Taylor Proclaims Progress in
By Tom Kamara
February 12, 2001
President Charles Taylor's 3-year performance report, reflecting
an end of his 7-year gruesome war that delivered a ruined country
with over 250,000 killed, is crammed with promises and achievements---
"commitment to peace in Sierra Leone", unprecedented
economic recovery, a labyrinth of blames, promises of greatness,
the desire to woo Washington for its money, and many more, including
the forward march towards "reconciliation" and "democracy".
It is a palatable tale of plenty in poverty, never mind that the
UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says 35% of the
country's 2.5m people, about 875,000, are hungry.
More disgust over the report is indicated by denunciations from various human rights groups, including the Liberia Watch for Human Rights (LWHR) and the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC). LWHR accused the Government of fostering a policy "clothed with self-centeredness, oppression, mass corruption and exploitation of the national resources without accountability." The group said evidence from 1997 "clearly reveal(s) that Taylor is responsible for the economic hardship, lack of progress in reconstruction, reconciliation and reunification in Liberia." It said, the warlord turned president has "compromised the welfare of the people for his personal interest." On the other hand, the JPC denounced the report, stating that to the contrary, the economy has degenerated with Taylor failing to deliver on his multiple promises.
Thus in most structured and normal societies, Taylor's performance report, delivered in imitation of the grandiose style of Liberia's absolute President William Tubman he admires and sees himself as an incarnation of, would cause hilarious laughter. But in heavily militarised Monrovia, with soldiers occupying every corner as battles against insurgents continue, Liberians have lost the ability to laugh as sanctions loom. Many Liberians in and out of the country welcome the threatened UN sanctions, if not for anything but to dilute their President's taste for excessive wealth and halt his violence in neighbouring Sierra Leone. This report, presented during the notable and unexplained absence of leaders of the ceremonial Legislature, mirrors a performance that defies facts, crudely honouring fiction and delusions while intensifying false promises built on crumbling hopes. It is as if Taylor is deliberately teasing Liberians. "You wanted me, you've got me. I said I spoilt it and that I would fix it, but that's your problem---believing me." However, in this portrayal of fantasy as fact, some elements of sanity inadvertently escaped. Listen to him:
"In all of this we by no means stand here to make excuses or claim perfection. Yes, we have made some mistakes as we sought to administer the affairs of this nation."
But mistakes? These come when one is oblivious of the dangers of one's acts. Calculated, well-planned and fostered policies geared towards criminal acquisition of wealth can hardly be termed "mistakes." Admitting one's shortcomings can be a genuine beginning in finding solutions. The report does not reflect this. Taylor must however be credited for some "honesty", for he clearly gave Liberians a picture of what to expect if he became president. For 7 years as rebel chief in charge of the country's resources, and earning millions of dollars annually from rubber, timber, gold and diamonds, not a single school, clinic road, etc., was ever built. His rebel headquarters of Gbarnga, once a sprawling academic and agricultural town, is now a ghost of its former self, covered with looted and burnt buildings as grass consumes the few tarred roads he met. His "Executive Mansion", furnished with looted belongings of the late President Tubman, only reminds visitors of its former splendour. Let us now comb Taylor's report.
"Growth", More Promises and Promises
First, some clarifications are required before delving into Taylor's performance report on the economy, which so gloriously whitewashes the spreading poverty. What prevails in Liberia now is an institutionalised underground, criminal economy with the President and his cronies, including family members, determining the fate of the economy and controlling it. The recent UN Panel of Experts report, adding to many others, clearly paints this picture. The President's brother is the timber tycoon, in charge of forest depletion now constituting one of Liberia's main export commodities apart from Sierra Leone's US$700m a year diamond trade. Taxes are hardly paid, as indicated by this letter to the former owner of Oriental Timber Company, Leo Minin, arrested in Italy and wanted in many countries:
"We agree to buy two trucks for Bob (Taylor, President Taylor's brother in charge of depleting the forests) in exchange for the 100% discount in taxes Bob (Taylor) has been out of Liberia during last monthBob Taylor will be back in these days."
Two European newspaper, have published Minin's dealings within Africa apart from information contained in the UN Panel of Experts report:
"The Russian mafia has opened lanes for arms trafficking between Eastern Europe and Charles Taylor's Liberia. The mafia has also furnished arms to the Ivoirian regime of General Guei when he had doubts of a favorable outcome to the September elections. The Sales Certificate of the arms bears the date of May 26, and has the authenticated signature of General Robert Guei, Defense Minister, President of the Republic of La Cote d'Ivoire millions of bullets and grenades, mortars, grenade-launchers, night-vision and heat-seeking systems, AK-47 assault rifles. The certificate was addressed to La Societe de Moscou Aviatrend Ltd, whose director is a certain Valery Tcherny, better known to Interpol (Lyon) as Victor Vasillevich Dudenkov. More importantly, this document (certificate), whose existence was revealed by a collaboration between Le Soir and Corriere della Serra, was seized among other documents in possession of a first-rate, high-level mafiosi, the key man in this transaction: Leonid Efimovich Minin. We now enter a nightmarish scenario that rivals the best of James Bond"
In an Act before the rubberstamp legislature, Taylor goes further. He wants to be the sole individual, by "law", to decide the economic importance of all commodities including rice and palm oil produced mainly by subsistent peasants:
"The President of the Republic of Liberia is hereby granted the sole power to execute, negotiate and conclude all Commercial contracts or agreements with any Foreign or Domestic Investor for the exploitation of any of the Strategic Commodities of the Republic of Liberia. Such Commercial Agreement shall become effective and binding upon the Republic as would any treaty to which the Republic is a party, upon the sole signature and approval of the President of the Republic of Liberia.
"All mineral resources particularly, GOLD, DIAMOND, HYDROCARBON and any other finite Natural Resources Deposits such as, Natural Gas, precious minerals; metals and stones, now discovered or to be discovered in the future, which have economic and commercial value; and may be marketable domestically and internationally.
"All Natural Forest Resources particularly forest products such as, Logs and Timbers and other unique and rare species of vegetation and trees common and indigenous to Liberia. All unique and rare Sculptures, Arts and Artifact, (sic) Handiwork and Hand Crafts of historical, cultural, social, spiritual and economic value to the Republic of Liberia. All food and agriculture products, such a rice, coffee, cocoa, rubber and sugar, marine life as well as rare and unique species of wildlife and fishery such as fish, animal and birds indigenous to Liberia."
So we can see the rush to deplete one of Africa's remaining virgin forests, a rush spearheaded by Minin's Exotic Timber Enterprise and Malaysian-owned Oriental Timber Company leading the country's "growth." But the real growth, according to volumes of reports, can be seen in the pockets of the timber and logging sharks. Reports Douglas Farah in The Washington Post:
"But businessmen, diplomats and international aid workers
say huge amounts of money have been siphoned by a small group
of Taylor's associates and relatives. Onetime friends of Taylor,
such as former president Jimmy Carter, Jesse L. Jackson and others,
have withdrawn support and shut down their operations in Liberia
because of allegations of human rights abuses and government corruption.
''If you want to do business in Liberia, you do business with
Taylor,'' said one businessman who was told that a Taylor relative
had been appointed to the board of his business and would be taking
a share of the profits. ''He has his hand in everything and gets
a cut of everything.'' Taylor's lucrative business ventures generate
cash for his personal security apparatus and the purchase of weapons
rather than for rebuilding the nation, according to U.S., European
and Liberian sources. A prime example, they say, is the Hong Kong-based
Oriental Timber Co., known as OTC".
One of the startling but acceptable revelations in his economic performance report is Taylor's claim that the Liberian economy has registered a GDP of more than half its pre-war level. But the problem comes when he refuses, certainly intentionally, to state what its "pre-war level" is. He is however telling us, in simple terms, that the country is producing more goods now than when it was stable, with several internationally owned, reputable mining and agricultural establishments operating. But in view of the massive logging proceeding in complete disregard of the future or environmental concerns, and the illicit diamond trade, coupled with shady companies using Liberia as their addresses, such figures are not entirely crazy. For instance, the million-pound gift from the Hinduja brothers to Britain's Millennium Dome was channelled from a trust in Liberia, according to news reports. With such underground economic operations, Taylor confidently reported higher "growth":
"Forecasts of global growth for the year 2000 set 4.6 percent as the average rate. But based on IMF calculations, Liberia's real gross domestic product (GDP), at slightly more than half its pre-war, Billion-Dollar status, grew by 5.6 per cent during the period. In the previous period GDP had grown by 22.9 per cent, or four times more than this calendar year. High sector stimulus to GDP growth were sourced in the following sectors: The tertiary or informal, 18 per cent; manufacturing, 11 per cent, overcoming a negative rate last year; and agriculture, led by forestry, about 3 per cent". Therefore, Liberia's food problems have evaporated, Taylor says, because, "in view of increased large-scale production methods in agriculture, including forestry" And there is a deliberate confusion here. "Billion" what dollars? The Ghanky or the US?
But the report reveals that along with the announced "growth", revenue collection has risen to US85.8m. This is US$44.8m. more than the 1997 budget of US$41 million and US$20.8 more than the 1998 budget of US$65m. Again Taylor was careful not to dwell into US$85.8 collected compared to what? What was the revenue collection in 1988-1989, or before he assumed office, if that is too difficult? He says:
"Due to the intrusion of war, a lower but solid economic growth rate was sustained by a foreign trade level of 211 million US$, 7 per cent more than the year before. At 61.6 million US$, exports, largely led by rubber and logging, had grown by 23 per cent since the previous year, more than 88 per cent directed to Mainland China and Western Europe. And imports, at 158.9 million US$, had risen only 8 per cent during the same period, mainly due to landings of machinery and transport equipment..."
This gives us a clear picture of the stampede to deplete the forest before it is too late. If logging accounts for US$66.6 out of US$211m, and had grown by an astronomical 23 percent, we should expect no forests within a few years, a warning accentuated by the loyalist Minister of Agriculture last year. However, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, disagrees with Taylor's report:
"The JPC said the nation's economy witnessed no significant improvement since the incumbency of the National Patriotic Party-led government. The (JPC) report added that civil servants' salaries remained unpaid for as long as ten months", a Monrovia newspaper, The New National, reported.
Not so. Taylor claimed that "the efficiency index of revenue performance was respectably more than 93 per cent of revenue estimate," and that "compared with last year, revenue increased by 32 per cent. He attributed this "to percentage increases in five major areas, namely: forestry or logging, 288; grants, 100; customs and excise, 39; petroleum sales, 21; and maritime, 18".
But let us get another picture of the economy before the war when the forests had not been under such a merciless onslaught, when iron ore, coffee and cocoa played significant roles as foreign exchange earners, when farmers lived in dignity with increased production of cash crops.
Liberia's import and export figures in 1988 was US$707m, which fell to US$239m in 1997, plummeting further to US$119m one year into his presidency, and adding, according to his report, US$92m between 1998 and now for his US$211m gain (less than the US$300m which his officials was collected annually when they were in charge of resources in "Greater Liberia", meaning the their rebels' strongholds during the war)in foreign trade, again trade overwhelmingly tied to diamonds and timber. What can be said, therefore, is that there was continued decline, with a deficit of US$33.2m in 1997 and picking up during the last two years only because of the withering of the forest and, naturally, Sierra Leone's diamonds and other illegal businesses.
When he became president and requested the "international community" for US$3b for "reconstruction", foreign debts stood at US$2b, internal ones US$230m and climbing. Wages, if paid, remained dismal, with cabinet ministers earning US$20 monthly (compared to far over US$1,000 before the war) and therefore relying on theft as he defends them, accusing the international community for the corruption of his officials because the drums of money are not pouring in from abroad for "development." All this means that Taylor's first year in office, blessed with some economic structures left by his predecessors, was far better than the last two years, with clear signs that the remaining years will be far more disastrous than imagined. Moreover, with the US$85.8 collected, we are told that US$2m. will go for electricity and US$400,000 for water. With road construction, education and health, etc., left to OTC and others, and salaries unpaid, this leaves us with more than US$83m. There is nowhere in the report detailing how this money will be spent. We must therefore rely on former President Jimmy Carter's contention that most of the money Taylor collects goes towards "extra-budgetary" expenditure.
Taylor was a little economical with thoughtless, wide-ranging, promises presumably because there are no elections scheduled. Instead of promising to electrify the entire country as he did three years ago, with intensive reconstruction commencing two weeks after his election, he promised to privatise the electricity, water, telecommunication and housing. Judging from the Act before the legislature, we should expect he and his OTC to be the only buyers. One of his laughable and shameless showcases, the neighbourhood road in New Kru Town, which has been in construction for about a year, received no promise of immediate completion, only that, "In the capital city, the gasoline tax has been put to work in the construction of the New Kru Town Road Project, which should be completed in the near future".
But even if one accepts his figures at face value, with all the marvellous "achievements", wouldn't basic needs such as water and electricity become priorities to be met? Shouldn't state checks pass smoothly in banks without leaving "paid" civil servants with worthless papers and no money?
Conspicuously absent is the vow to give each school child a computer and introduce the US dollar as national currency, some of the funny promises that propelled Liberians to believe Taylor had his hidden billions looted from the war somewhere waiting for the Presidency to let them lose on reconstruction projects. Instead, the new promise is to sell key state companies severely looted and destroyed by his rebels and made dysfunctional.
Even with such an economic self-proclaimed miracle, reported only in the 1950s when Liberia registered the highest "growth without development", second only to that of Japan, Taylor says there are better days ahead when he sells state-owned entities such as water, housing units which Doe and Tolbert built. And to whip up unnecessary expectations, he told his people their problems will be solved "through better donor understanding, particularly with the United States", not Libya, Burkina Faso or Cote d'Ivoire, the sponsors of his war and therefore his presidency of ruins.
He listed a number of "outstanding" achievements---"17 new businesses hiring 1500" compared to the tens of thousands left unemployed since the destruction of the economy.
Further progress, he said, was lowered only because, "The deficit from the previous year, (signalled) a softening of growth and a slight redirection of resources to areas of primary and infrastructural production, rather than socio-economic development". Despite this shortcoming, "the vitality of the economy can be understood by such impressive production percentage increases as sawn timber, 94; Gold, 67; Charcoal, 22, and diamond, 185". All these developments in progress were possible because it was he who was, "Gingerly guiding the growth of the economy", since his "hands of fiscal and monetary management have been skilful, productive and committed". He again emphasized that, "Fiscal operations in the calendar year 2000, as conformed to legislative enactment, reveal that a total amount of 85.8 million US$ in revenue was actualised, about 2 per cent more than budgeted, almost 7 per cent of which consisted of critical bilateral grants of US$6.3 million from the Republic of China".
Progress within the economy, as he sees it, is everywhere, although they remain invisible to the naked eyes of tens of thousands relying on remittances from family members living abroad for survival, with Taylor crying in France that the "Liberian people are dying" and need help. But then there is surplus of 2 percent, and where did it go should not be a question? Certainly not in health and or education, or transport, water or electricity.
Our American-trained economist, who claimed to be the first college graduate to ever become the country's president, is carving an economic "theory" which surrenders development to underground companies and criminals in return for "development" projects. Thus he reports that:
"Highway projects currently underway, in cooperation with logging concession, including Freedom Gold, Maryland Logging and the Oriental Timber Company (OTC), are the Ganta-Zwedru Highway, the Harper-Zwedru Highway, the Buchanan-Tappita Highway, the Bomi-Gbarpolou Highway and the Sinoe-Bokungedeh Highway, among others", he proudly told his ever-clapping audience of legislators and others.
In the health sector, promises Taylor-style were endless, even though the country's only hospital is shutdown with now less than 24 doctors for the entire health service: "We stand committed to the health needs of our citizenry, and it will continue to be our resolve to keep this domain highest on our scale of priority", he said. But the facts on the ground speak differently. One of the very few private hospitals functioning in Monrovia, the Redemption Hospital, reports a daily increase of patients from 200 to 800. The Government's only assistance to this hospital is a small generator, and this must be, for a President who takes his medical treatment in Paris, sends wounded fighters to hospitals in Abidjan.
"Did we challenged(sic) the concerns of health among our people?" Of course yes, even if for the first time since it was built in the 70s, the state's only hospital was shutdown as wounded fighters flogged doctors:
"Our scope of health initiatives included the national immunization days 2000, that covered all counties, except Lofa, which was under intermittent attacks from dissident forces in that area. The success of this campaign is highlighted by the cooperation demonstrated by parents and the concerned people of the various communities." What he did not say is that this was a UN health program, not his government's.
Assisted by "companies", all these laudable achievements wouldn't have been possible without the role of the "First Lady" whose extensive "contributions" include 4 containers of unknown medical supplies, an arts exhibition (with Taiwan's money), 30 scholarships (for what and for whom?) 250 computers of unknown capacity, renovating the YWCA girls hostel destroyed by her husband, unknown medical help for Zorzor (her home town), Kru Town, Todee (a military camp) and with Libyan money, renovating a school. "We remain passionately proud of an energetic and emphatic, a truly outstanding first lady of the Republic," he made clear.
Further in the provision of health, the Taiwanese and the Cubans, not proceeds from the logs, rubber and diamonds, did the job. Taylor, a man who loudly beats his chest about sovereignty when kicking against allegations of stealing Sierra Leone's diamonds, gave a clear picture of this institutionalisation dependence with renewed pride: "Similarly, the Government of Taiwan dispatched a 26-man contingent called the Taiwanese Root Medical Peace Corps, which rendered free medical services to rural inhabitants in Margibi and Nimba Counties.
For a change, he said, (and one must conditionally commend him for this), "a change of attitude" is needed, adding that, "So often what we consider our problem is really no problem at all, except our own. Thus the principal obstacle we must overcome, many a times, is our negative attitude". Yes, and this change of attitude, of character, although difficult, should begin with Taylor's genuine, (no tricks) change of attitude, truly confessing his crimes against the Liberian people and repenting.
Education: "Higher" Literacy
For a man who promised "free education" during his presidency, similar "renaissance" was unveiled in the area of education. Although many teachers who survived the war remain in refugee camps, and in some areas like Grand Gedeh County recently reporting high level of teacher shortages, the President pledged the "thrust towards a literate society to show the intrinsic desire of our people to walk down the corridor of academia" He claimed to have "advanced the cause of an enriched education canopy in our country" This is the man who during the 1997 election campaign promised free education and computer for every Liberian student, but after three years of his presidency Liberian school children are still awaiting the promised free education and computers.
Yet, University of Liberia teachers, for half a year, have not been paid salaries or given promised benefits. But Taylor claims an "enrolment program increased by 22.3 per cent, an impressive climb of over 100,000 pupils, while the secondary schools enrolment increased by 5.1 per cent, which represents almost 6,000 in the number of students. Teachers were also beneficiaries of the hardship allowance (not paid) provided by government. The number of primary teachers increased by 4.0 per cent- almost 1,000 - while the increment among secondary school teachers was almost identical". Even if these figures resemble truth, the real truth is that private and church schools, along with relief organizations, are responsible, not him. And the fact is that the promised "hardship allowance" for teachers have not been paid for several months, along with regular salaries.
However, quoting officials and relief workers, The Washington Post recently reported that the illiteracy levels have gone up to about 70%. This is quite understandable in view of the fact that in a county like Lofa, noted for its schools, schools are virtually non-existent as the RUF rules the county. Once modern schools, such as the donor-funded "Multilateral High Schools" around the country were all destroyed. But Taylor told believers that his "mass literacy program, which encouraged a larder(sic) margin of literate Liberians surged through the success of the accelerated learning program. Data reveals a total of 3,402 students who enrolled, documenting a 67.40 per cent promotion scale".
Again as in other areas of the economy, he made it clear that this engine of "outstanding" growth is not in the hands of his Government, but in the hands of shady companies such as Freedom Gold of evangelist Pat Roberson, and the Oriental Timber Company of the Dutchman Gus Van Kouwenhoven. As evidence of his "progress" and "sound" economic policies, he listed a number of schools renovated by his Libyan war sponsors, schools mainly in the home village of some his protégés. Listing his dramatic "achievements" in education include the enrolment of about 3,000 in literacy programs, and proclaimed increase of teachers to about 1000.
The imagination of the Liberian President can further be seen in how OTC, responsible for creating a desert in tropical Africa with its continuing depletion of Liberia's forests, has become a "development" agency. He said key institutions, including the University of Liberia Fendell branch that was destroyed by his rebels, and a number of high schools, were renovated by his "friends", including Libya, OTC and Freedom Gold.
From the report, turning Liberia over to OTC to manage could be a better option, since he made numerous references to OTC: "As an integral part of our industrialization policy, there is currently a US$65 million wood finishing factory under construction by the Oriental Company that will provide employment for about 4,000 persons upon completion later this year".
Sierra Leone and Others
It is on Sierra Leone, a country he invaded in 1991 using his proxy rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), that one again notes fiction-overwhelming facts. References to "non-intervention in the internal affairs" of other countries disregard such acts as Taylor's condemnation of Sierra Leone's Ahmed Tejan Kabbah for permitting a 1999 demonstration against pal Foday Sankoh, insisting that trying Sankoh for war crimes was "stupid and foolish". It ignores the fact that RUF rebel chief Sam Bockarie regards him as "chairman" of the RUF and his "father". It dismisses the fact that he has repeatedly demanded the expulsion of British troops from Sierra Leone, insisted on power sharing with the rebels, and has continued to arm the rebels in return for diamonds, and that until the world got fed-up due to British anger, he saw Sierra Leone as a colony. But as with every aspect of his acts, there is a hidden hand in control, not him: He says:
"In spite of the stigma of international doubt about our sincerity and commitment to peace in Sierra Leone, this administration remained constructively engaged in all aspects of the peace process during the course of the year 2000". As with most of his failures, Taylor is not short of scapegoats responsible for his failed policies now breeding UN sanctions. Thus the threatened sanctions are the work of "some Liberians (who) continue to be unpatriotic as they persist in calling for the imposition of sanctions on their own nation and people". And because he "loves" Liberia more, he must plunge it into disrepute via violent meddling in the affairs of others. He says: "It brings to mind the solomonic(sic) dilemma, when one of two women claiming motherhood over a single baby consented to the splitting of the child in half. How, may I ask, could one love this country and its people, and call for the heavy axe of global sanctions to slay them?"
Public opinion in and outside Liberia gives a different picture. Several Liberian groups exiled and internal groups favour sanctions. The Liberia Watch for Human Rights said:
"The government's foreign policy is quite poor, malignant and bellicose, thus bringing the imposition of sanctions and a state of "political isolation on the nation," and that relations with its neighbours were "unsavoury, and that Liberia has "surrounded herself with enemies presumably created by itself in the sub-region Liberia is continuously accused by its neighbours of backing dissidents in Guinea, fuelling war in Sierra Leone, training mercenaries to unseat (Presidents) Laurent Gbagbo in Cote d'Ivoire and Yahyah Jammeh of the Gambia," the group claimed.
A political organization, which has been denied registration, the New Deal, called for sanctions. The group was immediately threatened with reprisals for referring to Taylor as "a criminal"
Sierra Leone Foreign Minister, Dr. Sama Banya, calling for sanctions against Taylor, said,"Liberian papers, Liberian movements, eight out of 10 political parties, 16 out of 20 affairs groups have called for sanctions because they say it is only the government functionaries who are going to be affected." He reminded the Security Council that ordinary Liberians "have not benefited from all this diamond trade.." "You visit Liberia years after this [has been going on] and you find no social services in place. So what further suffering are they going to have?" he asked.
Although he claims Washington paid US$2m to have him killed, he laments his loss of faith with Uncle Sam, but not due to his own insanities: "The year 2000, which marked the beginning of a new epoch, the heralding of the long expected new millennium. The first year of this century has eluded us, regrettably for reasons beyond our control. Above all, we had dreamed of a return to mutual respect, harmony, a cordial relationship without most important traditional ally - the United States of America. But this was not to be. Our goals of a Golden Age of new hope and new aspirations for reconciliation and unity, and for education and prosperity were hampered by a hostile fate of profound suspicion and sanctions".
But with all this, Taylor believes one of his objectives encompassed "bringing peace to Sierra Leone", admitting belatedly that, "sub-regional and national development would elude us as long as peace would escape us in Sierra Leone We had worked for peace and stability in our sister Republic of Sierra Leone". What is obvious is that all these pronouncements are meant to avoid UN threatened sanctions, paving the path to buy time and foster his policy of regional destabilization. He makes this clear when he says that "even our minimal growth targets would be nullified if the threat of the imposition of sanctions would become a reality, thus bringing greater hardships on the people, if Liberia were unfairly regarded as a negative influence on the process of sub-regional peace".
However, his principal fear outweighs the effects of sanctions on Liberia. It is the fear of making the illicit business more expensive, losing his international co-conspirators and in the end "business". The use of "civilians, as a protective shield against sanctions is a calculated continuation of his use of the civilian population as human shield during the war, a policy that the RUF has skilfully adopted. But since 1991, there are no shortages of new solutions to Sierra Leone, and they now include:
a) "Expulsion of all RUF personnel from Liberia and closure of their liaison offside, b) Institution of UN -assisted monitored diamond sales controls in Liberia for one year, c) Total suspension and restructuring of Liberian aircraft registry in collaboration with the international civil aviation authority".
These moves are however unconvincing, for even as Taylor was saying "goodbye" to the rebels in public, British intelligence was revealing RUF infiltrations in Guinea with Liberian help. "I don't think there is any doubt that there has been a concerted move. The RUF backed by (Liberian President) Charles Taylor could push forward small but effective units into Guinea," one of the sources, a senior advisor to the British defence ministry, told Reuters".
Reality and facts further give us cause to be suspicious of Taylor's overtures. Of the 11 Liberian registered aircrafts he promised to ground as an appeasement gift to the UN, only four can be traced, according to reports from Monrovia. Others cheaply and conveniently operate elsewhere in the unknown, just as the country's flag of convenience does for its Maritime fleet. Bockarie still lives in Liberia despite requests from Freetown to have him extradited, and only the unknown so-called members of the RUF have been "expelled". Also, Taylor has now added Kofi Annan, the US, Britain, to compliment ECOWAS and the OAU, as countries and individuals that begged him to link up with the rebels and now fanning his destruction.
"The big powers are out there to get me, after they have used me to do all the dirty work with the RUF. It was the UN boss, Kofi Annan, who called me and asked that I work with the RUF to bring peace to Sierra Leone. It was the White House that called me and asked that I try and get [ex-RUF commander] Sam Bockarie over from Sierra Leone to Liberia and today all of them are pretending as if I acted in isolation".
But does "bringing peace," mean amputating children's limbs, looting diamonds? Bockarie is now reported to be applying for Liberian citizenship to avoid leaving the country, with conflicting and unsubstantiated reports that he has left Monrovia. Where has he gone? How did he leave? Can he be located for verification? Doesn't the Liberian law say citizenship is not for criminals? Aren't diamond smuggling, gunrunning, and summary executions, criminal acts? Should we not condemn those who offer citizenship to such executioners as demons and not demonised?
Nevertheless, Taylor left no doubts that "Liberia continued to maintain relations of cordiality, goodwill and mutual respect with all friendly nations and peoples of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, and most especially those countries which have diplomatic representations near this capital". The truth is that this cordiality did not extend to his immediate neighbours (definitely "unfriendly nations") despite the wisdom that a good neighbour is better than a distant relative.
This grandstanding ignored his internationally known pariah status, as he paid tribute to the "achievements" of "my personal diplomacy." For this, he said, he was rewarded with, "several visits by our colleagues and brothers (meaning many of those African rulers named in the UN Panel of Experts report as co-conspirators in the diamonds for guns trade such as Mali and the Ivory Coast) in the spirit of bilateral cooperation, solidarity, peace and security of the sub-region and the continent".
Is there a need to remind him that this was only possible because of his tremendous influence over the RUF and must therefore expect no Nobel Peace Prize? Not so! He insists that the international community is guilty of ingratitude towards Liberia because, "When efforts by the international community failed to produce any result, Liberia was called upon to use its influence and diplomacy to help bring about the release of the UN personnel and their military hardware".
"Democracy" Replaces Dictatorship
"We will continue to protect human rights and the rule of law. Press and speech freedom will be vigorously protected. There will be no turning back," he told believers. But not disappointing his audience that cronyism remains his guideline, he emphasized, "We remain fully aware that, in any democratic political setting, the ruling party takes a greater portion of political job opportunities"
But reality is again different. His communication network beaming the only short-wave radio and born out of looted state and private media equipment, remains the only viable media outlet since it is financed with national resources. Headed by his wife who he said recently left the job, it is now run by another girl friend. Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, recently honoured as politician of the year by the once vibrant and now dormant Liberia News Agency, has urged that this Taylor's "private" media outlet be turned over to the state since indeed it is state property. Once viable and respected media establishments such as the Liberian Broadcasting Corporation, whose transmitters and other equipment went to the president's network, have been left to rot in the name of encouraging "private ownership" of the media to reflect "democracy." The donor-financed Star Radio, meant to offset this gross imbalance in information dissemination since Taylor's network duty is to repeat his voice, was shutdown. Newspapers refusing to sing his songs, such as the New Democrat, have been forced to close down. Taylor reportedly now owns over half of the shares in the country's only printing works. Presidential backdoor financing of "private" papers is a policy designed to let it be known that Liberia has an "independent media". Some of the country's best writers and broadcasters have all fled. Four journalists of Britain's Channel Four were bundled up, thrown in jail, tortured and charged with treason.
Yet, Taylor wants more media ownership and control as he prepares, 'to expand Liberia's access to the worldwide web, to expand academic capabilities and to contract(sic) media dissemination and misinformation". How this has not been done with his ownership of the only viable radio and television network, the only Internet provider owned by the wife of his confidante, Benoni Urey (the government of Liberia annually "places 10%", about 1.2 million dollars, "of the Maritime revenues into the personal account of Mr. Benoni Urey" - http://www.theperspective.org/urey.html), scores of newspapers in the country all financed with public money, remains the question. It was reported in 1997:
"On August 14, 1997, twelve days after Mr. Taylor was inaugurated president, he issued Executive Order #1 to the president of the International Trust Company (ITC), a U. S. based corporation that manages the Liberian shipping registry. Based on this order, the president of ITC was instructed to place 10% of the Maritime revenues into the personal account of Mr. Benoni Urey, Commissioner of the Bureau of Maritime Affairs. This was a classified information never intended for the public. As a result, Mr. Urey did not refer to it when he outlined his bureau's plans before the legislature".
When asked on Feb 6, 1998, in Washington, DC, by a reporter of The Perspective about this special arrangement, Mr. Urey admitted that President Taylor ordered the establishment of the account for contingency. "There is nothing unusual about it," he said.
The control is also aimed at foreign-based Liberian media outlets and writers. In a recent national broadcast, Taylor threatened those he regards as enemies circulating "misinformation" that they "will not get away with it, even if they enter their mother's womb."
Human rights are protected in words, not in practice. Three
years after, there is no doubt that the past under Doe was far
more humane than the present under one of his lieutenants. The
chair of the a human rights commission formed to woo donors has
reportedly resigned citing state obstacles in his work. One of
his commissioners, severely flogged upon the orders of the Police
Director, fled to the United States.
Disappearances and harassment continue. Key pro-democracy activists, including former interim president Amos Sawyer, journalists, lawyers, politicians have fled, other barred from returning since they will be arrested on trumped up charges of treason. Independent and vocal political groupings have been refused registration, with a group called the New Deal recently warned for indicating its preference for sanctions against Taylor. Tens of thousands of refugees have refused to return home. Kangaroo trials are common as disappearances. Nevertheless, progress towards more democracy is obvious in Taylor's eyes.
Slogans and speeches of removing the "dictatorship" of Samuel Doe's junta, a "dictatorship" (in which Taylor served as one of the top officials and a chronically corrupt one accused of stealing almost a million dollars and fleeing to the US, from where he escaped prison to begin the war with the backing of Burkina Faso, Libya and Cote d'Ivoire) continue at a higher rate. Hardly any speech is given without reference to "this democratically elected, popularly elected government."
"This government has launched a good governance initiative reconciliation and inclusion in governance of the country will continue. In pursuance of this policy, we will, as well, as we have done in previous years, exercise the Executive appointment prerogative with greater emphasis on competence of all Liberians regardless of their political affiliation; being careful not to unduly compromise the political privilege of our constituency, the National Patriotic Party", he said.
"During the year under review, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, as a manifestation of our desire to pursue our basic policies, we made some significant achievements by establishing two counties, thereby augmenting the political sub-divisions from 13 to 15 counties, with the creation of an additional statutory district. These counties are River Gee and Gbarpolou, and the statutory district of Tarjuwon in Sinoe County".
"To continue an outstanding performance of our solemn socio-economic responsibilities in 2001, government has also designed a Legislative and domestic agenda. It should calibrate our policy of political inclusion in government. But the question we must all ponder is what options do we have? The survival of our nation is at stake. We have sworn to defend, protect and safeguard the interest of Liberia, and this we must do. If disengaging from the process will save Liberia, then we must be courageous enough to take this stand."
It took Taylor three years, more destruction, more isolation, to realize that, "national political stability has been closely associated with relative economic stability. But this "stability" is indicated by the fact that new incursions have begun, with reports his soldiers executing one another as they confront insurgents, with his defence minister announcing a series of towns were burnt this week and civilians adopted. Civil leaders have called on the Government to ensure law and order. Prisoners are escaping from prisons leaving the population to live in continued fear. Yet, there is "stability" and an "outstanding performance."
As he said, "We have been assured that 2000 was a crisis year". What about 1997-1999 and 2001? But lets take our seats. Greatness is assured:
"The entire year 2000 can perhaps be accurately described as a period of crisis management, a period of protecting the sovereignty of our father land, a period of diplomatic challenges and of national reflection. If we believe in the saying that a bad beginning makes a good ending, then we must work harder, much harder together, to ensure that the remaining years in this new millennium will truly be the years of a momentous Liberian millennium.
"There is no time to make time, for this is no mark-time- march! No matter what detractors may say, no matter what defamers may do, ours can never be a futureless future. We must remain aligned with hope despite disparagement and despair. Having secured the flame of freedom, we still must rise up on eagle wings to seize the liberty of our economy, and brighten the landscape of our livelihood".
Deception can be cancerous. Men and women who loot other people's properties, destroy national economic institutions, supervise the hacking of children limbs for personal wealth and proceed to promote a culture of lies and tricks, and then talk are claim to have "secured the flame of freedom", are far beyond redemption. They are not nation builders, but destroyers. Those who cannot believe this will believe, and as Taylor pledges:
"May Almighty God bless the works of our hands, and save the state."