The Liberian Horror Film We
By Tom Kamara
August 23, 2000
Cry the beloved country indeed. When barren tyranny mixed with mediocrity becomes a standard operating political practice, anything goes. Now let us get some insight into the "James Bond" mission that the British Channel 4 television team, currently in detention for alleged spying, was executing in derelict Monrovia. (We must however recall that this is not the first time that foreign journalists have been arrested and harassed in Liberia. Visiting Nigerian journalists were arrested on similar spying charges and their properties, including money, stolen by Taylor's security in 1997.) In this case, we must read about this ludicrous "espionage exploit"--- how the Liberian security defeated and humiliated British intelligence--- from one of President Taylor's mouthpieces in its zealous portrayal and presentation of events leading to the arrest and imprisonment of the accused journalists. Here is it verbatim:
The Monrovia Guardian
A PAGE FROM THE DAMAGING DOCUMENT
Sorious Samura's Africa: Liberia
30 min. version
Eight 0'clock at night. Monrovia, Liberia. The streets are deserted. Reports have been heard earlier in the day of two murders of Mandingo tradesmen to the West of the city. The Government has denounced dissident conspirators known to be plotting invasion of the country in a five-star bar in Freetown. Sorious Samura awkwardly checks his bow tie in the bathroom mirror of his decrepit hotel bedroom. He is about to meet Africa's first mafia head of state, a fugitive from American justice, known for is Rolls Royces, endless dating of beauty queens and $1100m annual earnings from the illicit trade in diamonds and marijuana-Dr. Charles Taylor, President of Liberia a man who also happens to have won a thumping majority in national elections in 1997. A presidential limo scoops Sorious up from outside his hotel.
When Charles Taylor stood for election in 1997, it was under the banner of "him who spoil it let him save it". Taylor certainly spoiled Liberia - in pursuit of power, his men were responsible for the death of some ten thousand ordinary Liberians and indiscriminate looting. Taylor acquired diamond fields and other trade concessions that are estimated to earn him upwards of $100m a year.
At the Executive Mansion, the fruit of those spoils are clear for all to see. Sorious is greeted by "Chuckie" Taylor, the President's son and commander of the 1st Battalion Presidential Guard. The two pass alongside the finest Serves porcelain, Louis XV furniture, portraits of Taylor as a Nimba warrior. But these corridors know more than just gilt. They know horror. It was here that the stomach of former President Tolbert was slit wide open. Samuel Doe shot twenty military officers in the courtyard. And last week, Taylor, true to the form of the Liberian warlords who came before him, signed the death warrant of senior military men. The President greets Sorious as an old long lost African brother. Does he look like a barbarian? A man capable of cannibalism? Not in the slightest. Everything about Taylor is utterlycharming.
Sorious has come to Liberia to understand the forces that wrenched the heart from Liberia. 50,000 Liberians, some humanitarian agencies say 200,000, died during the civil war between 1989 and 1997. Mutilation, murder, and cannibalism: the causes of death knew no bounds. Similar blood has now spilt in Sierra Leone, to the West of Liberia, Sorious' home country. To what extent is Taylor now trying to break the cycle of violence in his homeland? Can Liberia - can Africa-be exorcised of its demons?
Sorious takes us back 10 years, to a time when savage violence swamped Monrovia. Through archive available to Insight News Television he will tell us the horrific story of the demise of a former President of Liberia, Samuel Doe, in 1990. He was publicly tortured to death by factional leader Roosevelt Johnson. His dismembered body was then paraded through the streets of Monrovia. In the eight years civil war that followed, private armies in Liberia butchered one another. Invading the country from the north, an economics graduate from Massachusetts, Charles Taylor and his NPFL army massacred its way to the capital. Insight News has exclusive access to disturbing, unseen images of the terror.
It is obvious that what Taylor's propagandists find understandably incomprehensible is that scripts can be prepared in anticipation of filming and filling the gaps. It's like an outline. In their minds, this is "espionage." But in all fairness, readers familiar with Liberia from 1980 till now are best left alone to pass judgment on the veracity of the above text. Those not acquainted with Liberia's horror should visit some archival materials to refresh their memory and then decide if the scripts are fact or fiction.
Next is the paper's verdict on the arrested journalists and the "professional" and other "evils" they represent. Let's now get a glimpse of inside Taylor's mind as presented by his propagandists, men and women who ran his media empire during the war, airing and printing fabricated stories beyond belief, and now expected to promote pluralism.
"Those professional liars, who masquerade as journalists, did not have to talk to the people mentioned in the script. They were simply going to collect video footage from archives in the UK or elsewhere, reproduce them and then add the voice of a commentator thus making it to seem that they had actually talked to the respondents recently. If they had succeeded in exporting the interviews and video clips taken while they were in the country, their lie-packed documentary was meant to have provided the much needed "evidence" for the gun-running and diamond-smuggling charges being levied against Liberia and its President. Just as the prime objective of 'Cry Freetown' was meant to discredit the Nigerian Army and the whole West African Peace Keeping effort.
"If you had watched 'Cry Freetown' keenly, it is not difficult to realize that there is no way the rascal Sorious could have been allowed to video-tape Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers executing civilians in Freetown, or a rebel sniper taking down ECOMOG commanders. The whole thing was trumped up to bring the whole West African Peace Keeping initiative into disrepute. Thus paving the way for British troops to secure Sierra Leone's diamond mines for their masters back home. Those guys are a bunch of half-baked criminals, he averred.
"Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry in Monrovia announced yesterday that sufficient evidence has been gathered to warrant the prosecution of the four journalists, Sorious Samura, a Sierra Leonean, Gugulakhe Radebe, a South African, Timothy John Lambon and David Barrie, both from Britain. In our next edition the Monrovia Guardian will continue its adept (sic) analysis of the scandalous script and publish the full text of the document".
Goodness! One redeeming aspect of this entire tragic-comedy is that it reveals the minds of Liberia's new leadership. First, what is spying? Do they really know, or care to know what constitutes "spying"? Even if one accepts their allegations for facts, they may be described as a misrepresentation of facts, a desire to mislead viewers. But espionage? If what they present is true, something highly unlikely, the journalists were running after fiction instead of facts by portraying non-existent events, something again far from the truth because the description fits the situation without doubt. But spying? With television cameras? And permission from the Ministry of Information?
Even at this, let look at the scripts and compare, in passing, the contents with actual developments in Liberia since Taylor initiated his war. Let us begin with paragraph one.
First, they admit that the journalists indeed conducted interviews. Clearly, it is the nature of the interviews, possibly substantiating allegations implicating Taylor in all kinds of criminal activities, that they find offensive and therefore "espionage" materials. The scripts are nothing more than the presentation of facts. If the films had not been confiscated, we would have seen deserted streets and melancholy Monrovia in darkness, something overly reported by so many international newspapers and other media. For over 10 years, Monrovia has been in darkness, and Taylor's promise last year of electrifying the entire country by December 1999 has ended with a few on and off streetlights on one or two streets in Monrovia. Offices, schools, hospitals (where they exist), and residences, etc., have no lights while the wealthy, Taylor's immediate entourage, rely on ever-running generators. Taylor's insurance for power was the destruction of the hydro plant and generators. Other giant generators that fed Monrovia with constant electricity in what used to be the German-owned iron ore mining company, Bong Mines, were uprooted and trucked to Burkina Faso or sold. So where is the James Bond element in this scene?
The streets must be deserted because fear has engulfed residents with daily news of arrests and disappearances, not to mention the war in the north on which the Government has banned independent reporting. The next "spy work", we are told, is the mention of Rolls Royces, news of the death Mandingoes. Can anyone familiar with Taylor's Liberia doubt this? Scores of Mandingoes and Krahns have disappeared and continue to disappear. The fortunate ones are the known ones, like former Governor of the National Bank, Raliegh Seekie, who will soon join others in jail convicted of treason. The unknown ones are shot and no one asks. Another "state secret" constituting espionage is the journalists' "discovery" that Taylor is a fugitive from justice---an escapee from an American prison --- who still won an election. Can anyone contest this?
In paragraph 2 of the confiscated scripts, we are reminded that in pursuit of power, Taylor caused the death of thousands. What the film left out in generosity was that even after he got the power, deaths are common. What follows is the mention of Taylor's Mafia linkages, and his earning from Sierra Leone diamonds estimated by crew to amount $110 million per year. Succeeding paragraphs deal with the horrors of the war, the inhumanity, the ongoing anarchy and continuation of terror. Can anyone, including Taylor's best buddies, deny this? With all this, the scripts were kind to Taylor: "A man capable of cannibalism? Not in the slightest. Everything about Taylor is charming."
Like all inept dictators, Mr. Taylor can congratulate himself for confiscating materials, regardless of their authenticity, that indeed are damaging to his already irreparably damaged image. That is his only "achievement," nothing more. But beating the drums of spying only helps the world to understand the mess that Liberia is immersed in, along with his efforts in concealing his theft of Sierra Leone diamonds through any means at his disposal. And One must pity the detained journalists, for they will be paraded in a kangaroo court in a country with a president who personalizes the law: "I will arrestI will be ferociousI will personally moveI will be unreasonableI am the most mischievous in this countryI am badI am the major rebel in West Africa" Like the Dokies, guilty is evident. But unlike the Dokies, they will not be executed, mutilated, and burnt alive, for they represent a powerful country and institution.
What the arrest shows is the death of free speech and independent journalism or thoughts in Liberia. Media institutions far less bold and imaginative have been shutdown for reporting human rights abuses past and present. To the Liberians, talking about the past and present is "sowing division, dividing the people" They want a united country on a heap of falsehoods and pretenses of forgiveness when the real truth is that deep bitterness is suppressed by fear and clampdown on free expression. Those familiar with Liberia know that in terms of freedom of expression, this is probably the worst period in its history. Not even the highly intolerant Samuel Doe, or totalitarian William Tubman, showed this level of antipathy for free speech.
The secret behind the arrest, and all the yahoo surrounding it, is Taylor's anger over an independent British television crew departing from the general BBC Africa division mode of reporting on Liberia that provided with generous coverage for his war exploits against the universally despised Samuel Doe. BBC's reliance on stringers who are in fact members of Taylor's political party or before that his rebel movement depicts the color of reporting heard on its Africa programmes on Liberia. Unlike the BBC, Channel 4 did not take their cameras to Liberia to photograph Taylor's wedding. They went there to get a picture of the unusual. The "usual" is generally provided by Robin White and others at the BBC who air his propaganda verbatim in many cases. Robin White has just returned from Monrovia (where he was a celebrity received by the "emperor himself) with the "usual"--- Taylor's well-rehearsed voice interviews. The warlord's aides during the war reveal the painstaking rehearsals he underwent prior to calling Robin White to give his version ( at times the only version) of events and announce his victories. After the interviews, former aides now say, he would hilariously declared, "I've done it again! I've done it!" as his cheering squad clapped in approval and admiration at his "genius". They talk about the mountain of misinformation he fed the BBC Focus on Africa that achieved his military and political objectives. For instance, when BBC reporters were telling the world that jubilant Monrovians were welcoming Taylor's rebels, many women and children were being mowed down in indiscriminate hails of bullets as the drunk and drugged rebels launched scorch earth campaigns executing anyone in their sight. Years later, and to the contrary, a BBC journalist Mary Harper, was the first to tell us about Taylor's fleets of luxury cars including a Rolls Royce, his lavish life-style, and, above all, his emptiness of mind and intellect. Prior to this other BBC journalists showed us the conquering warlord getting married with pomp and pageantry in the jungles of pathetic Africa with all items imported from Europe.
Perhaps Taylor and his Gestapo would have sounded "normal" if they had charged the journalists with "defaming" their President because, we must remember, Liberian law forbids making fun of the President. Thus referring to the president as a "Mafia President", something so obvious, is against Liberian law. The regret is that we missed the opportunity to see the other side of present-day Taylor's Liberia but the scripts offer an opportunity to imagine what we missed. So we didn't miss much. On the other hand,, the journalists didn't have to travel to Monrovia for the documentary. There are miles of horror films, cannibalism, massacres, that compete with only Pop Pots of Cambodia.
Our consolation is that truth, however viciously suppressed,
will always surface. This is not espionage.