First of all let it be said, again and perhaps for the one billionth time, that the United Nations indictment against Charles Taylor is not for crimes he committed against the people of Liberia, as hideous as those crimes are. The UN indictment is for the atrocities and barbarism he directly and/or through his agents committed against the people of Sierra Leone. The UN wants Charles Taylor to answer to the people of Sierra Leone for the rape of thousands of innocent women and children (and in some instances even young boys and elderly men). The UN also wants Taylor to account for the maiming of countless citizens of Sierra Leone. The UN and decent people all over the world want the former dictator to explain why little one, two and three-year old babies had to have their limbs hacked off by rebels belonging to the Revolutionary United Front, a savage and mindless armed group co-founded and financed by him. Taylor will also be required to provide “justification” for the death of more than 75,000 Sierra Leoneans, the theft of their natural resources (mainly diamonds and gold) worth millions of dollars and the total destruction of their country.
Hoping that I have reminded Mrs. Taylor of the reasons her husband is a wanted man, I will now move on to her senseless assertion that someone else or some other people are responsible for the destruction of Liberia.
It is often said that even a blind man can tell when he is walking in the sun. I suppose blindness, as used in this context, is not limited to vision. It must also be related to the mind, as only a deluded person will attribute to anyone, other than Charles Taylor, the principal responsibility for the horrors Liberians experienced during the period between December 24, 1989 and October 2003. Can a person with a deluded mind tell when he or she is walking in the sun or on hot lava? I don’t know the answer but I do know that the mind is said to be the control center of the human body.
Indeed Liberia’s history prior to December 24, 1989 is replete with corruption, undemocratic rule and political, social and economic exclusion of the vast majority of its population. It is also true that when Taylor launched the war to topple Samuel Kanyon Doe many Liberians were delighted and some joined forces with him to achieve that goal. I stand guilty as one of those who were pleased to hear that Taylor had launched a war to get rid of the Doe government. After all Doe was a brutal tyrant who did not like dissent. His government was filled with people who thought the nation belonged to them and everyone living in it owed his or her very existence to them. It is equally true that when Charles Taylor launched the war he promised to liberate the country from Doe’s brutality and undemocratic governance and bring true economic, social and political stability and development to the country. He promised a democratic Liberia that was just and fair to all. Now, given that Samuel Doe was such a brutal dictator and Taylor promised to liberate Liberians from that brutality, how in the world Mrs. Taylor cannot understand why people took to her husband’s stated mission to rid Liberia of Doe? Perhaps someone should tell Jewell that this is how any oppressed people in any part of the world would have responded as they sought so desperately to get rid of a dictator and tyrant who was torturing and killing them and pillaging their country.
The problem is not necessarily that Charles Taylor started the Liberian civil war. And the problem is also not necessarily that Liberians supported the civil war, especially in the beginning. The problem is that Taylor subsequently decided to fight the war against the very people who were the victims of Samuel Doe and past governments’ brutality and undemocratic governance. The disappointment and troubling reality are that Taylor reneged on his promise to rid Liberia of brutal and dictatorial rule. He became the nation’s problem at its highest height and in its most destructive form. More than 200,000 Liberians lost their lives and hundreds of thousands more became refugees in their own country and in foreign lands. Charles Taylor, along with his domestic and international collaborators, stole everything of value within their reach. He and his cohorts reduced the once proud, hopeful and hard-working people of Liberia into hopeless baggers. He forcibly recruited innocent young boys and girls into his rebel army, drugged them and turned them loose to brutalize innocent and defenseless men, women and children. Indeed there were other warlords in the Liberian civil conflict. They and their rebel factions are equally guilty of brutality and theft of the nation’s resources. They are neither immune to blame nor free of responsibility. However, what happened to Liberians and their country from December 24, 1989 to October 2003 is a precipitate of Charles Taylor’s evil, uncompromising and greedy quest for power and wealth, a quest he was determined to see to the very end, irrespective of the cost in human lives and the moral and economic toll it exerted on Liberia and the West African sub-region.
When Samuel Doe was killed in September 1990, reasonable people in and out of Liberia thought that Charles Taylor was going to abandon the war and seek power through the electoral process. Common sense dictated this was a better alternative to continued civil conflict and destruction. After all Taylor had said that the war was necessary to rid Liberia of Doe and Doe was now dead. But did he order his forces to cease hostility in pursuit of national reconciliation and reconstruction after Doe’s death? Absolutely not! He did not and we know now that he could not because he wanted everything for himself and at any cost. It was either his way or the hard way. He intensified his violence against the people and sped up the total destruction of Monrovia and the rest of the country. Of course he did not confine his brutality and destruction to his own country. Charles Taylor expanded his barbaric adventure into the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Guinea. It eventually spilled over into Ivory Coast as well.
Mrs. Jewell Howard Taylor was also quoted as saying:
“Liberia was at a point where it could have been a John Doe. There was so much that had happened that created a ripe situation for a crisis”.
Well, first of all if it were a “John Doe”, that “John Doe” would be held accountable and responsible for the evil he put the people and nation through. Unfortunately for Mrs. Taylor it was not a fictional “John Doe” who set into motion the destructive forces that killed more than 200,000 Liberians and left the country in complete ruins and flat on it back. It was her husband, Charles Taylor. No amount of blame-shifting can obliterate or nullify this fact.
The Liberian Observer newspaper article additionally quoted Mrs. Taylor as saying that many citizens did not care about the problems that prevailed in their country because, as she put it, “it did not affect them”. She went on to say that it was only after the situation “became a national disaster” that people paid attention to it. Jewell could not be more wrong. Many, many people cared about the evil that was happening to them and their country as nearly 94% of the population was affected. This 94% consisted of those who were systematically excluded from participation in making decisions that impacted their lives. They were dispossessed and did not have access to the economic and financial resources of their own country. I do not know where Mrs. Taylor was during the period between 1977 and the later part of 1983, for example. But first as a student and then as a teaching assistant at the University of Liberia during that period, I can attest to numerous incidents in which students and others spoke out and protested against corruption, undemocratic practices and police brutality meted out against citizens who exercised their right to free speech and peaceful assemblage.
As a student at the University of Liberia (UL) during 1977 to 1980, I participated in protests against unjustified tuition hikes that were intended to lack out deserving citizens who did not have the financial wherewithal to pay for their college education. I remember how an influential member of the Liberian government during the Tolbert administration was said to have characterized the University as “not a place for everyone”. If my memory serves me well, this statement was made during a meeting the UL Board held with the student body government in 1979. The very high-ranking government official was responding to students’ questions about the government’s justification for a proposed hike in tuition and fees at the University. Students at the University of Liberia and most observers interpreted that statement to mean that the University of Liberia was not a place for poor boys and girls whose parents could not afford to pay the higher tuition and fees. And as anyone who is familiar with Liberian politics knows, this government official was talking about the sons and daughters of those who were already lacked out of the system through which the nation’s resources were managed and economically distributed. The University students did not waste any time in showing their displeasure for and rejection of this characterization of Liberia’s highest national institution of learning.
History shows that the Tolbert administration and the People’s Redemption Council government, for example, never hesitated to send heavily armed police and military personnel to the campus of the University of Liberia to ransack it and brutalize its students because the students dared to speak out against corruption, brutality and bad government. And by the way, where was Mrs. Taylor on April 14, 1979 when more than 600 people where killed by members of the Liberian National Police force for protesting against an unjustifiable proposed increase in the price of Liberia’s staple diet, rice? That proposed price hike was designed to benefit a few members of Liberia’s ruling class along with their thieving Lebanese merchant friends to the financial and economic detriment of the poor masses.
As a freshman student at the Kakata Rural Teacher Training Institute (KRTTI) in 1973, I remember how we had to boycott classes to protest the non-payment of our $10-monthly stipends. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you are reading this correctly! The stipend was only $10 a month per student! Mind you, there were no more than 150 to 160 students at KRTTI that year. The Ministry of Education had failed to pay our stipends for seven months (March through September 1973) in spite of the fact that the United Nations Development Program, the financial underwriter of the teacher training programs at KRTTI and Zorzor Rural Teacher Training Institute in Lofa County at the time, had made all the required funding for that fiscal year available to it. Apparently a few corrupt higher-ups at the Ministry of Education had either converted that money into their own use or used it in ways other than that which it was intended. When officials from the Education Ministry arrived on campus a day after we started our boycott, they refused to listen to out grievances. Instead they ordered us back to class and threatened to dismiss any student who did not go back to class. During an assembly session held in the Institute’s cafeteria on the same day, a student was expelled from the school because he asked a question the Ministry of Education officials at the meeting did not like. Why have I narrated this rather archaic story? I have done so to let Mrs. Taylor know that Liberians were fighting against undemocratic rule and standing up to corrupt government officials who were supposed to represent them and their interests well before her husband came on the scene and engineered the most monumental man-made disaster Liberia has ever known in its more than 180-year history.
Mrs. Taylor’s attribution of Liberia’s problems to destiny was perhaps the most outrageous and ridiculous statement she was quoted as making. It also would have been the most laughable were it not for the seriousness of the multitude of problems facing Liberia. Disappointment, pain, illness and eventual death are among the vices bestowed on us by our Creator. We, as human beings, often have very limited or no control over these naturally occurring vices. But the evil that happens to us as a result of someone’s barbarism, tyranny, despotism and insatiable greed for power and wealth is not excusable on account of destiny.
Mrs. Jewell Howard Taylor tried vainly to attribute Liberia’s current state of affairs to past administrations and to ordinary and often well-meaning citizens. However history and reality show that the most significant part of the blame lies squarely at her husband’s feet. No amount of re-writing Liberia’s history or revising and re-describing the nature of the events that happened to Liberia and it citizens during Taylor’s reign of terror can invalidate this truth. She and others who were part of that evil era have now re-packaged themselves and have once again convinced (some would say fooled) the people to put them at the helm of power. She and the rest of that group will do well for themselves and for posterity if they cease, desist and stay away from any acts that will further destabilize Liberia and subject its people to more despair and strife. For more than 14 years the people of Liberia saw and experienced evil in some of its crudest and most violent forms. They are not afraid any more. Believe it or not! They will prevail over anyone and any force that tries to re-subjugate them to tyranny and barbarism. They will no longer sit by in fear and apathy and let a few greedy, selfish, wicked and mindless individuals pillage their country and send its resources off into overseas bank accounts while they languish in abject poverty and misery.