Life in Monrovia

By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective

November 26, 2001

It took some three days for the image-makers of President Taylor to find out that the picture of him caning his daughter in public was comparable to the buffoon images of former Uganda Dictator Mr. Idi Amin Dada or those of another buffoon, Emperor Bokassa. There was something sad about seeing Idi Amin carried in a hammock by English businessmen, trying to prove that he really had control of life in Uganda. Patriotic Africans felt the same sadness when they saw Bokassa put a crown on his head, pretending to be the new Napoleon of the new Africa. The sadness in seeing the President cane his daughter comes from the fact that we know that, like Bokassa and Idi Amin, it is an act of buffoonery. You don't need television cameras and photographers to show that you are a disciplinarian and a great educator. If he were, the daughter would not have misbehaved in school in the first place. The second point raised by one of my colleagues was that a man who drugged thousands of innocent children and sent them on killing spree before being killed needs not try to prove that he loves children. Mr. Taylor canned his daughter and gave a bus to the school. That was a good gesture. If the principal needs a generator and new books, all they have to do is suspend the girl again. Poor child! Poor Liberia!

A doctor at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare recently said that 4,500 children die in Liberia every year of malaria. There are some who might say are we blaming the government for malaria. Well, the issue of malaria is very simple. It takes basic health care. It takes the cheapest tablets on the market, nivaquine or chloroquine. It takes a system of drainage so that mosquitoes don't infest our cities and carry their disease from one child to another. People always talk about the number of casualties of the civil war.

From 200,000 to 250,000, but these numbers grow everyday. Every Liberian child who dies of malnutrition or malaria, every Liberian youth who dies in prison in exile, every Liberian woman who dies in child birth for lack of basic health care, every elder who dies of depression or heart attack in a refugee camp, are all casualties of the on-going civil war in our country. Malaria should not kill 4,500 kids in Liberia, the country of the Light in Darkness.

An electrical engineer who recently spent two weeks in Monrovia expressed surprise at the number of private generators in the city. He said that if all that power was put together, it could light up much of the city of Monrovia. Many of the "big shots" maintain two to three generators - one at their home, another at their "second home" and a third at the "other home". That's lot of power. Most stores owners have two, one for the store and another for the home. All of this consumes lot of energy and creates lot of pollution.

A few weeks ago, the boss of the NPP, Mr. Cyril Allen was haranguing the masses of Monrovia about the ills caused to Africa and Liberia by the international capitalists. He said something to the effect that international capitalism was the source of all our problems. The speech sounded so naive and even comical if it was not that the man proffering these childish words is among those closest to the President and advise him daily. The same Cyril Allen a few months ago was accusing the opposition in Liberia of being led by communists and leftists. The man needs to get his ideology straight, for the sake of his job as head of a ruling party.

But our intention is not to engage Mr. Cyril Allen in an ideological debate. We want to know if he would advise the President and the delegation going to talk to the European Union that they should not listen to the international capitalists in Brusels wanting to dictate to the Taylor Administration. Rather than dialogue with the government about what help they would provide, members of the European Union simply told the Liberian government that enough is enough. They said that in order for Liberia to receive any kind of help, reforms must come, and quick. The European Union demanded the respect of basic freedom, the rule of law, the laying of foundations for free and fair elections in 2003, security, accountability and other issues Liberians have been talking about since1997. How much would the Liberian government do in order to receive a handout from those the chairman of NPP calls the international capitalists, those who created all the problems in Africa, including as he said, the French people manipulating Ojukwu to start a civil war in Nigeria? No, Mr. Allen, the international capitalist did not create all our problems people like you did.

About Four weeks ago, the Honorable Minister of Information was making the point that the creation and training of an Anti Terrorist Unit by the government was a sign of its foresight and commitment to the fight against terrorism. It didn't a week before higher-ups of the ATU were arrested for torturing and killing civilians in a case of robbery. Is this what ATU has been trained to do? Arrest, torture and kill thieves? By the way, does that mean the era of impunity has ended? Can we expect that the killers of Dokie and others who attacked Dr. Sawyer will soon be brought to justice?

Personal things should always be kept personal. But at times, it happens that personal lives become an intricate part of national politics. The death of two people in the past few weeks caused me to break a cardinal rule. The father of Dr. Amos Sawyer, Abel Sawyer, passed away a few weeks ago. It was a grandiose ceremony in Maryland, if funerals can be grandiose. The whole of Monrovia was there. The church in Gaithersburg was so packed that hundreds of people just stood outside and did no bother trying to get inside. The convoy to the cemetery was so big that it kept traffic jammed between the church in Gaithersburg and the resting ground in Silver Spring. The gym at the high school were the repas was served was filled to capacity. But of course, there was lot of food left. Abel Sawyer lived a good life and left behind a great family. He served his country honorably and retired. But like many, he was forced into exile. All his children now live in America, with their children and grand children. In the family tribute, Joe Sawyer said that three things their father taught them was to be honest, to work hard and make good friends, because both can last a lifetime. If the crowd was any indication, one can say that the Sawyers made good friends and worked hard. And as Joe said, it is possible to work for government and be honest because Abel Sawyer did. Because working for government is a service to the people, not a means of self-enrichment.

But as always, when there are so many Liberians in one place, one can but wonder who was still at home. That was sad part. The family decided that the theme of the funeral should be thanksgiving. Thanking the Lord for life, family and friends. Everybody was there. Dr. Tipoteh was shaking hands. Dew Meyson was sharing stories about Nigeria with people he had not seen for years. Ambassador Brewer and other former dignitaries of government were there. I saw Cletus Wotorson and Former Senator Brumskine. And so many who could have made a difference if only they could be home. Ambassador William Bull, his deputy Aaron Kollie as well as Abdullah Dunbar, all from the Liberian Embassy were present. Looking at all that crowd, I couldn't help imagining Liberians getting together to buy a small county somewhere in the United States, preferably in the South and have our own Republic here. That would allow us to have our own democratic elections... The thought that Abel Sawyer would have smiled at such an idea made me smile and look at the blue sky. May his Soul rest in Peace.

The other death that took place is again another personal issue. The mother of Musue N. Haddad passed away in Liberia. Musue N. Haddad is a well-known award-winning journalist who has been vocal about the ills of the regime at home. Can she go home and bury her mother? Would she be left alone to walk the streets and share the grief of her family? Is anyone sending for her to go to Monrovia? Would she have to negotiate to go? If she is allowed to go, can she bring her camera and tape-recorder?

So goes life in Rock Town. Of course, this place is now an extension of Monrovia we just have not found a name for it yet. • e-mail:

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