The recent armed attack mounted on an army barracks near Abidjan by assailants, most of whom are believed to be Liberians, is a serious development that should not be taken lightly.
The Ivorian military is said to have repelled the attack but, it still remains unclear just how many assailants were involved in the attack. Three (3) of those reportedly killed have been identified as Liberians based on their passports and identity documents. They are alleged to be mercenaries, but at whose behest they may have been acting remains unclear.
But it can be recalled that recently, during the run-up to the elections in the Ivory Coast, a convoy of vehicles headed for the capital, Yamoussoukro, and allegedly owned by Ivorian/Burkinabe businessman Ousmane Bamba, was set ablaze after arms were discovered on board.
Ousmane Bamba is said to be a close friend and confidante of President Weah. He has often been seen in his entourage. Further, there are reports that President Weah, at Bamba’s invitation, participated in dedicatory ceremonies of a mosque built in his home village.
In this recent attack a number of those killed were identified as Liberian mercenaries and the news has received international coverage and made headlines in the Ivorian press.
Once again, Liberians have been associated with the armed attack on the military barracks near Abidjan, raising fears that armed cross-border attacks once thought to have been brought under control is once again rearing its head.
This comes at a time when thousands of Ivorians fleeing or fearing armed clashes are seeking refuge in Liberia. President Weah, according to news reports, has dispatched a delegation to that country for consultations with Ivorian officials on this latest development.
But these developments have also raised to the fore the issue of the TRC Report and the implementation of its recommendations, particularly those concerning criminal accountability for perpetrators of gross and egregious human rights abuse.
While their victims continue to languish in pain and neglect, perpetrators are riding high with some of them having been elected to high offices. In the current legislature are two (2) leaders of former warring factions which, according to the TRC report, committed gross and egregious abuse of human rights.
That they and their foot soldiers have not been made to account serves to embolden others to follow in their stead. Some, allegedly ex LPC and MODEL fighters, have on record, prior to this recent attack, been involved in armed clashes in the Ivory Coast that resulted in the deaths of Ivorian soldiers and UN troops.
And as long as the situation of non-accountability persists, there is likely to be more of such incidents of violence. But we need to look deeper at underlying causes of such sporadic flare-ups, which have the potential to degenerate into open-ended violence.
It is worth noting that those killed in the recent armed clashes are all of youthful ages. And this newspaper would wager that they were all unemployed youths. Currently, thousands of youths in member countries of the Mano River Basin (Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast) are unemployed or engaged in fringe economic activities eking out a marginal existence.
Thousands of youths from around West Africa have found their way into Liberia as itinerant illegal gold miners. They operate illegally in the forests destroying virgin areas and destroying the environment leaving moon-like craters behind them s they move on to new areas.
Following closely in their wake and ever present in the illegal gold mining camps are hordes of teenage prostitutes and foreign drug dealers, mainly Nigerian nationals. This situation obtains in Liberia and there is every likelihood that it also obtains in other West African countries outside the Mano River Basin.
But at the core of this problem is endemic poverty. Despite being richly endowed with natural resources, most Liberians are mired in abject poverty. Over the past decade, over US$16 billion of foreign direct investment poured into the economy.
At the end of the day, there is nothing that the country has to show for it. Most of the so-called investment agreements were non-transparent, according to the Moore-Stephens Report.
Our longstanding traditional ally, the United States of America regrettably, looked the other way as US predatory corporate interests haggled out the ExxonMobil Agreement signed within the context of a Petroleum law, which had not been and was not passed into law until two (2) years later, repealing a law that granted equity to Liberians.
The point being made here is that poverty, endemic and widespread poverty, is creating conditions that tend to drive people into desperation.
Extreme poverty and the natural human urge to escape such conditions can explain why rebel leaders were able to maintain armies that they were not paying. It is because they were armies of plunder. Rebel fighters often referred to their loot as “risk taker”.
But it appears no lessons were or have been learned on all sides including our international development partners. Virtually all the material conditions that led the country to civil war are still existent and have not gone away.
Coming back to the issue, the need for this government to dispel notions of its involvement and complicity in the recent events in Ivory Coast which, according to reports, is rapidly gaining traction in that country, cannot be overemphasized.
At this stage it remains unclear as to what were the motives of the attackers. Some accounts say the attack was stage-managed to give President Ouattara a freehand to move against his political opponents.
Other accounts say the attackers were acting at the behest of a former member of the New Forces who, according to reports, is now being held for trial of human rights abuse during the Ivorian conflict.
His supporters are said to be unhappy with this move by President Ouattara who has often been accused of soft-pedaling and encouraging impunity for those members of the New Forces accused of human rights abuse and crimes against humanity. Whatever the case, President Weah needs to act with dispatch and, if need be, put in a personal appearance with President Ouattara sooner than later to lay the matter to rest once and for all.