"The Plague" of the British Empire
By Tom Kamara
November 17, 2000

Liberia's President Charles Taylor, issuing his now customary denial of backing Sierra Leone rebels while on his "annual" health trip to Paris, announced to the world that his people are dying and need help from outside. More than that, he announced that Britain, which recently suffered floods, is being punished by his "god" for denying him aid and accusing him of Sierra Leone diamond theft.

''Europe can help to investigate. They can cut off aid, they don't have to like Charles Taylor. But Liberians are dying and they need help. But I am a Christian, so God sent floods to Britain that will cost $ 1billion or [$] 2billion. God punished Britain. The British have managed to stop European aid to Liberia.''

The Ugandans had their Idi Amin, the self-styled "Conqueror of the British Empire." Now, Liberians have theirs, "The Plague of the British Empire." Whoever said that buffoons and lunatic killers in African politics were the relics of the past in this new century must have a rethink. African-Americans and their white Liberal colleagues who zealously rushed under Taylor's garment of ingrained stupidity even by Liberian standards, seeing him as an enlightened figure for "Continental African leadership", must now see the James Jones character he is. Unfortunately, the American cult leader Jones was not placed in charge of a country, only his lunatic followers. Taylor, on the other hand, is a "democratically elected" President with destructive tentacles within West Africa.

The tragedy is that long after the buffoons and killers are removed from the scene, their footprints of death, poverty, and chaos remain to hunt the innocent. Uganda is battling with life after Amin. Liberia is plagued with the Taylor disease, and may have to wait for a long time for life after him, particularly so when well-paid French doctors are determined to keep him fit for the plunder of Sierra Leone's diamonds and mischief in West Africa.

Nevertheless, many would undoubtedly envy Taylor for the powers of his "god" who facilitated his escape from an American prison on charges of transferring over $900,000 into a fictitious New York bank account when he served as purchasing agent for a corrupt military junta. Inspired by his "god," he launched a war that overthrew his junta bosses and left over 250,000 killed in a collapsed and ruined economy. His "god" blessed and protected him in looting public and private properties, plundering Sierra Leone's diamonds and leaving scores of amputated orphans behind, thus rising from a penniless wanderer in West Africa to a man affording private medical treatment in France. A "god" that brings such a person into the company of presidents and prime ministers, blessing him in buying sprawling villas in France and other European countries, must be envied. Amin is resting in Saudi Arabia with his Allah. Is Rome or Jerusalem prepared to accept this "Christian?"

The irony comes when such a "god" blessed wealthy man, covered with fleets of expensive cars, swimming pools in a city with no water, concubines, 24-hour running generators in a dark country reminiscent of pre-colonial times, millions of dollars in safe keeping in European and other banks, keeps asking others to rescue his people from dying. If Liberians are dying, it is because he and his cronies are living royally, as indicated by charges that his Speaker of Parliament recently took US$75,000 for a trip he did not make and over $300,000 bill incurred by cronies in misusing public phone for private purposes. Liberia's forests are handled by his brother while key minerals are handled by trusted Americo-Liberian cronies.

Taylor's "SOS" message is a strange one because, we are told, his people, a la James Jones, have long prepared for death in electing him. "You killed my ma, you killed pa (but) I will vote you", was the campaign song that made their wish very clear. Come what may, hunger or plagues of mass death, they were ready to die. That they are dying is no news.

Fortunately for his people, no matter how long their leader begs, the kind of help they expect is not likely to come, not even from the French who see much humanity in him. More and more people are seeing through the games he has played for years. And charity must begin at home. If Taylor can afford medical treatments in some of the most expensive capitals of the world, there is no reason why he cannot inject his huge savings into saving his people from dying.

Liberians voted for him because he convinced them he was the wealthiest man in the country and proved this by throwing bundles of money at them, even if the money came from his cronies who looted banks of depositors' savings or from Sierra Leone diamonds fields and Liberia's resources, which he controlled for almost a decade. Taylor made promises of building a super economy of plenty. He told illiterate voters that their problems of need were indeed over. One computer for every child, accelerated development throughout the country within two weeks after elections with bulldozers storming in for renewal, the US dollar to replace worthless Liberian notes, immediate electrification of the entire country, etc.

Since his election, reality has overpowered fantasy. Taylor has simply switched rhetoric. Once in office, he informed his people that his "god" would look after their needs since, "We are now on our own." He said their economic problems are the making of an evil international community that despises him. He accused the Americans of betraying him by not developing his country, with one of his loyalists demanding that the American ambassador "packs his bags and leave" for not helping to develop the country. "We have done everything they told us to do", Senator Thomas Nimely, Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee. Huge fees paid to American lobbyists did not bring the millions in return, only increased isolation and contempt from the White House and Congress.

The President tried a number of deceptions aimed at convincing donors to pump in millions. When asked to make reconciliation a priority for ensuring stability, he appointed a concubine as chair of his reconciliation commission. Told to respect human rights as precondition for aid, he established a human rights commission and flogged its outspoken member so severely that the man fled in exile. He stage-managed the burning of weapons he could not use, hoping the "international community" could note his "pacifism" and bring in the millions of dollars as reward. When this did not happen, his ministers intensified the stealing of the little money collected in taxes and sale of logs, etc. He saw no problem with the theft. He simply blamed the "international community" for turning his ministers into greater thieves.

The Liberian ruler, accustomed to underworld operations, misread the signals. Says UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown: "Participatory government is crucial to successful development Human rights are not, as has sometimes been argued, a reward of development. Rather, they are critical to achieving it." He adds that, "transparent, accountable and effective systems of institutions and laws"-lead to development, and that, "Rights make human beings better economic actors." Brown contends that problems of poverty will never be solved unless the poor can participate in decision-making.

But men like Taylor think otherwise. Taylor thought he would have been rewarded for promises of respecting human rights and practicing transparency. It was not his belief in human rights that propelled him, but dreams of rewards if he made pronouncements he had no intention of honoring.

But Taylor's "god' is a powerful one. His "god" has "punished" Britain for harming "His" son. There is no doubt that with such powers, Taylor should look up to this "god" to save his people from dying. A god that sends floods to enemy lands can certainly build dams, roads, repair the burnt down dilapidated buildings consuming the country, transform primitive agriculture into modern entities, and put abundant food on the table for all true believers. Countries like Mozambique, which suffered one of the devastating floods in history, or Ethiopia, which is undergoing draughts, should simply ask the Liberian ruler to send his "god" in for help.

The point is that the British do not need the intervention of Taylor's "god." They have the money to rebuild. The floods only provided an opportunity for renewal and to spend the money and create jobs. Taylor, on the other hand, must keep begging around the world while he loots his country and Sierra Leone's diamonds to keep going. If only his "god" could offer him the millions of dollars instead so that he can abandon Sierra Leone's diamonds.