Africa And Aboriginal Tuesdays: Africans in the Diaspora must re-engage the peace processes in West Africa: The Case of Liberia by Horace Campbell

On Monday August 11, 2003 Charles Taylor was forced to leave Monrovia as the Head of State of Liberia. This was historic in Africa since it marks the beginning of an era when crimes committed by African leaders will be opposed by African peoples including other African leaders.

The African Union is committed to the principle of ending crimes against humanity in Africa and developing a workable peace process that ends the practice of rewarding those who shoot their way to power. The pictures of Charles Taylor walking hand- in- hand with President Thabo Mbeki did not fully communicate to the world the extent of the pressures exerted by the African Union as a force for peace. While the western media focused on whether the US would send troops, the Nigerian peace keepers were already on the ground and were providing a new space for the elaboration of the peace process. Charles Taylor was escorted from Liberia by three African leaders; President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa (as immediate past chairperson of the African Union, Mozambique's Joaquim Chissano, chair of the African Union; and Ghana's John Kufuor, the head of the Economic Community of West African states. Not present in the pictures was the Secretary General of ECOWAS, Mohammed Chambas who with his staff has been doing the leg work to mount this important peacekeeping operation.

The pictures of children with weapons in the streets and villages of Liberia cannot communicate the horrors and torture of the Liberian people. The statistics produced by the war that has been going on since 1990 are more than appalling. In a country of less than four million persons there has been over 250,000 persons killed, more than half a million displaced and hundreds of thousands forced into exile. Similar to the War in the Congo, the war in Liberia has spread across all of the countries of West Africa. It is generally agreed in West Africa that Charles Taylor is one of the single greatest causes of spreading wars in West Africa.

After 13 years, one election (where Taylor shot his way to power) and more than twenty seven peace conferences the Economic Community of West African States Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) succeeded in bring forth an agreement that can bring peace. This agreement went in tandem with the historic decision that was made by United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone when the arrest warrant for Charles Taylor was unsealed. The indictment charged Taylor with "bearing the greatest responsibility" for war crimes (murder, taking hostages); crimes against humanity (extermination, rape, murder, sexual slavery); and other serious violations of international humanitarian law (use of child soldiers) in Sierra Leone.

It was the in the context of the peace accord of June 17, 2003 where an agreement was reached for Taylor to step down and for an interim administration to take over, created a precedent that an African led political negotiation process can bring political issues back to the “table” and way from “guns”. It is in the Constitutive Act of the African Union that the peoples of Africa will not accept leaders that commit crimes against humanity.

Africans from the USA and Caribbean nationals have a vested interest in this peace process. Numerous persons who had sought to move away from slavery and racism migrated to Liberia. It was these settlers who created the state of Liberia in 1822 with the help of the American Colonization Society. The Caribbean and American born blacks who set up the first independent African Republic in 1847 established a policy of ethnic, economic and political discrimination against their native brothers and sisters of Liberia. From 1847 until 1980 all of the Presidents and leaders were Africans from the West.

Today, those in the reparations movement in the West must take the history of African Americans and African Caribbean peoples in Liberia as one lesson that exploitation can take a black face as well as a white one. Healing in Liberia requires support and engagement by the Africans everywhere. Just as some have called for certain Africans on the continent to “apologize” for selling other Africans into slavery, Africans in the diaspora must also “apologize” for the role played by their ancestors in the structural exploitation of the Liberian people.

The fact that there is still some fighting in Liberia by both the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and Movement for Democracy in Liberia MODEL attests to the facts that: The demand of the rebels that they would stop fighting after Taylor stepped down was not the only basis for the fighting; and an absence of fighting and subsequent foreign monitored elections do not necessarily change the underlying structural causes and conditions for violence or challenge those forces which perpetuate and benefit from violence.

The LURD rebel group is linked to war and politics in Guinea. While MODEL rebel group broke from LURD and is implicated in the on going turbulence and militarism in the Ivory Coast. Behind both the LURD and MODEL are diamond dealers who want to continue the lucrative business of warfare in West Africa. Those who support these “rebels” as financiers and as governments must be exposed so that the call for humanitarian assistance does not end up supporting the financiers of this war.

It is well known that the LURD had been used in the past to create a sort of buffer along the Guinean-Liberian border. LURD's ties with Guinea are further strengthened by two inter-related factors: personal and ethnic ties. On the personal level, the leader of LURD is linked closely President Conte of Guinea by marriage. The external supporters of the Guinean regime must support the United Nations and ECOWAS to assist ECOMOG to disarm LURD.

The peace process in Liberia has ramifications for all of the countries of West Africa. Neither the ministers of Taylor nor the financiers of the present rebels (the LURD) are worthy of leading a government of reconstruction in Liberia. Africans in the Diaspora peoples have a vested interest in peace and healing in West Africa and it is very important for the Africans overseas to be informed of the issues in West Africa so that our societies can assist in the peace process.

How Can the Disapora Support the Liberian People?

International jurists must continue the traditions of those Caribbean who were in the forefront of calling for an International Criminal Court so that there are new standards of international law. Some while calling for Charles Taylor to be brought to the ICC, also undermine it by pressuring states in the region like Sierre Leone to exempt their citizens from the ICC’s jurisdiction. These new standards have been applied to Charles Taylor and even though he stepped down the international indictment still stands and African peoples at home and abroad must urge that Charles Taylor face such charges in a court of law.

There are members of the International Contact group for Liberia who have been active in calling for Taylor to step down but have been less than active in seeking the disarmament of both the LURD and MODEL. The International Contact Group on Liberia includes the following states UK, U.S., France, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, EU, UN, AU, and ECOWAS. African peoples at home and abroad must urge that disarmament be a priority for the condition of peace to be sustainable in Liberia.

The call for humanitarian assistance by members of the Liberian exile community is important but equally important is the need for a political engagement that clarifies the politics of the competing military and political forces. In the past the “rebels’ have used humanitarian appeals in order to mobilize support in the form of food and weapons in order to continue fighting. African peoples at home and abroad must develop a consciousness to determine if any of the “rebels” represent true progressive political alternatives to the politics of Charles Taylor for the Liberian society.

It is important that the international peace movement work closely with ECOMOG to ensure that the departure of Taylor is followed by the establishment of an interim government leading to new democratic elections within an estimated 18-30 month period. It is urgent that the Security Council of the United Nations work to set up the conditions for a comprehensive DR (Disarmament and Reintegration) program, the creation of a new national army, strengthening of civil society, and a strong international presence to bring an end to the long nightmare of the peoples of Liberia and West Africa.

Horace G. Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University in Syracuse New York and can be contacted via e-mail at: Professor Campbell is also the author of the new book, "Reclaiming Zimbabwe"

Tuesday, August 19, 2003