By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé
It was ten years ago when I penned an article, calling for the indictment of the mentors of Charles Taylor, Libyan leader Kaddafi and Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaoré. Now they are all gone and I can’t help thinking back of those years of peace negotiations, where Blaise Compaoré used his close alliance with the Libyan leader to put pressure of some countries of ECOWAS. Many Liberians often think that Interim President Dr. Amos Sawyer also stopped ECOMOG as soon as they were close to booting out Taylor. It was always President Compaoré, who used his direct line to Kaddafi and put pressure on ECOMOG. Because, as he provided direct military and financial support to Charles Taylor in Liberia, Kaddafi was also supporting the cost of some of the ECOMOG contingents. He played both sides and Blaise Compaoré served as his middle man. This is the same strategy that Kaddafi used to maintain his control over the Sahara region. He gave money to the governments in Senegal, Niger, Mali and Mauritania and at the same time financed rebels that were threatening the same countries.
Compaoré was the perfect middle man.
In early 1993, when ECOMOG had fought back the Octopus Operation launched by Charles Taylor to take over Monrovia and were about to get him out totally, the Interim Government was told by none other than General Olurin that we must negotiate with the NPFL and that the military solution was not viable. General Olurin had come to replace General Bakut. We were in Geneva, negotiating when General Olurin came from Washington, DC with a clear message: ECOMOG would not move any further into NPFL territory and the only solution was to negotiate. It was a short meeting, attended by Foreign Minister Baccus Matthews, Minister of Information Laminy Warrity, Minister of Justice Philips Banks and Conmany Wesseh, the peace advisor.
Our best exit was to reach a deal on concomitance. It was the handwork of Kaddafi, through Blaise Compaoré, who had a former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs had reassured President Houphouet Boigny that the Liberian crisis was “under control and would not spill over.” Ironically, many Liberians still believe that Dr. Sawyer stopped ECOMOG, which was never the case, either under Donganyaro or Olurin. It was the Libyan-Burkina pressure on other member countries that stopped ECOMOG whenever Taylor was on the brink of defeat.
Prior to the Geneva peace talks supervised by UN Special Gordon Summers, I met with Blaise Compaoré. It was in March 1993. Amara Essy, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cote d’Ivoire had told me that Blaise Compaoré had lost his only son and he asked me if I wanted to go along for the funerals… He said that we should talk to Blaise if we wanted to make any progress. I told President Sawyer and the next day, I was on a flight to Burkina Faso. I was carrying a letter, with a very simple condolence letter, which pointed to the many thousands of orphans in Liberia and appealed to Blaise, who lost his only child to help us save the next generation of Liberians.
President Compaoré received me at his private residence. He took the letter and asked me to read it for him. His wife Chantal made tea for us. He asked me questions about ULIMO, Raleigh Seekie, Alhaji Kromah and Interim President Sawyer. He asked if we thought a military solution was the best way forward. I responded that it means more Liberians would die. He said that he thought so too. He went quiet for a few second and then added that he would talk to Charles Taylor. First lady Chantal brought us back to reality when she joined us and asked what was in the letter. Before Compaoré said anything, I responded “My president says that too many children are dying in Liberia for this war and he thinks your husband can help us end it.” She started to cry and left the porch where we were sitting. President Compaoré sat quietly for a second and said, “you didn’t say all that when you translated the letter to me.” I did not apologize.
He then asked me if I were Mandingo and if I understood Bambara. I said, “Yes”. He said that he and Charles Taylor were “brothers,” as in “Ton” a Bambara brotherhood where people die to protect each other, no matter what. “I can tell you that now and you have to tell President Sawyer. I will ask Charles to negotiate but I will never betray him and will never allow anyone to harm him, as long as I live.” The conversation was over.
Over the years, I would see President Compaoré, at ECOWAS, AU meetings and we always shook hands but never spoke. The last time we met was at the Japanese African Summit, last June. African leaders were in the same room, having coffee and chatting with their Japanese hosts before the official opening of the meeting. We shook hands, and for the first time, since our meeting in 1993, we spoke: “How are things in Liberia?” “We are trying.” “Where is President Sirleaf?” “Over there.”
I was still looking forward to the day when he would join Charles Taylor and Kaddafi, wherever they were. He was then in the middle of playing puppet master in the Malian crisis as he did in the Ivorian civil war. Malian rebels had an office in Ouagadougou and he was the chief negotiator. When Laurent Gbagbo was fighting Houphouet, he provided him support and gave him a Burkina Faso diplomatic passport. When Gbagbo became president and started to chase Burkinabe farmers from Cote d’Ivoire, he and Kaddafi created the Nouvelles Forces, the rebel group that would eventually overthrow Gbagbo.
After 27 years in power, he was trying to manipulate the constitution and add 15 more years to his tenure. He could not imagine himself living without being President. We may never get him to The Hague, but Thomas Sankara and others are smiling today. He masterminded every crisis in the region and became an interlocutor for Paris and Washington. But he forget to pay attention to the kids in the streets of Ouagadougou.
I am not unhappy that he is finally out. But again, as it often happens, the military junta has taken over. They are not the solution to Burkina Faso problems. Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Nigeria all had their spats with bad military transition. The fall of “strongmen” men more than often lead to more chaos, as in Libya and Egypt.
Hopefully, the land of “Man of Integrity,” Burkina Faso, will learn from our lessons… But history always repeats itself. The past is always here to remind us of the nature of political power.