A Demon or Demonized?
By Tom Kamara
February 5, 2001
Truth has defeated deception, at least for once in Liberia's continuing tragedy. President Taylor has seen wisdom (again at least for once) in dropping his case against The Financial Times of London and Dr. Stephen Ellis, author of the acclaimed book, The Mask of Anarchy. Just why Taylor, who incessantly cries against what he regards as well-planned "demonization" orchestrated from Washington and London, waive such an opportunity to clear his name? Are we not now convinced now that the Liberian President, portrayed in the book as a cannibal, is in fact a demon and not demonized? Here are some sections in the book that led to court action. Quoting Tom Woewiyu, Taylor's wartime defense spokesman now Senator, Dr. Ellis wrote:
"Jackson Doe was not captured in combat, he walked
over to our side, led by some of fighters jealously to Kakata
where there was a very big festival in the middle of the war to
celebrate that a leader of our people had been saved; a leader
who [President Samuel Doe] wanted dead was saved. He was escorted
to Harbel to Mr. Taylor. He was received. At the time I was in
Sierra Leone. Taylor informed me that I should inform Amos Sawyer,
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and all politicians that Jackson Doe was
safe, only for me to arrive in Harbel one week later and he could
not tell where Jackson was."
Quoting from an interview, given on the basis of anonymity and published in the New Democrat of 23-29 June 1994, Dr. Ellis further wrote: "Woewiyu and others have made detailed allegations that Jackson Doe was assassinated, 'slaughtered with a bayonet' and his blood taken to Taylor. Woewiyu also claimed that Taylor personally drank the blood"
There are no doubts about the authenticity of Ellis' sources. Monrovia between 1990 and 1996 enjoyed unparalleled press freedom. Woewiyu, J. Lavali Supuwood, the late Samuel Dokie, all some of Taylor's heavyweights, had defected from his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and joined the despised "Monrovia politicians." It was a serious political and military blow. They formed a rival armed faction, the NPFL-CRC (Central Revolutionary Council) and became members of a confederation of armed factions opposed to Taylor. Along with many NPFL "Generals, commandos", etc., the independent media provided these disillusioned men with outlets to get the monstrosities "Behind the Lines", as Liberians called Taylor-controlled territory. There were lengthy interviews and confessions, and in one of them with this writer, Woewiyu charged Taylor with "having a death wish." He revealed a net of alleged atrocities committed under Taylor's command. Dokie (whose ethnic group contributed to Taylor's victory, and who was one of his most trusted recruiters) was determined to let his conscience rest. He offered marathon interviews on atrocities and crimes, and made denouncing public speeches against his former warlord. These interviews forced Taylor to publicly take all responsibility for his rebels' crimes. But he was unforgiving with his former comrades now opening to the public the NPFL tent of horrors. With Dokie, he vowed that, "I will get him, even if he goes into his mother's womb." Woewiyu, Taylor's partner with whom he reportedly formed a bogus company in the US to siphon money from the Samuel Doe junta, made up his links and rejoined Taylor before the 1997 elections. The reunion was expected, particularly after Taylor sent him a note saying he had retrieved his looted logging equipment and had them in safe keeping as Monrovia fell under an orgy of death and looting Taylor and Kromah engineered. One year later, Taylor didn't have to search Dokie's mother. Dokie, his wife, and two family members were arrested by Presidential bodyguards, tortured, dissected and burnt. Supuwood fled.
But Taylor has all along claimed he is being demonized unjustly as a "respected member of the international community." Following the death of Laurent Kabila, he accused: "big hands" in the Congolese leader's death although the Congolese themselves concluded it was the result of internal power struggle. But Taylor imagined that like Kabila, his "demonization" was leading to a Kabila-like exit from power.
"You dehumanized and demonized him and so, God forbids, if anything happens that's it," Taylor told his believing cabinet ministers.
Nevertheless, Taylor's case against Dr. Ellis, a former editor of African Confidential always careful in backing his views with facts and sometimes shy in giving opinions, an Africa hand with long experience of the continent's troubles, has been a fascinating one. It all began when the book was published. According to sources, Taylor's London-based Ghanaian cheering squad, including lawyers and journalists, immediately rushed a copy to him via the Liberian embassy. They convinced him that a libel victory was in the making . The Ghana squad probably counted on the fact that British libel laws in recent times have increasingly worked against the media, favoring plaintiffs. So they went to work with zeal and filed their case upon Taylor's consent. Victory would mean money, big money, and the Liberian dictator is known for his thirst for huge, limitless money. They were certain they had a case because within Taylor's supporters among Ghanaians in London, they see him as a redeeming figure. The Ghanaian editor of New African says the campaign against Taylor is not because of his human rights record or Sierra Leone, but because Washington had asked him to distance himself from Libya's Col. Gaddafi in exchange for reconstruction aid. Taylor refused, he said, and the "demonization" ensued.
What Taylor's London Ghana team lacked was actual knowledge of events in Liberia. What they claim to know comes from Taylor's lips and they prefer to believe him. Some members of the squad spent lengthy time with the warlord during the war, emerging from there with stories of liberation, not countless elimination of civilians. They were at home with the warlord, for dissident Ghanaian officers served in Taylor's rebel force, with allegations that some are still in his service. Thus as these grisly allegations against their hero emerged, they went to court in high gear. The other side too---The Times and Dr. Ellis---went to work amassing their witnesses and formidable evidence in preparation for battle. What Ellis and The Financial Times may have stumbled upon, according to sources, far surpassed what the academic had written about Taylor's reported cannibalism. Their findings made the human blood-sucking film character Dracula look like the Holy Mary. More than that, sources say, the team had witnesses lined-up to unveil the evils behind the face of a man the African-American politician Donald Payne praised for knowing "both worlds", Africa and American civilization.
Back in Liberia, impressed by his London team's legal advise, Taylor's Liberian lawyers vowed they would file suits against all those the author mentioned in the book as having offered help in the collection of materials. With Gloria Scott as Chief Justice, and if the case had been held in Monrovia since all those mentioned live out of Taylor's reach, he would have won, that is if the accused had lived to appear in court.
The Guardian of London reports that Taylor may have dropped the case because he claims he could not afford the 175,000 pounds deposit in case he lost, along with credible reports that human rights groups were awaiting his arrival in Britain to give him the Pinochet's treatment.
Taylor was reportedly deported from London in the mid 80s, and his arrival there on cannibalism charges would have been a media event. But giving his reasons for not contesting, Taylor said he did not want admitted in evidence his human rights and other records. "Counsel has advised that the effect of these decisions is that the English high court has refused to allow me what can be regarded as a proper opportunity to vindicate my reputation, because it has insisted on a form of proceedings which would be too broad, costly and time consuming," Mr. Taylor said.
What Taylor perhaps means by "too broad" are testimonies related to grotesque human rights abuses that could have overshadowed Ellis and The Times. With the war's end, many of those who fought in anticipation of rewards, have been left in the cold. Their accounts of the horrors, including summary executions of their colleagues and life-burials in the center of Gbarnga, are waiting to get international headlines.
As The Guardian concluded, Taylor "has realised that a trial would examine his central role in one of Africa's most brutal civil wars of the 1990s, marked by the wholesale murder of civilians, the widespread use of drugged child soldiers, and ritual sacrifices".
This fear of public exposure significantly led to the dropping of the case. It is a legitimate fear, for it would have led to the uncovering of the truth and therefore guilt. In today's shrinking global village and communication innovation, it is difficult to successfully demonize one who is not a