Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine


Licence To Kill

General Samuel Kanyon Doe is very firmly back in power after the scare he had last week and the manner of crushing his opponents has indicated that five years stay in the Executive Mansion has done nothing to diminish his ruthlessness.

While he takes comfort from the queues of people waiting to see the castrated and bullet-ridden body of his one-time right-hand man, it might be worth his while to consider the reaction of his countrymen on November 12. His Chief of Staff has chosen to express it in terms to the effect that the Liberians were deceitful people. The explanation for such an assessment being that when Gen Quiwonkpa announced the overthrow of the Doe regime, the entire nation came out to celebrate. Chief of Staff Dubar was particularly stung that "even soldiers" had joined in the celebration and had been seen tearing down the many posters of Gen Doe that had become obligatory home and office decoration in Liberia.

The temptation for rulers to come to believe their own propaganda must be very strong indeed otherwise there would not have been such a surprise that Liberians should have joined in celebrating Gen Doe's overthrow.

The spontaneous jubilation that greeted the Quiwonkpa announcement ought to serve as a salutary lesson to Gen Doe. There were undoubtedly among the jubilating crowds some of the same people that have gone to watch the dead Quiwonkpa's body - they will shout 'all hail' in the one breath and 'crucify him' in the very next breath. There were others who had been pretending to support Gen Doe because they reckoned it was the safest posture to adopt to be able to survive, and there were those who have been quiet and there were those who had been expressing their opposition to the Doe regime.

Since the majority of Liberians favour a return to civilian constitutional rule, if the recent elections had had the confidence of the people, there would not have been any support for the Quiwonkpa announcement. As it were, the frustration and disillusionment brought upon by the elections made many people throw caution to the winds in their reaction instead of waiting until Quiwonkpa had won.

Since then, Gen Doe has been displaying a lot of political savvy that many people did not credit him with. He has blamed the 'invasion' on Sierra Leone, Cuba, Ivory Coast and Ghana and has studiously refrained from mentioning the two sources that everybody else has credited with the coup attempt, ie. Liberia and the United States of America. It would be too much to admit that his own people wanted to overthrow him and to admit to US complicity in the plot would virtually amount to cutting his own throat, with the US Congress currently holding $90 million that Gen Doe needs very desperately.

If the US had a hand in the Quiwonkpa attempt or even if she only played a passive role, ie. looking the other way while Quiwonkpa made the attempt, then there is an awesome responsibility on the US to ensure that Gen Doe stops the brutal retribution that has been his reaction.

Many people would wonder, for example, what the worth of American friendship is if having given tacit support to Quiwonkpa, they could not save him from the miserable end that befell him and they would sit by and watch the ruthless clampdown on the opposition.

There is a particularly hollow ring to the statement sent by the State Department to Gen Doe which reinforces the very cynical notion that you are a friend of the Americans only and for as long as you are in a winning position. For the US is in a better situation than most to assess correctly how 'free and fair' the Liberian elections were and therefore how valid the announced results were, the US would know how much of a farce the promised return to democratic rule is turning out to be and if Gen Doe represents the aspirations and hopes of the majority of the Liberian people.

If the US had determined that Gen Doe had become an embarrassment and were therefore ready to withdraw their support, then the fact that he has been able to foil the coup attempt is hardly enough reason to change the official policy towards him. There are those Liberians who on the fateful Tuesday night have been led into a false sense of believing that the Quiwonkpa coup was US sponsored and therefore came out in support and that rash action has now endangered their lives. It is not often after all, that the US State Department is the first to confirm that a coup was in process' in a particular country and the miserable Liberians being rounded up today should be forgiven for their false sense of security.

What the US will have to consider is the real possibility that there will be a total loss of confidence on the part of the average Liberian who hitherto had taken for granted the honour and support for the truth of the United States. It is the type of goodwill that once lost cannot be bought back by any amount of dollars. Those who had assumed that US rhetoric or support for 'free and fair elections', democratic principles, the rights of the individual and respect for human rights meant that they are guided in the conduct of their foreign affairs in circumstances like the Liberian crisis, wake up to a painful reality.

By sending the ambiguous statement to Gen Doe that the State Department did, they have possibly sent the wrong signal to him and strengthened his hand in dealing with his opponents - real and imagined, in the hope or knowledge that he has the support of the US. There is no other way of explaining why having blamed foreigners, led by Quiwonkpa for the attempt to overthrow him, Gen Doe should be directing his wrath at his own countrymen the opposition parties, students, teachers, journalists and every other identifiable group.

There is the most uncomfortable feeling that the good General believes he has the support of the US and is using the endorsement as a licence to kill his opponents. If such an endorsement has not been given, then the US government has an urgent responsibility to quickly and publicly state as much.

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