Taylor's Washington Post Ad. - An Act Of Gross "Insensitivity"
By: James W. Harris
November 26, 2002
With the once relatively peaceful country now lying in complete ruins, growing repression by the day, and most vexing, many dedicated civil servants denied their meager "survival wages" for their services to the morally bankrupt government in Monrovia, one would think that Liberia's beleaguered president, Charles Taylor, would be humane enough to wisely use all available resources, particularly, financial (regardless of where he's getting it), to bring some much needed relief to his severely traumatized and impoverished people.
But being the kind of ruler that he is, the general welfare of Liberians is certainly the last thing on his mind! Instead, he prefers to spend "his" thousands of dollars (as in American) to fool himself by thinking that running several pages of self-servicing advertisements in the prestigious Washington Post would magically resuscitate his image as one of modern-day Africa’s most brutal dictators ever.
At best, the entire four-page spread that was carried in the November 12 edition of the Post clearly shows how highly "insensitive" the man (Taylor) has become with regards to the continuing and sad plight of the Liberian people. The audacity of the failed National Patriotic Party (NPP) regime to buy advertising space worth hundreds of thousands of dollars just to prop up the "rotten" image of the now pariah nation also shows plainly that the sitting government is seriously out of touch with the people. Except for the ruthless regime being armed to its teeth, thereby, forcing the people there to succumb in fear, it is difficult to see how the NPP could continue to further govern the war-ravaged country, given its dismal record in all areas of governance. But again, we’re talking about Liberia where people so often become easily cowed and complacent!
Regarding the advertisements as a public relations (PR) tool, I’m constrained to ask this rather silly question: Wasn't it the same Washington Post that was repeatedly criticized by loud mouths of the ruthless government when it carried a series of articles written by staff writer, Douglas Farrah - articles that attempted to shed light on Mr. Taylor's alleged and probably continuing involvement in destabilizing neighboring Sierra Leone, or for that matter, the entire West African sub-region? Or is it a change of heart?
In a seemingly bitter editorial, titled: "[The] Washington Post Again?" that was carried by its loudest mouthpiece, allaboutliberia.com, the shameless government said: "The Washington Post seems to be playing [a] hide and seek game with [war-wrecked] Liberia. The truth is that this leading American newspaper while busy searching [sic] for things to make Liberia look bad, is in the process of making itself look ridiculous [sic]" as in accepting "blood money" to carry Taylor’s promotion. They were correct this time, though!
But lately, the inhumane NPP government seems to have toned down its criticisms of the Post a lot, perhaps, due to advice from some of their "handsomely" paid handlers in the US who may have referred them to the paper. According to recent reports, Taylor’s former PR man, who is now his long-serving Information Minister, Reginald "Reggie" Goodridge, is said to have thanked the paper "for giving the [play-play] government the opportunity to tell it’s side of the story to the vast and influential readership of the Washington Post" as if to say the whole world doesn’t already know what the Taylor despotic regime is all about.
Frankly, doesn’t Goodridge’s reported remarks stand in sharp contrast to the backward government’s earlier editorial position? It really does to me!
And wait, because that advertising run was just the beginning! Also according to allaboutliberia.com: "Two additional write-ups on [lawless] Liberia are expected to be published by the Washington Post in the months ahead", further "squandering" more money in Mr. Taylor's quest for redemption, while the depressed Liberian population continue to live in squalor, misery and crushing poverty.
Certainly, if the editorial remarks quoted earlier were made against the Post by a government other than Mr. Taylor's, then there would have been very good reasons to ponder. But the reality is that we're talking about a desperate regime that has absolutely NO CREDIBILITY - none whatsoever! Yet, when I spoke to some Liberians recently about the spread, they wondered why the prestigious Post would even accept to carry it (Taylor’s advertisement), obviously ignoring the fact that the paper is just like any other business entity that operates mainly for profit.
Still, others felt that the Washington Post should have taken the moral high ground by refusing the "blood money" that it knows very well comes from the NPP government's continuing corrupt practices and alleged criminal enterprises throughout the sub-region.
While each person is definitely entitled to his or her own opinion regarding this issue, we'll surely find out at some point how these advertisements would impact on the paper's future reporting on Liberia. Won't we!
Aside from how Liberians may view it, my main problem with this highly "insensitive" act on the part of the brutal Taylor regime is that such a large sum of money could have otherwise been spent appropriately to pay workers in the employ of government. After all, they're justly owed long-standing arrears by the repressive NPP regime. Doing this would not only bring much needed relief to the nation's struggling civil servants, who have been working very hard to keep this administration afloat, but it would go a long way in helping to change the negative view held by many against the crooked regime in Monrovia.
Alternatively, the amount could have also been used to provide much needed basic services for the people, like, clean drinking water, useable roads, schools, electricity, health care, transportation, etc., that are so vital to the sustenance of the collapsed state.
It could be said too that it's only foolish and irresponsible for the Taylor regime to continue to plunder the already devastated country, deliberately selling its vast natural resources to the highest bidder, including, the American televangelist, Pat Robertson, who is known to be interested in mining gold and diamond there. And what does Mr. Taylor do with the money from all these ventures? He continues to buy arms illegally, despite sanctions slapped on him by the UN for his alleged role in Sierra Leone, while the rest go towards paying for his flamboyant and exceptionally luxurious lifestyle, including, taking care of his many “young” concubines.
Can you imagine the people referring to the President's private residence as "White Flower" for its elegance amidst aggravating poverty? Only in Liberia, eh!
Meanwhile, as the lawless government in Monrovia engages in wasteful spending, lining the pockets of ‘unprincipled’ PR practitioners [bandits] in the US and elsewhere, "humanitarian agencies in the West African sub-region [especially Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia] are said to be requesting some $180 million [US] for various programs geared towards helping the refugees and other Internally Displaced Persons (IPDs). Of this amount, roughly $42.7 million [US] is reported to have been requested for [war-torn] Liberia to be used “mainly towards strengthening coping mechanisms of displaced persons and other vulnerable populations in a country where conflict between the [failed] state and [LURD] insurgents has spread in 2002."
Given this scenario, it would have been very prudent for the Taylor regime to help its own people by using the money that was paid to the Post and others to once and for all settle the government's old arrears instead of filling the pockets of people way in Washington, DC, who will surely find it very, very difficult to sell the NPP government here [US].
If Mr. Taylor were a sound thinker (he clearly isn’t), he would have at least contributed that amount to the UN effort which would have been a brilliant PR strategy in his efforts to promote himself. But he blew it again as he’s done on many other occasions!
Sadly, in their sick minds, the President and his men strongly believe that money (even those tainted with blood) can buy them anything, including, the salvaging of Mr. Taylor’s world-wide image as a ruthless thug and bully. Wrong! Money definitely can’t give back to him what he’s already lost and he’ll soon find out when he’ll have to face a Tribunal of some sort to answer for his numerous alleged crimes against humanity. He ought to accept the fact that no amount of money can buy his way out of this one never!
In order to rehabilitate himself and the country that he personally helped to wreck, there's one thing that "Ghankay" really needs to do (and urgently) as a starter - improve his record on HUMAN RIGHTS. This alone could go a very long way in convincing Liberians, and in the short run, the international community that he’s dead serious about finally turning a brand new page. But his actions must speak louder than his usually empty words!
In light of these advertisements, I was wondering whether anyone at the Washington Post has ever heard the now famous name Hassan Bility. Well, if they haven't, I'd like to introduce him through this medium by saying that he’s the news editor of the popular Liberian newspaper, the ANALYST. Almost six months ago, Bility was practically kidnapped by the tyrannical Taylor government on trumped up charges of planning to assassinate the unpopular President and has been held incommunicado ever since. Despite numerous pleas, including, those of the US government and Amnesty International (AI), to either bring charges against him in a court of law or set him free as required by the Liberian Constitution, the heartless regime in Monrovia has not budge. The government has since classified him [Bility] as a "Prisoner of War (POW)" and “unlawful combatant” [whatever that means]. But in reality, the world knows that he and many others are "prisoners of conscience".
In fact, the failed NPP government has become more repressive lately, arresting several prominent Liberian human rights activists in the war-scarred country, including, Aloysius Toe, Executive Director of the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights (MODHAR), who has since been charged with treason [his wife too was harassed]; Peter Nicholson, security officer at the National Human Rights Center; Blamoh Sieh, a key member of the National Human Rights Center, among others. Veteran local lawyer, Dempster Brown, Chair of the Liberia Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, was also arrested but has since been released as Nicholson and Sieh.
And guess why they all were arrested for planning to hold a peaceful march in solidarity with Bility just like we did here recently in Washington, DC, near the Liberian Embassy on 16th street. Had the government allowed it to be held, I’m sure that the march in Monrovia would have been peaceful and orderly just like ours. But the simple truth is that Taylor and his NPP government are afraid of their own people, despite their scandalous claim of winning about 87 percent of the vote in the last so-called election.
And so, it's clear that running a few pages of advertisement at the cost of several hundred thousand dollars won’t do the trick. Mr. Taylor will have to do more than that! But buying space in the Washington Post, as "ridiculous" [to quote the government's editorial] as it is, is by far preferable than spending the same amount on arms that would be used to further slaughter innocent Liberians. At least we can get some consolation from that!
We hope that the Post will join us in demanding Hassan's immediate and unconditional release as we are all members of the same fraternity. We should also not forget the fate of Aloysius Toe and countless others that are being held illegally in Taylor's dungeons. Sometimes it's truly better to put HUMAN VALUE above money (especially “blood money” from a tyrant) or other materials things. This just may be one of those times!