Taylor's Zone of Discomfort
By Tarty Teh
Sept 20, 2000

A summary of what we have heard from President Charles Taylor's current troupe of pain minimizers, who continue to arrive on the shores of both the United States and Britain, is not so easily distilled without understating their determination to blitz us and overstating their listeners' capacity to accept badly processed thoughts as substitute for reason. While this may apply broadly to everyone on this mission, there are selective credits for good performances even by sycophants.

As a measure of the scope of Liberia's sadness, let me tick off a number of issues about which Taylor's touring talkers sought to persuade us otherwise. President Taylor evicted property owners from the vicinity of the Executive Mansion to accommodate his expanding zone of discomfort. Taylor later intercepted and destroyed, through his Executive security details, the Supreme Court's judgement being served on a private bank. And there were summary executions of security personnel without court martial.

The Legislature is mostly silent on these Executive evils, prominent among which is the suspicious death of Vice President Enoch Dogolea and the unexplained delay in making available the medical warrant for his death. These are some of the issues that were on the minds of Liberians abroad before Taylor dispatched a blend of lawmakers and administrative functionaries suitably bent to argue otherwise. And they have.

Those on the tour to explain away the irrationalities of the Taylor administration include the President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, the Minority Whip of the Liberian Senate, Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives, a couple of cabinet-level ministers and foreign service officers already stationed abroad. And since the issues are many, I can only hope to do justice to all by dealing with each separately.

For now, let's take the issue of the eviction of property owners in the vicinity of the Executive Mansion. Blamoh Nelson, President Taylor's Director of the Cabinet, is perhaps the best exponent of Taylor's policies on the tour. But even he speaks of the situation (both geographic and emotional) as a ''headache'' since Taylor moved into the Executive Mansion. Mr. Nelson managed to contain the situation ­ perhaps in his own head ­ so that it does not get worse than a ''headache,'' which was what he continued to call it. But if a headache must have a cause, then this was a ''tension'' headache.

He said the neighborhood around the Executive Mansion got tense from security personnel harassing their neighbors. The nature of the harassment was never made explicit because we have learned, from listening to these people, that the best clues are between the lines. Even so, the full impact and urgency of any situation the citizens faced are never spelled out clearly. And you get the impression that, for instance, Mr. Nelson, doesn't really know how badly homeowners around the Executive Mansion are being treated, because no matter what happens to them, they never seem to come down with anything worse than a ''headache.''

The expropriation of real estate property around the Executive Mansion is always glossed over, no matter who the speaker is. Nelson said that when residents brought their complaints directly to him in his capacity as Director of the Cabinet, the soldiers and security officers involved were simply told not to harass the residents. Some were even punished until the current state, which we can only surmise as acceptable to the Taylor government, was reached.

Even that state remains nebulous. In it, however, everything is normal except for ''a few houses occupied by some security people,'' according to Mr. Nelson. But if nothing is in the works for removing the Executive Mansion Security detachment garrisoned in private homes, then at least the homeowners' conditions should be due an upgrade from a ''headache'' to perhaps a cardiac arrest. But they suffer only ''headache.'' Having thus minimized the problem, Mr. Nelson urged us to ''move on.'' That has been the tenor of the touring promoters of the Taylor government.

As a symptom of our national decomposition, the ill treatment of what would be considered the landed gentry in medieval Europe is not exactly a cause to arms for someone like me ­ a son of an unpaid yet abused government porter. But regardless of their privileged ranking, which had protected them from harassment until now, these property owners are the anchor of any progressive society. Frustrating them may provide a daily dose of fun in the exercise of newly found power, but stability waits in the distance while these people steam with anger.

I have described the surface problem, but, again, the clues are between the lines. This is not a question of gun-toting soldiers driving residents out of their homes; it's a question of President Charles Taylor's expanding zone of discomfort. And Taylor wins when we miss the point. The guns and those who brandish them are in the neighborhood to protect Taylor, not the residents.

When you succeed in identifying President Charles Taylor as the main source of all this dislocation, then you are fed the line that the situation in Liberia is a complex one. I disagree. It is not complex. There is nothing complicated, for instance, about people demanding their right to stay in their own homes, or retaining their rights to their property. It is one thing when the means of acquiring a property is the subject of litigation, and quite another when someone seeks to deprive an owner the use of his own property by force.

The property in question is not in Pallipo, 418 miles from Monrovia. It is literally across the street from all three branches of the Liberian government. My suspicion is that the Executive branch has rendered impotent the remaining branches, which is why they now sing for the Taylor administration like eunuchs on the Vienna Boys Choir.