Prophets of False Promises

By Staff Reporter

The Perspective
March 14, 2001

Three years ago Liberians heard some of the bizarre promises made in the quest for power. And they believed them all. Like people under the influence of psychotic drugs, they believed the promises that destroyers were better builders, and that thieves were saints. For a people accustomed to free gifts and the easy way, Liberians received free rice, free fish and free bundles of looted Liberian dollars in exchange of votes. En mass, with the help of Abacha's Nigeria, they indicated their preference to eat now and perish later.

So they danced and clapped for the false promises thrown at them. Liberian children, in their innocence, were told that under a President Taylor, each would receive a computer and that there would in fact be free education for all. Even if there were no schools in Taylor's Greater Liberia, despite the fact he was earning US$300m a year according his officials, parents believe this man would educate their children, children he had used as child soldiers for almost a decade and now abandoned. Adults were told that the US dollar would once again become the legal tender as a measurement of the resurrected "good old day." Taylor further vowed greatness for the country as a member of Africa's "new breed of leaders."

For these promises, tens of thousands jumped in the streets singing and dancing, "You killed my ma, you killed my ma (but) I will vote for you." Buried in this song was the belief that with such promises, there was no need to think of the 250,000 killed and the ruined economy. Taylor said "I spoilt it, let me fix it." So the people believed and hailed him as their Pharaoh.

But climbing the throne, Pharaoh's rhetoric changed, as hunger spread, with the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization declaring over 30% of the people hungry. Pharaoh had warned during the electoral campaign that Washington was bent on planting its stooge as President and that Abacha's Nigeria was the target in this alleged decision. Now, as he became President, he told his followers that there would be no money without Washington. In Paris, during a private medical trip as his country's biggest hospital (JFK) was closing down, he cried that "Liberians are dying" and need help. He told the White House and the international community that he needed US$3b for reconstruction and expected the money. Since America would not bring in the billions, he instructed his ministers and cronies to steal the little there is, accusing the international community of corrupting his officials since no bilateral aid was coming in. For himself, he turned on Sierra Leone's diamonds fields via his proxy army the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). "When we talk about accumulation of wealth, we have an open system in this country and so in so many ways we help ourselves...," he claimed.

Thus in helping himself, the country is sacrificed. State officials, according to the Ministry of Finance, pay no taxes. Members of his feared bodyguard unit, the Anti-Terrorist Unit, have become custom collectors, clearing goods for business men prepared to pay their price. He has formed an "Inner Circle" of crooks depleting the forests and exporting terror. Say the UN Panel of Experts in their report:

"President Charles Taylor is actively involved in fuelling the violence in Sierra Leone. He and a small coterie of officials and private businessmen around him are in control of a covert sanctions-busting apparatus that includes international criminal activity and the arming of the RUF in Sierra Leone. Over the years - before President Taylor's inauguration and after - this group has contracted foreign businessmen for the financing, sourcing or facilitating of these covert operations. The sanctions-busting is fed by the smuggling of diamonds and the extraction of natural resources in both Liberia and areas under rebel control in Sierra Leone. In addition, the sovereign right of Liberia to register planes and ships, and to issue diplomatic passports, is being misused in order to further the operations of this group..."

These false promises, in the future, should tell Liberians to be mindful of wolves in sheep clothing. Clearer minds should have known from the onset that a man who loots other people's properties, employs child soldiers to execute his orders, was the most unlikely in fulfilling promises of national economic renewal. But the saying that every country deserves the type of political leadership it has is true with Liberia. Despite Taylor's horrendous record of plunder and murder during the war, several Liberian politicians aligned themselves with him. Many thought they could reap the benefits of his plunders while maintaining their façade of innocence and respectability. That events have shown their naiveté is indicative of the opportunism creating stumbling blocks in finding solutions to our national problems.

As we march forward in search of solutions to the national nightmare, being mindful of prophets of false promises is crucial.

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