Harbingers of Truth & Reluctant Converts
By Tom Kamara
March 19, 2001
The Truth about Liberian-born rolling West Africa's apocalypse and its international dimensions, lost on the platform of self-interest and criminal spin, is now spreading with hopes of a solution. For a drowning people seeking any rope to hang on, the recent US Congressional Hearing on the region's collapse engenders optimism among West Africans that Truth will triumph over Deceit once American politicians, among others, gain a better understanding of the calamity and its human woes, preparing them to contribute in closing the curtain on the beneficiaries of terror.
This is an extraordinary shift. For years now, Liberia has presented a classic case of how unimagined atrocities can be ignored, promoted and rewarded, depending on the ability of perpetrators to deceive and influence people that matter in today's world. In this tragic drama, Charles Taylor was to become an uncontested supremo of deception with criminal intent as several key American influentials lined up to sell his craftily packaged genocide as liberation and renewal.
The long-term consequences tied to this now appealing brand of violent politics built around lies and theft come through the warning of Guinea's ambassador to Washington, Mohamed Aly Thiam, in his testimony before the Sub-Committee: ''If this man (Taylor) is not stopped now, he will put on hold, not only the future of the sub-region, by creating a whole generation of handicapped children, but also [prevent] the countries around him [from] continuing their journey toward a democratic society.'' Those who doubt such a prediction must only look at Liberia and Sierra Leone to conclude that child soldiers, drug barons and diamond smugglers are more agents of death and anarchy than, as we have been told for years, of democratisation.
Whatever the justified fears, the Hearing indicates the triumph of Truth over deception, with the harbingers of Truth emerging, hauling towards them reluctant converts, promoters and crusaders of yesterday's orchestrated dangerous lies carved to market one of the most destructive criminals in recent West African history operating under the clout of politics, and presented as a modernizer on a continent inundated with political dinosaurs.
This belated parade towards the dome of Truth regarding West Africa's fate did not however begin with the recent American Hearing. It began last year when Republican Senator Judd Gregg, in a rare courageous move, departed from convenient politics and indicted Taylor for the ongoing horrors in West Africa. In his opinion piece, published in the Washington Post , on the failed Lome diamond-for-peace Agreement and its resulting horrors entitled, "The Graveyard Peace", (published when Taylor's Sierra Leone RUF rebels were on the rampage in Freetown) he said what no American politician had said, and that is that West Africa's killingfields hung around Taylor's thieving neck. Since then, Taylor's graveyard has expanded, engulfing Guinea with multitudes of refugees trooping towards Mali. Soon, the graveyard will engulf much of West Africa. Recognizing this spectre of doom and concerned about its effects, the Americans have begun to sound warnings.
Representative Ed Roye, Chair of the Sub-Committee, told the Hearing that: "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..."
And even as the American was lamenting the death of democracy in this Africa's oldest republic founded by freed American slaves in 1822 as their beacon of hope and liberty for the black people, students at the University of Liberia, now the only fearless voices of opposition after the clampdown on critical media institutions and exiling of feared political leaders, were indicting the regime for creating a one-party crony and inherently corrupt state in which all state employees must be loyal to the President or be dismissed. The students called for a Truth Commission, since Taylor is demanding confessions from political prisoners thrown in jail after a Kangaroo trial on treason charges as a precondition for their release. If this is the case, the students contend, then all those who perpetrated horrible crimes against the Liberian people (and West Africans), now firmly in power and reaping the rewards of their terror, must confess their sins to be forgiven. But they argued that far from this, the criminals against the Liberian nation are the ones determining the fate of their victims and now their neighbours in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Their claims were re-echoed by Senator Roye who told the Committee 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..."
The Senator commended the UN Panel of Experts report which has indicted Taylor and his cronies for the current cycles of death and destruction in the region, stating, "I highly commend this report - it well documents the frightening syndicate of international crime that Taylor now stands at the center of - to anyone concerned about West Africa's fate".
Although Taylor's fellow West African leaders, mainly members of the Libyan Clan in the regional organization ECOWAS, have convinced the UN to offer him two months in the illusion that he may abandon his criminal enterprises, Senator Feingold said: "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?"
In a much refreshing way of shelving hypocrisy to embrace honesty in today's politics of personal convenience, Feingold said: "We have all read the appalling accounts of atrocities committed in the region. I believe that some of the responsibility for these terrible abuses upon Charles Taylor's shoulders. In fact, I believe that Liberian President Charles Taylor is a war criminal."
Then came the repentance from Congressman Donald M. Payne, once one of Taylor's ardent backers on the House Sub-Committee who opened the Hearing. In a much welcomed afterthought about a man he came to admire as a fellow black who knows the "both worlds" - America and Africa , Congressman Payne said Taylor-backed rebels in Sierra Leone, ''have already exacerbated problems in countries such as Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire which already have illegitimate regimes (and) weak institutions coupled with mounting refugee problems.''
But to appreciate Payne's metamorphosis, we must look at what his mind was when Taylor was proclaimed winner after the laughable 1997 elections conducted under the guidance of late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha:
"I always felt Liberia was like a symbolic motherland to African-Americans," he beamed, unabashed about his fantasies for Taylor "because he's intelligent; he knows what sells here, and he's from over there. He has the knowledge of both worlds," Jon Lee Anderson quoted him as proclaiming. This mindset was nevertheless not unique to Payne. Amazingly, African-Americans and Democrats saw light in a man many Liberians saw as a Prince of Darkness. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who could not address Liberians during the heydays of their nightmare without a fee of $10,000, told them after the elections that it was "sunshine time in Liberia." Jackson, a man who makes his living from protests, warned Liberians demanding substantive changes after such a horrible war waged in the name of democracy to "get off the Internet." On one of his frequent visits to the country, he blamed Liberia's horrors on the execution of the "few good people", 13 Americo-Liberian (descendents of ex-slaves who settled in the country in 1822 and monopolized politics and economy) during a military coup 1980, a coup which Taylor in fact helped to consolidate. Such a verdict from a religious and Civil Rights leader, after a war that butchered 250,000 (mostly African-Liberians and their political leaders), was far from soothing considering the ethnic acrimony prevailing as all signs indicate the re-emergence of Americo-Liberian rule of the privileged.
What baffled many Liberians was the extent of the joy and celebration within America's Democratic political circles around Taylor's emergence. Just why were men of presumed reason announcing the dawn of change when they knew, or ought to have known, that this man, deep into the butchering and thieving junta he served so well and was kicked out only after his masters felt he was going beyond limits, was no agent of change? One only had to look at his conduct of the war, and his immediate past to conclude that the man these products of American civil rights and civil liberties were baptizing as one of them was a plague of death and theft, not a catalyst of positive change.
There are a number of questions around this unholy alliance between Taylor and some members of liberal America. Why would an individual who proudly announced the formation of a Small Boys Unit (SMU) to fight his war be seen as an agent of change? Why would someone who directed and personally participated in the looting of key private industries and personal properties be expected to resurrect a dying economy and institute probity? But it was clear that Taylor's backers in Washington were not after answers to such embarrassing questions. They had made up their minds that this man, because he listens to the classics and plays tennis, lived in America no matter how, was one of them needing promotion and protection.
Wrote Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker: "Charles Taylor's fighters perpetrated some of the worst atrocities of the war, and it is a commonplace that Taylor was elected President last year not because he was popular but because people thought that if he didn't win he would continue the violence. Nevertheless, he is now a spokesman for peace, and to celebrate the first anniversary of his Presidency he is hosting a three week 'national conference on Liberia's future,' beginning this week. He invited his domestic political opponents, several African heads of state, hundreds of prominent Liberians living abroad, and, of course, Americans like Ramsey Clark and Jesse Jackson..."
"Lester Hyman says that Taylor reminds him of Lyndon Johnson, and he believes that Taylor will become a great African leader. Ramsey Clark admires Taylor personally and points out that he went to war against the repressive Doe regime, which had received close to half a billion dollars in aid and military assistance from the Reagan Administration. African-American congressmen, like Donald Payne, of New Jersey, see Taylor as a link between two countries with unique historical ties. Lester Hyman says he knew from the first time he met Taylor, in 1991, that he was "a man we could work with."
Thus it was not the lack of evidence of this man's barbarism that drew Americans towards him, for volumes had been written about marauding child soldiers splitting women's bellies to determine the gender of unborn children and many more primitive crimes. And even if Liberians lives did not matter, Americans, nuns, for example, were butchered under the command of this proclaimed "modernizer". But men like Payne, in their difficult-to-understand enthusiasm for discovering a fellow African they could do business with, could not claim lack of evidence, for the evidence about crimes committed directly or indirectly by their man many Liberians knew was all over the place. If interested, one didn't have to look further.
For instance, Stephanie Mertens, Coordinator, Peace and Justice of the Order of the Odorers of the Blood of Christ, testifying before the Sub-Committee, gave a vivid account of how these innocent people, only in Africa because of their belief and knowing no sides in Liberia's irredeemable madness called politics, were hacked to death:
"Sister Shirley Kolmer, 61, was a leader, a person of vision. She loved and taught math in grade, high, and university in the US and in Liberia. She was a jovial spirit. Part of her ministry in the US included being friend and companion to young women in the US preparing to enter religious life. Sister also served as provincial of the order. She challenged all Adorers to be women of prayer and to work for justice.
"Sister Joel, 58, was an educator, a person with a great smile, a sparkle in her eye, and hearty laughter. She was artistic, creative. She taught religion and did parish ministry. She was in charge of candidates from Liberia for the order.
"Sister Barbara Ann Muttra, 69, was a nurse with a great love for the infants. She was compassionate, energetic, very active. She collected medicines and food for the poor. She cared for babies. She helped Liberian mothers learn child care. She founded clinics.
"Sister Agnes Mueller, 62, loved to read and discover ideas. She was a nurse and religious educator. She was especially concerned about helping women. She was doing literacy programs with the people.
"Sister Kathleen McGuire, 54, had a very great sense of hospitality. She helped the child soldiers of Liberia cope with the trauma of war. During her work for justice in the US she organized Sanctuary ministry to help refugees fleeing to the US for safety from violence in Guatemala.
"The five women lived in a convent in Gardnersville. For some months it had been clear that the deteriorating situation posed grave danger to the sisters. The sisters, fully conscious of the danger, resolved to stay in order to serve the people who had nowhere to go. The sisters remained in harm's way for the sake of charity and solidarity with the people. It was not long after their deaths that it became clear that they were truly "Martyrs of Charity", a term first used by John Paul II on November 1, 1992 at his noon address.
"I will now describe the events that led to their deaths. The night of October 20, a security guard at the convent said he was worried about his family. Two of the sisters, Barbara Ann and Joel, agreed to drive him home. On the way they picked up two ECOMOG soldiers. The sisters did not return from the trip and the other sisters feared the worst. Later it was learned that the two sisters had been killed.
"On October 21, the sisters and the young women with them, packed some belongings into a car with a view to move into Monrovia, but they were afraid to leave because of the intense shooting all day. On October 23, at about 5:00 p.m., NPFL soldiers arrived. Five of them entered the Convent grounds under the command of C.O. Mosquito. He ordered everybody out of the Convent. Mosquito said he was going to kill all the white people. Sister Shirley begged him not to kill the Sisters. Sister Kathleen went towards the gate in order to open it. As she did so, Mosquito shot her in the forearm. She fell and he then shot her fatally in the neck.
"Sister Shirley was ordered to bring the car keys and any money she had. She entered the convent and came back with the keys and the Liberian Dollars which she offered to Mosquito. He took the keys and demanded American dollars. She told him she had none. All were then ordered outside the fence where Sisters Shirley and Agnes were told to step to one side from the others. At that point another soldier, Black Devil, fatally shot Agnes and Shirley. They died instantly.
"Here in the States the first alert that the sisters were in imminent danger came on October 28, 1992. Their deaths were confirmed by Church and State Department Officials on October 31, 1992. On All Saints Day November 1, 1992, the Adorers Convent Mass in Ruma, Illinois was for all of our martyred Sisters. On November 5, 1992 a Mass honoring the five sisters, was held at the diocesan Cathedral with over 2000 people."
And yet misgivings about the in-depth evil elevated on the political plane prevailed. Former President Jimmy Carter told Liberians, on the eve of this man reaping his reward with the presidency at all costs and by all means, that such abuses under his leadership were now "inconceivable." But it was not only outsiders dismissing such ghastly evidence against a man now expected to erect the cornerstones of a transparent and stable society. Testifying before the Sub-Committee, Ms. Mydea Reeves Karpeh, President of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas, ULAA, called Taylor "a terrorist." In an earlier meeting with Taylor's delegation to ULAA, the organization indicted the government for gross human rights abuses, including the continuing barbarity of Taylor's security forces. Ms. Karpeh denounced the "flamboyance and undemocratic" posture of Government officials and Taylor's links to the RUF which the delegation flatly denied. Yet, despite the available evidence, ULAA advocated "active constructive engagement" with the regime, which in Liberian political language means passive cooperation with the powers that be, no matter how heinous they are. But one-year after this marriage of "active constructive engagement", Ms. Karpeh now says:
"In spite of the unfavorable climate in Liberia, the long historic ties between the United States and Liberia demand that the United States lead the international community in addressing the need for ensuring democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Liberia. Mr. Taylor is no longer just a Liberian problem; he is now become a regional terrorist. The United States should therefore commit itself to assisting Liberia in respect of the following". An admission coming too late?
However, ULAA finds itself in a difficult position. The political structures and value system now permeating Liberia come from those values learned and copied from ULAA itself. The most influential members of Taylor's clique are all former officials of ULAA, including Taylor who was Chairman of its Board of Directors. It was within ULAA that Taylor found the base of political opposition against all Liberian regimes, carrying coffins in the streets of America to symbolize death for any leader he disapproved. ULAA's current Chairman of the Board, Augustus Majors, who said he has been accused of being a "Taylor apologist", told a cheering Taylor delegation, few months ago, that they were not the only ones condemned for backing terror. "Some of our people want us to be the same we were (in) 1974 - always condemning, condemning and nothing else to offer." A few months after, ULAA would condemn its former Chairman (now Liberian President Taylor) as a "terrorist" dangerous to West Africa. Again, an admission coming too late and why?
But with all this outpouring of Truth gaining increasing converts, Liberia's beleaguered ambassador to Washington, William V.S. Bull, opted to provide his own version of Truth that falls apart with a cursory scrutiny. In a written statement to the Sub-Committee, he repeated Monrovia's new alibi, which is that it is spearheading regional disintegration because Guinea is backing anti-Taylor dissidents. He said it was "unfortunate" that the Sub-Committee selected the topic "Confronting Liberia," and lamented that he - and guess this - and the Sierra Leone ambassador, were not invited to give their version of Truth. (Liberia speaking for Sierra Leone? Strange bedfellows indeed.) The Ambassador poured the now familiar crocodiles tears from Monrovia, telling the Sub-Committee that his government, which provides arms, training and corridors for escape for regional rebels, ''shares the pains as well as the unspeakable brutality and destruction...'' Obviously denying the "blood diamond" sales, he further advanced Taylor's so-called formula for peace, which now includes the near to impossible UN monitoring of its diamond transactions, and more evidence that he is trafficking weapons for diamonds along with his offer to resign if the UN can discover his hidden billions.
What the ambassador did not say, something the Americans know, is that the Guinea crisis is again his leader's creation. Thousands of Krahns were expelled from the country after his election, with the US State Department putting the number of those escaping across borders at 18,000. Over 300 were killed as Taylor's son led his security forces against defenceless Krahns disarmed by Ghanaian ECOMOG soldiers in preparation for their slaughter. The entire Lofa, home of the Mandingoes, is empty, a fact Taylor himself recently admitted. Many Mandingoes and other tribes have sought refuge in Guinea, and they number over 130,000. Many have been in Guinea for over 11 years with no prospects of peacefully returning home to face a regime of ethnic cleansing. Boys who were 15 when they fled into Guinea are now 26. The days of welcome in Guinea are over, again thanks to Mr. Taylor for backing anti-Guinean rebels and therefore heightening the xenophobia against Liberians and Sierra Leoneans. What such policies have done is to leave many Liberians, unwanted in Guinea and faced with a bleak future of life , with no option but picking up the gun to return home. It is a similar landscape that has determined his support for the RUF apart from the diamond links. Once the RUF is in charge of Liberian-Sierra Leone borders, Taylor and his cronies can sleep well in Monrovia knowing they have a dependable proxy army to defend their borders and secure their diamond fiefdoms.
The real Truth, the horrors, the degradation and human wastes within West Africa are coming to the surface. Timothy Bishop, West Africa Regional Coordinator for the International Rescue Committee, testifying before the Committee, recounted his own terrible experience in West Africa: "In the process" (of destruction) he says, "much of Liberia and Sierra Leone has been returned to the middle ages..." For those who question the barbarity of the type of politics hailed as redemption and modernity, they must ponder over Bishop's revelations given to the US House Sub-Committee:
"In the midst of this violence, West Africa has crept onto America's television screens and into our newspapers with images of barbaric amputation of body parts of old men, pregnant women, and the smallest of children. Photos of mutilation have been accompanied by stories of further atrocities: the gang rapes of mothers and sisters by their sons and brothers, the eating of human hearts by drug-addicted child soldiers. The latter image-of fearless soldiers twelve, thirteen, and fourteen years old-has consequently become burned into the American conscience. Though not of equal strategic importance as Kuwait, not equal in sheer numbers to the Rwanda genocide, and apparently not as newsworthy as Kosovo, the West African conflicts have nonetheless raised the bar for human cruelty to an unthinkable level.
"I first reached West Africa in mid-1989, only a few months before the start of the Liberian civil war. In the eleven years since, I have seen first-hand many of the haunting images above. I have helped build refugee and IDP camps to house over half a million people. I have passed military checkpoints decorated with human skulls. I have interviewed victims of rape and torture. And I have visited hospital wards full of amputees. In mid-1996, I sat at the bedside of a fifteen-year-old boy who, one week earlier near the town of Bo, had been captured by rebels and had a thick plastic bag placed over his head. The bag had been lit on fire, the molten plastic burning hair and skin off of the teenager's face. When I met him a few days later, the right side of his face had peeled away from his skull and jawbone. He resembled a grotesque Halloween costume. Unable to speak, he looked at me out of his left eye, his only remaining eye. I could not pretend then, and I cannot now, to know the thoughts that ran through his mind. He died a few hours after my visit.
"Much has been written about the causes and consequences of the Liberian and Sierra Leonean civil wars. While exact numbers are not known and may never be, since 1989 conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now Guinea have displaced well over one million persons and killed over one hundred thousand. Until the Liberian government directs tangible assistance to its population, aid agencies like the United Nations and the IRC will represent the only hope for progress for much of the country".
The emergence of Truth can be painful, and those who reject it only to accept it later are not without burdens. Moreover, depending on one's lenses, Truth is difficult to see. So it is with former interim President Amos Claudius Sawyer, who reportedly claimed that democracy is in the eyes of the beholder, and that Taylor is essentially a good president except for his followers. Sawyer saw Truth after Death advanced, forcing him to flee the country when Taylor's child soldiers, now fanatically loyal men, reigned terror on his pro-democracy establishment. Taylor, the "good president," later warned Sawyer and others to relocate to their rural homes where he could promote democracy. "No matter where you hide, we will get you. We will chase you in your mother's wombs", the "good president" warned. So it is with former Senate President Charles Brumskine, once a zealous pro-Taylor campaigner who declared, "We want our country back" He similarly saw Truth in Death's eyes when he tried exercising some level of independence. Like Sawyer, he now lives in the confines of America face to face with Truth. So it was with former Chief Justice James Bull, known for his pro-Taylor loyalties, and who once ruled in a case involving Taylor's disciples accused of reigning havoc on Monrovia, that West African peacekeeping troops had no right to arrest a Liberian citizen. Bull later fled into US embassy under the same "illegal" ECOMOG escort on April as he ran from Taylor's child soldiers.
When Truth makes its final entrance, many, including key members of Taylor's cheering squad, may not be so lucky, as in the case of his Vice President Enoch Dogoleah who died under mysterious circumstances with Taylor refusing to release his autopsy, or Sam Dokie, who returned home believing elections gave him the right to live in Liberia only to be arrested by presidential bodyguards along with his wife, two family members. They were executed, mutilated and burnt, with those accused of the killings acquitted. Taylor would announce thereafter that if the killers of US President Kennedy have not been found, Dokies' killers could not.
The sorrow is that in some cases, when Truth finally emerges, it is too late. The harm shall have been done, the criminal rewarded. In 1996, just a few weeks before Taylor and armed faction ULIMO-K leader Alhaji Kromah opted to burn down Monrovia and butcher about 3,000 people according to UN figures, the Nigerian Field Commander of the West African Peacekeeping force ECOMOG demanded to know why this writer "was so obsessed with Taylor." The question was an ominous one because it presented unquestioned evidence that the Nigerians, then determining Liberia's and therefore Sierra Leone's fate, had decided to endorse Taylor as their choice despite overwhelming evidence that he was destroying the fragile basis of socio-economic foundations in the region rated as among the poorest on earth. Not to be obsessed with a such character who has fanned an inferno for millions of people, driven tens of thousands into the irremovable clutches of poverty and deprivation, and has marshalled all those forces that turn human beings into helpless animals, was to lose faith in man's ability to see extreme horrors descending. The Nigerian General, now comfortably home, may be looking back and perhaps regretting that question, for many of his soldiers are still engaged (with 700 dead in 1999 alone at the hands of Taylor's RUF rebels in Freetown) in the pretence of stopping the Liberian merchant of war and death. And when Lagos announced it had spent US$13b on its peace initiatives within the region, with laughable plans of Nigerian troops returning to patrol borders with Liberia's neighbours in the name of regional peace, it indicated the hypocrisy of African politics. Perhaps they would have helped Liberia, Sierra Leone and now Guinea if they had simply distributed such huge sums among the various selfish politicians and warlords, with Taylor carrying the bulk of the money since he represented the worst danger. Such a payoff would have ended the wars since these men fought for money and not ideals.
The disappointment amongst Taylor's many admirers in Washington and elsewhere is understandable. They truly believed they had discovered a model African politician who thinks and behaves like them. Perhaps they did. But they ignored, blinded themselves to their Chosen One's RECORD. They chose not to believe the evidence against him, for to believe was to shatter everything they believed about their man. In the end, they helped to promote evil, and by doing so, contributed to reducing the region to a wasteland, back to the "Middle Ages." This is our burden. But we thank God, the Almighty! Free at Last! The Truth has come.