Children Remain "Useful"

By Tom Kamara

The Perspective
Jan 24, 2001

More than three years after multitudes of Liberian children emerged from its insane war as "veterans" in horrors, they remain "useful" to individuals credited for their unending misery. Children contributed immensely in empowering men and women determined to cement their "usefulness" only to entrench their political power and personal economic benefits. So when a local newspaper recently quoted a university student leader as denouncing one of Taylor's loyalists Senators for using children as pawns in her crude political game, threats ensued.

Senator Myrtle Gibson, following allegations that in pursuit of her personal and collective political interest, she had hauled hundreds hungry and innocent children into the streets to protest the imposition of UN sanctions, ordered the newspaper to retract the story because, she contended, her reputation had been "damaged as a Senator". Nevertheless, Gibson's action in today's Liberia is a magnanimous act. Others who have committed such crimes of challenging the actions of political leaders in recent times have simply disappeared or fled into exile.

At issue here is how children have played ignoble and atrocious roles in the emergence of the Liberian "democracy" and continue to be helpless pawns in the continuing tragedy. According to UN figures, about 15,000 Liberian children were recruited into various rebel armies. A fearsome unit within Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), which the warlord proudly named the Small Boys Unit (SBU), was one the notorious tenets in the commission of unimagined atrocities.

"A few days later, a brief cease-fire between the two warring sides agreed upon. The fighters relaxed. Boys will be boys, I thought, as I came upon a group of NPFL child soldiers, the eldest not more than twelve, playing soccer on one of the most heavily contested corners of the urban war. I saw their rifles discarded on the street below a rain-soaked Liberian flag, and only then did it become clear that the white 'ball' they maneuvered was a human skull. The decaying body lay some twenty meters away. They kicked the 'ball over the debris of swear---spent cartridges, old wallets, clothes dropped by fleeing civilians and old photographs ---and squealed with delight as it entered the goal posts marked by two rusting sardine cans. A glimpse of childhood and they were behind barricades the next morning. 'Hey, white woman", a boy of about eleven with oversize tennis shoes, a looted hat with yellow flowers, and an AK-47 half his height called at me from behind the bullet-pocked wall. "No school today. Nope. Today we gunna kill da Krahn", recalled Corinne Dufka.

Adds Jon Lee Anderson: "The social worker told me about a young man who confessed that it had been his "job" to slit open the bellies of preg-nant women at a roadside checkpoint. He and his comrades would take bets on what sex the fetus was. In recurrent hallucinations, the man sees the faces of his victims walking toward him, and he shouts out at them, "It wasn't only me!" This particular case, the social worker acknowledged, is hopeless, as is that of another man-a victim- he is treating. The man's entire family of eight were slaughtered in front of him; one of his children was picked up in the air and literally hacked in two before his eyes. The man had been left alive 'so that his suffering would be greater.' And it was; the man was drink-ing and drugging himself to death. The social worker himself had to undergo counselling, he confessed, after he wit-nessed killers tear the heart out of a liv-ing man, then boil and cat it. It hap-pened in broad daylight in Monrovia, just two years ago, at a gas station near the Eternal Love Winning Africa road junction.

"The social worker expressed his fears about the mental health of the many ex-fighters who have received no psychological counseling, but he said he was especially concerned about those who have been rewarded with jobs, weapons, uniforms, and power, like the youths serving in President Taylor's Special Security Service. He sees them as time bombs, psychopaths who, he predicts, will one day resort to violence to get "a piece of the action" that Taylor is now enjoying. "I almost feel sorry for the man," he said.

Long after these children performed their duty in innocence, their recruiters are not relenting in exploiting their vulnerability. In search of power, Taylor promised the children that each would have a computer if he became president. But many of the schools have closed down, others without teachers or benches. Now, to convince the world of the humanness of his policies, he has fallen back on the children, with Myrtle Gibson as his guide.

Gibson is one of the tireless actors in Liberia's muddy politics. In 1990 when ECOMOG and the Interim Government arrived in Monrovia to give it a semblance of order, she immediately threw herself at some top officials. Her alleged past connections with IGNU's higher-ups augmented her access. She was treated generously, periodically receiving much-valued foreign exchange to facilitate foreign trips almost certainly to promote the NPFL. As relief became the main industry in Liberia with heads of relief organizations as demigods, she extended her connections. She was discovered by some UN luminary as a "Mother Theresa" and given funds to establish an "NGO" to cater for Liberian children. Such catering came in the form of endless radio speeches lamenting the plight of "our children."

Whether Ms. Gibson had a single war-affected child in her household is questionable. What was not questionable was that she became one of the champions of an organization that recruited thousands of children to fight a war they hardly understood. In the end, through their blood and sweat, she became their "Senator." With the aim accomplished, she has now wrapped her arms around them again to serve her cause. By marching innocent children in the streets to protest against sanctions, it does not bother Ms Gibson's conscience that thousands of Sierra Leone's children may never march or hold placards to denounce those who have condemned for life in misery. No need to ask if hers, or Taylor's children were amongst the children of the poor ordered to march for their doom.

The truth is that individuals who abuse the innocence of children are simply irredeemable. Gibson may succeed in using her "law" to intimidate others. What she and her masters cannot do is redeem Liberia's children from their endless grief. But the world should not allow them to laugh at the children of Sierra Leone Pouring children into the streets to demonstrate so that other children's horrors can continue is an unconscionable act and the UN must not endorse this inhumanity. Not imposing sanctions will serve people like Gibson.

For subscription information, go to:
or send e-mail to: