Monday, January 16, 2006


Legislative Leadership

In 1980, when Samuel Doe seized control of the Liberian government, one of the most notable characteristics was that it was the only coup in history has was led by a Master Sargeant in the Army, and not by the officer corps. For the previous 150 years of Liberian history, the government, military and economy had rested in the hands of the Americo-Liberian descendents of former slaves, despite constituting only 5% of the local population. The 25 years of instability and civil wars that followed were the result of the long disaffected, indigenous majority attempting to set up a succession of equally repressive dictatorships reflecting only one or two of the 9 tribal groups in the country. From 1980 on through '96, different parts of the country were controlled by various splinter groups. From Doe's PRC arose the NDPL, dominated by the Krahn, but aligned with some Gio and Mano rebel forces. For a while, Monrovia was controlled by the INPFL, but for much of the 90 was run by Charles Taylor's and the Gola RUF. Throw into the mix at various times the LPP and the Krahn LPC and the Lofa LDF.

None of the various groups proved to be much of an improvement on the previous groups, and all committed grave atrocities, especially in more remote areas of the region. In 1990, when the INPFL captured Doe, he was paraded through the streets, but only after having been beaten, with his ears cut off and publicly castrated. In 1996, Charles Taylor was elected president of Liberia after running with a campaign song that proclaimed, "He killed my father, he killed my mother, I will vote for him". During Taylor's rule the fighting only intensified, with new rebel groups emerging. The Krahn dominated LURD emerged in 2000, and after being joined by the MODIL in 2003, were able to force Taylor to flee and set the conditions for intervention, eventually, by the UN.

In a promising show of unity during the presidential elections late last year, Liberians overwhelmingly voted for candidates who represented an end to the highly ethnic tensions of the past 25 years, with George Weah and Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson combined garnering over 70% of the popular vote. Weah was a former soccer pro in Europe who ran on an outsider's anti-corruption platform, and Ellen, a former World Bank official bringing a strong academic background to the government. Following a run-off election in November Sirleaf-Johnson was proclaimed president-elect and is expected to be inaugurated tomorrow morning.

But the sign of unity that was brought by the Presidential election was undercut by the regional voting for Congress, as highlighted by this past Friday's selection of legislative leaders:
Representative Edwin Snowe, former son-in-law of notorious ex-president Charles Taylor was elected as Speaker of the 64-member House of Representatives. The speaker is the third in rank in the government hierarchy after the president and vice president. Senator Isaac Nyanebo, a former advisor and Secretary General of the rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), which battled the government from 1999 to 2003, was elected Senate President Pro Tempore. ... Snowe is one of four newly elected parliamentarians who are on a UN Security Council Travel Ban and Asset Freeze List for "on-going ties with Charles Taylor."

As a result, the new legislature being run by two former (and opposing) warlords, one of whom is an internationally recognized war criminal. This only shows that the regional tensions remain strong, as reflected by local voting patterns; and some very violent men remain in positions of great power.

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