A House in Disarray

By Tom Kamara

The Perspective
March 13, 2001

Three years after climbing the throne with endless promises of plenty, and 11 years after igniting the flames of poverty in tyranny, members of Charles Taylor's rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), now transformed into the National Patriotic Party (NPP), are disillusioned, pessimistic and contemptuous of their killing and looting machine. They fear the future in a house divided and crumbling. Their leader's recent cry that, "If your house cannot sell you, the street will not buy you," has come to pass. Taylor's house is bitterly partitioned on greed, graft, crony privileges and deprivation. It is now refusing to sell him, and if it can, it may dump him to the delight of many in and outside Liberia.

Courage is seen truth and admitting, embracing it. This is what Christian Herbert, a one-time student activist who saw Taylor the fiery and thieving warlord as the Liberian re-incarnation of Mao or Marx (however incongruous the comparison) recently did. In singing the songs of agony, he was joined in chorus by a group of party loyalists who stormed the President's private radio station to cry on the shoulders of impoverished Liberians that they, too, have been betrayed and left in the cold in sharing the spoils of victory. Their radio sermons coincided with the publication of a "poll", conducted by the President's dismissed, Information Minister Joe Mulbah, warning the ominous, which is that were elections held now, Taylor would overwhelmingly lose to Opposition politician Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

But the subjectivity of wisdom and reason can be seen in the zealousness of many Liberians in opposing Doe the dictator and fanatically serving Taylor the tyrant. To his credit, Taylor's criminal dexterity was to create the unity of proclaimed opposites in Liberian politics. It was the unity of the oppressed and the oppressors, victims and victors, crusading socialists and thieving self-proclaimed capitalists - all comfortable under the command of one supreme chief of theft, plunder and mayhem. His creation was to unite men like Kekura Kpoto, (Doe's party chief who urged the dictator to rid the country of "socialists", warning that when killing a snake, its eggs must be destroyed to ensure it never re-emerges) with university students condemned as socialists. To create a perfect cast of followers in this orbit of "unity", summary executions ensued. Dozens of the original Libyan trained rebels were arrested and shot once victory was assured and more loyal members enlisted. Founding fathers of the rebel movement such as Moses Duopu, Commander Elmer Johnson, were shot. In this George Orwell's' Animal Farm environment, men like Herbert, recruited after the rebels landed, survived because they were at the second tier of the rebel movement and posed no immediate threat. They became the ideologues, justifying the terror in the name of people and democracy and benefiting from it. In the end, in deciding which master to serve in Africa's bloody politics, it all boils down to, "what is in it for me?" It was not probity, accountability and democratic values they promoted over heaps of dead bodies and ruined villages. It was the quest for personal wealth through theft of state property, the very crime for which they were pursuing Doe.

So Herbert, now deputy head of the country's Maritime business, the few remaining foreign exchange earners in a decaying economy, says the "revolution" is lost in fear, silence, greed, and tyranny. He says their party now has become a clone of "the Communist Party Politburo", with all power and material benefits to the few while the foot soldiers, many child soldiers who made it happen, languish in poverty and silence. That this verdict is coming from one of the young ideologues of the Liberian horrors is noteworthy. The "revolution" has devoured its children, leaving them in psychological and material darkness, without soul, without direction, without conviction, many burdened by guilt as participants in a horrible farce. Isolated, alienated, they now admit that it was all a big lie, a big joke that would have been dismissed with laughter had it not led to the death of over 250,000 people and placed a yet indelible stamp of poverty and tyranny on those alive.

Herbert and his whistleblowers must however realize that their leader does not take dissent lightly. One of his key party members, the lawyer Charles Brumskine who became his President of the Senate, belatedly realized this. He was lucky to flee alive after disagreeing with the President on a number of issues, including Taylor's links with Sierra Leone's RUF and diamonds. Although Brumskine had announced, "We want our country back", and warned that "people of the 70s", advocates of change, must be watched and never forgiven, he left his country to live in America as the President's feared goons were unbleached. Taylor's Vice President Enoch Dogolea died under mysterious circumstances, and when speculations, based on reports, rose that the man was beaten to death, the President threatened anyone discussing the man's death with imprisonment. He decreed that taxi drivers who tolerated discussions on the man's death within their taxis would be arrested. Under pressure for an autopsy report, he appointed a Commission and refused to fund its probe. Original members who made the NPFL possible, such as Samuel Dokie, have been killed, while other supporting technicians have fled, with Taylor vowing to chase them 'in their ma wombs" as enemies.

The fact is that Taylor is in an unenviable position. With a collapsed economy, satisfying all the veterans of the "Great Patriotic War" is difficult. His value system of flamboyance, pomp and pageantry is at odds with the plight of the followers, child soldiers, many of them now dead, who made him. Concentration is on his inner circle and bodyguards, the majority of them mercenaries. Party loyalists are dispensable for in Liberia, the President is the party.

On the one hand, because he must steal Sierra Leone's diamond to finance his operations and ever-multiplying cronies, he has fallen under international scrutiny. It is one thing being a rebel leader. One has no responsibility, only to loot, kill and issue threats that send a government shivering. There are no teachers, doctors, nurses, and conventional soldiers to pay and care for. There is nothing to protect but everything to destroy. In retrospect, Taylor must be regretting such glories of rebel life. He has imposed upon himself the burdens of honour which he cannot afford as Doe's angry ghost looks on, demanding justice, justifiably angry that a man he made turned against with indescribable furry for the presidency he (Taylor) is grossly incapable of commanding.

On the one hand, the presidency, however inept and useless as in Taylor's case, means responsibility. Too many constituencies at one's throats. Too much scrutiny. Too many human rights groups watching and taking notes. No matter how hard he cries against harassment from the restless Opposition, the harassment continues to demand compliance with democratic principles and accountability is using state resources.

It is a case of reaping the harvest. For years since the formative days of the horror, Taylor had made his followers to have faith in looting, killings as politically correct tactics. On the eve of the 1997 elections, they lined up endlessly for free food, free money, as they were told that once the game was won, there would be all things free. On the podium of high expectations, he thundered about the easy life to come after presidential victory. And so they believed. Now, they weep in self-inflicted agony. On George Orwell's Animal Farm, all were equal, but some were more equal than the others. The NPP dancers better begin to believe this. Theirs was never a political party. It was never meant to be a party. It was an imposition to meet the desires of one man for personal power and wealth. Let the crying stop, for there are no ears.

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