"Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows"

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective

Atlanta, Georgia

January 20, 2002

The Taylor-owned propaganda website, All About Liberia, recently carried a self-promotional article under the title: "Dr. Tipoteh Acknowledges Enjoyment of Freedom In Liberia". It went on to quote Dr. Tipoteh as saying: "My rights and freedoms have been respected at all times by the Charles Taylor-led Government of Liberia." The article further stated, "Dr. Tipoteh who appeared on a local talk show over the weekend in Monrovia emphasized that the government of President Taylor, despite the current military aggression waged against it by rebels of the Liberian United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), has not restricted his movement or harassed him in any form and manner."

I had no way of verifying the authenticity of the statements attributed to this once-gallant defender of democratic principles. In the absence of an official announcement from Dr. Tipoteh's office to denounce these statements, if in fact they are untrue, one must accept them as true. Then, assuming they are true, I'll be blunt to describe this act of political shenanigans as shockingly disappointing and distasteful.

Before you renowned political gurus and intellectuals jump to the aid of Dr. Togbah Nah-Tipoteh and crucify me for attempting to denigrate and disparage this once great symbol of the Liberian struggle, let me make it clear that it gives me no great pleasure to make this observation. I, too, have favorable memories of Dr. Tipoteh - shall we say the Dr. Tipoteh of yesteryear?

Yes, I remember the Dr. Tipoteh of the early and mid seventies whose brilliance and commitment to freedom and justice made us young revolutionaries gasp in awe just by the mere mention of his name. I remember the Dr. Tipoteh who challenged the government of William R. Tolbert and got away with it because of his grass-root support among university students, high school students, market women, farmers, yannah boys, taxi drivers as well as fellow intellectuals - a cross section of the Liberian population.

That was then, this is now. The truth hurts, but it must be told; we owe it to ourselves. A lot has transpired since the idealistic and impressionistic young and dynamic political firebrand awakened our collective consciences and made us aware of our plight. It seems father Time has robbed us. Gone is the giant prophet we knew and loved. Left is a skeleton of the real deal - an old man whose only desire now is to fulfill a raw ambition - to become president of Liberia .

Sometime last year, in an attempt to sugarcoat reality, President Charles Taylor called for a national reconciliation conference to be held in Monrovia. Prominent opposition political figures both in and out of Liberia were invited to attend. Dr. Tipoteh was the only notable politician of stature to attend. At the end of the conference, during which nothing of significance was achieved, Dr. Tipoteh and President Taylor appeared in a joint photo with the caption: "Dr. Tipoteh holds up the hand of President Taylor."

PresidentTaylor (R) and Dr. Tipoteh
A careful scrutiny of the picture seems to reveal, however, that it was rather President Taylor who was holding up Dr. Tipoteh's hand. As President Taylor faced the camera gleefully and devilishly smiling, Dr. Tipoteh bowed his head looking downward as if ashamed to be caught in the same space with this sly fox. There they were, one looking triumphant (or pretending to be), the other looking guilty and subdued.

That same picture was carried recently as the article under review went to press. Is it not true what they say, "A picture is worth a thousand words"? It seems like when it comes to propaganda, the boys in Monrovia play a mean and smart game.

"United We Stand, Divided We Fall"

As the October elections approach this year, President Taylor went on the offensive by establishing the rules. He declared the constitution of Liberia requires that a candidate for the presidency of the Republic of Liberia must have lived in the country for at least ten years immediately prior to the elections. Aspiring opposition candidates as well as other political observers cried foul, basically, for two reasons: Number one, the Constitution to which Mr. Taylor refers took effect in 1986. Had this rule been stringently enforced or applied, Mr. Taylor himself would have been ineligible for the last elections (1997) which he won to become president, because he had only been in the country less than ten years prior to the elections.

Secondly, (and this is the argument I personally prefer), it is counter logical to threaten people's lives, run them out of the country forcefully and then claim they lose their constitutional rights by their absence. Doesn't it matter that you drove them out in the first place? Bogus.

Instead of standing up with the opposition and challenging Mr. Taylor's false logic, Dr. Tipoteh is gearing up to officially announce his candidacy for president. To top everything, he now claims to enjoy freedom unimpeded in the country. The logical conclusion is that Dr. Tipoteh is lending critical support to Mr. Taylor's regime, by giving him the credibility he so craves. This amounts to a travesty of justice; nothing less. The fact that it comes from such a historically recognized giant of the opposition lends a crumbling blow to the cause. We must resist!

Assuming Dr. Tipoteh's "rights and freedoms" are being respected in Charles Taylor's Liberia, the question that comes to mind is: What about the countless Liberians that can't make the same claim? Hassan Bility, a citizen journalist was jailed, beaten and eventually exiled - exiled from his own country; the government said it couldn't guarantee his safety. This is the same government that respects the rights and freedom of Dr. Tipoteh.

A prominent human rights lawyer, Tiawan Gongloe, was also brutally beaten and kept in a cold, wet cell for making a speech the government deemed inflammatory and antagonistic. He now lives in the United States seeking medical treatment while he ponders the barbarity and lawlessness of those buffoons in control of our country.

Another human rights activist, Aloysius Toe, languishes behind bars for planning a demonstration against the government for jailed journalist, Hassan Bility. The government has hinted at releasing Toe and exiling him, as well. What kind of government sends its citizens into exile?

International human rights organizations worldwide decry the horrible record of the Liberian government as it forcibly conscripts child soldiers, among other crimes.

The president's son has been implicated in two murders and hasn't spent a minute under investigation. He allegedly shot his driver and recently killed a police officer on duty. In the meantime, the president's relative who was incarcerated for shooting and killing a cabdriver who had overtaken him in traffic has been released by presidential pardon. I bet those victims' relatives will not boast of enjoying freedom in Taylor's Liberia.

Former Senator Charles Brumskine had to leave the country under the covers of darkness - disguised - when he felt threatened because he had the audacity to do his job as required by the constitution. The president blacklisted him. Later on, when the president learned that Senator Brumskine had fled the country, he is quoted as saying: "Let him come back here, scary boy."

(Senator Brumskine is returning to Liberia as this article goes to press to announce his candidacy and the government's justice department has issued a statement that he has nothing to fear. Apparently, all threats have been withdrawn. Is it fact or fiction? We await the result.)

It is not practical or desirable to enumerate the many instances of human rights abuses this government is guilty of. Suffice it to say, they are quite lengthy. This is what the American Ambassador to Liberia said recently:

"The United States is concerned that the preparations for the 2003 elections are inadequate and that necessary conditions do not yet exist to permit free and fair elections... Harassment of opposition party representatives and opposition party activities as well as the prospect of severely limiting candidates who may run for the presidency are just some of the other worrisome developments."

It is no secret that quite a number of people have accused the Taylor government of illegal acts of all sorts. Now the slick propagandists in Monrovia are attempting to convey the impression that the government is the innocent target of some malicious and capricious individuals and groups. This is what they wrote about Dr. Tipoteh's recent revelations: "Dr. Tipoteh's declarations contradict claims by some self-exiled Liberian politicians and sponsored propagandists that the Taylor government was negatively targeting him and other opposition political leaders in the country and that the government was deliberately violating the rights of the citizens."

But this is what Dr. Tipoteh himself said in a BBC interview on April 6, 2001 (see http://www.theperspective.org/tipoteh.html), when he claimed that the government of Charles Taylor posed considerable security risks to him: "Yes, my life has been threatened. The latest in the series of this is information given to us by a certain Mr. Flomo who was part of a meeting held on March 8 of this year where security officers are alleged to have launched the plan for attacking me which will be for my elimination and... attacking other politicians in the country."

I think it is a terrible mistake for this great defender of the masses to now turn to matters of self-interests at the expense of his flock and fellow freedom fighters at such a critical stage. We are in this great fight together and we need to stay united to defeat Taylor. This is no time to jump ship to enter into partnership with the evil forces just because it may individually pay dividends to do so. If the entire opposition cannot unite to defeat Taylor, it is ludicrous to think one individual candidate can do so. Don't fall for the hype. Don't go to bed with the devil, you'll lose your self-respect, even if you win. Remember the same folks who have the power to send you to the State House, have the power to send you to the doghouse.