Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Agony of Liberia 03-07-22

Agony of Liberia, and the US
Mirza A. Beg

Written, July 22, 2003

Tuscaloosa News, Sunday July 27th 2003
The Birmingham Post-Herald, Monday July 28th 2003
The Anniston Star, Thursday July 31st 2003

Liberia is the only country on the African continent with which the US has historical ties, one could say blood ties. In 1847 freed American slaves, with the help and support of the United States established it as a democracy.

Liberia was a reasonably well running democracy by the African standards. Liberia and the US maintained very close ties up to 1980, when a coup by Samuel Doe against the established government brought on a long period of instability. Economic collapse and corrupt administration resulted in civil war by late 1980s. Doe was executed, but instead of peace the rebels fought each other, the Liberian Army and the West African peace keeping force.

In 1997 Charles Taylor became president and in 1999 the neighboring states accused him of supporting the brutal rebels in Sierra Leone. The civil war in Sierra Leone was finally brought to close by Great Britain, the former colonial power. Last month (June 2003) the UN war crimes tribunal indicted Mr. Taylor for atrocities by his forces in Sierra Leone.

The agony of Liberia has been on the back pages of our newspapers and occasionally on our television screens. It has been going on for years. We have closed our eyes and conscience to it. President Bush claims to be watching the situation carefully, as thousands of Liberians are dyeing, millions starving and begging America in the name of humanity and historical ties to come to their rescue.

President Bush waits and watches, "carefully monitoring", using the circular diplomatic logic of neglect.

President Bush demands that Taylor must leave before peacekeepers are deployed. Taylor retorts, he is ready to resign and accept an offer of asylum in Nigeria, but peacekeepers must come first.

This is akin to tying a Gordian knot and willingly surrendering the initiative to the "evil doer", to use a phrase from President Bush.

This brings to mind the recent genocide in Rwanda. Approximately 800,000, mostly Tutsis were massacred in Rwanda in mid 1990's. The UN secretary General tried hard to get the world's attention, but the regional powers and the only superpower made do with platitudes and empty condemnations. The world could barely suppress its yawn; there were other more important hotspots to attend to. Sub-Saharan (Black) Africa did not matter. Some said Rwanda was of no strategic value, others accused the west of racism.

Belatedly the self proclaimed civilized world chastised itself for ignoring the human calamity, indulged in a little breast beating and mea culpa. President Clinton apologized to the Rwandans. The UN established war crime tribunal to punish the Hutus by the thousands who indulged in this genocide. The dead Rwandans could not speak.

It seems the Bush administration is again using the discredited arguments that Liberia (meaning sub-Saharan Africa) is of no strategic importance. Many argue that we are militarily over extended. This is coming from those who were ready to deploy hundreds of thousand soldiers to fight in Iraq and North Korea, a two front war, at the same time, only six months ago. But they can not spare a few thousand troupes for peace keeping in Liberia.

Regional countries in West Africa are poised and ready to help, if the US takes the lead. Some 750 Nigerian troops are ready to go in, but they will not want to get caught in the middle of the fighting without the US help. The regional leaders are keen to get as much support from the United States as possible before committing themselves. While negotiations and discussions drag on, Liberian civilians are getting increasingly desperate and are squarely blaming the United States.

Liberia is not a rich country but the diamond trade from Sierra Leone through Liberia is reputed to be the currency of choice by many terrorist groups, and we are ostensibly at war with terrorism. We claim to and want the world to know that we keep our commitments, and obligations. France and Great Britain have intervened in Civil wars in their former colonies as a moral commitment. The world, the Africans and most of all the Liberians are looking askance at us to see if we really mean what we say. Meanwhile innocent Liberian dead are piling up out side our embassy's gate in Liberia.

Mirza A. Beg can be contacted by email at mab64@yahoo.com

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