Bunker Rulers Barred from "Home"
By Tom Kamara
Oct 13, 2000

The omen of doom, which has been lingering around Liberia since its much-acclaimed elections, has finally settled. Angered by their involvement in Sierra Leone diamond theft and other criminal enterprises, the US has barred all Liberian officials, their families, from America. This move, whatever its implications, would have had less impact on many African countries.

But Liberia, a case extraordinaire, is not just any African country in terms of its psychological and other links to America, a country that financed its establishment by shipping freed slaves there as their "land of liberty," which in recent years has become a land of horrors, an incubator for mayhem now spreading the region.

Since assuming office, Taylor has been trying to woo Uncle Sam while wheeling and dealing with Brother Gaddafi. Key African-Americans like Donald Payne, who prophesized a potential "continental leader" in Taylor that no Liberian saw, have been the regime's loudest and staunchest backers. An African-American, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, allegedly armed with thousands of dollars, was selected to "reconcile" a nation he barely knows. Another American, former Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Herman Cohen, was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to clear the way for America's blessings for a rejected child. Yet still, the verdict of one American, former President Jimmy Carter, was all that was needed to sell the 1997 elections as fair and quell any rejection of the results. Taylor gave his wife the only known royal treatment when he led his entire cabinet to welcome her after her "historic" meeting with Mrs. Hilary Clinton for a photo opportunity. To the Liberians, this was an unequivocal signal that the regime had been accepted and blessed by the White House. Now under siege, the ban on the pariahs adds to the country's isolation as security deteriorates.

"I have signed a proclamation suspending the entry into the United States, as immigrants and non-immigrants, of all persons and the spouses, children, and parents of all persons - who plan, engage in, or benefit from activities that support the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), or that otherwise impede the peace process in Sierra Leone. These visa restrictions will immediately apply to President Charles Taylor, senior members of the Government of Liberia, their closest supporters, and their family members", President Clinton said.

"I call upon the Liberian government to end immediately Liberia's trafficking in weapons and illicit diamonds, which fuels the war in Sierra Leone, and instead to use its influence with the RUF to restore peace and stability to Sierra Leone. Members of my Administration have repeatedly made this request of President Taylor. The absence of any positive response from his government leaves us little choice but to impose these restrictions. Only when the Government of Liberia ends its participation in activities that support the RUF will the United States review this policy".

Citing "unstable security situation," the Americans added a travel ban on their citizens and warned those who are already there to remain indoors at night. "The presence of many ill-trained and armed government security personnel continues to constitute a potential danger,'' the statement said.

The implications of the ban are many. Although Liberia's foreign minister had earlier threatened retaliation by seizing American assets, sobriety must be prevailing among Taylor's uneasy officials, many of whom he accused recently of being part of an American-British conspiracy to assassinate him. In cunning move to stop them from fleeing the country, he ruled that any official leaving the country was a co-conspirator to the alleged American plot. And their reasons for sensing doomsday are many.

Liberian politicians consider America their first home. The overwhelming majority of current, as well as past officials, were recruited from America. Charles Taylor was enlisted for key roles in Liberian politics from America, where he then combined his work as gas station attendant with agitating to overthrow previous governments. Nearly all members of the previous regimes, once out of office, returned "home" to America, waiting for another leader to lull them back for lucrative service in perennially corrupt and insecure political regimes. Since job security in shaky government service rests with the whims of a given dictator, the common insurance for uncertain future is looting national coffers for an eventual return "home" to America. With no adhered to standards of service, theft becomes an acceptable option to ally fears of a future in the cold. The possible exception to this syndrome is Samuel Doe, whose only visit to America was when he met his benefactor, Reagan, who, not knowing his name, called him "Chairman Moe." Perhaps with tolerance and more refinement, the country would have been spared half-baked unrefined "America-as-home" rulers like Taylor.

Furthermore, the high level of insecurity within the political system serves as a prime impetus for theft in this vicious cycle of rotating thieves living at home in America and looting the country, since waking up and knowing that your portfolio is gone can be an economic nightmare, as was the case when Taylor dismissed his entire cabinet for not attending a church service. Moreover, with a political culture that allows change only through violence, how long an official stays on the job, or alive, is a dangerous gamble.

Average Liberian officials see service in Liberia as an economic pilgrimage for a safer, although frustrating life, at home in America. Their ties to Liberia, where they often live in rented houses with their briefcases packed, are the huge economic benefits of a government appointment. A number of presidential candidates during the last election arrived from America only a few weeks to the polls. Aware of this live-in America-and-rule-Liberia syndrome, Gen. Samuel Doe imposed a 10-year constitutional residency requirement during the 1985 elections, convinced that his most formidable challengers would arrive with their briefcases from Uncle Sam and return home once defeated, as was the case with 1997 America-based presidential aspirants. Nevertheless, with no former presidents alive or with an identifiable grave in recent years, seeking refuge in America after losing an election is understandable. Key politicians, slapped with phony treason charges, have recently been barred from returning home.

The overpowering nature of the presidency, with politics at the epicenter of all things, makes life unbearable once out of a government. Thus getting on the next available flight back home to America becomes the only option to living in a society that encourages vile and parasitism, not entrepreneurship. Taylor's removal from the corrupting and lucrative General Services Agency, responsible for awarding contracts and purchasing state needs, immediately forced him back to Boston from where he began plotting a comeback. Nearly all-former warlords now live in the safety of America. On the other hand, out of a government job means out of favor with the political machine, and this could mean death, not to mention economic ostracism. Those warlords and opposition politicians who opted to remain in the country have either been executed or are languishing in prison.

Moreover, even for those with scruples, once out of Government, living in the country becomes a dangerous affair. Thus their looted sums are banked in America, never in Liberia. Their families live in America, not in Liberia. Traveling to America is like taking a weekend trip on the beach. Hence over the years, Liberia has become a milking cow. This scenario poses problems in determining the effectiveness of the American ban because the majority of the officials targeted are either US citizens or Green Card holders (permanent residence) with rights to enter the US at any time. Many of the officials, including President Taylor, already have their families in America.

Life outside a government post is filled with economic and other uncertainties. Since 1822 when the freed slaves landed and established this laughable Africa's oldest republic, the country has not been able to develop local entrepreneurs. That role is reserved for Lebanese or Indian merchants who are preferred for state contracts and other business opportunities because of their ability to offer huge kickbacks always built into costs. Taylor's key "business partners" when he served as one of the influential thieves in the Samuel Doe military junta were Indians and Lebanese. A former transitional president and high-ranking officials, after leaving office in recent years, are known to have become "salesmen" for Lebanese merchants, satisfied with the crumbs passed. Warlords given state institutions in a power-sharing agreement to end the war plundered banks and financial institutions by appointing their cronies to positions and taxing them. At the National Housing Bank, Taylor's appointee, Charles Bright, spearheaded the ransacking of depositors money to finance NPFL operations. The bank has been shutdown.

Nevertheless, Taylor had long given the Americans his answer regarding breaking ties with the RUF. Challenging them to produce evidence, he insisted his links with the RUF would be determined by what America believes and that no one, however powerful, would impose decisions on Liberia, a "sovereign" country. He repeated calls for a return to his friend the Rev. Jesse Jackson's diamond for no peace Lome Agreement, although his RUF comrades violated all its terms. He insisted that his Libyan destabilization classmate, Foday Sankoh, be released and allowed to operate in a "natural environment" befitting a rebel leader. What escapes many is the fact that Taylor sees the RUF as a buffer army. Severing links with it is denying himself of a buffer he believes he needs. Since his encounter with Thomas Pickering, another country has been added to the orbit of chaos: Guinea. The visa restrictions will shake the foundations of Taylor's regime. The question is will they be broken?