The Life of Charles Taylor: The Beginning of the End?


Theodore T. Hodge


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
April 1, 2006


Courtesy of AP
It is a sad reality of man’s history that some leaders come with the best of intentions but when given a chance on the national stage, they turn themselves into dictators. Mussolini, Hitler, Pol Pot of Cambodia, Slobadan Milosovic of Serbia come to mind. In modern day Africa, the names Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko and Jean Bedel Bokassa stand out as past dictators. We cannot accurately predict the final script to the life of the Liberian dictator, Charles McArthur Ghankay Darkpana Taylor. Charles Taylor was recently apprehended while trying to flee from justice. He was transported immediately to Monrovia, Liberia, read his rights and handcuffed and flown to Freetown Sierra Leone, where he is about to stand trial. Historians, journalists and social commentators stand by to write the final chapter of his life.

There are those who argue that Sierra Leone may be considered hostile environment for the upcoming trial; they argue for a change of venue – they prefer The Hague, Netherlands. There are others who would prefer to see Charles Taylor stand trial in Liberia, where he is said to have committed the most heinous crimes against the Liberian nation while serving as president. Yet there are those who argue bitterly that trying Charles Taylor could inflame bitterness among Liberians. Their argument is that Charles Taylor did not, indeed could not act alone in destroying the country. Would it then be fair to try him while his partners in crime walk freely? They think it’s only fair to set up a commission that will put all on trial or extend amnesty to Charles Taylor in the name of national reconciliation and unity.

How will Charles Taylor’s life history end? Now I do wish I had a crystal ball, but I don’t, yet I’m willing to bet I have a clue. Some wise one once said, “To know the present and reveal the future, one must study the past”. The relevant question before us is, by the time all this hoopla dies down, what will become the ultimate fate of Charles Taylor? To answer this question, without the use of a crystal ball, I recommend we take a peek at the lives of some former dictators. There are predictable patterns in their ultimate demises that may give us a useful glimpse into the future.

I consulted Wikipedia, an online source, to put these pieces of information together: Let’s begin with Adolph Hitler (April 20, 1889 – April 30 1945) was Leader of Germany from 1934 until his death. He was leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party, better known as the Nazi Party. Hitler's racial policies culminated, with Hitler's knowledge, in the genocide of 11 million people, including about 6 million Jews, in what is now known as the Holocaust.

In the final days of the war, Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker in Berlin, together with his newly wed wife, Eva Braun. The Third Reich, which he proclaimed would last a thousand years, collapsed in only twelve.

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini (July 29, 1883 – April 28, 1945) led Italy from 1922 to 1943. He created a fascist state through the use of state terror and propaganda. Using his charisma, total control of the media and intimidation of political rivals, he disassembled the existing democratic government system. His entry into World War II on the side of Nazi Germany made Italy a target for Allied attacks and ultimately led to his downfall and death.

In the very end, he tried to flee Italy after he and his allies, the Germans, lost WWII. He was caught by Italian partisans as he tried to take refuge in Switzerland. He was summarily executed and hanged in a public place for days. He was eventually buried in an unmarked grave.

Saloth Sar (May 19, 1925 – April 15, 1998), better known as Pol Pot, was the ruler of the Khmer Rouge and the Prime Minister of Cambodia (officially Democratic Kampuchea during his rule) from 1976 to 1979. During his time in power Pol Pot created an aggressive regime of agricultural reform, designed to create a utopian Communist society which was known for repressing intellectuals. Today the excesses of his government are widely blamed for causing the deaths of up to two million Cambodians.

On April 15, 1998, Pol Pot died, reportedly of a heart attack. His body was burned in the Cambodian countryside, with several dozen Khmer Rouge in attendance. According to them, while his body burned, his right hand was raised high in a fist.
Slobodan Miloševic (20 August 1941 – 11 March 2006) was President of Serbia and of Yugoslavia. He served as President of Serbia from 1989 to 1997 and then President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1997 to 2000. He also led Serbia's Socialist Party from its foundation in 1992 to 2001.

He was one of the key figures in the Yugoslav wars during the 1990s and Kosovo War in 1999. He was indicted in May 1999, during the Kosovo War, by the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity in Kosovo, charges of genocide in Bosnia, crimes against humanity, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Violations of the laws or customs of war in Bosnia and Croatia were added a year and a half after that.

He was forced to resign following a popular uprising against his rule. A year later Miloševic was extradited to stand trial in the The Hague but died after five years in prison with just fifty hours of testimony left before the conclusion of the trial. Miloševic, who suffered from chronic heart ailments, high blood pressure and diabetes, died of a heart attack, according to autopsies. He was commonly known as the Butcher of the Balkins.

Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbendu wa za Banga (October 14, 1930 – September 7, 1997), known commonly as Mobutu Sese Seko, born Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, was the President of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) for 32 years (1965– 1997). He rose to power after a coup d'état.

He worked hard on little but to increase his personal fortune, which in 1984 was estimated to amount to nearly US $5 billion, most of it in Swiss banks. This was almost equivalent to the country's foreign debt at the time, and by 1989 the government was forced to default on international loans from Belgium.

Mobutu died on September 7, 1997 in exile in Rabat, Morocco, from prostate cancer which had been developing since 1962. He is buried in Rabat.

Idi Amin (May 17, 1928 – August 16, 2003) was an army officer and President of Uganda (1971 to 1979).
Amin's tenure witnessed much sectarian violence, including the persecution of the Acholi, Lango, and other tribes in Uganda. Reports of the torture and murder of 300,000 to 500,000 Ugandans during Amin's presidency have been widespread since the 1970s.

Idi Amin died in Saudi Arabia on August 16, aged 75, and was buried in Jeddah. He is buried in Keady.
Emperor Bokassa I also known as Salah Eddine Ahmed Bokassa and Jean-Bédel Bokassa, (February 22, 1921–November 3, 1996 was the military ruler from January 1, 1966 of the Central African Republic and from December 4, 1976, sole emperor of the Central African Empire until his overthrow on September 20, 1979.

Bokassa fled to Ivory Coast and later lived in exile in France near Paris.
He returned from exile in France on October 24, 1986, he was arrested and tried for treason, murder, cannibalism and embezzlement. Following an emotional trial over some months he was cleared of the cannibalism charges but was sentenced to death on June 12, 1987. His sentence was commuted and he was was released on August 1. He had 17 wives and a reported 50 children. He died of a heart attack on November 3, 1996.

So, what will be the final chapter of Charles Taylor’s biography? Will he take his own life as Adolph Hitler did? That is most unlikely, Dictators do enjoy ordering the deaths and executions of others, but they are not in the habit of shooting themselves in the head. The natural cowardice which turns them into dictators generally prevents that. The lone dictator, Adolph Hitler, who managed to take his own life also killed his lady companion; I guess he needed the company. He might have been scared of the perpetual darkness.

Could he meet the fate of Mussolini who was caught and killed by an angry mob and hung in a public place to be buried in an unmarked grave? Probably not. He is likely to stand trial, be found guilty and given a life term of prison. I hope he will live a long life and die a poor pathetic man, all alone in a jail cell. It really doesn’t matter if it happens in Freetown or The Hague – he will have to ponder the fate of Foday Sankoh and Slobadan Milosovic. In the end, as with all his predecessors, life becomes the ultimate equalizer.