Africa: A Continent Advancing Backward

G. Konah Ballah

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 15, 2003

A few weeks ago I heard Jack Beatty of The Atlantic monthly say the silver tongue Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, was the only leader whom he knows of elected under the slogan "He killed your mother and he killed your father and if you do not vote for him he will kill you".

Africa is an interesting continent in its political ethics and treatment of warlords. Case in point, Mr. Taylor, who is the cause of the senseless killings of thousands of his fellow countrymen, was allowed to participate in an election (1997). In diplomatic circles, the election was described as free and transparent. Former United States President, James Earl Carter, as a member of a forty person international team organized by the Carter Center, observed the elections. Was it really a free election?

If Taylor were a European or an American in the 21st century, would he be allowed to run in an election or would he be charged with war crimes and be incarcerated immediately? Bear in mind Taylor is an African on a continent advancing backward.

For nearly six years of his presidency, he did great disservice to his people not only by failing to provide the basic services and needs of his fellow Liberians, but also, destabilizing the sub-region. The script he used to assume power was copied by rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone.

The six year tenure of Taylor marked the sub-region with constant turmoil and Liberia in particular descended into anarchy. Initially Taylor instructed child soldiers that he could not pay them, but they can take what they want (the spoil of war). So Taylor's army was paid through looting and in his final days his soldiers continued to loot as they began in 1989.

He began his insurgency by arming children with AK- 47s who shot and killed innocent Liberians. In the final analysis, the child soldiers killed more unarmed Liberians who were not combatants than actual opposing combatants. Taylor's reign ended with AK- 47 carried by child soldiers who were opposing him from Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) as well as the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) which strategically put Taylor out of the illegal lumber business in eastern Liberia.

He blames the United States for forcing into him exile. The truth be told, children brought Taylor into power through the barrels of the AK- 47. He used armed children to come to power and stay in power. However, "what goes around comes around." The other rebel factions, through the barrels of the gun, forced him into exile. They used child soldiers to force him from power. Taylor and his supporters will be quick to attribute his premature departure from power to other factors. However the world knows what forced Taylor into exile (Liberians rebels turn up pressure on Taylor, Providence Journal July 29, 2003) "He who lives by the sword will die by the sword".

The entire sub-region is in disarray and the economy of Liberia in shambles. One gets the sense that it should not come as a surprise if Liberia is forced into receivership of the United Nations. However, despite Taylor's disastrous failures as a leader, some African heads of states came to sing his praises and give him a heroic farewell. Could European or American leaders do this for a person with similar Taylor's reputation and track record living in Europe or the United States? Think about Slobadon Milosevic, the Serbian leader who committed similar acts in Europe as Charles Taylor an African, on a continent being "advanced backward" by its leaders. Mr. Milosevic is in jail; meanwhile Taylor is in Nigeria living in luxury, irrespective of the fact that he is charged with war crimes by the court in Sierra Leone.