Teahjay "Found" in Taylor's "Pepperbush?"

By Tom Kamara

The Perspective
April 17, 2001

The stupefying story around Milton Teahjay, the missing former Deputy Minister of Information and Media Consultant to Charles Taylor - allegedly reported executed earlier in the now familiar pattern of secret executions, indicates the level of entrenched state-backed Mafia power which criminal logging sharks now wield in Liberia. Conflicting and unconfirmed reports from Monrovia mainly from Teahjay's political "comrades" within the regime say he is alive and out of the country. But the tale of the missing mouthpiece of one of the most tyrannical regimes in Africa continues.

The Teahjay saga only shows Taylor predicament in keeping greedy cronies like Teahjay in line as resources dwindle. Gradually deprived of Sierra Leone's diamonds, life without the forests is impossible for Taylor, his foreign partners and local cronies. By questioning the wanton withering of the forests, Teahjay, a loquacious beneficiary of the looting regime who reports say was constructing a mansion and got disappointed when the "brown envelopes" (US dollars) from Taylor stopped coming , failed to read the handwriting on the wall, earning the wrath of his master he once enthusiastically praised as the "kindest" man, the "finest politician" he "had ever known".

Taylor's self-contradictory statements on his missing former zealous spokesman tell just one story contributed reports that the man was dead, just as many others before him. All other acts in this yet gruesome chapter of a primitive reign of terror implanted are meant to conceal this truth.

The frantic campaign of denials only led to more exposures of the primitive brutality that is part and parcel of a group of individuals running this West African state of less than 3m people, with many still languishing in displaced and refugee camps. Taylor's disciples insisted that Milton Teahjay was at the US embassy, a claim that the Americans have consistently rejected and denied. "We have not heard anything from Mr. Milton Teahjay, we have not seen him and we do not have him," said Ms. Sarah Morrison, the Embassy's Director of Public Affairs.

Taylor claimed he knew Teahjay's whereabouts. If so, what stopped a man who commands all brutish security forces in the country from producing his missing disciple? A few days ago, Taylor said "One of the those bent on destabilizing the country has been arrested while attempting to leave the country secretly", a report confirmed by his Police Director who said the man was undergoing preliminary "investigation" for the "crime" of leaving the country "secretly". Although there are many Liberians angry over the ongoing loud demands for justice in Teahjay's case since he was one of the most unscrupulous defenders of an atrocious regime, others simply cried foul because no one, however opportunistic as Teahjay is, should be subjected to arbitrary killing. True, some members of Teahjay's political grouping, the United People's Party, are shameless, turncoat opportunists who see politics as means of advancing personal economic agenda, and this is one great common variable they share with the Taylor gang of South Bronx gangland operatives. It is therefore not amazing that these UPP members, including the party founder, G. Baccus Matthews (who gave Teahjay's grieving family a 3-hour ultimatum to produce the man), have joined Taylor in a game of concealing what has actually happened to a man who once declared that, "Taylor has committed no crime or done no wrong in Liberia."

But Teahjay made a reckless mistake of questioning Taylor's claims to Liberia's disappearing forests when the forests have kept Taylor's military machine rolling for regional destabilization while financing his lavish life-style and sustaining cronies. The UN Panel of Experts on Sierra Leone emphasized this dilemma when they revealed to the world what Liberians already knew but could not change, which is foreign complicity in the country current destruction. The Panel said, among others that, "(Leonid) Minin and (Gus) Van Kouwenhoven are linked to Liberia's timber industry, which provides a large amount of unrecorded extra-budgetary income to President Taylor for unspecified purposes. Three companies are involved: Exotic and Tropical Timber Enterprise (ETTE), Forum Liberia and the Indonesian-owned Oriental Timber Company. Van Kouwenhoven is responsible for the logistical aspects of many of the arms deals Through his interests in a Malaysian timber project in Liberia, he organises the transfer of weaponry from Monrovia into Sierra Leone. Roads built and maintained for timber extraction are also conveniently used for weapons movement within Liberia, and for the onward shipment of weapons to Sierra Leone."

But despite this fact, Britain and Washington, at the UN Security Council, failed to convince France and China to include Liberia's timber on the list of threatened UN sanctions against Taylor. France resistance was not strange because Paris has backed Taylor looting regime since the formative days of the war. Top-ranking French officials, including the son of late French President Francois Mitterand, found their way to the rebel headquarters to conclude business deals with the marauding warlord. French ties with Cote D'Ivoire gave that country courage to back Taylor's rebels in turning West Africa into a mass grave and home of limbless children. The Chinese simply found money more important than justice., and who can blame them when their ally is the country, France, that offered America the Statute of Liberty with slogans of fraternity and liberty?

Meanwhile, Liberia's decay continues. The unprecedented destruction of the forests has brought only misery, and not the perceived benefits. As the Catholic Archbishop of Monrovia, Michael K. Francis, correctly observed, "The government tells us they don't have the funds, they don't have the money. Sometimes one wonders, when we see all these cars going around, when we see the private buildings of the functionaries, you start questioning."

Writes Ivan Watson of the Voice of America after a recent visit: "There is no jungle remaining around Gbesee Town. But there is a four-lane wide unpaved highway called the OTC road. 'Dozens of trucks from the Oriental Timber Company, or OTC, barrel down the road every day, carrying logs to be loaded on ships waiting at Liberia's ports,' says Jonathon Osarade, born in Gbesee town. He says the road has provided better transportation to his remote community, but he said no one from Gbesee has been able to find work at the logging camp. He says Malaysians and Indonesians drive the OTC trucks. With soldiers and heavily armed police patrolling the logging port of Greenville, few residents dare voice any criticism. Timber company owner Oscar Cooper denies charges that his men are cracking down on public dissent. He says his company employs hundreds of Liberians. "What is the substitute?" he asks. "What would you lend the companies that you say are destroying the forests? Have you come up with a program that would provide jobs for the people, that would say, 'industry, let's do conservation logging?'"

When students at the University of Liberia questioned the indiscriminate manner in which the forests are being destroyed, Taylor tried to placate by offering half of the proceeds from his logging company, OTC, for the preservation of the University campus. That was the end of the promise, like all other promises out of Taylor since he initiated his campaign of national and regional destruction. Convinced that the former warlord was bent on depleting the forests, the students intensified their protests. Taylor responded by accusing them of harboring "Marxist-Leninist" ideas. Teahjay, his missing media guru, castigated the students for allowing themselves to be used by the politicians.

The fact is that organized crime in the form of politics has descended upon this helpless West African state with over 80% illiteracy. Mass resistance to the kind of plunders instituted by a clique of Liberians, men and women better suited for gangland operations in the South Bronx now roaming as political leaders, can be fatal. As Teahjay's case indicates, peaceful resistance is futile. Taylor recently said in case of planned demonstrations, he would leave the demonstrators and go after their suspected organizers. Thus when Teahjay threatened a mass protest to expose and halt the destruction of the forests in his home area, Taylor's threat was implemented.

Taylor's Vice President, Moses Blah, a corrupt Policeman who rose from a street money changer prior to his recruitment in Taylor's Libyan trained Special Forces to become Vice President, was immediately dispatched to ensure that the timber companies were protected.. His presence was an ominous sign that whoever entered Taylor's self-declared "presidential pepperbush" would not leave alive since the American prison escapee had long indicated he wanted a personal command of all national resources, particularly the forests. In an Act sent to the lapdog Legislature, Taylor made his wishes clear. He wanted:

"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 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 unique and rare Sculptures, Arts and Artifact, 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"

What is now also clearer is that the logging sharks are quickening the cutting of trees believing their days are numbered. More and more logs are leaving, leaving deserts in once forested areas. A Government newspaper recently reported that:

"Judging from the destructive rate at which the Royal Timber Company (RTC) is reportedly extracting logs, indications are that Liberia will have no forest reserves within the next ten (10) years", a Liberian environmentalist (who) begged for anonymity has lamented.

"RTC, a foreign logging firm owned by Mr. Gus Kouwenhoven, a businessman of Dutch origin, is said to be extracting maximum selective logs from the Gbapolu forests. He observed that the bridge constructed by the RTC was purportedly in the name of development as the road on which the Royal Timber Corporation is only using the bridge it constructed for intensive logging operations"

"Conservationists say there has been a dramatic increase in uncontrolled logging in this forest. Reg Hoyt, of the Philadelphia Zoo, says that since the end of Liberia's civil war in 1997, the export of forest timber has become the government's key source of revenue. "It almost, in my view, has resulted in a gold-rush-like mentality for the forests of Liberia," he says, "and my guess is that, with the size of the concessions and the size of some of the companies working here, we could see a loss of the vast majority of the pristine forests that remain right now within the next 10 years", VOA's Watson writes.

Teahjay may have seen Taylor as saint who has "committed no crime, done no wrong in Liberia". But he has also contributed to the debate over the future of Liberia's withering forest, even for purely opportunistic reasons. Defending crooked tyrants may prove financially rewarding. It can also lead to a terrible fate, since challenging a ruthless benefactor entails uglier uncertainties.

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