Charles Taylor Out, But More Taylors Still In

By James Seitua

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 21, 2004

The disgraceful departure of Charles Taylor from the Liberian presidency never ended his culture of theft and death he so artistically inculcated into his cronies. Some of these loyalists, now government officials by circumstance who in normal situations cannot pass for messengers, are the ones who are working with the government so that the government won’t work.

You want to know why? Imagine being a thief or a murderer in a nation governed by the rule of law. That says all about why those who proudly shuttled Charles Taylor’s moneybags and the death squad agents who did the dirty work of throat slicing are hanging out their necks to keep Liberia in turmoil.

It would be naïve to think that Charles Taylor, the master schemer with a lot of money, isn’t in contact with these bedbugs and some pseudo-entrepreneurs, contemplating a sinister design to implement his “God willing, I would be back” plan. That’s one of the reasons calls on Nigeria to stop being the only bar between Taylor and a prison cell have never been louder, and all Abuja needs to accommodate a popular world opinion is a sober reflection on the high price the Ivory Coast is now paying for helping Taylor.

As we try to bring Taylor to justice, however, we must equally deal with a very serious problem most Liberians, including some high government officials, would prefer treating as taboo for obvious reasons - this idea of dealing with unscrupulous Lebanese and other “business” people as partners in progress. Charles Taylor took this problem to a new height, and the opportunity is now the Liberian business people’s to get involved and take control while the world cares.

One didn’t have to be a political scientist to make out who ran (actually ruined) Taylor’s Liberia. All you needed was familiarization with names like George Haddard, Abbas Fawaz and Gus van Kouwenhaven. The power these men wielded and the business privileges they enjoyed during the directionless era of Africa’s most failed president were unbelievably astronomical, and there is strong evidence that huge sums of undocumented money in kickbacks flowed to keep the “relationship between the government and the business community cordial”.

Take George Haddard, for instance, a “businessman” who conducts business with senior government officials at his coffee table, meetings that almost always end with the handout of an already prepared envelope. Laughter and nasty gossips about Liberia and Liberians often bring down the house when the gutless official is gone, having sold his country for a bowl of porridge.

Still wondering how George Haddard got Taylor’s business right to monopolize the importation of rice, the nation’s staple? The answer is simple: a bad president made a selfish decision and the good people did nothing. That’s why the vultures are going about freely like the “wicked woman“ scripture speaks about who “eateth and wipeth her mouth and says, ‘I know no evil’”.

A report published recently by the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), an organization of rainforest activists based in Uruguay, linked Abbas Fawaz to illegal arms shipment to Liberian-backed rebels in neighboring Ivory Coast. The UN has corroborated this claim, but no action has been taken against Fawaz because, like George Haddard, Abbas Fawaz too entertains “high profile” guests at his coffee table.

In addition to illegal arms trade, Fawaz is involved in a massive destruction of Liberian forests through indiscriminate logging activities in the Maryland area. Efforts by the UN to impose sanctions on Liberian logs have so far not yielded their desired results. Corruption in government and lack of cooperation of some UN member states has made it difficult for the world body to succeed in these efforts.

The report, published last month, pointed out that the “president and chief shareholder of Maryland Wood Processing Industries (MWPI), Abbas Fawaz, has helped oversee the transportation of weaponry into Liberia through the Harper port, which is under the management of MWPI.

“In 2002, Fawaz brought weapons that were destined for use by Liberian-backed rebels in Cote d’Ivoire,” the report noted, underscoring the close ties between Fawaz and Taylor.

As if they’re saying, “If Liberians don’t care, we do”, Greenpeace activists have been protesting the shipment of Liberian logs in Italy. The activists, according to World Rainforest Movement, “branded the logs by painting them with (the) slogan ‘Logs of War’ since they came from the Liberian company, Maryland Wood Processing Industries, whose president (Abbas Fawaz) has been linked to the illegal trade of weapons, according to an expert panel report of the UN Security Council”.

Despite all this, Abbas Fawaz is regarded as a “partner in progress”, when his main purpose in Liberia is to engage in high-level crimes, tear down Liberian forests, displace local residents, and profit from their woes.

But if Liberia ever had any reason to declare one resident as an “undesirable alien” for “acts incompatible with his status”, that person would be Gus van Kouwenhaven, a Dutch “businessman” who has virtually transformed Liberia into his farm, where government officials serve as his workers.

How did he do it? Well, Gus knows the secret to success in Liberia is to shower a few decision makers with gifts, and that’s the weapon he has used so successfully to get illegally wealthy and uncontrollably powerful.

In 1988, for instance, Kouwenhaven ordered then Justice Minister Jenkins Scott to deport a law-abiding, private entrepreneur Mark Bannister, and Mr. Scott carried out the order just as Kouwenhaven had wished.

The only crime Mr. Bannister committed was that he opened a bar and restaurant - The Bannisters - and changed the way entertainment centers did business in Monrovia, thereby posing a stiff competition to Kouwenhaven Baccardi’s Disco at Hotel Africa.

Because Mr. Bannister did not keep a coffee table to entertain guests, he was deported, amid flimsy charges.

This is an example of what happens when one man becomes all men through an evil influence.

Take a look at this scenario and think about all the possibilities: Gus van Kouwenhaven is the owner and general manager of Liberian Government-built Hotel Africa, the largest hotel in Liberia; he’s general manager of Royal Timber Corporation (RTC); he’s chairman of Oriental Timber Company (OTC); he’s member of the board of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the government entity responsible for regulating and monitoring forestry activities, and he’s Taylor’s close confidante.

As the president’s man and owner or head of two major logging companies, Kouwenhaven acquired several concessions through a secret agreement to engage in logging activities in southeastern Liberia.

World Rainforest Movement reports that the concessions covered a significant portion of the forest block stretching from Grand Bassa through River Cess and Sinoe counties, and estimates the size of the area to range between 900,000 hectares to 1.44 million hectares.

Kouwenhaven knew the future was uncertain, so he needed to engage in short-term logging activities that would serve his long-term business interest. Having already made the FDA a white elephant, the president’s man succeeded in felling the trees he wanted to fell and ended with a deluge of Liberian round logs in Europe.

The WRM said no environmental impact assessment was carried out regarding the logging activities and vividly described how Kouwenhaven invaded southeastern Liberia with his logging machines:

“Clearcutting is practiced in vast areas using more than 140 caterpillars/bulldozers and about 75 trailers which work seven days a week, day and night, (with) each trailer making at least two daily trips to the port of Buchanan to deliver logs, “ the WRM revealed in a report, adding that “Given the speed at which OTC operates, a realistic estimate of log extraction can be put within the range of 2500 to 3000m3 of logs per day…”

The WRM, quoting a United Nations report, said Kouwenhaven was a member of President Taylor’s inner circle “responsible for many of the arms deals,” pointing out that through the OTC, Kouwenhaven organizes the transfer of weaponry from Monrovia into Sierra Leone” for use by the former RUF rebels.

The WRM, further quoting the UN report, noted, “van Kouwenhaven, linked to Liberia’s timber industry, provides a large amount of unrecorded extrabudgetary income to President Taylor for unspecified purposes.”

Although Charles Taylor has always denied exploiting Liberia’s natural resources for personal gains, the WRM put at $53 million the revenue realized annually from logging activities in areas under the control of the armed factions, among which Taylor had the largest group.

Like George Haddard and Abbas Fawaz, Gus van Kouwenhaven cannot fit the definition of a “partner in progress”. I stand to corrected, but my conviction is as firm as ever, that
if Liberia is to ever move forward, these parasites, not partners, along with their official collaborators must be stopped. Maybe we would need an advice from Jerry Rawlings to deal with the malignant cohorts.

By then, the message would have been quite unequivocal that Charles Taylor’s turbulent years in Liberia are over - hat off to the UN - and those who facilitated his menacing rule must to have themselves to blame for siding with a candidate bereft of any democratic credential, a man whose social, political relevance ranks in the negative zone; for who in this world with a little bit of pride would rest comfortably in the arms of a stranger he never welcomed but bruised, humiliated, and embarrassed?