Indeed "Confronting Taylor"

The Perspective
March 16, 2001

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa this week held another Hearing on the evolving holocaust in West Africa, which was ignited by Charles Taylor and has sustained him for over a decade. The Hearing was a dramatic departure from the celebratory policies of key members of US Congress, particularly Democratic liberals and their African-American colleagues, who just three years ago were stumbling over one another congratulating themselves for the bloody emergence of a man they believed represented their values and politics. Despite the overwhelming evidence that their candidate was a thief and mass murderer, they saw in him values for continental leadership because he knew the two worlds - America and Africa. But the March 14 Hearing established one indisputable fact - that the US Congress is now united in its verdict on Taylor as a plague responsible for regional anarchy.

Speaking before the Committee, the Guinean ambassador to Washington warned that if Taylor is not stopped, his stamp of chaos and poverty, which included thousands of handicapped youths, would be indelible in years to come, making the dream of realizing democracy difficult.

We believe that these warnings, endorsed by members of the Sub-Committee, should not be dismissed by the global community. Already, tens of thousands of youths, all ex-rebel fighters, are serving in assortments of security outfits established by Taylor, the military entrepreneur. Schools, hospitals, agricultural establishments, clinics, have all disappeared. Developmental gains of the 60s, 70s, and 80s are gone with anarchy, replaced by innate corruption, ineptitude, and the insatiable, uncontrollable greed of a few criminal politicians who feel they are entitled to the nation's resources. Tens of thousands of people, once capable of feeding themselves and caring for their families, have been reduced to cattle in multiplying refugee camps cared for and fed by aid agencies. Tomorrow's generation responsible for the future is today's canon fodder of anarchy. All these criminal projects, with definite impact on neighbouring states and the larger international community, have been possible only to address the greed for wealth of one man and his circle of cronies. This is why, among others, we must applaud Sub Committee chair Ed Royce when he told the Hearing that:

"The West African country of Liberia is in terrible shape. Its 1997 election, far from being the beginning of a more hopeful era in Liberia - one in which stability and democracy and human rights take root - instead now looks like a blip of false hope in President Taylor's ruthless march to power. Over the past four years, Taylor has waged a continuous assault on the democratic dreams of the Liberian people. He rules by decree, suppresses the press, including USAID-supported STAR radio, which he forced off the air, and he sanctions, if not directs, the murder of political opponents, including Sam Dokie." Mr. Royce told the Hearing what many before dare to say although it was the truth and nothing but the truth, which is that:

"Taylor has ruined what remained of the Liberian economy after the seven-year war he waged. He and his cronies, the so-called "Inner Circle," control virtually all the nation's significant trade, as the United Nations recently reported. Liberia has been described as Charles Taylor, Inc. This corporation is corrupt to its core."

"As this Subcommittee has profiled over the last several years, Charles Taylor is a menace to West Africa. One of today's witnesses will state that "Taylor's role has been to mastermind carnage in Sierra Leone for the sole purpose of controlling its diamond mines, from which he derives income to enrich himself and buy arms and ammunitions to continue his control over Liberia, and ultimately over the West Africa sub-region." He said:

"Taylor's accessories in Sierra Leone, as we now know with crystal clarity, are the Revolutionary United Front, the RUF. The U.N. Panel of Experts report issued last December found "unequivocal and overwhelming evidence that Liberia has been actively supporting the RUF at all levels, in providing training, weapons and related material, logistical support, a staging ground for attacks and a safe haven for retreat and recuperation, and for public relations activities." President Taylor, the report notes, is actively involved in fueling the violence in Sierra Leone. "

He said the decision of the UN Security Council not to impose immediate sanctions against the Liberian regime " was a mistake... This man has a record. For him, peace agreements are tactical delays, designed to lull opponents before he strikes again. This was the case with the Lome Accord for Sierra Leone. Taylor has worked a cease-fire between the RUF and UNAMSIL, the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone, so that the RUF is freed up to attack Guinea. Now Taylor is making a bid to stave off the diamond and travel sanctions, but it's a feint.

"Instead of waiting two months, the Security Council should have imposed these sanctions now, as well as a ban on Liberian timber exports, as it was considering. Some reports have the timber trade being more valuable to Taylor than his illicit diamond trading. What is clear is that Taylor is instigating an environmental calamity. The Liberian virgin forest is critical to the environmental health of West Africa. Taylor's timbering, done in cahoots with foreign companies, is of no economic benefit to the Liberian people. It's also unsustainable and threatens to devastate the rain forest within a decade. It doesn't surprise me that the Chinese rejected proposed U.N. timber sanctions, giving Taylor a victory; I wonder why the French did as well?

"West African states are weak and getting weaker. If we don't act with vigor now, the region neighboring Liberia will become an irreversible humanitarian and environmental nightmare. In a few years, our ability to do anything constructive may well be gone. We need to bring a sense of urgency to our West Africa policy. We are not serious about Liberia and Africa if we are not serious about this crisis Charles Taylor is a plague on the region.. Considering what Taylor has been doing to his country and region, and recalling the little boys and girls who last September told us to our faces how they had their limbs severed by the Taylor-supported RUF, the Liberian President should live with that tag day and night. I've said before that
Taylor should be made to realize that the U.S. has the ability and will to undermine his rule should his support of the RUF continue. Well, it has, and Taylor's time is up. For the sake of tens of millions of West Africans, it is time to act forcefully against President Taylor."

In a frank testimony beyond the niceties of hypocritical politics we have been accustomed to since the origin of our nightmare, Senator Russ Feingold said:

"You have identified one of the worst of those problems today - the terrible instability in West Africa, and the deeply disturbing trend that has emerged in strong-man politics in that region. In the model emerging in West Africa, violent regimes hold entire civilian populations hostage in order to win concessions, and even the guise of legitimacy, from the international community.

"At the heart of this trend is Liberian President Charles Taylor. While the Liberian Embassy and the man himself are currently trying to persuade the world of their good intentions, no one who has followed Africa in recent years should be deceived. Taylor has absolutely no credibility. All reliable reports continue to indicate that he is manipulating the situation in West Africa for personal gain, at the expense of his own Liberian people, the people of Sierra Leone, and now the people of Guinea.

"Having secured the Presidency essentially by convincing the exhausted Liberian people that there would be no peace unless he was elected, he has proceeded to provide support for the Revolutionary United Front, Sierra Leone's rebel force perhaps best known for hacking off the limbs of civilian men, women, and children to demonstrate their might, although their large-scale recruitment of child soldiers - a page borrowed from Taylor's book - is also notorious. By funneling diamonds that the rebels mine in Sierra Leone out through Liberia, and providing weapons in exchange, Taylor has profited from terrible bloodshed. And while the precise nature of Taylor's role in the RUF command structure has often been unclear, after the capture of RUF leader Foday Sankoh last year, many RUF statements suggested that Taylor was directly in
control of the force"

On the UN sanctions, the Senator declared that, it was "regrettable, because I see no absolutely reason to give the Government of Liberia the benefit of the doubt any longer".

"And the sanctions will not address the timber industry, a very significant source of profit for the Taylor regime, which, by many accounts, is involved in incredibly destructive but also highly lucrative clear-cutting of Liberia's forests. But there can be no question that sanctions and pressure are the correct course. And while many fear the impact on the long-suffering Liberian people, the unfortunate truth is that they are living in a state of total economic collapse even without the sanctions, largely because their head of state has no interest in the well being of his citizens.

Senator Feingold informed the Hearing of his visits to Nigeria and Senegal, "to learn more about situation in West Africa today. I also visited Freetown, Sierra Leone. There, I looked into the faces of amputees, refugees, widows and widowers and orphans. I saw the tragic consequences of the near total disruption of a society - the malnourishment, the disillusionment, the desperation. And the entire time, I knew that some people are getting rich as a result of this misery. It is truly an outrage, and the United States and the rest of the international community cannot led the titles held by those gaining from this tragedy blur the truth - this activity is criminal and it is abhorrent.

"I also know that there is a very real possibility that this devastating brand of destabilization will spread even more widely throughout the region. Already, refugees flee from one country to the next, desperately seeking safety. States fear they will be the next target of the syndicate of thugs led by Charles Taylor and personified by the RUF, and for Guinea, this fear has become a reality.

"There are a number of things that I believe the U.S. can do to begin to address West Africa's crisis. One of those is to work with the rest of the international community to isolate Charles Taylor and his cronies and to tell it like it is when we talk about that regime. There was a time when some believed that he could be part of the solution in West Africa. At this point, we should all know better. And we must speak the truth about the role played by the government of Burkina Faso, the government of Gambia, and the others involved in the arms trade in the region.

"But one word of caution. We must not be deluded into thinking that Taylor is the key to the cleaning up the whole regional mess. It is crucial that the U.S. response to the current crisis include a serious look at what has made countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone so vulnerable to these criminal forces. Corruption, a breakdown in the rule of law, impunity for terrible abuses and the disenfranchisement of whole swathes of society have created a breeding ground for the likes of Taylor and the RUF. The U.S. has been guilty of turning a blind eye to bankrupt regimes in the past, and the current state of affairs in Liberia is in part a consequence of those misguided policies. We must tell it like it is all over the region, not simply with egregious actors like Taylor, and we must work, through a combination of responsible assistance and sometimes pressure, to push for more accountability among governments and more opportunity for West African populations".

We quote these honourable and scarce voices of truth and compassion lengthily because in them, we see a new desire and courage to take a fresh look at West Africa's problem current decay. For years, the US, seen by many Liberians as their last great hope, had adopted a nonchalant attitude towards the wanton destruction of a nation American helped to create. The American political establishment took its cue from politicians with unjustified sympathy for Mr Taylor. We are gratified that that is changing. Indeed, as the Hearing's topic emphasised, it's time to confront Mr. Taylor.

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