Liberia: What Lessons Have We Learned?


Today's date is October 15, 2020. Exactly twenty-eight (28) years ago on this day, NPFL rebel leader Charles Taylor launched what he dubbed Operation Octopus, a massive and deadly military attack on Monrovia, as a last but desperate attempt to militarily overrun Monrovia.

"Octopus" was the codename of rebel NPFL General and military strategist, John T. Richardson.

Taylor's intent was to inflict a crushing defeat on the West African Peacekeeping Force (ECOMOG), drive them out of Monrovia and install himself as lord and ruler of Liberia. The attack against Monrovia was on several fronts and, at one point, rebel NPFL forces succeeded in breaching ECOMOG defenses at its Bushrod Island Free Zone headquarters.

Eventually, the attack was repulsed, leaving thousands of people dead, millions of dollars worth of public and private property destroyed and hundreds of thousands of others internally displaced or exiled abroad.

The Octopus attack against Monrovia on October 15, 1992, had been preceded by a series of Peace Conferences intended to restore calm and normalcy and create enabling conditions for a return to democratic governance.

A return to democratic rule would, however, prove elusive not until 1997, a year after the complete ransacking and looting of Monrovia by rebel forces in six days in April 1996. It was followed by a Peace conference (Abuja I), disarmament and controversial elections in 1997, in which Charles Taylor was declared winner by an overwhelming margin.

But Taylor's reign was characterized by gross abuse of human rights and very little respect for the rule of law. Corruption in his government was a given as his "White Flower" residence virtually became synonymous to the Central Bank of Liberia.

Only three years into his 6-year tenure, a low-intensity conflict confined mainly to parts of Lofa County near the Guinean border broke out in 1999 but soon petered out to resurrect later. By 2003, rebel forces were already knocking at the gates of the capital, forcing Taylor to flee into exile.

Elections which would follow in 2005 saw the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and then reelection extending to twelve (12) the total number of years she served as President. At the end, she handed power over to a handpicked successor representing what she called a power shift to a new and young generation.

Three years into the six-year tenure of President George Weah, the icon of this new generation, disturbing signs are emerging suggestive of retrogression to the country's dark past. Firstly, official corruption under this government appears to have grown far worse than what it was under President Sirleaf.

Under President Sirleaf, according to a former official, there was corruption, yes, but certainly not on this scale. The nation recalls that this was the theme echoed and reechoed during the 2018 "Bring Back Our Money" demonstration in Monrovia. And the people chanted "dis kind of stealing we never see it Ellen time" in the streets, obviously to the consternation of watching government officials.

Secondly, under President Sirleaf, the nation bore witness to the unexplained and suspicious deaths of Harry Greaves and Michael Allison, which were widely suspected to be the handiwork of government sponsored agents.

However, the suspected serial killings or deaths of four (4) top-notched professionals, all from national integrity institutions, have shocked the conscience of the nation. It is a chilling reminder of the horrors visited on this nation and its people in the past by avaricious, self-seeking blood-thirsty individuals.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up, in keeping with provisions of the 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Accords to probe the abuses of the past, completed its work and made a host of recommendations including recommendations for Prosecution, Lustration, Reparations and Reconciliation.

The TRC recommendations were intended to enhance prospects for sustainable Peace, Justice and Reconciliation by holding perpetrators accountable, but they were virtually ignored by President Sirleaf. The US government had provided substantial support to the TRC.

But rather disappointingly, it has balked, demonstrating great reluctance, feigned or real, to pursue the killers of five (5) Catholic nuns, all US citizens within an overarching context of prosecution of all perpetrators identified in the TRC report. Today there are rising and genuine public fears that the nation appears headed back to its dismal past.

Impunity seems to be the order of the day. Public officials, save a few, are crossing deals here and there while silencing those suspected or harboring whistle-blower inclinations. Leaked text messages making the rounds on social media linking Senator Peter Coleman to a scam intended to defraud the government of US$200,000, which he has denied, is illustrative of the deep levels of theft taking place under this government;

Other examples include the NPA-imposed Cargo Tracking Note, (CTN) and the LTA's imposition of floor charges on data and voice calls on GSM companies that they have conveniently passed on to the public. But the public is not taking the matter lying down and already there are calls for its scrapping.

Realizing that angry public reaction to this development may cause the CDC to lose votes, CDC Chairman, Mulbah Morlu has reacted, accusing GSM providers of economic sabotage. But it appears the public remains unfazed because they know the truth.

And so, reflecting 28 years after the launch of Operation Octopus we ask just what lessons have been learned? Charles Taylor is slowly rotting away in a British Jail. His cronies are however members of President Weah's CDC governing council. The serial deaths of government auditors recently appear like a page taken out of Taylor's playbook.

Further, sources have confided to the Daily Observer that current developments concerning the killings of unarmed, innocent individuals, hors de combat, is attracting increased attention from international human rights bodies and related institutions including the International Criminal Court.

President Weah is thus urged to treat this matter as one of very high priority and bring those responsible to justice without delay.

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