Liberian Officials Bicker Over
Genesis of Horrors
By Tom Kamara
Oct 2, 2000
Soul-searching for causes of Liberia's endless horrors continues amongst its rulers, even after the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) declares the country too dangerous to repatriate refugees. The wrangling comes three years after elections that rekindled now illusive hopes for a vibrant renewal. The Speaker of the House of Representatives says America led the country into its abyss of terror and poverty by buttressing a ruthless military junta in Reagan's war against Communism in which Liberia was a gallant knight. But the President of the Senate says the horrors are made and packaged by Liberians themselves without the role of outsiders. Significantly, both men, on roving missions to woo frightened Liberians in backing the isolated Government, also served as high-ranking members of the military junta, which was overthrown by Charles Taylor's rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia.
Says the Speaker, Nyudueh Morkonmana: "Many of us left from here (US)While we were there (Liberia) this Government (US) gave $500m, the highest money that America ever gave to any country. What was supposed to be done with the money? To build barracks, army barracks. When that money was received, dictation followed it. Dictation means that they have to tell you what to do. Those of us who left from here, who were invited home to work with them (Doe's junta) were being marked individually, were being labeled individually. So they started chasing us out again. We gave them a piece of advice, they say, well, these people are not good. They are Communists. We studied in the US. I graduated from Columbia University. So I couldn't be a Communist. I was not taught by a communist teacher. I didn't go to a communist country. All the things I learned ever were imparted to me in the classroom. So they scattered usWar came. It's unfortunate because I don't think any Liberian wants to wage against his own people. But it happened because the change was still onWe fought warPeople died. For 7 yearsAnd we couldn't get our acts together, all of us. People died. Destruction all over. No Liberia will be proud of that. But it happened. So we have to do it better. We decided that all the war, all the killings, the only answer is to have democratic (sic) elected governmentAll of us, all the warring parties agreed. The election was held. Jimmy Carter declared the election to be the best not only in Africa but in the whole world, including America (loud laughter and boo). Jimmy Carter said that; I didn't say it. During that election, there was no cheating, no harassment (greeted by boos, "kpooooo!")
Yes, Jimmy Carter said that. Check your record. He is not yet dead. We can lie on a dead man, not a living manOkay, yes we cheated (admission followed by protests)Now the election took place. We put the president in place."
The Speaker further narrated how the international community convinced the Government to burn their weapons in return for assistance only for the country to be attacked by dissidents while assistance is not forth coming. He continued, following a question on his service in the junta and the qualitative difference between Doe and Taylor:
"They (Doe's soldiers) shot into my ceiling all overMy dear, when you are persecuted, when somebody is running with gun behind you, you either look for a gun and fight back or keep on running. I didn't want to keep runningI have to look for a gun and fight back. So I have to. I had to defend my life, to defend family, and to defend those close to me and to defend my country. After I was threatened to be killed, I was not killed. I didn't come over here (US). I went to Grand Cess (his home). People went into my house and shot in the ceiling thinking I was there. My man, I had to so something. That's why I joined Mr. Mr. Taylor and I don't regret it. I am saying now that the war is over. I am saying that we have a democratic (sic) Government. I am saying now we all should hold hands and support the Government", he said in a high-pitch tune filled with emotions.
Disagreed Senate President Kpoto: "United we stand divided we fall. We are here to tell you that whatever is spoilt, God has agreed for us to fix it. Many times our problem people say is ourselves. Liberia's problem we cannot blame it on anybody in this world, no nation, nobody but the Liberians. We are the cause of everything that is happening My request to you is what can we do to unite Liberians? When we answer that question, if we are able to find solutions, everything will fall in place."
Answering questions as to how he got his money since he claimed giving 500 scholarships, Kpoto traced his wealth to 1972 as an employee of the Ministry of Information when, he explained, he took a loan of $US300,000.00 which he said he invested in farming. "I didn't want to [be] a penny wise and a pound foolish", he said, accusing the questioner of not having similar "love for your country" by undertaking similar ventures, only to "stay here (US) and shout."
On the other hand, Information Minister Joe Mulbah (amongst the many champions of the Americo-Liberia legacy), who rose from a broadcaster on a Christian radio station, which Taylor burnt, to a key rebel propagandist, blames the horrors on individuals who served in Samuel Doe's junta and failed to protest the execution of 13 Americo-Liberian politicians. By extension, Mulbah believes the executions led to the war, and this substantiates claims that Taylor's loyalists saw the war as one of vendetta. Indeed, even if the executions might have caused the war, what Mulbah failed to mention is that one of the key participants in the 1980 coup is the very man who ignited the flames of war in 1989 - his boss Charles Taylor who was present at the Atlantic side executions. And during the crucial hours of the coup, Taylor helped to consolidate it by securing all public places, including the international airport and telecommunication facilities. It is also alleged that he personally persuaded the junta to eliminate the arrested men in order to "erase" opposition and their possible comeback. This claim is now backed by his conduct of the war, which was characterized by elimination of opponents even after the end of war. Dozens of African-Liberian politicians were selectively sought out and executed to remove imagined obstacles in his path for the presidency.
However, the political metamorphosis, which coalesced into the rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia, and its offshoot the National Patriotic Party (NPP) catapulted comrades in theft and tyranny who, in varying ways, hid under the junta's protective garment while preserving their individual interests. The intense rivalry for influence after the coup significantly contributed to sparking the war that left many bruises on loyalists. Diehard and cunning politicians like Kpoto, earning his experience under Tubman, late Sierra Leone President Siaka Stevens, Tolbert, and better prepared in waging a war of subterfuge, emerged victorious and well connected within the junta. Thus the Senate leader's verdict, that the country's woos are its own making, is a reflection of the horrifying witch-hunt men like him instituted against opponents who saw the holocaust coming as the junta resisted change. But the disagreement by the third and fourth ranking officials in the Government over the genesis of the ongoing tragedy is not surprising in a team now comprising the victims and the architects of the 1980 coup comfortable in a marriage of convenience. From the days of the military, what distinguished the two groups was not ideology, but dividing spoils of power.
The era from 1980 to the outbreak of the war was one of a heightened and often bloody scramble for Samuel Doe's ears and a place amongst the thieving junta gang. Thus the more dishonest and vile a candidate, the more the chances of getting on the inside. There were four main centers in this contest - Doe's ethnic Krahn allies, traditional politicians of the Kpoto mode, US-based hustler-politicians such as Taylor, and so-called progressives from universities and populist movements. All vied for a commanding role in the junta's direction and policy formulation. But the first losers were the progressives "Communist group," in which Nyudueh falls. The contest then intensified among the US-based hustlers, ethnic Krahn ideologues, and the corrupt traditional politicians, which included members of the Americo-Liberian political dynasty who quickly recovered from their fall and aligned with the junta. In the end, the two victorious centers were the thieving "traditionalists (the Kpotos) and the Hustlers (the Taylors). Many of the so-called "progressives," condemned "Communists," were exiled. As time elapsed, the junta got wiser, dumping the American-based hustler-politicians since their usefulness had ceased. The soldiers had by then mastered the act of theft and could do the job better without instructions and help from men like Taylor. Taylor was transferred from the lucrative General Services Agency (which awarded contracts and bought all that the Government needed or wanted) and appointed as a Deputy Minister of Commerce where he no longer controlled spending. It was then that he fled to the US, claiming persecution. An angry Doe responded by filing a theft case of over $900,000 against his former comrade in a classic case of thieves falling part. But the soldiers needed the traditional and corrupt political wise men as their best and most reliable partners in plunder. However, they would soon realize that such men have no permanent friends, only permanent interests. Kpoto and other traditionalists went back to "tradition" and began pumping money in the rebel NPFL while recruiting fighters against their junta allies now cornered and crumbling.
Now House Speaker Nyudueh was one of the many on the periphery of the junta during its glorious days, insiders on the outside. His argument of persecution is quite justified. Men like Nyudueh may not have even heard of Marx or Lenin. They were simply populist influenced by the Civil Rights movement and agitated by the injustices under Americo-Liberian Apartheid who fell prey to the Cold War definition of foes and friends. Nevertheless, that the 3rd ranking man in a government can use his place of education as a defense in proving his ideological purity of non-communism tells something about the minds ruling Liberia in this circus of old rivals and new bedfellows. Isn't Karl Marx, a German who lived in Britain, the father of Communism? Wasn't Kim Philby, a product of the British establishment and private schools who died in Russia, one of the best-known servants of Soviet Communism?
On the other hand, Kpoto's diagnosis of Liberia's horrors is a self-defense, for he was one of those who waged war against imaginary Communism in a bid to rid the junta of opposition against the soldiers' National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL). Taking his campaign to peasants who hardly knew the meaning of Democracy let alone Communism in 1984, he escorted the party's candidate, Gen. Samuel Doe, to Lofa County, his (Kpoto's) stronghold. It was there that Doe unveiled and delivered one of his many anti-Communist edicts: "You make your rice farm. You get 100 bags of rice. Government takes 50 and gives you 50. Da wah (is that what) you want?" The crowd, in hilarious respond, answered "no"! Encouraged by the response, Doe advanced his questions: "You get 10 children. Government takes 5 and gives you 5. Da wah you wan?" No!" the crowd thundered. "Socialists will not live to tell the story" They crowd again agreed with even more thunderous approval.
Tales of Kpoto's links to Doe vary. One version is that Kopto, determined to get closer to Doe, sought the military strongman's fortune teller, and asked him for one last favor at any price: "I want you to make Doe president come the elections", Kpoto is reported to have requested. This was after it became clear Doe would contest the presidency. The well-paid oracle man, from a West African country, not believing his ears, rushed to Doe and released the good news to him. "There is a man who would do anything for you to become president" the marabou is reported to have informed a happy Doe in search of loyalists and confidence builders. From then onward, Kpoto and Doe became inseparable, that is until Charles Taylor entered and Kpoto began recruiting for him after being convinced of Doe's end.
This was the era of sanctioned stupidity that would hunt the country years after. And this was the Reagan era when such slogan, however mundane, gave hope of redemption, more so when millions of dollars were coming in and ending in foreign banks. Kpoto and others capitalized on this imagined Communist threat in a highly illiterate and backward country, selling all the junta's critics as fire-pouring Communists against American interests who must die. (Taylor's Foreign Minister, Monie Captan, a pro-democracy campaigner in the eyes of the US National Endowment for Democracy, followed this campaign through during the war, by pinpointing Taylor's enemies as Communists against US interest.) Crackdowns, and imprisonment followed. University students were condemned Communists, a charge that carried ugly consequences. Meanwhile, as Uncle Sam poured in millions in reward, the anti-Communists slogans got louder while the trips to Swiss banks multiplied. Among the beneficiaries were Lebanese merchants, some of whom, according to reports, bought hotels and businesses around Europe and elsewhere for the junta members and have now possessed them since the real owners are dead. Ironically, the same cast of Lebanese businessmen is back in business, with a recent report of the Lebanese Community in Monrovia "helping" the Government with about US$50m.
But the need to whitewash the junta as a democratically elected government became urgent, just as the desire to transform a murdering warlord into a democratically elected president was convenient for many despite the inbuilt dangers now spreading. Kpoto would later boast during the rigged elections of 1985, after importing thugs from Freetown to intimidate the Opposition, that he possessed 99 strategies of winning an election and had just used 1 to elect Doe. This included unleashing drugged thugs on the Opposition, disrupting their meetings, and vowing that: "They (the Opposition) will be in jail while we hold our inauguration." One of the targets for elimination was Dr. Amos Sawyer, then chair of the Opposition Liberian People's Party. Thugs tried to burn his Cardwell house, among the many ways to victory. (Ironically, Sawyer, as Interim President, would save Kpoto's life when he was arrested and detained for recruiting for the NPFL, the RUF's godfather. Sawyer personally pleaded with Sierra Leone's then military strongman Valantine Strasser to release Kpoto from the Pamdema Road prison where he was reported to be near death, clearing the way for him to join Taylor in using his remaining 98 strategies in electing another master Taylor) Kpoto's advice in ridding Liberia of the imaginary Communists was simple: "When you want to kill a snake once and for all, don't leave the eggs." His final solution was one of total elimination of Opposition in the name of fighting Communism. And anyone who questioned the stupidity, theft and terror tied to fighting this Communism was obviously a diehard Communist.
To back words with deeds, Doe began to purge his junta of critics, charging them of "socialist" leanings. Barely one year after the coup, Weh-Syen, his Vice Head of state, and most of the truly nationalist junta members, were charged with treason and shot in their prison cells after a Kangaroo trial. The most infamous crime thrown at them was having links with Col. Quadafi's Libya, something Reagan's America loved. Now, after all the horrors are continuing, the Libyans have replaced the Americans as the country's benefactors while its 2.5m people languish in abject poverty and insecurity. But Doe proved his credentials as truly anti-Communist high knight. It was the beginning of the end. Advisors like Kopto, Taylor, Emmanuel Shaw (wanted in South Africa for alleged fraud), Justice Minister Jenkins Scott (now firmly in charge) came in with what was good for Liberia, and what was good for Liberia meant theft, plunder, and more abuses.
So when Kpoto and Nyudueh sat with angry Liberians in New York recently, it was obvious they would have different conceptions of how 250,000 of their countrymen and women, including 45,000 children, were butchered in the name of change. Morkonmana was one of the junta's last victims. The other (Kpoto) was the junta last ideologues and a prime architect of the anti-Communist jihad that followed. But what matters now is that the two men have found a new master, with common interest, belonging to the same party serving the same cause. Perhaps we may hear a new diagnosis from them after the end of Taylor's era.