Thursday, April 26, 2012

Robin White: My verbal sparring with Charles Taylor

My verbal sparring with Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor and Robin WhiteRobin White finally met Charles Taylor in 2000
A UN-backed war crimes tribunal has convicted Liberia's former President Charles Taylor of aiding and abetting rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone. He first came to international prominence after an interview on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme with its then editor Robin White, who looks back at Charles Taylor's rise and fall.

New Year's Days are usually a bit thin on news and much of the discussion in the Focus on Africa office on New Year's Day 1989 was along the lines of "how on earth are we going to fill the programme?"
And then, Charles Taylor called.
He claimed to have invaded Liberia and was on his way to Monrovia to overthrow President Doe.

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I interviewed him and we put him on air. The rest, as they say, was history”
I'd never heard of Taylor, or his Patriotic Front movement but he sounded plausible.
Liberia was not a happy place to be in 1989.
It had been run for the previous 10 years by Samuel K Doe, an illiterate army sergeant who ended more than 100 years of rule by the True Whig party - by parading government ministers through the streets of Monrovia, naked, and then shooting them dead on the beach.
Doe was incompetent, brutal, tribalistic and possibly cannibalistic. He rigged an election and locked up the opposition. Unsurprisingly there had been several attempts to get rid of him.
So Charles Taylor's call was not a total surprise.
I interviewed him and we put him on air. The rest, as they say, was history.
The Focus on Africa radio programme broadcast on the BBC World Service became the focal point for the coverage of Liberia's chaotic civil war.
Everyone wanted to be on the programme.
Scarcely a day went by without a warlord or a government spokesman or a peacekeeper or an eyewitness calling us to ask that their voice should be heard.
Flamboyant and clever
I thought and, I think many Liberians thought, that Taylor's war would be short, sharp and successful.
He had the backing of Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and some of Liberia's near neighbours.
Rebel leader Charles Taylor (C) speaks with troops 21 July 1990 in Roberts Field after taking over this position from government troops of President Samuel Doe near the Liberian capital earlier this week. Charles Taylor spent eight years fighting in the bush
He had money, guns, and ammunition and, at first, considerable popular support.
But it took him more than eight years to make it to the presidency - by which time thousands had died and the country lay in ruins.
Charles Taylor's appeal was obvious.
He was the complete opposite of Doe: Flamboyant, clever and well educated.
And, above all, he could talk.
Liberians love a talker and he was the mother of all talkers. He was the "Liberian Lip"; the "Monrovian Motormouth".
He knew how to deal with the media.

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In person he is not so impressive: small, slightly moth-eaten, with not very well designed stubble on his face”
He never held a press conference unless he had something important to say.
He never called us if he didn't have a story to tell - and he rationed his appearances.
Many listeners think that he was constantly on BBC Focus on Africa bragging about his latest successes.
In fact, during those many years of war, he only phoned six times.
Taylor's progress was at first dramatic. He took Nimba country and then moved on to other targets like the vital iron mining town of Yekepa.
His army grew. He was endorsed by prominent Liberians abroad such as Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia's current president.
Monrovia beckoned.
But then his advance stalled.
His Patriotic Front movement split down the middle after he quarrelled with Prince Johnson, the man who finally killed Doe.
And other liberation movements, like Ulimo, sprang up to muddy the waters.
Ecomog, the West African peacekeeping force, moved in to try and establish some kind of order and Taylor was left stranded in his regional capital, Gbarnga, pretending to rule half of the country.
Pyrrhic victory

Umpteen peace conferences later, Taylor finally got his prize - he won the 1997 presidential election.
But it was a pyrrhic victory.
Liberia had been destroyed and the people demoralised.
He had no money and he was an international pariah. He needed money to finance his private army, the Anti-Terrorist Unit.
But he couldn't beg or borrow - so he had to steal.
He chopped down Liberia's forests and shipped off timber to Marseilles, and he flogged off any minerals and diamonds he could lay his fingers on.
It did him no good.
Already copycat rebel movements like Lurd were on the march and, like Taylor before them, were calling us at Focus on Africa to claim military successes.
The writing was on the wall.
I first met Taylor face-to-face in the Executive Mansion in Monrovia in 2000.
He could still talk the talk, but in person he is not so impressive: Small, slightly moth-eaten, with not very well designed stubble on his face.
He denied masterminding the RUF rebellion in Sierra Leone and rejected American claims that he was dealing in "blood diamonds".
He told me: "There is a satellite over Liberia every 48 minutes. The United States can take a picture of a matchstick or even a safety pin. But they don't have any evidence of anything".
But the connections with Sierra Leone were obvious.
Amongst the praise singers milling around Taylor in the Executive Mansion when I was there were RUF supporters who made no attempt to hide their identity.
Taylor loved danger, loved plotting, loved scheming, loved meddling.
It's hard to believe that he didn't have some finger in the Sierra Leonean pie.
But the abiding mystery for me is this: Why has Charles Taylor been tried for what he did in Sierra Leone? Why is he not held to account for what he did to Liberia and Liberians?

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Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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