classic “big man” mould, a significant factor given the nature of West African politics. As someone of mixed background, he has managed to bridge the widest divide in Liberian politics, between Americo-Liberians and “natives”, and has appointed a tribally diverse cabinet (even if his
inner circle remains almost wholly Americo-Liberian).
In many respects, Taylor has also been able to rationalise his record by pointing to the often equally poor human rights record of his neighbours, including Guinea – an increasingly close U.S. ally. Regime terror is tightly controlled, directed only against figures who betray him or whom he suspects of betrayal, and political opponents or military figures who pose a genuine threat to his power. The latter are always given the
chance to leave the country. The ten or so political murders that Taylor has committed since 1997 have all been directed at people formerly in his own camp.
The Liberian president displays enormous duality – gangster and kleptocrat; devout Baptist preacher;regional provocateur; and eloquent and charismatic politician. As a close associate of Taylor notes, “He leads with a bible in one hand and a gun in the
other”. This duality helps explain how so many senior Western personalities, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, have been caught in Taylor’s spell for a time. One senior Liberian insider described the scene when Carter first met Taylor, at his rebel capital of Gbarnga. Taylor had donned white robes and was seated, surrounded by kneeling children to whom he was teaching from the Bible. He left the door to the room slightly ajar so that the highly religious Carter, waiting outside, could be impressed.
A. THE CONTAINMENT STRATEGY
Faced with President Taylor’s efforts to destabilise the region and continuing violation of UN resolutions, the U.S. and British governments appear gradually (and unofficially) to have moved toward a policy of containing Liberia. As one U.S. official described it: “You put Taylor in a box, drain his finances, and wait for somebody to remove him”.
Charles Taylor has accused the Americans and British of supporting the LURD insurgency.
Certainly Taylor’s claims that the U.S. and British view the LURD military moves with a “conspiracy of silence” appear plausible. LURD officials claim that the British and, particularly, the U.S. support their war – at least in principle. They have had contact with mid-level U.S. and British military officers in Freetown and Conakry and more senior U.S. officials in the State Department and Pentagon, who have sent encouraging signals,
though this contact has apparently trailed off in recent months.
There have been no U.S. or British statements directly condemning the insurgency or calling for a halt to the fighting. The U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Bismarck Myrick, issued a statement on 1 March 2002 concerning the need for political and security sector reform, which suggested condemnation of the LURD. While Taylor has also claimed that the U.S. and UK provide direct military support to the LURD, this is obviously difficult to verify. U.S. military support could easily be channelled through the key U.S. ally in the region, Guinea, making direct support less necessary. As noted, the LURD’s military supplies come almost exclusively from Guinea to which the U.S. gives significant non-lethal military assistance. Certainly there has been no evidence of American pressure on President Conté to discontinue support for the LURD. Guinea’s denial that it supports the insurgents can be disproved by the most casual visit to Macenta or any other border town near Liberia.
However, a strategy based solely on containment or to overthrow Taylor using a LURD proxy has severe limitations and could go badly wrong. While the LURD has enjoyed recent battlefield success, it will be difficult to defeat the combination of Taylor’s well trained and equipped Anti-terrorist Unit, and his pool of thousands of ragged but battle-hardened National Patriotic Front of Liberia veterans. Using the LURD as a proxy could usher in a new and protracted war. Even if Monrovia is taken, Taylor would likely retreat to the Southeast of the country, and Liberia would be back where it was in 1990. If the LURD launch additional invasions from Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, Taylor is likely to respond with efforts to destabilise those countries and split the LURD into factions. A grisly re-run of the entire Mano River War could then be in prospect.
Relying on an insurgency to remove an irresponsible government would also beg the question of whether a better regime is likely to follow. The LURD does not appear prepared to hold together nor to have a coherent and solidly democratic political agenda.
Efforts to apply further pressure through timber sanctions and sanctions on maritime registry, as well as strong international financial support and protection for domestic civil society, may go further toward bringing Taylor to heel than a purely military strategy. War, with all its horrific implications for civilians and combatants, should
be a last resort; yet in the Liberian case, it appears to have become virtually the first. It is particularly damning that the U.S. appears willing to allow a domestic insurgency to be a source of pressure and a drain on the finances of the Taylor regime, while at the same time refusing to push for sanctions on Liberia’s lucrative maritime registry largely because of pressure from its own business interests.
B. THE ENGAGEMENT STRATEGY
Those who see the Liberian glass as half full argue that it remains possible to work with Taylor in a process that will encourage public reform and responsibility while easing regional tensions. The United Nations Peace-Building Office in Liberia (UNOL) has been closely associated with this policy of engagement.
UNOL was set up in 1998 to help deliver post-war reconstruction and peace-building assistance, but many claim that the UN role has been compromised by the weak leadership of recently removed country representative, Felix Down-Thomas. Under Down-Thomas, the UN became a leading apologist for the regime while failing to criticise its human rights record.
The European Union (EU) has also leaned more toward engagement than containment, a policy
driven primarily by France. The French view is dictated by economics and partly by strategic interests. France continues to import 40 per cent of Liberia’s timber, and stands by its francophone West African allies who still support Taylor. The EU approach consists of aid, working to diminish or remove sanctions, condemning and diplomatically opposing any armed attempt to remove Taylor, and demanding greater reform and accountability.
This strategy has only recently been formally pursued. In June 2001, pursuant to the Cotonou Agreement, the EU suspended U.S.$42 million in aid for food and rehabilitation of basic infrastructure because of “worsening conditions”. In December 2001, it initiated consultations under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement, which allows for no more than 60 days during which to discuss human rights and governance conditions that must be fulfilled in order for a country to remain eligible for EU aid. In that same month the
EU demanded that Liberia restore the short wave Catholic Radio Veritas and submit to a financial audit of its public finances, including revenues from the timber industry. Liberian accepted these terms just before expiration of the two-month deadline. If the conditions are indeed met, nearly 200 million Euros in aid will be disbursed to
implementing organisations for humanitarian and development work.
1. Double Standards In Guinea
Privately, French officials complain that the U.S. and British approach to Liberia is “unprincipled” because they support at the same time the Conté regime in Guinea with its own many governance flaws.
In many ways, political conditions in Liberia and Guinea are similar. President Conté took power in a military coup in 1984 and has preserved many of the practices of the totalitarian regime of Ahmed Sékou Touré, who ruled Guinea from its independence in 1958. Conté's human rights record is in some ways worse than Taylor’s, and his regime slightly more oppressive. Like Liberia, no independent media is allowed to reach the countryside, and Mandingos have been systematically targeted as an ethnic group.
Guinea encouraged gross human rights abuses against refugees in 2000-2001, and the army has shown blatant disregard for civilians by indiscriminately bombarding towns in Guinea,
Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Public institutions are riddled with corruption, including police and judiciary. Despite much more foreign support and many natural resources, Guinea remains desperately poor, in contrast to its president’s wealth.
Conté's democratic legitimacy is even lower than Taylor’s, having blatantly rigged presidential elections in 1993 and 1998. The opposition has no right of public assembly, and security forces have gunned down such gatherings and student demonstrations on several occasions. Many opposition leaders, including key critic Alpha Condé, have been imprisoned for speaking out against the regime. Conté held a constitutional referendum on 11 November 2001 to allow him to run for a second term and to extend that term from five to seven years. In a threatening atmosphere and after a low turnout, a 98 per cent
vote in favour was announced. His own ruling party recently disowned Conté, but it was an act of little importance: all power is concentrated in the army. Since the 1996 coup attempt, Conté has ensured that almost all its senior officers hail from his own Soussou ethnic group.
Legislative elections (postponed from December 2000 due to the war) are scheduled for June 2002 but may be delayed again because of inability to find a foreign donor willing to finance them. The opposition has threatened a boycott and has delivered a list of 21 conditions that must be met to ensure their participation. In fact, most opposition leaders are simply waiting for Conté's death for political life to resume.
The uncertainty of Conté's succession raises profound uncertainty for Guinea’s future. The
army holds the power and will likely decide, but Conté has deliberately not groomed a successor. A fight is likely, one that Taylor would be likely to exploit if still in power. These factors make Guinea a clear case for early warning and preventive action. The lessons from Sierra Leone and Liberia's civil wars suggest that the international community will need to keep a close eye on the political maneuverings in order to maintain regional stability.
2. The Risk Of Consolidating Taylor’s Power
At a minimum, the international community should reach a consensus on the fact that Charles Taylor, despite sanctions, has not abided by Security Council demands to cut ties with the RUF. A large number of RUF, under Sam Bockarie, continue to operate in Liberia, near the border with Sierra Leone. There have been indications that as recently as December 2001 Taylor was planning another attack on Guinea. The October 2001 UN Expert
Panel on Liberia also showed that the Liberian government continues to violate UN sanctions. Many of these sanctions remain ineffective because there is no sufficient monitoring program on the ground. The Security Council has provided UN staff with no effective means of ensuring proper enforcement or capacity to monitor the most fundamental aspect of the sanctions regime: the proviso that Taylor break with the RUF.
Trusting Taylor now to cooperate with international demands, which, if met, would strike
deep into his system of power and patronage, is naive. Such an approach is not a realistic strategy for achieving stability and peace in the region, but rather a short-term tactic for demonstrating outrage without securing meaningful change. The EU’s
Cotonou process is not enough to encourage Taylor to implement reform where it is needed the most: in security and economics.
Most critically, an international approach built solely around engagement would encourage Taylor to manipulate the next elections to ensure his hold on power. Liberian opposition and civil society alike are united in the opinion that engagement can not be enough to create conditions for truly free and fair elections. Those conditions would need
to be far reaching and strike at the heart of the Taylor regime. The Anti-Terrorist Unit must be disbanded and a genuinely national army put in its place, civic education and freedom of the press must be allowed to empower politics in rural areas, and opposition figures must be allowed to return home to function securely. It is impossible to imagine Taylor willingly creating such conditions,no matter how much aid is promised.
An engagement strategy would not only keep Charles Taylor in power, but solidify that power, since aid would boost his popularity at home, and pressure would be increased on dissidents and foreign powers not to fight him. Taylor’s willingness to participate in such engagement is only driven by the sanctions and the LURD insurgency. As soon as these pressures decline, he will be free to pursue his regional ambitions again. Moreover, Taylor would be unlikely to achieve genuine reconciliation with opposition parties and
factions after winning elections under unfair conditions, and many would continue the armed struggle against him.
C. THE MANO RIVER UNION PEACE PROCESS
Of all the efforts to resolve Liberia’s conflict, the Mano River Union peace process has taken centre stage. Officials at the ministerial and deputy-ministerial level of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have met fairly regularly since mid-2001, hammering out statements of principle not to sponsor dissidents and working out verification
details. The Mano River Union Women’s Peace Network Initiative visited all three presidents in late 2001, demanding that they sort out their differences at a summit. Against expectations (given Conté's animosity for Taylor) the summit was held at the invitation of the King of Morocco in Rabat on 27 February 2002. It produced, however, only politically correct rhetoric while the commitments continued to be violated on the
Taylor has been a strong advocate of the process since he is on the defensive in the war and wants to enmesh his opponents in commitments they do not intend to honour. He hopes, with French support, to secure sanctions on Guinea as the gap between Conté's rhetoric and reality is increasingly brought to light. Peace agreements have always been the
favoured defensive tactic of Taylor’s RUF, who used the time gained to regroup, recover, and attack again.
Before an effective regional process can begin, the root causes of the Liberia problem need to be addressed. Dialogue among all stakeholders in the process is urgent, but it is critical that it be impartially organised. The Nigerian initiative in the ECOWAS to sponsor a dialogue on 14-15 March 2002, with representatives from the LURD, civil society and the Liberian government, was the wrong step in the right direction. It is widely known that President Obasanjo of Nigeria has a personal relationship with Charles Taylor's sister. In the personalised politics of West Africa, this kind of factor have more influence than Western commentators appreciate. The LURD boycotted, complaining that both the agenda and the invitation list were biased. Their suspicions of the sponsors’ motives increased when Executive Secretary Mohammed Ibn Chambas ruled out discussion of an interim government, and condemned the insurgents’ use of force. These developments suggest that ECOWAS may not be capable of playing an impartial role in the Liberian crisis. Regional powers should be tapped only within the framework of a solidly impartial international effort, overseen by the UN.