By Nvasekie N. Konneh
Time does fly as they say. It’s unbelievable that it’s been 10 years since the former Liberian Dictator, Kleptocrat, Murderer in Chief, Rebel Kingpin Charles “Gangster” Taylor disgracefully abdicated his throne under the combined pressure from the international community, the rebel forces of LURD and MODEL. As Liberia celebrates a decade of peace in August 2013, there is no sign of Charles Taylor fulfilling his promise of “God willing I shall be back.” Instead the Rebel Kingpin is spending 50 long years in European prison after his conviction of crime against humanity in the Sierra Leonean war.
No politician has impacted the lives of my generation of Liberians like Charles Taylor. He was the man who plunged our country into endless war on December 24, 1989. The whole period of the 90s was the decade of war in which so many of our young brothers, sisters, and friends were drafted into various warring factions to either fight for or against Charles Taylor. So many of our civilian relatives and friends, both old and young, were also killed during the war. Like one newspaper columnist put it at the time, “the Liberian civil war has many variables, only one constant,” which was Charles Taylor. Volumes of articles have been written about him in both the national and international press. As long we are living, he will continue to be the subject of newspaper and magazine articles as well as books written by Liberians or those interested in Liberia.
If the main objective of the war Charles Taylor launched was to remove dictator Samuel Does from power and usher in a democratic system, that objective was met nine months into the war as President Doe was captured and dismembered by another war lord, Prince Johnson. When President Doe died, some of us jubilated, thinking the war was over and we would return home. I remember while in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, when the news broke out that Doe had been killed, some of our Ivorian friends were saying to us, “your war is finished, now so you can return home.” Despite the fact that Doe was killed nine months into the rebellion, the war continued for seven years, all because of Charles Taylor’s insatiable desire to be president by all means necessary. We became convinced that no matter what we did, if Taylor did not achieve his objective of becoming president, the war was not going to be over. And so we gave in to him as some sang the song, “you kill my pa, you kill my ma I will vote for you.” Were we in our right mind when we sang this song? Probably not. The rest of the world might have looked at us to be such strange creatures. How could we overwhelmingly support and vote for the man who had only wreaked so much havoc on us? Made us homeless, motherless and fatherless? You could only compare us to a woman staying with a man no matter how much brutal beatings she has received from him. Could it be because of the sex that the woman will stay with the man that abuses her so terribly? In the case of Charles Taylor, he was such a charismatic sweet talking con artist. No matter how much terror he inflicted on us, there were enough of us to sing his song of praise. That’s why he was elected overwhelmingly in 1997 as president.
Did he change his bad boy way or image when we surrendered to him in 1997 by electing him president? He remained the “l'enfant terrible” of West Africa, or royal kingpin of war and terror, exporting same to neighboring countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. While he went free and was even rewarded with the presidency in Liberia, he envisioned himself of being the kingmaker in the sub-region, wanting to install his puppets in neighboring countries. That’s how he got to Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Ivory Coast and that’s where his downfall came from. Guinea and Ivory Coast backed another rebel factions against him as payback and was indicted for his role in Sierra Leone. Now that he’s convicted not for the terror he inflicted on us Liberians but for “aiding and abetting the war in Sierra Leone,” some of his supporters are angry that he may spend the rest of his life in prison. But for the Sierra Leoneans, and for some of us Liberians who have stood up to Mr. Taylor all these years, his conviction was a big sigh of relief and we don’t give a damn how his supporters feel.
Though I did not join my brothers and sisters in ULIMO and LURD to fight against the man, I wrote many poems and articles in both newspapers in Liberia as well as on various Liberian websites. In this article, I will share with you some of the poems that were inspired, for good or for worst, by this enigmatic character called Charles Taylor. One of the first poems I wrote is entitled, “A Dream or Nightmare.”
Last night I had a dream.
Doe was my bedfellow
As Taylor sprang on him like a tiger
and strangled him to death,
tore him into many pieces.
I was lying helplessly
in the pool of blood and pieces
of the flesh of the dead god.
Taylor spared me
when I read him a praise poem.
Taylor was celebrating in the dark
never expecting any challenger.
Surreptitiously, Johnson leapt on him.
Group of neutral observers
joined him to fight Taylor
in a life or death battle.
Taylor emerged with the crown of victory,
ever stronger and boastful.
Last night that was my dream,
I am searching all over the war,
for a qualified dream teller.
This poem was written in the early 90 while I was a refugee in Abidjan. Months later, Doe was killed and I was thinking that the war would be over and I would be returning home. But as time went by, I realized I was just dreaming as the scenario portrayed in this poem above. I returned to Liberia in 1992 and then Taylor launched the Operation Octopus with the plan to take over Monrovia. The Operation Octopus became my actual experience of the war, dodging bullets here and there and thanked God for ECOMOG, AFL, and ULIMO because without their combined efforts to save Monrovia and save us, some of us might have been dead by now. Over the years I have written other poems, one of which is “My Gio Girlfriend.”
She was the daughter
of a prominent Gio chief of Kpaytuo
and I the son of a Mandingo shop owner.
We met and fell in love with each other.
It was a love affair consummated
with tender loving care and devotion
nurtured over the years
until the trumpet of war sounded from the east.
She had to run for her life from Doe’s forces
and I had to run for mine from Taylor’s forces.
With our unborn baby,
she went away to Taylor land
while I remained where I felt safe.
We prayed and hoped to meet again
when situation stabilized.
The last romantic moment we spent
was characterized by rivers of painful tears
running down our cheeks
as we considered our soon to be separation.
We took solace in the feeling that
it’s better to live to see another day,
to renew our love and devotion to each other.
Deep inside Taylor land
she was brought to the CO for questioning
and discovered to be a “Mandingo loving bitch”
carrying a Mandingo baby.
That amounted to a crime punishable by death.
She was stripped naked, raped dozen times
and her stomach split open
and the baby sentenced to early death.
My Gio girlfriend whose memory inspired this poem was (is) called Doris Duo. Doris and I were very good friends. We went so closed to being intimate but we didn’t get there. The last time I saw her was 1987 in Kpaytuo. Even though we did not cross that line of intimacy, Doris and I knew we had some romantic feeling for each other. When we last met in 1987 it was hoped we would meet again. No, we did not meet again until the war. From the people who fled from the war in Nimba County, we heard so many stories of how Gio and Mano women were killed by their own people for falling in love with Mandingo and Krahn boyfriends or husbands. When I listened to those sad stories, I imagined Doris Duo going through similar experience on the account of her relationship with me. So this is the inspiration behind this poem, “My Gio Girlfriend.” Unfortunately since the war ended, I have never met Doris Duo, nor have I heard from anyone who may know her. I hope she survived the war and hope I will meet her again. We may not be able to rekindle that romantic feeling because of distance of time and current commitments we both have with other people we met later on in life.
If we ever thought the war was going to be over and Liberia would become a paradise when he was elected, we were surely day dreaming. We constantly heard the song, “he was popularly elected” but popularly elected my black African ass. The nightmare was not over when he was elected. He became a popularly elected despot, chasing all his “enemies” into exile. Those who lived in his Liberia had to put their tails between their legs like scared dogs and those brave enough to criticize had to flee or risk going to jail or being killed. I was moved by this development to write this poem, “Taylor’s Democracy” in 2002.
Whatever else don’t ask any question
Till the next election.
He who is elected
Must steal as much as he feels,
Must kill as much as he will
Chase as many as he can into exile
Simply because he was elected
To own the country till another election.
Charles Taylor is the president
Only he can decide who to be a resident
And those he disapproves of
Will have to run to another place
Or risk going to jail for life.
In our democracy
Some will have no say
In whatever we do
And some will have to be sacrificed
Like sheep and goats.
The Dokies and Nowad Flomos
Are the perfect examples for all to see,
Learn and behave like obedient children,
They are necessary sacrifice for our democracy.
Our gallant forces of the ATU and SOD
Are the guarantors of peace and security
Who chased out Sawyer, and Commany Wisseh
And other trouble makers
And will continue to run all them bastards
Out of here until the day we will be no more.
We fought seven years of war
And killed more than 200 thousands people
To rid Liberia of Doemocracy
and now we have the Taylorcracy
Something to get used to and be proud of.
So submit yourself
Or we will crush you out like trash.
Don’t even think of war to remove us
That’s when we shine bright like daylight
And we will surely outgun all you motherfuckers.
We have been witnesses to the rise and fall of Charles Taylor. Many of us can still remember that first interview he had with BBC’s Robin White. That was the beginning of the chapter of the Liberian history we may call “Chapter Charles Taylor.” We saw him rose like a king with unlimited power. His answer to the arrogant western leaders who always want to boss the rest of the world was, “There is no small president,” meaning he was as powerful in his part of the world as George Bush or Vladimir Putin in their parts of the world and we believed in him. Then we saw him being pushed off the throne and off into exile in Nigeria and back in Liberia in handcuffs being led like a common criminal. So for the past few years he’s been locked up after his conviction in The Hague where the world has been watching him as he answered questions or spoke of what he did or didn’t do in Sierra Leone. As the verdict came finding him guilty of all the 11 counts, resulting into conflicting pictures in Freetown and Monrovia, this is my latest Charles Taylor poem inspired by this verdict and I call this, “Poetic Tribute to Charles “Gangster” Taylor.” Just like we alluded to in one of the poems above, yesterday, he was the one deciding other people’s fates, who to live or die and today someone else is deciding his fate and it seems like he’s put away for the rest of his life. If he can only be put in jail for however long it may be, he may still count himself lucky because his friend, or boss, Muammar Kaddafi and Saddam Hussein before him were not so lucky as they were killed in much more gruesome fashion.
Charles Gangster Taylor,
Liberia’s Al Capon,
The fiercest mafia boss
Overseeing the takeover and destruction
of country and sub-region.
He carried the biggest guns
as we trembled in fear.
His charm and charisma,
so magnetizing, hallucinating,
as we sang the song,
“you killed my pa, you killed my ma,
I will vote for you.”
His charm put us out of our minds
reducing us to scary little children
who must do as they are told.
Many were deprived of their normal childhood.
Our lollipops and play toys
were replaced by Kalashnikov riffles
that were taller than us in length.
Yesterday, he who growled like a lion,
walked and controlled like a Gambino,
popped Champagnes like impresario
is now tamed like a caged bird
crawling like a little baby.
Who are those crying for him now,
pitying his sorrowful lot at this hour?
Who are those shedding tears for him?
Are these tears of joy or tears of sorrow
for the man who was not too long ago a king
with unlimited power over submissive subjects
who had resigned their fates to him
to do whatever he felt like?
They must be those who are yet
to recover from being hypnotized
by his charm and bravado.
We say to them, wake up from your slumber,
it’s a new day with brand new sun in the sky.
We can no longer go back to the days
when we were drugged to sing the song,
“you kill my pa, you kill my pa,
I will vote for you.”
Replace that with the new song,
“thousand days for the thief, one day for the master.”
He’s now getting the same does of medicines
he prescribed for thousands of others
and we can only look and feel
amazed that this too could happen.