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Socialist Democracy July - August 2003 Index


By Friday Foluso

A ceasefire accord has just been signed in Ghana between the Liberian government and rebel groups aimed at ending the civil war which has engulfed the country. According to the agreement, in 30 days a transitional government is expected to be formed which will exclude President Charles Taylor. A West African-led peacekeeping force comprising at least 2,000 troops is expected to supervise the accord.

Liberia is Africa's oldest "republic" and was founded by freed American slaves. With a population of 3.3 million, it is mostly made up of indigenous Africans, with slaves' descendants comprising 5% of the population. Liberia was relatively calm until 1980 when Sergeant Samuel Doe overthrew President William Tolbert in a military coup after riots over food prices. Though Doe's coup marked the end of dominance by the minority Afro-American settlers, but it heralded a period of instability. In the past two decades, the country has been in a perpetual state of civil war.

The Doe regime itself was characterised by grave economic crisis and misrule. Taylor himself initially served in Samuel Doe's government. He was later charged with fraud and he fled to the US, where he was arrested. He escaped and in December, 1989 launched a revolt against the Doe government. The civil war led to thousands of deaths and over half a million refuges. Governments of West African countries formed a military intervention force called ECOMOG to stop Charles Taylor. Rebel groups were also formed by other refugees opposed to Taylor. At the end, ECOMOG was able to impose a "peace deal" but when the presidential election was conducted in 1997 it was won by Charles Taylor.

In 1999, fighters of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), including some of those who had opposed Taylor during civil war launched attacks on Liberian territories in the north and west from bases in Guinea. Recently another group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), has emerged and gained control of strategic areas in the south and east of the country. By early June, 2003, LURD rebels reached the outskirts of Monrovia, the Liberian capital. There was total chaos as thousands of people, including foreigners, attempted to leave the country. There is a looming humanitarian disaster due to shortage of food and other essential items. About 5,000 refuges, mainly Nigerians but including other national of other West African countries, have been repatriated to Lagos.

But the current rebellion in Liberia is just part of a complex network of conflicts which has engulfed that part of the West African sub-region for over a decade. In Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Guinea, civil wars have raged almost ceaselessly between government and rebel groups, with neighbouring countries trading accusations and counter-accusations of sponsoring rebellion against each another. In Ivory Coast, an uneasy peace has just been put in place and a national "unity"

government formed, after a military rebellion in September 2002 led to the country being split into two. When the peace meeting between Taylor and the rebel groups was about to start in Accra, the UN war crime tribunal in Sierra Leone indicted Taylor over his support for the RUF rebels during the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone and ordered his arrest. He had to hastily fly back to Monrovia. One of the fears of the West African leaders and imperialism is that the war in Liberia could re-ignite civil war in Sierra Leone and destabilise the region further.

Some capitalist commentators give the impression that the removal of Taylor from power is simply what is needed to end the conflicts in Liberia and the neighbouring countries. But this is sheer over-simplification. The root of the unending conflicts is chronic underdevelopment of the area, a product of decades of imperialist exploitation. The failure of capitalism to develop these countries is responsible for widespread poverty, illiteracy, hunger and diseases and huge unemployment particularly among the youth. In Liberia, life expectancy is 41 years for men and 42 years for women and the average income per head is $140 per annum (World Bank, 2001). According to UN Development Reports, Sierra Leone is the poorest country in the world. These are the basics causes of for ethnic distrusts, divisions and wars. Many of the rebel soldiers are teenagers and youth who had lost hope of any better future. The various factions of the capitalist ruling class engage in deadly struggles for control over the natural resources of these countries.

Though his government was a signatory to the peace agreement, Taylor later said in a broadcast that he would not step down as president. This will lead to immediate collapse of the accord. His position has been complicated by the arrest order by the war crime tribunal which means he could be arrested once he ceases to be Liberian head of state.

But even if he is compelled to quit, and some kind of peace deal is implemented, this cannot provide a lasting solution to the crisis in Liberia and the neighbouring countries. Only the overthrow of capitalism in the various countries in the region and the taking over of its resources by the working people and their the usage for the development of the area and provision for the real needs of the people through a democratic and voluntary socialist confederation of West African states can guarantee lasting peace and prosperity and bring an end the nightmare and misery which the working masses continuously experience.




Socialist Democracy July - August 2003 Index