26 November 2012

Liberia: Charles Taylor's Fatal Sierra Leone Dance


Despite all the wrangling and denials, Liberia's role in Sierra Leone horrors is being established. And gradually, world political actors troubled by Sierra Leone's unending terror have come to accept the bare truth that peace in that sad country lies in Liberia, nowhere else. United Nations Ambassadors who recently toured West Africa, with justified "caution and realism" over Charles Taylor's new promises of peace, have concluded that the former warlord holds the keys to ending the bloodbath that has consumed the former British colony for over a decade.

"The perception is very strong in the region that the flow of arms and diamonds is coming through Liberia," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said, adding the usual and redundant phrase of Taylor's denial. "There is no need to be a part of the instability in Sierra Leone because it would lead to your instability," the ambassador told the warlord turned president.

But in a new strategy of buying time and cementing his grip on the RUF rebels as a buffer Army and for personal protection and diamonds, the Liberian president has opted for a policy of deceptive appeasement by promising the UN ambassadors the surrender of diamond areas to UN force. The puzzle is why the sudden change of heart.

Perhaps we can search for answers in the change of command of the UN force after the departure of its outspoken and uncompromising Indian commander Maj. Gen. Vijay Jetley, who, among others, accused Liberia and Nigeria of manipulating the Force for their own interests, along with his allegations that key Nigerian officers and politicians charged with handling the crisis are aligned with the rebels for diamonds.

Now out of sight, his job has been awarded to Kenya's Gen. Daniel Opande who, prior to his appointment, met Taylor on a "private visit" behind closed doors, according to Monrovia sources. Opande's significance in the unfolding West African drama is linked to his image and record in Liberia where served as UN Observer force commander. At one point in meetings with Interim President Amos Sawyer, Gen. Opande actually advocated a surrender of power to Taylor outside elections. He believed Taylor had to be given a chance. Not easy to forget one who campaigns for one to be president even after gruesome horror stories are tied to his name, Taylor has understandably preserved links between him and Opende. Now, the two men are back in action and dealing with the same problem---how to defuse a gangster army and deprive it power. In Liberia, the problem was solved by giving such an Army the chance, forget about how. With the same actors back in business full swing, should we expect a similar solution?

Memories of the Kenyan in devastated Liberia then seeing every uniformed African soldier as a messiah for redemption are still fresh. Gen. Opande was well liked within the rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) with its endless supply of prostitutes to service "friends." He mingled freely with the rebel officials and commanders, now politicians and Army officers in charge of RUF operations. He was more of a ceremonial soldier--- neatly dressed and finding the bars and the few foreign restaurants more appealing places than high-risk military adventures left for underpaid Nigerian officers. Rebel commanders in Taylor's self-proclaimed capital of Gbanga, which Opande visited very frequently, and elsewhere, who called him "oilipantie," admired him, and he too, perhaps, may have viewed them as reasonable men of purpose despite their horrific atrocities and the fear they instilled in society. Once in power, the NPFL command (now the Liberian Army) and political leadership honored the Kenyan for his "great" services to humanity, their humanity. Could one conclude, then, that Taylor, with his past close ties to fellow African Opande, ties he found impossible to establish with the Indian commander, has now rediscovered a man with whom he can do business in troubled Sierra Leone?

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