Fighting in Liberia continues

Presidential hopeful urges U.S. involvement in Liberian crisis
ACCRA (“We came on a humanitarian gesture. We ended up in the middle of setting the climate for what has become a ceasefire and bringing people back to the (negotiating) table,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told The Final Call, as he prepared to leave here for the United States, determined now more than ever to make Liberia and Africa a major agenda item in U.S. foreign policy.

Mr. Sharpton arrived here July 20 at the head of a 13-member delegation destined for Monrovia, the Liberian capital, primarily to deliver humanitarian supplies and, hopefully, to meet with President Charles Taylor and the rebel factions, in order to help move the process for a transitional government and new elections.


That agenda, however, fell to pieces the moment the delegation landed. News of renewed fighting made the trip to Monrovia too dangerous and thrust the only voices on the ground representing Black America directly into the ceasefire negotiating process.

Traveling back and forth from the two main hotels housing representatives of the various warring factions, Rev. Sharpton appealed for a cessation of the fighting.

Explaining that the delegation was not here to take sides, he told the representatives of the main rebel groups LURD and MODEL and the Liberian government officials that, “Someone must be on the side of these children who are refugees, the dislocated women and those who have lost loved ones. That’s whose side we are on.”

The delegation sensed a level of unease and distrust among the groups, a condition that further hardened after the breakdown of a July 17 ceasefire agreement hammered out at the peace negotiations that is being monitored by ECOWAS, the West African group of states in charge of peacekeeping forces.

It is the breakdown of that agreement that prevented the delegation from entering Monrovia. Despite Rev. Sharpton’s urgent appeal for getting all the groups in one room at the same time, nevertheless, his shuttle diplomacy netted agreement from the parties on a document that called for a ceasefire and stipulated calls that he would make to the Bush administration.

In a “Statement on Behalf of the Humanitarian Delegation in Accra to Pres. Bush,” Rev. Sharpton called for “immediate and direct involvement” through the deployment of a UN, ECOWAS or African Union peacekeeping force or, as a last resort, sending U.S. military troops to stabilize the situation.

“We have been assured by the parties with whom we have met that if any, or all of these measures are immediately implemented, a subsequent ceasefire will occur in Liberia. We are prepared to facilitate dialogue with these parties if you agree to act now,” the statement read.

On the involvement on U.S. troops, even the delegation was somewhat distressed, and defined to the factions the extent to which U.S. troop  involvement should go. They, emphasizeded that it be a stabilizing force to facilitate humanitarian aid versus “an occupation force.”

Knowing the history of the use of U.S. power for imperialistic objectives, Rev. Sharpton told The Final Call: “Many of the Africans wanted the U.S. to come in and don’t have the benefit of that history (of imperialism and destabilization). We had to negotiate between what they wanted and what they thought they wanted by what they said.”

Delegation members explained that having input by those who were born, raised and live in the United States can help the Liberians avert further crises, by holding the U.S. administration’s hands to the fire to help and not deconstruct.

“I’m convinced that the Black freedom struggle has always been inseparable from the freedom struggle in Africa, but in this case, it’s even more so,” commented Dr. Cornel West, a Princeton University professor and one of Black America’s top scholars who traveled with the delegation.

“We want to make a serious impact on both shaping American post-Cold War policy toward Africa and, secondly and more immediately, trying to alleviate the suffering of the Liberian people by reaching a ceasefire and some sort of interim government.

“The important thing is we have to be anti-imperialist,” he said.

Defining the successes of the trip, delegation member Rev. Al Sampson of Chicago’s Fernwood Methodist Church, said Mr. Sharpton’s voice going back to America from the continent of Africa caused the Bush administration to rethink his position delaying a troop deployment.

With bodies being stacked outside the American Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, and Rev. Sharpton’s voice showing the contradictions to the U.S. policy, Mr. Bush had to act, he said, citing the recent deployment of several thousand troops to the region.

“This was a challenge that Rev. Sharpton lived up to, both as a minister and as a political candidate for the U.S. presidency,” he told The Final Call. “Africa has always been an asterisk and never a part of the policy agenda of America. He’s put African policy on the front burner.”

Rev. Sampson stressed that Black America is always concerned that young Black lives are always being sent to war-torn areas to defend a foreign policy and yet have serious concerns about U.S. domestic policy. In the case of sending Black troops to Africa, “we are very highly concerned when African soldiers in America have to fight against our own brothers and sisters in Africa.

“We feel that the clear victory is that African American soldiers won’t have to land in Liberia as a strike force, but as a peacekeeping force,” he explained.

Min. A. Akbar Muhammad, the international representative of the Nation of Islam and a member of the delegation, explained that being on the ground and hearing first-hand information about the crisis and the suffering gives Rev. Sharpton the necessary fuel to explain the intricacies of the crisis to the American public, particularly Black America, and therefore mobilize people into action.

Min. Muhammad echoed Rev. Sharpton’s call for the other Democratic Party’s presidential candidates to be involved in the discussion, since Black America votes overwhelmingly democratic.

“African Americans don’t get involved in foreign policy issues due to the lack of exposure and, in some cases, a lack of interest,” he said. “But once we become knowledgeable, we tend to push our leaders to do the right thing.

He said that pressure from Black America is necessary to help Africans on the continent lead themselves to resolve crises.

“It’s terrible to look at Africa and see the former colonial masters being called in to help resolve these issues, as if we’re not grown enough to solve our own problems,” he said.

Sharing the view of most Liberian delegates at the peace summit about Rev. Sharpton’s involvement, attorney Kabineh M. Ja’neh of the rebel LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) movement who had just met with the American delegation, told The Final Call: “We think this is a welcomed gesture and long overdue. African Americans in particular have a moral responsibility to help their brothers and sisters in Liberia.

“Our message is that (African Americans) must see Liberia as their homeland and we want them to play a very active role in alleviating the humanitarian situation,” he said.

Members of the delegation also included the Rev. John Fredlaw of Durham, N.C.; Archbishop Franzo King of the African Orthodox Church in San Francisco, Ca.; Marjorie Harris-Smikle, executive director of Rev. Sharpton’s National Action Network; videographer Ed Harris; attorney Sanford Rubenstein; businessman Willie Muhammad of Atlanta, Ga.; and James L. Muhammad of New Haven, Conn., an assistant to Min. Akbar Muhammad.

Members of the media traveling as observers with the delegation included Tucker Carlson, co-host of CNN’s Crossfire, and The Final Call.

In his departure, Rev. Sharpton said he has promised the Liberian government and the factions that he would be in contact with them every 48 hours to continue dialogue and work with the Congressional Black Caucus to bring attention to Africa.

“This trip is not over,” he said. “This trip is just beginning.”