Charles Taylor- At War with Justice

“All the lessons of history in four sentences:
Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad with power.
The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.
The bee fertilizes the flower it robs.
When it is dark enough, you can see the stars”

CHARLES A BEARD

It goes beyond saying that ambition is an aphrodisiac, culminating in a hitherto complex web of supposedly drug-induced passion. Driven by lust for control and power, some have become paralyzed by psycho-social imbalances, bereft of proper reasoning, having neurotic tendencies- emotional disorders-, and have been plagued by their own loss of what is real and what is surreal.

In times of war, men fight for values, beliefs, greed and honour. In times of peace, men do fight for beliefs and honour. In as much as the existence of man remains, there shall continuously be disputes.

Early Days

Charles McArthur Taylor was born in Arthington, near Monrovia, on the 28th of January 1948. It is believed his father, Nelson Taylor, was an Americo-Liberian, although other sources claim he was Afro-Trinidadian. His mother, Bernice Taylor, was a member of the Gola ethnic group.

At the age of 24, Charles Taylor attended the Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he earned a degree in Economics. His nickname ‘Ghankay’ was believed to have been a ploy to identify more precisely with the indigenous people.
While studying in the United States, Charles Taylor joined the Union of Liberian Associates (ULA) where he rose amongst the ranks to become its national chairman. Though a qualified economist, his actions portrayed a character determined to be heard and the radicalism which had been observed in his earlier days were finally in full swing.

In 1979, Taylor led a demonstration protesting against the then president of Liberia William R. Tolbert, Jr at the Liberian Mission to the UN in New York City, threatening to seize by force the Liberian Mission. This led to his arrest by the New York police. However he was released shortly thereafter and was invited back to Liberia by President Tolbert.

On the 12 of April 1980, Samuel Kanyon Doe led a military coup, killing Tolbert in the Executive Mansion. Samuel Doe was an ethnic Krahn, a part of the rural tribe in the inlands of Liberia, which had long suffered suppression and repression by the Americo-Liberians. It is claimed that Doe and some of his men ripped open the bowel of President Tolbert in his bed while asleep. Other reports however claim that the American CIA had a hand in his execution. Twenty-six of Tolbert’s supporters were also killed in the fighting. Thirteen members of the Cabinet were publicly executed ten days later. Hundreds of government workers fled the country, while others were imprisoned. The early days of the regime saw mass executions of members of Tolbert’s deposed government. The coup ended 133 years of the domination of Americo-Liberians over the indigenes and was highly supported by people who believed Doe’s forceful takeover had heralded a shift of power, favouring the majority of the population who had been excluded from power.

Charles Taylor however had also supported the coup and thus was appointed in Doe’s government in the General Services Agency of Liberia, where he was in charge of purchasing on behalf of the Liberian government. Sacked in May 1983 on charges of embezzling almost $1,000,000 and siphoning the funds to an American bank account, he fled Liberia to the United States, where he was apprehended on the 24th of May 1984 on a warrant for extradition to face charges of embezzling almost $1,000,000 meant for the purchase of machinery parts.

Taylor, by now, had marked himself out as a personality to be noticed more intensely. His fear of returning to Liberia to face charges of corruption led to his detention in a House of Corrections in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where he cleverly escaped on the 15th September 1985 with four other inmates. However, all four of the other escapees were apprehended, including his wife Enid and his sister-in-law, Lucia Holmes Toweh, who had both assisted in his getaway.

Charles Taylor was reported to have fled the United States to Libya where he underwent guerilla training under the tutelage of Muammar al-Gaddafi. However it is claimed by Prince Johnson, a former associate of Charles Taylor, during Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on the 27th August 2008, that the United States had released Taylor from jail in 1985 so as to plot the overthrow of President Samuel Doe. This claim however has never been substantiated.

War Years

In 1985, on the eve of Christmas, Taylor returned to Liberia with a guerilla force of about 500 men who settled in Gbarnga, about 100miles northeast of Monrovia. The Taylor-led National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) was mostly from the Gio and Mano ethnic groups of northern Liberia. Taylor was able to persuade these men to take up arms against the Samuel Doe-led government due to their tribe’s intense persecution by the regime. This insurgence against the government was quite successful as the NPFL had active support from Libya, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Within a year, the NPFL had occupied about 80% of the country.
During this period, as is the case in war-torn countries, so much atrocities were perpetrated, much killings, including the recruitment of children to arms, killing and raping of women. Taylor and his men tried to capture the capital city Monrovia but their efforts were made even more difficult by the arrival of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) cease-fire monitoring group, ECOMOG. In 1991, an alternative national administration (the National Patriotic Reconstruction Assembly Government – NPRAG) was set up and Taylor declared himself Head of the administration. This decision was not acceptable to every member of his rebel group, especially Prince Yormie Johnson, who later led a breakaway faction of the NPFL, which operated under the name Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL).

Between 1992 and 1996, war amongst the different factions continued and on the 17th August 1996, there was a cessation of hostilities as a result of joint efforts of the ECOWAS nations, leading to the signing of the ECOWAS-mediated Abuja Accord supplement.
Being an educated man and well-groomed in diplomatic matters, Charles Taylor saw the need to refine his group as a civilian political party in readiness for the country’s national elections. Renaming the group National Patriotic Front (NPF), he led the group to a successful election and won the presidential seat. However, international observers declared the election free and transparent, it was also noted that there was an atmosphere of intimidation, resulting from fear that if Taylor lost, he would resume hostilities.

Time for Justice?

According to a Gale Research biographical piece released in 1998, Charles McArthur Taylor had always been fascinated by the history of New England because, as reported, there had been many freed slaves who had left on ships from New Bedford, Massachusetts to colonize Liberia. This had ignited his passion for the history of Liberia and its connections to the United States and as such it was only over time that the need to satisfy the inner cravings of power and control would surface.
It is reported that the Charles Taylor-led NPFL orchestrated a wide range of torture, kidnapping, human rights abuses and quite a few political assassinations. He and his cohorts also sponsored the rebel group Revolutionary United Front (RUF) against the military government in Sierra Leone, partly as a means of securing control of the local diamond trade.
Charles Taylor’s presidency was marred by his involvement in the Sierra Leonean political fracas. He continued to battle insurgents within Liberia and allegedly sold arms and other materials to rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds. Within Sierra Leone, the rebels, continued a brutal mayhem of massacres, chopping off arms, legs and noses of thousands of government supporters, including children and women. It was widely believed that this was with the support of Charles Taylor. Though no concrete evidence exists, Taylor was indicted for war crimes by a United Nation’s Tribunal in Sierra Leone.

Deceit or sheer political brilliance by the ECOWAS and its partners?

Charles Taylor was elected President of a Sovereign nation, with all the rights and privileges accorded one of that political stature. This applies to even criminals who accede to the post of Head of their States. However, in trying to assuage the sufferings of the peoples of that region, a deal had to be brokered by the African Nations and the international community with the Charles Taylor government.

In 2003, Taylor declared he would resign from the political scene of Liberia and leave the country if some agreement was made by the international community. This Agreement stipulated the following conditions, and was led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and former South African President Thabo Mbeki. The Agreement stated:

  • Taylor would give up the Presidency of Liberia
  • Leave Liberia for Nigeria
  • Never directly or indirectly interfere with the policies of Liberia

In return the Agreement offered to Charles Taylor

  • Safety from arrest and prosecution either by the Liberian government, the Nigerian government or any international court inclusive of any court constituted by the United Nations and its various Agencies
  • He would be provided a safe and reasonable accommodation in Nigeria for himself and his family for the foreseeable future.

It’s been construed that the asylum and residency granted Charles Taylor by the Nigerian government was a tool for a future implementation of a more complex or rather multiplex political planning orchestrated by the West, in obvious association with some members of the ECOWAS States.

However, it behooves belief, therefore, that throughout the life of the political mayhem being perpetrated by his administration against the Liberian people and Sierra Leoneans through arms dealings, America, Britain, Germany and France could not influence further directives that would weaken and eventually paralyze his corrupt government, although President Bush did put some measure of pressure on the Charles Taylor’s government. For arguments sake though, the West have limited influence on the political process of sovereign nations, including African nations. Or do they? True that every nation has a right to govern itself in a way and manner according to the country’s constitution, but we see that this is not always the case. Take Iraq for example, or Afghanistan, or even Pakistan, the Western nations such as the United States and Great Britain hide under the cloak of terrorism to implement their own policies and influence the countries’ political process. It is indeed a thing of worry that Taylor is the first African leader to face trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed over a ten-year period of war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

According to The Open Society Justice Initiative, an operational program of the Open Society Institute (OSI), a body which pursues law reform activities in anti-corruption, equality and citizenship, freedom of information and expression, international justice, and national criminal justice, two Nigerian businessmen challenged the granting of asylum to Charles Taylor on grounds of torture and mutilation in Sierra Leone in 1999 by rebel groups backed by Taylor in a  case before the Abuja division of the Nigerian Federal High Court. This leaves me to think that if this case was brought against Taylor way back in 1999, is there really any justice for wrong-doing for all? And what about Justice for hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who have suffered gravely and perhaps still suffering from irreparable damages caused by Charles Taylor and his men?

The Justice Initiative further filed an amicus brief with the Abuja Court on the duty of States to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and withhold asylum from them. In all fairness, the relevance of granting asylum to an individual is a fundamental right of every man – criminal or righteous. In as much as the Western states are ready to make rules, which inhibit certain freedom from certain individuals, it therefore makes relevant the need to compensate those who haven’t got a voice by instituting rules, laws against all war criminals. As is the case of the two Nigerians who are able to challenge the legitimacy of the asylum granted Charles Taylor, so is every Sierra Leonean and ofcourse Liberian who suffered abuse and loss be able to file charges against Charles Taylor and his henchmen. It is a grave injustice that men like Charles Ghankay Taylor are allowed the leisure and luxuries of life all because they had the political clout.

Be as it may, so many war criminals and terrorists have been granted asylum by the English, the Americans, French etc and this has got to stop. True that all men have the rights to fair justice and fair play, I believe in an eye for an eye. Justice peppered with justice. If you desire to commit mass atrocities against humanity, then I suppose it is only fair that justice be applied where necessary. The need to extend this justice to every man, woman, Head of State or President, who believe that fairness means lining their pockets with a country’s wealth while the citizens and the voiceless linger in poverty and lack. Every African leader who has abused his political office by way of corruption, human rights abuses and other criminal conduct must at some time or another pay for their crimes.

Africa is richly endowed with great intellects, nevertheless it seems that those who seek to rule the nations of Africa are corrupt in mind and intellect, allowing willful greed and self gratification dictate their every motive. We hinge on the notion that the next man will carry the burden of change, and if this change is sought, most times it is nipped at the bud. Men like Charles Taylor , who have applied their brilliance to rape their people of self-worth, dignity and any values must pay for their acts, like for like. I wait the day when all men, especially those who have sought and taken the powers over other men, are judged by their actions, and not by the rules made to protect such.

References

  1. ‘The Years the Locusts Have Eaten: Liberia 1816-2004’ by Joseph Tellewoyan
  2. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/africa/liberia/taylor-bio.html
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NPFL
  4. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article6729628.ece
  5. http://www.nigeriansinamerica.com/articles/634/1/Charles-Taylor-Nigeria-and-Obasanjos-Credibility-is-at-Stake/Page1.html
  6. http://www.justiceinitiative.org/activities/ij/taylor

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