"Keep it Up, Mr. President"
By Tom Kamara
December 4, 2000

No one is without admirers. And even when the handwriting of doom becomes all too evident within an increasingly thuggish society like Liberia, praise mongers of civility multiply. To the true believers in doom as a precondition for progress, the culture of state-sponsored terrorism against selected targets, such as the recent savage flogging of a former interim president and his staff, along with the total looting of their offices by ex-fighters loyal to the President Charles Taylor, is just one clear signal of a society moving ahead in the consolidation of peace, one of "laws and not of men", as giant billboards quoting the president greet visitors to derelict Monrovia.

From the onset of his military and political campaigns against enemies, Taylor unveiled his strategy: "I will do it and apologizeY'all know me I'm bad", he boasted. Thus the President has simply taken terror to its demonic proportions, always denying, always "investigating" and promising to "leave no stones unturned" in the name of justice. This strategy is a fundamental departure from that of his predecessor, the late junta leader Samuel Doe. For all what may be said about Doe, he dealt with enemies through formal arrests and imprisonment. Taylor, on the other hand, relies on thugs as convenient political tools. In this strategy of brutality and denial, the stigma of having political prisoners is erased to placate donors in rewarding "democracy", something Doe did not fathom. Moreover, fear of state sponsored terror serves as catalyst against opposition and further criticism. So "enemies" like the British may believe the Liberian President is the "Milosevic of Africa." Americans may see him as a distasteful pariah not welcomed in their country. Angry Sierra Leoneans may beat his effigy in anger for stealing their diamonds and subjecting them to the worst inhumanities ever. But Liberians are urging their leader to, "Keep it up, Mr. President." Let's hear some drumbeat of praises from the Ministry of Information:

"The verdict of the world's renowned thinkers on political issues is that any leader's legacy is determined not so much by what he achieves in international relations, but what he achieves at the domestic level.

"This great thinkers (sic) axiom is poignant in respect of all leaders, whether they head great countries or little countries in spite of the tremendous success of former United States President George Bush's foreign policy, particularly the resounding defeat of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the 1990 Gulf War, he lost his bid for reelection to the little known Governor from Arkansas, Bill Clinton. That defeat came purely as a result of the economic ills and domestic malaise of the American society in spite of the shining achievements of Bush's foreign policy. On the other hand, President Bill Clinton having prioritized the domestic economy, was rewarded for the pragmatic wisdom by the American electorate with a second term in office".

Mr. Taylor is endowed with local media establishment created from looted and seized state and private equipment and financed through state resources. Thus the machinery for his praise mongers who see a glorious future of freedom ahead is moving at full speed. For them, what lies ahead in such an uncontested environment of anarchy is true "democracy" and "greatness". Their anger is that only the blind and "detractors" cannot see the great steps taken to erect the cornerstones of liberty in this "great society" so desired by a man, we were told by admiring African-Americans leaders, who would be a Continental leader due to his "enlightened" mind," a lover of the Classics and a Tennis player. "Keep it up, Mr. President."

All this is far from unusual. Liberia was built on deception and falsehood heightened by men like the late President William Tubman. During the peak of late President William Tolbert's rule, the man was told by zealous praise singers that the country, founded in the 1800s by freed American slaves as their safe haven and condemned by western economists for registering growth (Second only to Japan in the 50s and 60s) without development, was so developed that it needed no further development. The late junta ruler Samuel Doe, who would later be dissected like a pathetic animal by Taylor's rebels, was reminded that he was without equal, the only "man" around without whom the country was doomed. Now, in what they regard as a new PR blitz to whitewash their internationally condemned leader, Taylor's disciples are submerging him in praises. "Keep it up, Mr. President," even if evidence of a crumbling economy, paralyzed social structures, coupled with international isolation abound.

"The Liberian people are dying", Taylor announced in Paris where he was undergoing private medical checkup with troops of officials and at the same time begging donors to save his people from imminent death tied to economic hardship. But as can be seen in the Ministry of Information releases circulated on the Net after the President's tour of West Africa and Europe, all that has changed. Liberia is now endowed with a "great leader" who knows all, solves all problems, and is destined for unparalleled greatness.

The cult of the superman, carved out within the rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia during the war, is being entrenched to lunatic proportions. In this crusade of delusions, it is the "leader" who is supreme, knowing all, seen all and therefore deciding all. Others are simply lesser men incapable of thinking and therefore relying on the "wisdom" of one whose activities have lead to a pariah status with regional security disasters. Thus when the "wise one" dismissed his ministers for not praying with him in church, they came crawling on their bellies for forgiveness. "God" then told the president to rehire them and he did. Recently, the "great leader" ordered all his functionaries to bring their families back from America in retaliation to American visa ban on him, his family and officials. The ultimatum has passed and many officials have simply kept their families in the safety of America. Perhaps the "great leader" has forgiven his lesser souls. But let us hear from the Ministry of Information about the political renaissance spreading in Liberia under the rule of the "wise leader" just in case there are doubts:

"No one is more painfully aware of this truth (about the virtues of a great leader) than the Liberian Chief Executive. Last June, while on a trip to Tripoli, Libya, President Taylor huddled with his staff and top advisors, and poured out his heart about the events at home, particularly the state of the economy, national security, the health and education systems and the plight of the Liberian people. Following a brainstorming session of these issues, the president came to the decision that he would postpone all foreign engagements and remain at home to be with his people to address the domestic agenda.

"Upon his return to Liberia, the president immediately proceeded to the heartland and sequestered himself at his Meleke farm. His presence in the interior of the country afforded a pull factor which brought not only the cabinet and other high level officials, both local and foreign, to appreciate the scenic beauty of the countryside, but also went some way in demonstrating their appreciation for and participation in the agricultural season.

"The President's interior sojourn also invigorated farmers, business entities, logging companies and ordinary traders to step up their various activities. Whether from road construction to the sale of farm produce, or the enhancement of medical and educational facilities. This common touch with the people is the essence of Taylor's domestic policy. By remaining at home, the president has the perpetual opportunity to maintain the common touch with the grassroots population.

"The domestic priority is also critical to national security. As if his decision to forgo all foreign travels in favor of remaining at home was preordained. The president was in a better position to make some critical decisions and take command of the military situation when the third incursion of Guinean-based dissidents hit Lofa County in the first week of July. Had the president been abroad at this critical period, it is possible the dissidents could have gained a strategic foothold and held territory for much longer period, thereby posing serious threats to the stability of the nation.

"No sooner had the president put an early bid on the Liberian incursion did the international community step up its allegation of diamond smuggling and gun- running on a bid to demonize the President of Liberia and his administration. United States Under Secretary of State, Thomas Pickering's visit with all of its ultimatums and threats of sanctions, raised the pressure bar on Liberia several notches while the president was grappling with an appropriate response to the Pickering challenge. The issue of the four foreign journalists sprang into full force. But again as a result of the careful handling by the Liberian Government of the four journalists debacle the weight of false allegations against the president and the Liberian Government dramatically subsided.

"Meanwhile, the president in pursuit of his domestic agenda ensured that peace and stability prevailed at home by successfully repelling the incursions of Voinjama and Zorzor respectively as well as maintaining balance in the Liberian economy through the inauguration of the new Central Bank of Liberia. As the year draws to a close, the president can look back on the first year of the new millennium with proud reflection for a job well done".

Welcome to the psychosis of a personality cult beyond absurd levels. It is doubtful that the writers themselves believe their delusions, for when people begin to believe in their own insanities and delusions, redemption is impossible, reality is obscured and doomsday assured. The regime sees conspiracies and enemies everywhere when the main enemy and the real conspiracies are greed, graft and stupidity hailed as great leadership virtues that must be kept up instead of being dismantled. In this circus of clowns commanding fools, we are told that some of the positive economic developments for which Mr. Taylor's "great leadership" is destined include the fact that entire country, the oldest African republic, has only 25 doctors with expectations that the Cubans may send their doctors for a man whose doctors are in Paris. The minister of health says most doctors have left due to poor conditions of service, among them periodic flogging from wounded fighters. More than that, many doctors, like nurses, teachers, engineers, etc., were killed by the very people now needing doctors. Others have been forced to flee due to terror waged against them. In any case, the president, so "generous", recently announced that his people would receive 25% from the massive and indiscriminate logging he has instituted. Who gets the 75% go and how will the "generous" 25% be divided amongst his 3 or 4 million appreciating subjects? The European Community still trucks water for Monrovia's residents. There is no electricity, and a president with millions in foreign banks is celebrating Taiwan's promise of generators' fuel for Christmas. For every three months, the "great leader" undertakes trips to Libya, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso for reports to, and "consultation" with "greater leaders". He could make more trips, but the constraints of his pariah status and the distaste with which he is viewed by civilized nations dare him to step in any European capital apart from Paris. In his letter closing his center in Monrovia, President Carter lamented that:
"Instead of being used to improve education, infrastructure, and development, Liberia's resources have been diverted toward extra-budgetary uses. In addition, it is increasingly evident that Liberia's role in the conflicts of the sub- region has been a destructive one... Much to our dismay, Liberia is a country where reports of serious human rights abuses are common, where journalists, human rights organizations, and political activists work in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, and where there is little political space for meaningful democratic debate.
Despite all the international condemnations, and even if the president has placed a ban on his people showing their disgust of him by warning recently that "Liberia will not be another Belgrade", the praise mongers see tolerance:

"The Chief Executive also deserves a pat on the back for advocating constructive dialogue on social and/or other issues of national concerns, for it is only through jaw-jaw that we can best get to understand one another for this bold initiative, we say "well done" to Mr. President, and advise him to always keep the communication highway free and clear of any hindrance, so that a people-to-leader and leader-to people approach can be adopted and maintained, so that everyone will at least have the opportunity to have the ears of the Chief Executive, instead of a select few," announced the Ministry of Information".

But the truth hidden in these lofty praises and deceptions is that the environment for democratization is withering faster than at anytime in the country's recent history. Canadian journalists, in a letter to the president, reminded him to live by civilized standards as demanded by law

"For example, we have recently learned that the entire staff of the New Democrat newspaper have been forced to flee their country. On 8 June 1999, armed soldiers rounded up the editorial staff and took them to Defence Headquarters for publishing what the Ministry of Defence described as "being against the government." Then again in March 2000, security officials arrested the paper's Managing Editor and four members of staff for publishing an interview with the leader of the Islamic Youth Movement. The government accused the paper of supporting Islamic fundamentalism and subjected the journalists to a six-hour interrogation. As a result of the latest pressures, the entire staff of the paper have fled to neighbouring Ghana and Guinea. These recent developments point to an established pattern of human rights abuses and attacks on freedom of expression in Liberia".

And while Liberians may be congratulating their president for his foreign policy "achievements", neighbors see him as a menace. In Sierra Leone, where his diplomacy is having its horrifying effects and leaving thousands of children with amputated limbs, about 15,000 victims of his job "well done" last week stormed the streets to denounce him, parading his effigy in rags and flogging in anger. "Taylor cannot solve his own crisis how can he solve ours, " cried one demonstrator in protest of Taylor's demand for British troops to leave Sierra Leone. But Liberians are proud of their President even if he is denounced by the world:

"Yes, indeed Liberia is proud of its rich heritage in international relations and diplomacy. Nevertheless, the president is also painfully aware that a sound domestic policy begets a successful foreign policy. Hence, no stone will be left unturned to ensure that the domestic agenda remains vigorously on course to build a solid foundation upon which to project the glorious image of Liberia far beyond its borders in all the years to come.

"These sequences of events actually gave credence to the notion that in the time of crisis the buck stops squarely on the desk of the Chief Executive with diplomatic finesse. Administrative dexterity and a good deal of political savvy: the Dr. Taylor administration was able to weather the storm and in each crisis proved the utility of a sagacious domestic leadership focus in the interest and posterity of the Liberian nation."

Any doubt of what lies ahead? Are these signals of a James Jones Syndrome?