Liberia Betrayed Again

By Peter Kortuwah

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 3, 2003

All the world looked on as a defiant Ghana government on June 4, 2003 refused to arrest Charles Taylor, the embattled Liberian president who had just been indicted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the UN-backed War Crimes Tribunal in Freetown. In the end, Accra could manage only to guarantee Taylor's safe passage back to Monrovia. He was whisked off on a Ghana presidential jet, accompanied by a full military guard of honor.

The authorities in Ghana might have done better, rising to the challenge and helping their much-abused downtrodden neighbors achieve the peace and freedom that had eluded them for some 14 years. Instead, they looked the other way, and, like Pontius Pilate, opted to wash their hands.

Of course, in so doing, Accra roundly condemned the Liberian people to continued misery at Taylor's own blood-stained hands, forgetting altogether the kind hospitality shown years before by Liberians towards the people of the Gold Coast, when thousands of them (Fantis, in particular) adopted Liberia as a second home.

Further, in failing to apprehend this lone indicted war criminal, this vagabond, the Ghana government did not only squander a good and least costly opportunity to show gratitude; or to end the suffering of the Liberian masses; or to bring justice to thousands of Taylor's victims in Sierra Leone; the Ghanaians ended up, in a way, committing a crime of their own - obstructing justice, leaving cynics and puzzled observers wondering, "why?"

Not surprisingly, average Liberians have trouble seeing how Ghana which gave the world Kwame Nkrumah and Kofi Annan would now send Mohamed Ibn Chambas and John Kufuor to lynch them. Or could all this be just Charles Taylor, the Corrupt, craftily using the considerable stolen wealth at his disposal to buy more time? Why else (if not for thirty pieces of blood diamonds) would anyone choose to aid and abet an indicted war criminal at the expense of his countless innocent victims and their hapless survivors?

Accra must have known, at any rate, that by letting Taylor off the hook for whatever reason, they were opening wide the floodgates for the horrible bloodletting and anarchy that would follow.

The Ghanaians were soon to claim (at least so we are told) that arresting a sitting president would have set a dangerous precedent. "Sitting president" blah, blah. Do they not know that once indicted on criminal charges, a president (sitting or lying down) is nothing but a lame duck, if not a dead one? Taylor's indictment for gross abuse of power immediately trumped whatever immunity may have accrued to him as president. After all, it is a fact that being president of Liberia is not a right, but a privilege bestowed by the people; and any incumbent enjoys such a high honor only on condition of good behavior, nationally and internationally.

That is why it made little or no sense to speak of Taylor completing "his term". For all intents and purposes, Taylor's term ended the very minute he was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. And the Liberian people owed him absolutely nothing for betraying their sacred trust.

It is quite doubtful also that the Ghanaians failed to act because America did not signal approval for Taylor's arrest. Since when did Ghana need anyone's approval to do the right thing? Besides, was this not the same Charles Taylor who some years earlier had fled to Ghana immediately upon breaking jail in the state of Massachusetts where he had been held on charges of embezzlement pending extradition to Liberia? Surely, Taylor's record as an international criminal was never a secret in Ghana. It therefore defies credulity that the authorities in Accra would be the only ones on the planet unaware that Taylor's indictment was well deserved, inevitable, and, in fact, quite imminent.

Now even assuming that the Ghana government refused to act out of fear (real or imagined) that Taylor's thugs would go on a rampage, taking drastic reprisals against Ghanaians in Monrovia if Taylor were detained in Accra, one wonders why Ghana joined Nigeria in sending warships and airplanes to evacuate their nationals from Monrovia soon after Taylor's return. Evidently, the only reprisals Ghanaians in Monrovia needed to fear were those from all three million Liberians who knew well a true enemy when they saw one, Taylor’s thugs notwithstanding.

How very sad that Ghana which had provided refuge for thousands of Liberians during the horrible Taylor years should now have turned itself into an archenemy of ordinary Liberians to protect Taylor. That said, there does remain in some quarters a very real perception that the Ghana economy has done quite well by the misery of the Liberian people under Taylor, and for that reason alone Ghana was just not ready, willing or able to support any talk of "regime change" in Monrovia.

All this explains why the Akosombo conference for peace in Liberia soon turned into a circus of sorts, with Charles Taylor as principal clown and ringmaster. Credible sources told of cloak-and-dagger maneuvers, choreographed by the Hon. Abdulsalami Abubakar of Nigeria and Dr. Chambas, Secretary General of ECOWAS, with the clear intent to continue Taylor in power for life; or, failing that, to find ways of pushing his choice of a successor down the throats of the Liberian people; or at least to arrange asylum for him to enjoy freely the fruits of his ill-gotten wealth for the rest of his God-forsaken days, never having to answer to a single charge of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Well, it finally happened. President Olusegun Obasanjo did everything under the African sun (both before the cameras and behind the scenes) to make Brother Taylor look like a prince and smell like a rose before hustling the scoundrel out of Liberia. He even enlisted the help of such distinguished African Leaders as Mbeki of South Africa, Chissano of Mozambique, and Kufuor of Ghana to join him in pretending that Taylor was leaving Liberia most graciously on his own and for the good of his people; and that he was really not being booted out of power and thrown out of the country. Right. Of course, none of that silly fanfare fooled anyone - certainly not the majority of Liberians who had been without electricity for more than a decade and could not watch the charade on television.

But as fate would have it, Taylor is now in Calabar, Nigeria, where his feet and those of Obasanjo are being relentlessly held to the fire by human rights activists till Taylor is sent off to Freetown for his date with the War Crimes Tribunal. (One must still wonder why a highly respected man like President Obasanjo is so willing and eager to further soil the already tarnished reputation of his countrymen by harboring an indicted war criminal. It is really amazing, simply mind-boggling.)

Meanwhile, no thanks to those great and wise peacemakers (Obasanjo of Nigeria and Kufuor of Ghana), the peace agreement they have brokered to bring Liberia out of its 14-year misery is nothing but a recipe for more of the same senseless looting, raping, killing, and destruction that characterized the reign of their friend and brother Taylor. To the surprise only of those born just yesterday, there are already reports of renewed fighting in several parts of the Liberia, leaving everyone wondering what was the point of spending so much time, energy and money in Accra, if all that would emerge was a simple and simplistic distribution of government corporations, agencies, and ministries among the very felons who should have been on their way to trial and to the post stockade in the first place?

Perhaps, next time around, should ECOWAS, the International Contact Group, or the international community as a whole wish to help Liberia in a similar situation (God forbid), let them do the people of Liberia a real big favor: let them start by asking the Liberian people themselves to identify their true leaders and representatives - and county-by-county, please. Only in that way shall the true views, opinions, and will of the people of the country be determined. No more of these red-eyed thieves, rapists, killers, and cannibals from hell, masquerading as “representatives of the Liberian people,” while all the time thinking only about themselves and the “spoils of war”: the public corporations, autonomous agencies, and ministries of government, to be chopped up like a piece of monkey-meat from the nearly depleted Liberian rainforest, and eaten raw in broad daylight.