President Samuel K. Doe sat in his office with three of his aides, called to a gathering which the president had warned was to be held in the strictest secrecy. The lives of his security operatives, as well as those of the cabinet officials and relations who had taken refuge with him in the Executive Mansion, he said, were at stake. Their only choice now was to pack their satokas – abandon the Mansion and seek refuge, probably leave the country even, onboard one of the ECOMOG military ships at the Freeport of Monrovia, where he had been told the newly arrived peacekeeping force to Liberia had set up their quarters.
This option the president had, of course, pondered for four days. Actually he hated the idea of going to meet the peacekeeping force. It could put him, President of Liberia though he was, in the position of a beggar, subjecting him to a lack of respect from whoever the force commander was. And his pride would not have him humbled. At least not by some obscure West African soldier who, because of the Liberian Civil War, finds himself suddenly a celebrity. Yet those four days he had waited in vain. Nobody would come to him. He would have to go himself — that is to say, if he did not want the rebels to capture and kill him.
And although he had sent three soldiers to get in touch with the peacekeeping force, one of these had been shot and killed, the other had fled, and the third soldier had returned with the news that he and the others had gotten only as far as Clara Town when they were shot at by a group of INPFL rebels. The president could well have sent a few more of his men. But the failure of the initial undertaking, especially when it was found that one of the soldiers was known to have deserted, had cast a pall over any further venture of this kind. And as much as he would have liked to begin by telephone a communiqué with the ECOMOG force, he had no knowledge of their code. Besides the telephone lines across the country were broken, and he had heard that ELBC had been ransacked and riddled with bullets.
How easy it had been in the days following his successful coup d’état and subsequent overthrow of the Tolbert government! At that time the radio and television companies, both privately-owned and funded by the government, were in full vigor and all too ready and willing to hear him out when he took to the airwaves. Even the BBC had not been an exception. He could recall that he had spoken with a group of international correspondents as the cameras flashed and the foreign journalists recorded his thoughts and opinions, his gestures even. But now things were completely different. The war had seen to that much. And in a way he could never have dreamed of almost a decade earlier.
But revolving in his mind the circumstances which had brought him to this stage of the conflict, Samuel K. Doe could feel nothing but regrets. He could remember that at the height of the war ECOWAS had tried to persuade him to resign and go into exile. Even his close friend and confidante, President Ibrahim Babangida, had himself added his voice to the chorus. But besieged at the Executive Mansion, with more than half of the country having fallen to the rebels, he refused. His decision had, like that of President Tubman before him, as well as a number of African heads of states like Gamal Abdel Nasser, Robert Mugabe, Yayah Jammeh, Gnassinbé Eyadéma, etc., some of whom would be either dead or still in office long after he was gone, been due in part to his own greed for power; and in part to the counsel of his advisors, many of whom had got it into his head that the impending civil war would turn out no better than Quiwonkpa’s coup. But most of these so-called advisors, made up of equally greedy and spineless politicians, businessmen, intellectuals, cabinet officials and relations, had since fled to the United States, leaving him with no more than a handful of loyalists, many of them Krahn. But the arms and ammunition at their disposal, including food, was not likely to last more than a fortnight. Their only choice now was to beat it. Their journey towards the Freeport would most likely be fraught with danger; a confrontation with INPFL rebels at most, but was better than starving to death in the Executive Mansion. Besides most of his men had been trained by the Israelis and had proved, more than on one occasion, that they were more than a match for the rebels. Obviously, they ought to try their luck.
“We can’t send any more of our men to meet the ECOMOG force,” the president was saying. “The first effort was a failure, and the rebels would be waiting.”
The three men sitting with the president, including the redoubtable Captain Tailey, nodded their heads.
Tailey spoke up, “This ECOMOG force commander is he a Ghanaian or a Nigerian?”
“He’s a Ghanaian,” said President Doe. “But I had hoped it was a Nigerian. Given my relationship with Babangida, the Nigerians are more likely to give me the best protection. Well, what you think of this Ghanaian force commander?”
“I’ve not met the man myself,” said Captain Tailey, shrugging his shoulders. “But it seems strange that the Nigerians have allowed a Ghanaian to be in charge of this peacekeeping force. But then, I’ve heard that this peacekeeping operation by ECOWAS is influenced so much by politics that you can expect anything to happen. But since the Nigerians are there, we can only hope for the best,” added the former elephant hunter. He was broad and stocky and spoke with a powerful contralto.
The President nodded. “We should go to the Freeport with about thirty of our men, I think.”
“Yes, of course,” said a middle-aged, fair-complexioned man in a red beret. His voice, like those of the others, had the distinctive twang of The Krahn. He was tall and slim. “The corporal who came back told me that he counted about a dozen INPF rebels on the road to Clara Town. He believes that they’ve concentrated their forces towards Somalia Drive, from where they assume the NPFL will attack. With about thirty of our men we could reach and enter the Freeport, even if we were confronted by the rebels. And once we’re there, I doubt the rebels would try to attack the ECOMOG force.”
“They wouldn’t dare,” said the third soldier, a woman somewhere in her early thirties. There were deep scars on her face, so that it looked as if she were engaged more frequently in hand to hand fighting than shooting from rifles. “Besides,” she added, “we’ve signed with the rebels a ceasefire agreement with the help of ECOWAS. Although the NPLF is more likely to break the ceasefire, we have little or nothing to fear from the INPFL. They aren’t as well-armed and many as the NPFL. They might also need some arms and ammunition from the peacekeepers and aren’t likely to attack their headquarters.”
“What’s the state of our arms and ammunition?” the President asked.
“Our machine guns have all run out of ammo and the rebels nearly shot our only tank to pieces,” said Captain Tailey. “But we’ve a number of hand grenades and ammunition for our rifles, which could last for about a week only.”
The president heaved a heavy sigh; the room fell quiet.
Then the storm burst. They all rose and ran to the window. A barrage of automatic fire, followed by heavy explosions, had started in the distance towards the Freeport of Monrovia. The NPFL had just attacked the ECOMOG headquarters.
Copyright © Saah Millimono 2016
About the author: Saah Millimono is the author of Broken Dreams, which was awarded the Short Fiction Prize of the Sea Breeze Journal of Contemporary Liberian Writings. His first novel Boy Interrupted was awarded 2nd Place for the Kwani Manuscript Project, a one-off writing prize for African writers across the continent and in the Diaspora. Presently, he’s pursuing a BA degree in Mass Communication at the African Methodist Episcopal University. He has written for the Daily Observer and the Guardian (UK).