The Urgent Need for Impeachment
August 7, 2000
With allegations mounting against President Taylor for stealing Sierra Leone's diamonds and fueling that country's horrible war, Opposition Leader Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is calling on the House of Representatives to initiate investigations of the President leading to his impeachment based on their findings. We endorse this call, and urge the Legislature to put partisan considerations aside in saving the country from international disgrace by quickly launching a probe to convince the world of its independence and integrity. Otherwise, there is a case for collective guilt, in which the Legislature, by omission, becomes an accomplice in this international crime.
No other African leader, in recent memory, has gained so much notoriety, so much demonization, for the theft of other people's wealth as President Charles Taylor has. Few African leaders can match the unanimous condemnations pouring on the President for arming, training, directing rebels in another state causing atrocities beyond belief. Yes, Liberians may have decided to reward individuals who have caused similar horrors by jubilantly singing "You killed ma; you killed my pa, I will vote for you", but other nations and cultures have different standards. The Legislature would do well to note these standards and save the country from a much severe embarrassment.
Along this, we note that President Taylor himself has offered the Legislature a window of opportunity to clear his name. "Even a condemned man must have his day in court", he told an American delegation that accused him of financing and arming the ruthless RUF in return for stealing Sierra Leone diamonds. We believe that this is an opportunity the Legislature should grab to allow the President to begin clearing his name. Without this, the logical extension is that pressure will continue to mount for Mr. Taylor to stand along side his partner in crimes, Foday Sankoh, before the UN tribunal to clear his name if justice is to be done.
But we are aware of the stumbling blocks placed before the few honorable members of the Legislature, which is stuffed with criminal like-minded Taylor disciples. This body, which in theoretical terms should be independent in a government of "checks and balances", has become an appendage of the President. Those who have sought to be independent, like the now exiled President of the Senate, Charles Brumskine, have been forced to flee in order to save their lives. Mr. Brumskine's crime was to suggest that allegations for Liberia's involvement in Sierra Leone be investigated. For that, Taylor's thugs harassed him out of the country.
The contempt with which the President regards the Legislature, treating members like kindergarten kids, is evident in his warning that vehicles, which he "personally" gave to members of the Legislature, be used in accordance with his dictates. In a system in which the President is the sole custodian of wealth and privilege, independence of minds is impossible. Liberia has been built on such a system, which has now become more entrenched than ever. Therefore, carrying out Mrs. Sirleaf's suggestion, however honorable and patriotic it is, is a monumental challenge. Already, she has been linked to the rebel incursion because of her ideas.
But the evidence against Mr. Taylor is too "overwhelming", in the words of one American official, to warrant inaction. The United States UN Ambassador, Richard Holbrooke, speaking before the world organization, was detailed in his presentation of Taylor's criminality:
"It is fortunate that the Foreign Minister of Liberia and the Representative of Burkina Faso are participating in this meeting. Our bonds of friendship to those countries are deep and are historic and strong, especially in the case of Liberia. I appeal to them to end their support for the Revolutionary United Front and to put a permanent halt to their involvement in the diamond-for-arms trade.
"The Governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso, including through the actions of their presidents, are fueling the war in Sierra Leone and profiting from the arms-for-diamonds trade. The United States intends to support measures against both Burkina Faso and Liberia unless they cease their support for the war in Sierra Leone.
" I therefore believe, Mr. Chairman, that we must find answers and expose the truth wherever it leads us to the following questions, which should be addressed not only to the governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso and the RUF, but to other participants in this sordid and sorry story".
Mr. Taylor's response to these shameful and biting allegations, which have tarnished the image of Liberians everywhere, has been denials, denials, and more denials. His Foreign Minister, reacting to Washington's threats of freezing Liberian assets if Taylor does not end his RUF linkage, threatened America with similar actions. "The US Government has to realize that we too, can reciprocate. You seize our assets; we'll seize yours", vowed Mr. Monie Captan, forgetting that corrupt Liberian politicians like him take their loot nowhere else but to Uncle Sam. Freezing Liberian assets, which is an overdue action, will leave many of the diamond smugglers in the cold because their investment is not in Liberia, but in America. Most Liberian politicians have used their ill-gotten wealth to buy retirement homes in America, not in Liberia. Most have relocated their families there for safety. If carried out, America's action could deal a devastating blow to these "Ali Ba Bas" and force an end to their marriage to the RUF.
Since Liberia and Taylor's names became synonymous with diamonds and war, denials have been the official policy. But these childish denials negate the fact that Liberia is the only West African country neighbouring Sierra Leone in which the RUF have bases. RUF officials freely and openly move in and out the country. Their families live in Liberia, not in Sierra Leone. The Liberian corridor for the transport of arms, mercenaries, trainers, is all too available. The extent of the RUF's sophisticated armory clearly facilitated by Taylor can be seen in the capture of a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile by the Indians UN soldiers. Asked Holbrooke:
"Who manufactured that weapon? -- What middlemen sold it? -- Who issued the end-user certificate? -- Where did it enter African airspace? -- Where did it land? -- How and where was it trans-shipped? -- How did it find its way into the forest of Sierra Leone? In January 1999, for example, a single shipment of diamonds from the Koidu area of eastern Sierra Leone sold for one million dollars. We estimate that the RUF has garnered $30-50million and perhaps as much as $125 million dollars a year from the illicit sale of diamonds".
He tells us that: "The principal vendor appears to have been RUF leader Foday Sankoh until he was captured. Other RUF commanders, however, perhaps without Foday Sankoh's knowledge, also have been selling diamonds. The RUF dissident commander, Bockarie, also known as "Mosquito," transported diamonds to Liberia to buy arms and other supplies in1998. Credible sources have reported that a senior RUF ally laundered more than $12 million worth of diamonds in Monrovia in late 1998 alone.
"In the last several years Liberia has exported 6 million carats of rough diamonds worth $300 million, even though Liberia's estimated productive capacity is only 100-150 thousand carats--less than $10 million. This conflict diamond trade has generated substantial profits for Sankoh and other RUF commanders. All involved have undoubtedly siphoned off some of the revenue for personal use and there is reason to believe that RUF leaders and the president of Liberia have taken increasingly large commissions for each of themselves, and particularly for Liberian President Taylor for his services as a facilitator or diamond sales and related arms transfers. There are allegations that he's also charging unidentified investors licensing fees for permitting them to mine diamonds in eastern Sierra Leone. The RUF, for its part, has offered rogue investors fake 99-year leases on diamond concessions in exchange for money and materiel--leases they have no right or authority to offer".
Intimidated and helpless, Liberian civil groups have opposed the use of their country as an incubator for war, but they have been warned by the President to shut up or face his wrath, which means death or imprisonment.
But the onus is now on the House of Representatives. They cannot pretend that the slow disintegration of the country, along with its international status as a pariah and rogue state, is not their concern. For once, the challenge is that they show their bravery or sink with their boss. Cowards die many times indeed and some deaths can be more painful than others.
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