COUP PLOT N° 1 : Mere Speculation, Manipulation or Real?

By James Thomas-Queh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 11, 2007


As the nation celebrated its 160th Anniversary with fireworks, an alleged coup plot has been foiled. And needless to mention the near tragedy of the joyous celebrations of July 26, 2006, went the Executive Mansion went up in flames. True, there may be no link between both incidents, but it must be extremely worrying for a government whose mandate extends to 2012, and most troubling also for our national security.

Thus as the alleged coup plotters have been speedily charged for “treason” and currently on trial, and that the UNMIL Chief, Mr. Alan Doss, has publicly diminished the importance of the incident as “mere speculation”(see -09 August 2007)– adding to the already highly charged atmosphere of suspicion, sentiments and confusion – I thought it the moment to analyse and reflect back on the sequence of events, aware ourselves of the gravity of the accusation and alleged act. A contribution, perhaps, to help us untangle the mystery –be it a mere speculation, manipulation or real.

The State Undemocratic /Totalitarian Method in Question

First, in late May the Minister of Justice made a blanket statement and I quote: “Defeated politicians, in league with disgruntled and disbanded soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia, are poised to seize power militarily and plunge the country into another cycle of chaos…We have credible information that these individuals (disgruntled AFL soldiers) are now forging alliances with some bloodthirsty and power greedy elements in the society to undermine state security and foment chaos and unrest in the Liberian society…” (see - 23rd May 2007).

Of course, this very strongly worded statement sent shock-waves through the political landscape. Quickly the opposition political parties cried out aloud for a clarification; and while, at the same time, others requested the resignation of the Hon. Minister. Suddenly, there was a total black-out. Silence. Then it was the moment of secret arrests and interrogations (a reminder of our darkest past) until the concerned families alerted the press and public about the fate of their missing relatives last seeing in the hands of state security agents. It was not too long the mystery surrounding the “defeated politicians disgruntled Ex-AFL soldier coup plotters” begun to unfold. The National Security Agency (NSA) made a scoop (the very first of its kind) by inviting certain members of the press to view and hear the transcript of the alleged coup plotters in live discussion of their plan. Seemingly, the Ivorian collaboration helped. But then came a second scoop-“The Whistle Blower” (in the fine words of FrontpageAfrica) – the revelation of an exchange of alleged emails between one of the purported coup plotters and his long time NPFL comrade and liberator in arms.

Before an astonished public, still grasping to digest the rapidly unfolding events, the alleged coup plotters were rushed to court, charged with “treason” and currently on trial.

Now, this is the method which, in my view was undemocratic and totalitarian in style from the beginning; and as such had put the first dent of suspicion and doubt on the mind of the public as to the authenticity of the accusation. And let me add this much also –emotional, hasty and vague pronouncements of alleged coup plots or subversive activities have the adverse consequences to taint the international image of a government and state as unstable entities.

Thus is this advice: Since we are only yet at our alleged coup plot N° 1, and seem (fortunately) to have the security capacity to neutralize all would-be potential coup plotters before they act – it would certainly be in our national interest and advantage to dispense ourselves of precipitated, spectacular and alarming pronouncements of coups in the future. In short, let the security forces do their job and coordinate their efforts with the UNMIL forces behind the scene. But let not create unnecessary panic and increase uncertainty among our already desperate and struggling population.

Some of The Alleged Principal Actors and Profiles
- Former general Charles Julu. This is the man who has gone on record for taken over an uninhabited Executive Mansion in 1994 (and coincidentally the Mansion is again uninhabited today,) and knowing or underestimated that he would be flushed out by the ECOMOG forces; and only to be later identified and caught by the special security agents as he escaped incognito. Thus he may have an ideal profile for a recidivist, but not necessarily guilty until proven beyond all reasonable doubt before a competent court of law and with a maximun proper legal defence.

It may be noted that because of the uncertain political situation of the country in 1994, the general’s daring coup fiasco, and even his trial, did not take the necessary public attention merited. Because then we would have known a little bit more about this man, the gravity of his act, his daring motivation or his manipulators. But I guess we already had the mindset that “he was just another of the Doe Krahn soldiers bend on greed and power.” But then at the same time also (if my memory is correct) the people of Grand Gedeh nor the AFL manifested any particular sympathy for the irresponsible act of general Julu. And rightly so, because every group –ethnic or otherwise – do have its own isolated villain, and who, in no way may be considered a representative of that group.

That is why we applaud wholeheartedly the declaration of the President to reject any attempt by any group or person to introduce ethnicity or collective guilt in this treason trial. And that the case will be handled with caution, under the presumption that the accused individuals are innocent until they are found guilty (see – 27th July 200). But this warning of the Liberian leader must be considered in all its democratic dimensions. That no political party, group or persons should be allowed or tolerated to take the famous “statements of solidarity” in support of the government’s policy against the alleged coup plotters. That would be a flagrant travesty of our emerging democratic culture.

This case is a major test for the survival of our young democracy and the future stability of our country. We must not ignore, this time around that, “treason” is of the highest crime to be imposed on any citizen. Because in the past mostly student activists and political dissenters were its principal recipients – we had ignored its gravity and significance; it became irrelevant. In democracy, however, the rights and freedom of individuals are primordial, and cannot be violated with impunity.

Curiously, the word “treason” had made its way into the government’s lexicon just before the current case. The influential Managing Director of LPRC had suggested that the controversial Auditor General be tried for treason for accusing the government of “three times more corrupt that its predecessor” – if the claim grew out of “ulterior motives” (and what if the claim were true, should the government be charged with treason?). Strange. I thought the only penalty for such an outspoken member would be an expeditiously firing, and let him go around trying to prove his claim and talk as any ordinary opposition politician.

Be as it may, this is yet another reason that all democrats and freedom loving Liberians must keenly follow up on this case until the end for transparent, fair and equitable justice. Because our failure to do so, and should the public perceive otherwise -we may either end up breeding another generation of potential rebel leaders in prison or tarnishing our national image and credibility.

- Rtd. Col Andrew Dorgbo. Apart from being a retired army officer, little else is mentioned of his past by the press. Reading through the lines though, it would seem, his purported revelations linked the alleged coup to general Julu. And like the General, he seemed to have been struggling financially.

- Hon. George Koukou. Former Speaker of the National Transitional Assembly (2003-5) and a steward of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and NPP of former President Charles Taylor, convicted for war crimes at the Hague. His purported email exchanges with his former camrade and liberator in arms has put him at the epicentre of the alleged coup. Reading between the lines of the purported emails, his financial situation may not have been so enviable either.

- Hon. Tom Woewiyu. Former VIP of NPFL and Minister of Defence of NPFG (National Patriotic Front Government) who later became the Hon. Senator from Grand Bassa.. His current role is the “great patriot” or the “whistle blower” –the man who apparently exposed Hon. Koukou to the state authorities by revealing their purported exchanged emails on the alleged coup plan. And as such, obviously, he has become an important state witness, and must be present at the trial for questioning by defence counsels.

Reading keenly through the purported communication of revelations (see– 24th July 2005), couple of things took my attention. First, I said to myself “ if Liberia was not so terribly in need of national reconciliation, there was no way Charles Taylor could be in the box alone at the Hague and Mr. Woewiyu is not by his side, at least.” Because it is impossible that a Defence Spokesman/Defence Minister of NPFL/NPFG from Dec. 24, 1989 to 1994, could not tell his side of the story on how more than 250 000 innocent Liberians were massacred in cold blood and their country destroyed. Perhaps the TRC would need his testimonies, at least.

Second, Mr. Woewiyu began his revelations by saying: “I am acutely aware of the danger this revelation will place on my life..” This is the first time in the history of Liberian alleged coups that a man who classed himself as a “conscientious senior citizen of the Republic; a stakeholder in the peace, security and stability of the country; a Christian and a believer in the sanctity of life ( you better believe that!); and driven by the conviction that the country and its people must be spared another round of bloodletting..” reveals an alleged coup plan to an elected democratic government, and yet sees a danger the revelation may place on his life; and when, in fact, he should be a national hero and given the appropriate honours. So why? Where does he see the danger? From whom? Col. Kaddafi, George Koukou or the partners directly mentioned in the purported emails or who else? The trial needs some further explanation. But as far back as a I can remember, only Charles Taylor carried out the gangster style killing of his traitors.

The third and most important is the ease with which Mr. Woewiyu decoded the purported emails from Mr. Koukou. And releasing how compromising that was, he was wise enough to justify that “Any Liberian who participated in the civil war can decode the emails.” Well, that is not true unless one was initiated and highly placed in Taylor’s NPFL killing machine as he was or his purported emails’ sender. What this would mean for me, and even most troubling, is that more then 18 years since Taylor launched Liberia into a killing field, and 4 years after his dishonourable dethronement into exile and prison – his subterfuge mafia/finance agents, supporters, foot-soldiers, agents, etc. are still very active, communicating in codes whenever necessary.

And lastly, Mr. Woewiyu made an allusion almost like a man haunted by his own past and conscience: “The fact was not lost on me that I had been maneuvered into the epicentre of the national elections when I provided less than flattering accounts of some of the events attending the planning and implementation of the civil war. Some ranking elements of the Government were aggrieved and did very little to conceal their anger. Obviously, I would not be considered their most favoured citizen. Was I being set-up for a payback? These chicaneries and machinations could hardly pass as strange occurrences in Liberia.” Clearly, these purported emails may also be a God sent blessing for Mr. Woewiyu’ rehabilitation by those “aggrieved ranking elements of government.” Thus like he abandoned Taylor in 1994 and made the news headlines (but survived under his regime), but curiously fears for his life under an elected democratic government – he has made the scoop that merits him an official treatment, transportation fare to and fro from wherever he is, plus per diem and 24 hours protective security to enable him sleep in peace as a prime state witness. At least that is my fervent hope.

So what does these alleged principal actors have in common to unite and plan an alleged coup or subversive activities against the Liberian state?

The ethnic theory is already thrown out of the window. General Julu and Rtd. Col. Dorgbo are Grand Gedeans; while Hon. George Koukou is from Nimba and Mr. Tom Woewiyu – the ”whistle blower” – comes from Grand Bassa. What is left then to explore is the fact that both Julu and Dorgbor are two former army officers; and Koukou and Woewiyu were members of NPFL. And secondly, having been out of the orbit of power for almost two years, perhaps, they may all be dried up financially and thus susceptible to manipulation. Because the Liberia civil conflict was not on ideology but purely power and economic, there were those who made their living by always soliciting funds for the “cause” whether imaginary or real. And this takes us to the next question.

If at all the alleged coup plot were mere speculation, manipulation or real to give the impression that Liberia was ungovernable and unstable under the current leadership – it will be most in whose interest or benefit: Ex-AFL soldiers and defeated politicians as mentioned by the Justice Minister or Charles Taylor, the supreme commander of NPP/NPFL, currently on trial as well at the Hague?

To start with the “defeated politicians”- For now lonely Mr. George Koukou cannot be representative of the hundreds of defeated politicians during the past general elections. Well, perhaps the state prosecutors still have their tramp cards. Because Justice Minister’s statement accusing “defeated politicians and Ex-AFL soldiers” dates back to May, while the purported emails between Koukou and Woewiyu occurred from 29th June to July 6, 2007 (see -3rd Aug. 2007).

As for the Ex-AFL soldiers, even with their wives have formed now something almost like a pressure group, demonstrating periodically and publicly for their pay or benefits. So that by now the authorities should have their names, addresses, age, sex and the rest. And once the demonstrations are peaceful, orderly and grievances justifiable and can be attended to – that is great to nurture a democracy. Now, would such a group want to revert to subversion? We can leave that to the trial.

But where are the members of the equally disbanded parallel army, the fearful Special Anti-terrorist Unit (SATU) of Mr. Taylor; or the where about of Benjamin Yeaten, his henchman and other famous Generals. Well, they have disappeared into the wilderness, underground; no demonstrations, no talking and no one knows how they survive. And we have a saying in Liberia: He who does not talk, quiet, is deep.

Finally, former President Charles Taylor is currently on trial at the Hague; and we all know this government, if not the President – is his Enemy N°1. And since the beginning of our national tragedy, Taylor has been the only individual who has had a clear, defined and persistent modus operandi – a pattern of diversion against his enemies. He has known the weak-links in our society and weak points of successive governments on which the man has easily preed with his network of mafia/financiers, agents and foot soldiers. He has been the only one that has had the capacity, with financial inducements, to manipulate – compartmentally -elements from every faction in the Liberian civil conflict.

Since Taylor’s trial was scheduled for the middle of this year, I have noticed a steady and alarming, dangerous increase in criminal activities around the country, almost at an urban warfare level. As the trial got under way and begun, criminality reached a pitch (and of course, because the conducive socio-economic conditions are also present), and the suddenly we found ourselves into an alleged coup (not yet a riot as in 2004).

So while the entire country is now focused on the alleged coup trial, Liberians have forgotten, in effect, that the most important trial of their national history, is in fact taken place at the Hague. True, it might not at all be Taylor’s diversion (because there are now complex, diverse foreign powers interest in our country), but let us give this Grand Master some credit. Because how else could anyone in his right mind would want to plan a coup and plunge Liberia into another civil conflict, ignoring that sooner or later he or she would be in the identical box as Mr. Taylor.

So the alleged coup trial goes on to clear the mystery. But whether it turns out to be a mere speculation, manipulation or real - it should never serve a pretext for this government to slam the door on democracy. It should resist the temptation, the soothsayers -because the socio-economic problems are there, very real, enormous- and cannot be ignored. And if you cannot feed an hungry populace, avoid an additional humiliation by suppression of their civil liberties; the risk is too high.

Thus if I were this administration, I would emulate the current route of the Afghan government. Faced with such monumental national challenges, I would call a general national conference after this alleged coup trial – the tribal chiefs, elders, political parties, foreign partners, etc. – and let us dialogue together, examine our progress thus far; pinpoint our failures, errors and seek for an honest and collective resolution.

At our age, we have made history and nothing more to gain and want, but only to ascertain that we leave Liberia united, progressive and prosperous in democracy. A noble legacy, indeed!

© 2007 by The Perspective

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