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Expelled Liberian President Charles Taylor (in photo) ushered his political career from war lord and diamond’s best friend. Arbitrary rule and economic collapse in the 80′s culminated in Liberia’s civil war. Dissidents of Taylor’s Patriotic Front overran most of the nation’s countryside and executed Master Sergeant Doe, who turned president. In 1995, a peace agreement was signed, resulting in the election of Taylor in 1996 as Liberia’s president, Africa’s oldest republic. A country founded by freed American slaves, nurtured mostly indigenous Africans. Slave descendants comprised 5% of the population. Liberia was relatively calm until 1980 when William Tolbert was violently overthrown by Sergeant S. Doe, following a food hike riot. Doe’s coup marked the end of Afro-American minority dominance, heralding endemic wave of instability and a new culture of dictatorship.
Travail of Taylor’s ascension to power, hallmarked the genesis of savagery and enduring misery, with spiraling affront to human justice and dignity. Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh’s marriage demonized a congruent diabolic witticism. These passionate warlords, trained by Libya’s Colonel Kaddafi, intimidated to destabilize Africa’s sub-Saharan legitimate governments. Taylor and Sankoh cemented their romance during a military training by Libya’s dictator, who shared a common clandestine agenda. Later, their union would hatch the eggs of Kaddafi’s ideology, “To dismantle Africa’s political institutions.” His genius was to seize power, exorcising terror: utilizing the deadly force of the bullet rather than the justice of the ballot.
Taylor vigorously wedged his clandestine agenda at the expense of humanity. His insatiable lust for wealth, romanced with power instilled phobia among his people and neighbors. Irrespective of the calamities, he pursued power aggressively. Liberians endured macabre, insurrection and massacre which Taylor instituted. He’s the protagonist of the world’s most brutal campaign in human history. At the brutal murder of late President Samuel Doe of Liberia and several Liberians, their dead body parts were severed by Taylor’s men. The rebels of Sierra Leone would later copycat this fetish design. Displaying graphically the heads of victims killed, up high as war banners. This sent a powerful message to the world. Respect for life and property seemed viciously eroded in Liberia. Taylor’s men are the most ruthless and gruesome the world had probably witnessed. They boasted that only monkeys would survive in Liberia at the end of Taylor’s campaign. This phobia pierced through the hearts of Liberians to elect Taylor President of Liberia, a scary litmus test for democracy. It was necessary to end this mayhem and slaughter of poor innocent Liberians.
Taylor’s ambition was to spread his reign far beyond Liberia into West African sub-Sahara. Because neighboring Sierra Leone provided a home for the West African Peace Keeping Force (ECOMOG), Taylor decided to hatch a personal vendetta punishing Sierra Leone. When Liberia was at war, Sierra Leone hosted a multitude of Liberian refugees. Compassion sometimes germinate a snowball effect. The rationale was to restore peace in Liberia and the sub-region, a region once adorned with eternal solace, unity and cooperation. In 1989 Taylor began infringing on that peace and solace, crucifying the peaceful nations that appeared on his black list. Sierra Leone and Guinea were simply at the top of that endangered list.
Assiduously, he mapped out a scheme to destabilize Sierra Leone, a recipe for anarchy. The hacking off of limbs, heads, hands or ears are harvest of Taylor’s scheme. This horrendous terror mechanism he instituted during Liberia’s civil war, when he made his dramatic insurgence. It worked then, why shouldn’t it work for Sankoh in Sierra Leone? Taylor conceived this trend of thoughts. He provided training resources: equipment and logistics aiding rebel activities in Sierra Leone, a campaign to launch vendetta on peaceful Sierra Leone. Taylor and Sankoh then dangerously close allies, had meticulously knitted a diabolic plan to destabilize Sierra Leone’s democratic government. Anarchy was born, a spring board ushering Sankoh’s rebel campaign. It was the dawn of a clever, heinous and destructive agenda. Sankoh and Taylor are similar to Heaven’s rebellion championed by Satan, ushering man’s revolt against God. They struck opportunely, and utilized a golden opportunity, showing no mercy. The warlords had no conscience, like the proverb, “There’s no brother in the army.” It was the dawn of a selfish, evil and catastrophic scheme.
Historically, Liberia had provided safe haven for Sierra Leone’s gems, gold and diamonds. And Liberian boarders are vulnerable to chronic smuggling activities and illegal immigration. Once, Taylor’s army chief and three senior government officials were arrested on Sierra Leone’s mine fields by security. They claimed to have crossed the borders to recover a vehicle from Sierra Leone. But why were they arrested precisely on the diamond mining site in Sierra Leone? This episode caused grave embarrassment for Taylor. His Chief of staff was later put under house arrest and demoted. Local experts in smuggling are skilled in concealing diamonds by swallowing the stones and later recover the booty, medicating themselves with laxative. Liberia and Sierra Leone are geographically intertwined. One can enter either nation aided by the porous borders. Both nations mutually trade on a daily basis. Crossing the boarders is within walking distance. Often one crosses unchecked by customs and security officials. Both nations have lost immeasurable revenue from illegal immigration and smuggling, since time immemorial.
The Manor River Union was born to help curb these eternal problems. With the blessing of security officials from both sides, smuggling can be as easy as ABC, Vis a Vis making a fortune. Women could craftily ignite a swimming love affair with security officials to aid smuggling or circumvent customs. Sierra Leoneans have a passion for United States almighty dollar. Liberia is the nearest fountain of this scarce commodity. Smugglers take any risk in accumulating this adored commodity. But lust for scarce US dollars by Sierra Leoneans, shrewd Taylor exploited to his advantage. Smuggling is indeed as old as time itself. Taylor’s campaign promulgated legalization of smuggling. Gold and diamond merchants are conveniently located along Water Side in Monrovia, a recognized buoyant sanctuary for mineral trade in Liberia. This site is situated just after the Manor River Bridge that connects Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone; the three parties to the Manor River Union Treaty. Rebels ply daily along this perimeter briskly and freely conducting this juicy gem trade.
Taylor loved the juice flowing from diamonds. Cleverly, he taped the delicacy using his witty device. Sierra Leoneans are eternally asking, “What happened to the Star of Sierra Leone?” A huge stone discovered in Kono mining site, during the reign of late Siaka Stevens in the 80’s. In closure to the issue, the late President who loved stones said, “Anyone who wants an answer should ask me directly.” The issue subsequently died a natural death. Stevens was feared by most Sierra Leoneans including the educated echelon. The world’s third largest stone was later found in a British Museum. How did it get there? What was the contractual price? Probably, it could have been smuggled and sold as a personal cartel, by a legitimate government official. Sierra Leoneans are still searching for the truth. Taylor’s rationale is that history could repeat itself. Historically, Sierra Leone once swallowed a bitter pill. Rationally, there is enough room to swallow yet another bitter pill.
Sierra Leoneans have aided and abetted foreign nationals to smuggle stones abroad. They have selfishly milked the nation of astronomical revenue that could have cushioned SL’s ebbing economy. Others even connived in smuggling gems into airplanes for meager bribe. How can one be so nice, if not naive at the expense of his country? This act tantamount to treason. Rebels kept record of every anomaly. Their adventure was carefully weighed in the balance. And the time was ripe to harvest from a rotten and corrupt system.
Taylor is an economist who studied in the United States. He fused his proficiency of economics, postulating a ‘Taylornomics.” He’s an eloquent orator, yet a horrible-leader and villain history will give an overt appraisal. The drums of war were beating violently in Liberia, while rebel incursion into Liberia reached epidemic and dangerous magnitude. Aided by the international community and the Economic Community of West African States, a bloodless truce was hatched to save war-fatigue Liberia from another blood bath. Big brother Nigeria offered Taylor asylum in Calabar, in return that he should step down from power as Liberia’s leader. It was a bitter pill for Taylor to swallow, but he had no better option. Otherwise, Nigerian forces would have killed him according to a United States directive. He was deranged, and at his departure said, he was leaving so that Liberia can enjoy peace. His final words were “I am leaving now but I’ll be back soon” sending mixed message to the world. He blasted the US for acting as the world’s police, meddling in domestic affairs of other nations around the world.
Opposing rebel forces had taken control of part of Monrovia: the capital housing Taylor’s government was in arms way. History was about to repeat itself. A similar tragedy that consumed Doe was very close to happen again. However, the wheels of misfortune swayed the opposite direction. The destitute nation was spared of blood bath and mayhem. While this development progressed, United Nations Special Court in Sierra Leone had indicted Taylor for war crimes in Sierra Leone. A warrant for his arrest was issued at a summit he attended in Ghana. But host nation Ghana, refused to execute his arrest. Moreover, pressure on Taylor has not yet subsided. Nigeria was under pressure to turn Taylor to the Sierra Leone Courts. And the plan was that Nigeria would not be forced by any power to give up Taylor. Only Liberia had the right to request the return of Taylor to answer to allegations of his reign of terror in Liberia.
He has been linked to Alqaeda and Hezbollah, extremist terrorist groups inimical to the US and the war on terror. Taylor is believed to have traded with these groups in blood diamonds, an easy way to transfer terrorists’ funds banned by the US and their allies. Taylor now in a quandary will eventually face the wheels of justice that eternally hunts him. His hands are dripping with blood. Once, he had hosted rebels responsible for war crimes against humanity: the reason why the Special Courts was set up in Sierra Leone. Taylor’s assets have been frozen and he’s experiencing the reality of the seized assets. Douglas Farrah a Washington Post correspondent in his most recent book The Exclusive, documents ties between Charles Taylor and Al Qaeda. And he explained how terrorist organizations are financed. In 2000 Taylor met with Al Qaeda’s financial operatives, who offered him US $100,000 as bribe, cajoling him to allow terrorist organizations to buy and control his gem trade for several years.
According to Standard Times in Sierra Leone, US Federal Bureau of Investigation in concert with the Special Courts in Sierra Leone had established additional connection. Former Taylor crony General John Tanue of Liberia was interrogated by investigator Alan Whyte about Taylor’s activities and rebel ties. On the pretense of seeking medical attention, John actually was requesting political asylum in Ghana to escape Taylor’s brutal justice. A connection between the Revolutionary United Front with blood diamonds and Taylor’s involvement with rebels is solidly established.
It was in Belgium, a court in Antwerp sentenced 8 men up to 6 years. They smuggled “blood diamonds” from Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo about 4 years ago. Antwerp is the world’s largest diamond center. They were fined $81.77 million for failure to declare the diamonds to customs. Ring leaders Samih Ossaily 38 and Aziz Nassour 43, received 3 and 6 years sentence respectively. Ossailey denied that he ever smuggled diamonds from Sierra Leone, 6 others got up to 30 months in jail. “I …deny that,” he told local Antwerp television. “They came from Liberia. It was during the time there was no embargo.” An embargo did levy penalty on diamonds that came from warring countries, since the proceeds fueled these bloody wars. Taylor’s nightmare is far from over as the pendulum of justice slowly oscillates clockwise against him.
UN forces in Liberia had received the mandate to arrest Taylor on sight, in case he had showed up in Liberia. The US worked with Nigeria the host country, to turn Taylor in to the Special Courts in Sierra Leone, from where he was eventually whisked to The Hague, to stand trial for 11 counts crimes against humanity. The trial is finally coming to an end. Sierra Leoneans and Liberians alike are praying to put this sad chapter of a very brutal dictator behind them. Although real justice will never be served the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone, still devastated and ailing neighbors. However, precedent has been set for any emerging dictator who decides to act rogue and brutal. The international community would no longer tolerate dictatorship fleshed out with anarchy and mayhem. This standard should be applied across the board without exception for the wheel of justice to roll like righteousness.
Roland Bankole Marke © 2010
Roland Bankole Marke is a Sierra Leonean writer, poet and author of 3 books: Teardrops Keep Falling, Silver Rain and Blizzard and Harvest of Hate: Stories and Essay (Fuel for the Soul). Roland’s poems and short stories have been anthologized. His website is: www.rolandmarke.com
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