Blames & Blunders: Combing
By Tom Kamara
November 8, 2000
The Liberian conflict left innumerable and indelible scars on many, and continues to inflict more ghastly wounds. Key actors in this saga of horrors are grappling with their past and present deeds in transforming this country, founded and ruled by freed American slaves since 1822 as their land of liberty, into a pathetic state, a world pariah. So when Alhaji Kromah, leader of the armed rebel faction, United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia-Kromah (UMLIMO-K), in a recent interview with The Perspective, opted to set the record straight, he showed a remarkable courage. But he also demonstrated a remarkable knack for bending facts and teasing truth.
The uncomfortable truth about Liberia's sorrows is that the war was never a war fought on the basis of political differences. It was not launched on a platform of principles. It was not intended to redeem any ethnic group, except the few Americos and their native allies back in the business of state plunder. Taylor had his Mandingo and Krahn loyal storm troopers. ULIMO-had its Gio-Mano gallant-knights. So the war had nothing to do with yearning for freedom, democratization or the desire for economic prudence. It was a war waged on the back of primitive tribalism for the preservation of personal interests, whether political and therefore economic. All major protagonists in this continuing epic of terror and anarchy were loyal and trusted members of a ruthless military junta, and their politics, perceptions, were strikingly identical in the pursuit of the war. In such a game, the best player emerges triumphant. Taylor was far the most cunning and ruthless tribalist, the best player in manipulating men, telling them what they wanted to hear, and thus transforming them into his zombies for the fulfillment of his objective as a true Machiavellian.
Unlike his competitors, Taylor possessed a long-term objective built on personal power for entrenched plunder and the reemergence of primitive Americo-Liberian rule based on native-Liberian following. After the elections, he said, "I will use dogs to hunt dogs." The "dogs" to be hunted and those to be used in the hunt were undoubtedly his native political opponents and his native "security forces" respectively. But his opponents were buried in short-term objectives of power and immediate, petite plunders. Taylor, as now, wished no plurality of views within his private rebel organization the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). It was not meant as a democratic group. It was formed as a vehicle for his triumph in power and wealth. He determined who lived, and who died. The ability to see ruthlessness and vile as redeeming values determined the outcome of the power struggle, not, as Kromah claimed, who among the warlords powerless men like Amos Sawyer liked or disliked.
Thus, if Taylor, in order to achieve his long-term objective, had to bribe with his last penny, he bribed. If he had to execute once close allies and friends such as Moses Duopu (his Gio longtime US based pal with whom he planned the rebellion) or Elmer Johnson (the US trained Marine who commanded his forces), he wasted no time. If he had to persuade his Gio-Mano storm troopers that their worst enemies were their own political leaders (fathers, uncles, such as the harmless Jackson F. Doe, and dozens others) who should be shot in cold blood, he was just too glad to do so. He formed and eliminated several layers of fighters ("Commandos") by executing them and recruiting new ones who were in turn executed in an endless game of executions to ensure loyalty and address his morbid fear of opposition.
With his stolen millions, he infiltrated the ranks of his rivals, with the prime example being Paul Mulbah, one of Kromah's top aides, who, it can now be surmised, was more of a Taylor agent than Kromah's adviser by virtue of his ranking profile in Taylor's Government, now serving as Director of Police, one of the few positions that Taylor places immense value on. It is now known that many members of Sawyer's IGNU, from the highest down, were on Taylor's payroll. He mandated the Syrian-Lebanese Monie Captan, now his Foreign Minister, to serve as the "Think Tank" for the Krahns. Captan became adviser to ULIMO-J and AFL at peace conferences. And they trusted him immensely. Wasn't he one of the trusted allies against those that eroded their kingdom since he served as minister under Doe. This was the baptized yardstick that determined friends from foes.
During elections, he bought over many politicians and their parties, turning Baccus Matthews' United People's Party (UPP) into his cheering squad and campaign committee. Make-believe political parties such as the "Labour Party" and others were formed as his shadow opponents who would later join him to prove his popularity. He infiltrated Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's Unity Party, and as the "campaign" intensified, his agents within the party, given high positions, publicly resigned and "crossed over" to the Taylor to prove his popularity. Operatives like Sam Jackson and others, key personalities within the party, served his interests while pretending to back and work for Mrs. Sirleaf. It is the weakness of the Liberian character that provided the supporting ladder on which Taylor climbed to fulfill his ambition.
He told Col. Gaddafi what Ghadafi wanted to hear (that he is a disciple of the "Socialist Jamahariya") and in turn told the Americans what they wished to hear, since he was a "born again capitalist" Washington needed. He finally found a Nigerian President, Sani Abacha, who liked him for his bestiality and orchestrated, useful anti-Americanism, never mind that hundreds of Nigerian soldiers, civilians, including journalists, he butchered. He manipulated Liberia's greedy and inept political leaders, men who, unable to say no to his looted US dollars, and danced his music of horrors when he wanted to. When he told Krahn leaders that Doe was his "best friend" and that if had arrested him, he wouldn't have killed him, they thunderously clapped and pledged their loyalty. Gbai Gballa, a Doe's confidantes for years, after one of the series of meeting, in Accra, beamed, "Taylor looks presidential". That Gballa, a noted Krahn leader and a highly analytical man, could reach such conclusions indicated the mindset of the time. Long before this, he had convinced the Krahn military-political establishment that their real enemies were the toothless "politicians", not him and his trigger-happy Gio-Mano rebels who were hunting down Krahns and eliminating them in large numbers. He convinced Alhaji Kromah, now fruitlessly weeping foul, that he (Taylor) and his rebels were the Mandingoes' real allies and that civil society, including political parties, university students and professors, were the real enemies to be crushed. Whether Taylor sanctioned and directed the burning down of mosques and massacres of Mandingoes and Muslims was now a thing of the past. It was now an era of new "brotherhood" built on common interest of capturing, dividing the state and its spoils. Battling with the scars of failure and defeat, Kromah today denies Taylor was an ardent, admirable ally:
"You keep on saying alliance, alliance. There was no alliance", Kromah claims. Nevertheless, however hard he denies, Kromah jumped with joy as Taylor told him who the enemy was. There was an alliance, one that eventually sent Mandingoes to Hell and augmented Taylor's bloody quest for power, leaving Kromah holding the empty bag in self-inflicted agony. Kromah must simply look in the mirror of greed and ineptitude to see who caused his defeat. Kromah says:
"This is the kind of personality or character that perhaps come out of us. We organized to stop this man [Taylor], his barbarism, to stop his destruction, and at the same time, he saw sufficient in us to think that we were not wicked enough to have him eliminated."
To the contrary, in real fact, reasonable men enter a game knowing its rules and playing by them. Kromah pretends he was outside the culture of vile and ruthlessness that is the norm of warlord, rebel politics, or African politics in general. If so, as an honorable man, he should not have entered the game if he found the rules repugnant because of his "morality." Afterthoughts of civility or imagined saintliness are an excuse of a defeated man looking for gratification and pithy.
When Kromah emerged on the military-political scene in 1990, many saw him as an avenging hero, a powerful alternative to Taylor. His was an image of a man who would halt Taylor's arrogance based on his (Taylor's) ability to pull the trigger on the defenseless and plunder resources. Hundreds in need of heroes thronged to Po River to take a glance at ULIMO warriors, men and women, they thought blindly, ready to halt Taylor's claims to power tied to having the biggest gun and using it indiscriminately. For some time, Kromah was actually viewed as a redeemer. Better educated, a beneficiary of Liberian university student and national politics, articulate, he seemed the perfect match for the street-smart and cunning, Taylor. Soon, however, Taylor proved a master craftsman of manipulation and intrigues. He knew the rules of ruthlessness, mass theft, and was prepared to live by them. Armed with millions of dollars coming from Sierra Leone's diamond fields, private and state properties he looted, and blessed by regional leaders such as Houphouet Boigny, Ghadahffi, Campaore, etc. very few could resist his machinations. In all fairness, Kromah's (like all warlords and politicians in the game) blunder was his inability, or unwillingness, to see through Taylor's schemes of annihilation and conquest. In his own blind ambition for the presidency and status, Kromah fell victim to his blunders. He should blame no one but himself. Taylor was simply first among equals in a game of blood and plunder.
The war was a ruthless game amongst thieves, and soon, it was clear they would fall apart. The years of the junta had laid the basis for theft using politics as a shield. Everyone with sufficient ingredients for brutality and theft thought he/she could be another Samuel Doe. Taylor, one of Doe's most trusted protégés, simply proved the best as the Crown Prince of theft and plunder. He was arrested and charged for stealing over $900,000 after falling apart with his boss. He never denied the charge. What he did was to blackmail Doe, declaring that:
"Doe knows why he wants me. I carried out personal transactions for him, and he doesn't want the public to know these things. It's not the proper thing for a government official to just get up and take out his guts. You will not just be hurting Doe but the country as a whole."
Here is glimpse of the mind of a man for whom Liberia's wretched sang, "You killed my ma, you killed my pa (but) I will vote for you". We may never know what alleged "personal transactions" he carried out for Doe, for it is the word of the living against the dead. All along, Taylor paraded himself as Doe's political opponent when the truth is that he was a thief among influential thieves determined to get Doe. But as a true sadist, he talks about not wanting to hurt the country in keeping his alleged secret with the late Doe. What other greater hurt can one inflict other than leaving 250,000 innocent souls dead and ingrained poverty in the pursuit of personal wealth? His partner in theft and horror, wartime defense spokesman Thomas Woewiyu, then president of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) and Taylor's "business partner" in shady deals, testified in the Boston court trying Taylor for transferring over $900,000 of state money into a fictitious New York bank account that:
"Charles Taylor is being tried not because of the crime he allegedly committed. What he is being tried for is whether he is extraditable to answer those charges. We argued that the extradition petition filed by the Liberian government should not be honored by the U.S. government because it has several implications." Woewiyu, now a senator in the most ruthless government in Liberian history, contended that Doe's history of human rights abuse, including public and secret executions, did not qualify the Liberian Government to request the extradition of anyone in a free country as the U.S. "We know fully well that the consequence may by the destruction of that person's life." Yet, these men were able to butcher 250,000, are butchering more as they entrench all the pillars of criminal state they failed to command under the Doe junta.
Hence, the absence of political motives in the war is all made evident by the current wave of plunder. Also, vendetta was the engine that drove the horrors waged on the innocent who had no part to play in the corrupt politics of the junta facilitated by men like Taylor and Woewiyu. The very men and women who provided the fuel for Samuel Doe junta's innate corruption were now targeting its victims---poor peasants who happened to be Mandingo or Krahn, Gio or Mano. The fact of the matter is that members of the Krahn-Mandingo military and political establishment had convinced themselves that Taylor and his NPFL's largely Gio-Mano rebels were their allies against politicians and student activists who opposed Doe, and in their minds, made the war possible. So it became a war waged by like-minded men fighting over its spoils. This state of mind--- blaming the anti-Doe, anti Americo-Liberian Opposition ---is common amongst many Liberian beneficiaries of the junta and the corrupt oligarchies of Americo-Liberians before it.
Thus when Taylor, Kromah, Bowen, Roosevelt Johnson converged, they found a common enemy they loved to hate and destroy. They now had a common target. If they could eliminate the anti-Doe Opposition, whatever that meant, Liberia would be theirs and theirs alone. They had the guns. They had the ability to use it. And they were against a cowardly civil society opposition that had no agenda but the pitiful material survival of its leaders. Yes, there were some honorable organizations such as the Inter-faith Council but this was a group the warlords could live with since it posed no political threat. Key politicians, lawyers such as Varney Sherman (who pleaded the tortured British Channel 4 journalists' recent case) and Benedict Sannoh of the National Human Rights Center, sided with the warlords in demanding a government without disarmament. The phrase "seating of the new government should be concomitant with disarmament," was wildly ridiculed and opposed by many lawyers and leaders of civil groups. The yearning for the installation of warlord government as a panacea was all too evident. At the Monrovia City Hall during the debate on disarmament, Cllrs. Varney Sherman, Benedict Sannoh, and Ms. Weade Kobbah of the Liberia rebel armed faction, the Liberian Peace Council (LPC), became the most ardent advocates of a warlord-no-disarmament government. Now, after all the blunders, the serpent, the real enemy has emerged. Blames are in abundance.
The covenant amongst the warlords and their civilian appendages was to discover common grounds in their bid for consolidation of power without the "politicians." Cllr. Charles Brumskine, who became Taylor's President of the Senate but later fled in exile, declared, "We want our country back." During one of the many meetings to exclude civil society, the warlords agreed in Accra to form a Government without the participation of civil society or traditional political parties. Taylor, determined to deprive IGNU of its military wing of convenience, the Armed Forces of Liberia, suggested Gen Bowen, now his minister of Rural Development, should head such a collective presidency. "We went for a raccoon and brought an elephant," Col. Arthur Dennis, now Taylor's Assistant Minister of Information, exclaimed in disbelief and joy at the offer which never materialized. The AFL became a virulent propaganda machine, with long, windy political supplements in the local press on the evils of "politicians" who hated Doe and the virtues of the warlords who loved him. Kromah was particularly enthusiastic of the scheme because of his innate hatred for the political class, and he made this known on many live Fidel Castro-like radio speeches.
Whatever perceived antagonism existing amongst the warlords soon gave way to the concretization of personal financial interests that overshadowed political claims as they converged on Monrovia to take what was theirs by force. Now, Kromah defends Lasanna Kromah's ( his brother) appointment as Minister of Finance by insisting that the decision was that of ULIMO's "Special Committee". And he justifies this anomaly in the name of convenience by stating how resourceful the decision was. He talks about the "oversight responsibility" (theoretical checks and balances of warlords scrutinizing decisions of fellow warlords) within the Council of State as if an individual like Taylor, indicted on theft charges, and many of them on the Council, were men of honor who would have been left in charge of a country's finances in normal societies, or that they cared for accountability. What prevailed was a system in which the Council members decided to share their loot, with the "Big Three" (Taylor, Boley, and Kromah) taking the larger shares as their civilian counterparts accepted the crumbs.
Contrary to Kromah's claims, the culture of plunder and crime within state financial institutions was legitimized. Banks managed by warlords' appointees collapsed immediately as depositors' savings were looted. NPFL appointees arrogantly and ruthlessly wrecked the National Housing Bank, the Agricultural Cooperative Bank, the National Bank, etc. The Ministry of Finance, an ULIMO bastion in the division of war booty, became known as the "Voucher Ministry" because the new leaders preoccupied themselves with preparation of personal vouchers and lobbying for Lebanese vouchers to be released. Reports of appointees reporting proceeds directly to their warlords were abundant. At the Ministry of Finance, ULIMO fighters allegedly snatched and escaped with a bag containing thousands of dollars from Ms. Yamma Waritay, the comptroller, said to be a cousin of Kromah. Appointees were loyal to all Council members, and Lansanna Kromah, it is said, actually believed Taylor would have retained him as Minister of Finance over key, trusted Americos lining up for the job. One of the follies very noticeable among disciples of warlords, was the manner in which they relished Taylor's attention. Yet, with all the facts available on the plunder of institutions that greeted the Council, Kromah intends to be believed when he says:
"In addition, if you are implying the issue of accountability - we had a system in the Council of State that during the 1995 -1997, two years period that we were there. If you had the opportunity to nominate someone for a ministry or agency of government, and that person was selected and appointed by the Council of State, you have one of the members of the Council of State to serve as the individual with oversight responsibility over that ministry or agency of government - somebody else on the Council of State who did not appoint that individual providing a system of balance [and] accountability. And in the case of finance, you can imagine Charles Taylor was appointed as the man with oversight responsibility, over the Ministry of finance".
Here is a man high on deception. "Accountability" with the likes of Taylor in charge of finance? One warlord dismissing an appointee of another warlord in a system designed to share the spoils of war? The Nigerian Ecomog Commander Gen.Victor Malu, during the elections, announced that the whole Council of State business was designed to allow the warlords to steal in preparation for election. Anyone in Monrovia between 1995-1997 when the warlords were at their height of glory in charge of the state would know the stampede for the last rush. But in one breathe, Kromah condemns his former ally as a "plague". In another, he is a tough guarantor of probity.
Kromah, unbelievably, gives us the impression that the appointment of his brother as Minister of Finance was outside his influence. But where were the other contenders for this post within the "Liberation Movement for Democracy?" In reality, ULIMO sources say Lansanna Kromah had long decided the Finance portfolio was his private turf. Despite Alhaji Kromah's claims now of wanting to establish a system beyond tribalism and cronyism, his arrogance and defense of loyalists was made known when he assured them of their jobs despite criticisms of performance. On radio, he praised his cronies as the "finest" civil servants in the country. "Go sleep. Nobody will remove you", he declared defiantly.
But sure, Kromah, now saying many right things at the wrong time, provided some insight into the minds of men who contributed in shaping Liberia's present state. He must be congratulated for traveling on many bumpy roads in the war during the interview.
His diagnosis of Dr. Amos Claudius Sawyer's roles as president of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) in this play of horrors is revealing for a number of factors around the man who now runs a Center for Democratic Empowerment under Taylor's regime.
The ULIMO-K leader dwelt extensively on many areas in his dealings with Sawyer, areas such as ULIMO power struggle and Sawyer's alleged role, contest over Liberian Government's arms that short landed in Conakry, the formation of the Black Berets, and Sawyer's personal ambitions, etc. The whole truth surrounding Kromah's claims may never fully be known since various actors in the tragedy have their own perceptions, perceptions linked to the wheeling and dealings that characterized the war. Many things have been said about Sawyer, as would of men on a critical historical stage. But it is difficult to believe that Sawyer had any agenda aimed at defeating the warlords. If he did, he was a man grossly incapable of implementing it.
In retrospect, believing that Sawyer was an enemy of ULIMO is difficult. It is even more difficult to accept that this man was an enemy of any warring faction. He is good player of men, a master at manipulations. That he has been able to live in Taylor's Liberia, operating freely, with his housing needs paid for by a warlord known for his bloody vendettas and purges, tells us more about his quality. David Kpormakpor, one of the interim heads of state, now lives in exile in the United States afraid to return home. So is Lutheran Bishop Ronald Diggs, who was Sawyer's brief Vice President from Banjul, and many others. Council Chair Wilton Sankawolo, who lectured West African heads of state about Taylor's kindness to men, telling them that the shoes he wore came from Taylor's purse, now lives in abject poverty after his usefulness ceased. Henry Andrews, one of the country's brightest journalists over the years who became chair of the elections commission, died suddenly under confused conditions after announcing Taylor's victory. But Sawyer has survived with changing scripts. On human rights abuses acknowledge globally, he has defended the Government by announcing that its abuses were the same as those around the world. Nowhere are human rights perfect, he said. On the plight of Liberian children, 45,000 of them killed during the war according to UN figures, he said this was usual, since children all over Africa face the same problem. Despite the many horrendous reports on continued abuses after elections, Sawyer notified the late notorious director of Police Joe Tate, the man who ordered firing into US embassy compounds to hunt down and kill fleeing Krahns in 1998, that public safety had in fact improved. Sawyer is now said to be angry with exiled "gutter politicians" who, he complained, are portraying the wrong picture of "Renaissance Liberia." Hence, this is a man who was everybody's friend and no one's friend. If Kromah depended on Sawyer to make ULIMO, then he was relying on broken stick.
It is this quality, the inability to say no to men and yes if you mean it, that contributed to IGNU's feebleness in a crisis far from over. "Liberia is not for the biggest gun", Dr. Sawyer once said. In response, Taylor labeled Sawyer "that girl with skirts." In the end however, "that girl with skirts " contributed to the emergence of the biggest gun as the sole, most important actor on the scene. How?
From the onset of its formation, it was clear that Sawyer's IGNU lacked the political will, and the conviction, to have fundamentally changed the outcome of the war. Varying forces and interests were at work. Imagine Baccus Matthews, a master vacillator, as a key actor in such a tragic comedy. IGNU's first act of cowardice came after the election when the government was sealed and placed under the bed in Banjul, with Sawyer craving for Taylor's blessings before it could come out of the closet. Some how, he believed that Taylor, a man who wanted it all since he had invested millions in arms and drugged teenagers for the presidency, would join the Government in a subsidiary role, prepare for elections which he would have won, and end the carnage. Knowing the mind of one's enemy or opponent is key in the outcome of a contest. Sawyer and his key operatives did not think so. Furthermore, the IGNU was just like any other Liberian government---vulnerable to greed and vanity. It did not take long for this to be clear.
Colonies of ever-greedy Lebanese merchants began flocking where the honey was, even if this lame duck government, an Army without a General Staff, had no immediate financial means for its own operations. But the super-sensitive predators, men and women who had helped transformed previous Liberian governments into corrupt entities dancing their music, smelling the odor of the honey, launched their irresistible attacks. For instance, the Dutch-Lebanese trader Gus Kowouhouven, who has earned his reputation as Liberia's "Godfather", among dozens of predators, began knocking at the doors of the new government. The fact that this man, once Samuel Doe's declared "friend," was now extending his tentacles to the NPFL in mortgaging the country and implanting the seeds of crime and had an agenda to further plunge the country into further mess, had no impact on IGNU and some of its key officials. Soon, Gus Kowouhoven began to recruit the Government's key lieutenenants, wining and dining them at Freetown's plush beaches, entertained by scores of buttocks-shaking bikini girls as "advisors" in how to face determined rebels and their leaders in rescuing the country. Differences on perceptions, strategies and policies led to violent verbal exchanges, with this writer being ridiculed as "The man of the people" in a contemptuous reference to opposition and difference of opinion. In no time, key IGNU decision-makers became virtual appendages of Gus, and one of them, in a shouting match on this alliance, defended the Dutch trader against charges of corruption. "He is not corrupt! If Liberian government officials are corrupt, he is not responsible." Some of Gus Kouwouhoven's partners in "business" during Doe's reign were Dew Mayson, Emmanuel Shaw, and possibly Taylor, etc. His influence over IGNU would be enormous. In one instance, after a court ruling denying him operational rights of the government-owned Hotel Africa, which he claimed was awarded him by the late Doe, the IGNU asked for reversed judgment in his favor and waived its legal victory. In one of the most humiliating and bizarre dealings of IGNU, the Liberian management staff, headed by Mr. Taylor-Major, was kicked out of the hotel in a degrading move that did not bother men who once preached nationalism and clean government. Mr. Major, a long-term civil servant from the days of Tubman and Tolbert years, could never believe men who shouted against such evils in the past could stoop so low in the preservation of the personal interest tied around crumbs falling from a foreigner whose interests continue to be plundering the country. One of those who read the signals of doom and returned to the US convinced he was in the wrong group was Dr. Nya Kwiawon Taryor, Sawyer's long-time political colleague in the 70s and 80s. When Sawyer told Liberians that "Corruption is a tradeoff for peace", the statement made sense, provided the "tradeoff peace" was actualized. In fact, corruption and anarchy now compete leaving peace in the cold..
Furthermore, Sawyer, elected on the ticket of the Liberian People's Party by political parties and civil organizations through a political formula endorsed by ECOWAS, was torn between his dream of becoming a "Renaissance Man" and taking courageous decisions to spare the country ensuing horrors. Following the footsteps of African leaders, he soon considered himself above any party and pursued his agenda with newfound comrades in thought and action. Throughout his tenure, he never once visited party offices. Wanting to be considered a "Renaissance Man" may be an honorable wish, except that "The Renaissance" is so far from Liberia, a country buried deep in sorrows, pettiness, lust, spreading illiteracy, and greed. Sawyer would grow increasingly suspicious, hostile, and uneasy with his former political colleagues, and when some demanded a meeting on the manner in which he was handling affairs, he ordered his Executive Mansion security men to subject them to thorough "security" searches before they could enter his office. One of those thoroughly searched was Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, a long time friend of the turbulent 70s and 80s who maintained his credibility by distancing himself from Sawyer throughout the war. For men who once ate in one pan with hands as a testament of their solidarity and oneness of purpose, this was a turning point as politics gave birth to new bedfellows. This absence of will to follow conviction, a quality not seen in many "Renaissance men," led some to suspect Sawyer of double-dealing since he was playing all sides. That he could be an enemy of ULIMO is questionable, although Kromah claims:
"Amos Sawyer from the very start actively worked to suffocate ULIMO's birth and growth. His agent in Freetown regularly sent reports to Monrovia on organizing activities of our organization, as reflected in one of his letters with reference number LEF/JMS/W A-RL/80-91, dated July 16, l991. When President Momo of Sierra Leone asked whether we could obtain the Liberian government weapons that short-landed in Conakry during the last days of Doe, I took the ultimate risk of flying to Monrovia in l992. I met and asked Sawyer as head of the successor government to request the arms from the Guinean government for our use against the NPFL. Sawyer faithfully promised he would send his Defense Minister Edward Kesselly to arrange the transfer. What we saw instead was the massive recruitment of Liberians by the Sawyer interim government and sent for training in Guinea to serve as presidential security guards. Upon their return from the Kankan training (erroneously mentioned by a western writer as ULIMO trainees), they were converted into the Black Beret and given the weapons. When Sawyer failed in his military bid, and aware that he had lied to me, he decided to maneuver for a split in ULIMO. That's when he invited Raleigh Seekie to Monrovia and gave him a red carpet welcome on radio as leader of ULIMO, when he knew I was just a few miles from Monrovia in Tubmanburg effectively in control of the organization and resisting the NPFL. As I said, Sawyer was from the very start a sworn enemy of ULIMO for various reasons."
"One of the temporary successes Taylor and politicians like Amos Sawyer achieved was to put Boley, other faction leaders and me in the same boat with Taylor. For the unredeemable Taylor, it was convenient for the rest of us to be called warlords and lumped into all of the other subcategories along with him, even though it was we the survivors of his destruction that organized and began to resist him. For Sawyer and some politicians, it was a strategy of ascendancy by default. With Taylor out along with the rest of us, Sawyer thought he would have been selected by acclamation (default) to continue as head of the government. The Liberian people were to have been left for the easy take, with the acquiescence of the sub-region along the path of the Banjul meeting that installed Sawyer. Well, things were too serious to work out for the diminutive professor"
Contrary to Kromah's assertion, Sawyer defended ULIMO. When ULIMO atrocities became widespread, Sawyer at one point justified them with the statement, "This is war." Moreover, Kromah's lieutenants included so-called prominent Lofa citizens, including former Superintendent Thomas Brima who was one of Sawyer's most trusted advisers. Sawyer also released one of ULIMO fathers, Kekura Kpoto, from prison in Freetown. After his release, Kpoto transformed himself into a recruitment officer for Taylor's NPFL. He (Kpoto) has said on many occasions that he is a founding father of ULIMO although he joined the NPFL.
Sawyer, a good player between 0people, played his game very well. Rumors circulated in Monrovia of the secret contacts between him and Taylor. At the same time, the interim government financed ULIMO representatives at various peace conferences. On the other hand, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), which became a contender in the power struggle, praised Sawyer for being a president with greater concern for the Army than any other president, including Doe, before him. Gen. Hezekiah Bowen, making the remarks, said the AFL would never forget Sawyer's contributions.
Kromah raised many issues of commonsense requiring many questions. Why would anyone arm a group without having any control over it? Why does Kromah feel entitled to Doe's arms? What if the guns were turned on the provider of the arms, in this case Sawyer? From Kromah's dilly-dallying with Taylor, it is conceivable he would have ordered his fighters to turn the weapons on the providers. What if other armed factions demanded some of the arms that Kromah wanted turned over to him? What was his basis of requesting for Doe arms?
Kromah's claim of magnanimity during the horrors of April 1996 when he and Taylor teamed up against the Krahns is insulting. Yes, he may have "saved" his few friends just as Taylor did. But 3,000 Liberians were butchered, according to UN figures. Monrovia was reduced to rumbles. Men and women in their 60s and 70s or older, with no more chance of ever owning a house in this world, saw their homes and other possessions go in flames. All in the name of arresting Roosevelt Johnson on a murder charge? Can Kromah, in his own sanity, defend this insanity? Thousands of people were being mowed down in hails of bullets by the same men who were killing thousands to bring one alleged "murderer" to trial. Here is a mind of a man who now says he would have erected the pillars of tolerance, probity and democracy if Abacha had made him president since no fair elections were conceivable under the conditions Abacha ordained.
Then Kromah tells us that he loved Lofa County so much that he was prepared to destroy it, just as Taylor so loved Liberia so much that he destroyed it beyond repair in the foreseeable future. ULIMO atrocities in Lofa were widespread and beyond denial. In Foya Kamah, a local priest was executed and his body dissected into pieces. The pieces were allegedly carried in a wheelbarrow, forcing residents to buy. NPFL Gio-Mano fighters looted spiraling economic entities like the Lofa County Agricultural Cooperative Development Project, (LCADP) Liberia Produce Marketing Cooperative(LPMC) and anything they saw. But ULIMO fighters finished the job and took the remains to Guinea. On the other hand, many Lofa ethnic groups must be equally responsible for the turn of events. Kissis, Lormas and Mandingoes had lived together for centuries in the area they now call Lofa. Commonsense would have dictated that they didn't need Gios, Manos, and Americo-Liberians to tell them they were enemies. But this is what happened. Many collaborated with Nimba elements and their Americo leaders in selectively hunting down Mandingoes Nazi -style and executing them. The story of once prosperous Mandingo town of Bakedu, in which all tribes in the area lived and inter-married, remains fresh. The Mandingoes, happy that Taylor's rebels had spared them an unwanted chief, staged an elaborate welcoming party for them. But the fighters, in "appreciation", opened fire on the town's mass. Hundreds were killed and hundreds more wounded. Others fled into Guinea, where they have remained. The town has virtually disappeared from the face of the earth.
So when ULIMO came in revenge, it too, targeted those who had aligned with the Gios and Manos. When Lofa citizens in Monrovia called on Kromah with their grievances, he answered in characteristic arrogance for a true Mandingo avenging warrior he had become. "I thought you called me to honor me", he reportedly told the disappointed, powerless crowd. Yes, now Kromah can beat his chest about the many tribes to which he allegedly belongs. But this cannot erase the fact that there was a war of vendetta in Lofa which has driven its population into seemingly forever refugee camps. Lofa is no more Lofa. And if Kromah and Taylor appointed the late Kissi chief Tamba Tailor on their Council, it was not out of their quest for an honorable solution of the conflict by having a respected elder on their team. Their sole objective was to use this old man who understood nothing about rebel politics and its national implications. Illiterate, he was unable to read the many peace treaties, communiqués and documents from various international quarters. In the end, he relied on his children and other advisors whose eyes, ears and minds had been bought by the highest bidder---Charles Taylor. Furthermore, ULIMO's imprints in Lofa simply, but unfortunately, earned Taylor more loyalists in the Tamba Tailor clan.
The training of the Black Berets, which Sawyer is said to have reluctantly endorsed, indicates the weakness within IGNU and contributed to the outcome of the war. The secrecy that clouded the Black Berets' formation was absurd. Just why Sawyer believed he needed Kromah's, Bowen's or Taylor's approval to form a group which played a decisive role in defeating the NPFL in its Operation Octopus tells us about this man's priorities and leanings. In the end, following protests from Taylor, Bowen and Kromah, Sawyer disbanded the Black Berets. These young men and women who gave their lives in defense of the country were left in the cold. Many died and were forgotten. Some joined the armed factions to offer their services in order to survive.
And Kromah's contention that he and Boley, etc., were beyond the title "warlord" is laughable. They were all leaders of the warring factions. They all had similar objectives. If the yardstick in carrying the title "warlord" was the declared wish to "stop Taylor", as Kromah claims, then none of the warlords deserved it because instead of stopping him, they joined him. They wanted power through war. However much one may detest Taylor, to call him warlord and address his competitors "Saints" would be ridiculous.
Kromah unleashes his frustration and anger in defeat on Liberians by declaring in agony that, "Taylor is a plague inflicted upon us, Liberians, for our deceit, hypocrisy, laziness and wickedness. As I said in response to a journalist question during the election, the emergence of Taylor as President would mean - 'God had decided for Liberians to suffer.' "
This, indeed, is a confession pointing to oneself. The "deceit hypocrisy and laziness" are qualities found in individuals who, over the decades, have discovered politics as a way of life, a lifetime profession without which they cannot survive. The men and women who picked up the gun in a self-declared desire to rid the country of the "Taylor plague" and ended up collaborating with him, plundering the country along with him, looting the belongings of the ordinary people or destroying them, executing the victims of this "deceit and hypocrisy," are Liberia's plague. They are the lazy and the wicked, not the ordinary people who were pulled from their villages and transformed into refugees for life. The lazy and the wicked are the urban parasites like Taylor, Kromah, and many others who have used politics as an economic ladder. Kromah's insensitivity comes out when he blames the victims of their adventures. Prior to the war, many of these "lazy" Liberians depended on the soil to educate their children and live in dignity. Many of us live with forever bleeding hearts because we lost parents who died of hunger and bullets, although they were once abundantly so self-sufficient in food that they fed us in parasitic Monrovia. Kromah must live to regret his remarks.
Another ambiguous Kromah denial, despite overwhelming evidence, is around the alliance that emerged between him and Taylor. Honor comes in admitting the truth however inconvenient it may turn out to be. The truth about the Liberian horrors is that many alliances were formed on the basis of personal wishes of the main players. Kromah indicates a regrettable quality by denying the obvious, that is, the alliance that emerged between him and Taylor.
"You mean the type of alliance that was between Hitler and the Jews, or the one between the devil and Jesus in the wilderness, or between Mohamed and Satan. That coinage is a propaganda tool that has apparently become contagious as many of the other fallacies that were generated out of the war by our covert and overt antagonists. If there were ever any kind of "alliance" between me and Taylor, the BTC barracks and its Krahn contents would have been "carpet bombed and flattened" during the l996 hostility between pro-government forces and the Krahn oriented forces (AFL, LPC, and ULIMO-J). If there were alliance, H. Boima Fahnbulleh, Jr., Catholic Bishop Michael Francis, C. L. Simpson, Jr. and others would have been all wiped out during the same conflict. If there were alliance, the whole of Bushrod Island in Monrovia would have been completely vandalized"
And it came to pass that the alliance was just that---"between Hitler and the Jews, Mohammad and Satan"---- but an alliance nevertheless. The two men were neigbours. And many things were said to have transpired in their Congotown neigbourhood. It was said that Taylor became a constant visitor to the Kromah household. During visits, it is said that he would shove US dollar notes into the sweaty and expecting palms of Kromah's security. It is said that Taylor would spend hours in Kromah's bedroom holding discussions. It is said that Kromah's rebel security guards became so fond of their US dollar visitor that when questioned, they would say, "We want peace now. The war is over." It is said that at one point, Kromah expressed admiration for Taylor's carpet, and the next day, Taylor provided the same carpet. The camaraderie was so strong that Kromah took to the airwaves defending Taylor and castigating those who, he said, were trying to implant enmity between them.
The determining factor in the April Monrovia war was that Taylor's and Kromah's forces, dubbed "Government Forces", were after loot. The troops were of poor quality. One of the most disgusting scenes of the war was Taylor, as Attila the Hun, commanding f train-like convoy of looted cars as he rode to the American embassy to protest what he regarded American surveillance. The Krahns, by far better fighters, were motivated by their desire to live. The desire to live is a far greater impetus than any material consideration, and the Krahns proved it. They were Taylor-Kromah's targets for elimination and they knew that once defeated, they were finished. ECOMOG, angry over how ULIMO-J had disgraced them in Bomi and captured arms ULIMO-J sources said were destined for the NPFL or ULIMO-K, played along. Ecomog officers openly cheered "the Government Forces" during the opening hours of the war. Kromah-Taylor alliance's inability to destroy BTC and force capitulation was due to the superior fighting quality of the Krahn fighters, their will to live, not Kromah's self-declared magnanimity. The Commander of his troops, "Gen." Dumbuya, fell under Krahn guns during the first days of battle as his remains were dissected and allegedly eaten in a ritual that became part of Liberian rebels. From the Ducor Hotel, one could see bombs falling repeatedly on BTC and other areas, accompanied by rising flames. Monrovia became one big inferno, with some sections reminding one of preparing the land by burning to grow rice. Incessant cries for help from victims, many of them women and children clustered at the BTC were ignored by ECOMOG, determined to pay the Krahns back for the humiliation meted on the Nigerian troops. On Bushrod Island where the "Government Forces" had retreated after being driven out of Central Monrovia, ULIMO-K and NPFL fighters instituted looting sprees, breaking garages and commandeering new vehicles, which they sold to ECOMOG officers and others for as low $200. The Ecomog base on which political leaders such as Sawyer, Matthews, etc., sought safety was awash with electronic equipment destined for Lagos, Accra, or Guinea. Stores and homes were attacked and looted. The overall objective of bringing an alleged "murderer" to trial turned into mindless killings, with reports that Taylor cleverly instructed his fighters to target the "Mandingo asses" for elimination. Surrounded by his Americo-Liberian advisors and Gio-Mano security or fighters, Taylor began to mop out plans to eliminate civilian political enemies. Several persons, including prominent Krahns, were killed. Reports say Kromah, missed by inches by a sniper bullet, was ferried out of the city by a Guinean gunboat. There was nothing left around the city in what was named "Operation Pay Yourselves." Monrovia became a living hell, with lucky ones flown out and the poor left to die. In safety in Europe, a member of the "Big Three", George Boley, condemned his allies as gangsters. But Kromah imagines that all witnesses to this madness have departed from this earth and only he lives on it to tell his story.
Then there is the denial of the well-known Sani Abacha promise. Verifying this is difficult. But what is not difficult is dismissing Kromah's outright denial. Sources close to ULIMO and others say Kromah, along with his entire family, was invited to Abuja by the late Nigerian dictator. There, Kromah was softened through promises that he was Abacha's choice for that all-important Liberian presidency. There are a number of persons prepared to confirm this encounter. The problem is that Abacha made a promise to Taylor that he was prepared to keep, particularly so after Gaddafi's visit and Taylor's hoisting of the anti-American flag. Taylor's rhetoric during the election provided clearer indication regarding the agenda at hand. The warlord threatened against the imposition of an "American candidate" on Liberians against the wishes of the sub-region which had done "so much", sacrificed for peace in Liberia.
Kromah may have believed Abacha, and that was his weakness, his fatal error. Perhaps Kromah thought belonging to the same religion was an insurance. But it took no time in revealing where Abacha's heart was. Although Taylor is reported to have simply saved his arms around the country and in Monrovia, Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers announced that they had disarmed over 90% of the rebels. That NPFL arms proliferated around was no secret. What became a secret to the Nigerians was where Kromah allegedly had his arms. In a storm-trooper type operation, the Nigerians raided Kromah's house, with their triggers ready to be released on his frightened family. Kromah's wife, sources say, bravely confronted them and asked if they were about to be executed. The so-called arms were collected and Kromah publicly disgraced when the Nigerians locked him up in the Monrovia Police cell. If this was a man their President, Abacha, promised to make President, Kromah must have had no doubts he had been double crossed. A highly placed European journalist concluded that Kromah's arrest was a clear signal Abacha intended to keep his word in making Taylor President.
There will be many versions of the tragedy that gave Liberia a Charles Taylor as President. The story is far from over. There will be limitless blames and blunder to go around. Kromah has paved the way in telling his side of the story and opened the debate on the plague eating up Liberia.