That Charles Taylor still commands fear
and fanatical, jihadist loyalty was made obvious as the verdict against him on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity came down, with the world press fully represented here to monitor reactions.
Not a single local human rights or advocacy group openly applauded the landmark verdict, the first against any head of state since the Nuremburg trials in 1945 after World War II. The government was ambivalent, understandable because it is stuffed with former Taylor officials, amongst them the Information Minister who served as National Security Advisor for Mr. Taylor. Fearing backlash, it called for calm, urging those who would disagree to opt for the law. It did not embrace nor condemn the verdict.
To the contrary, about 100 imaginary civil society groups issued a statement demanding his release while some loyalists in his former stronghold Gbarnga announced a week of mourning.
The state-funded 7 member so-called Independent National Human Rights Commission declined comments despite several efforts by this paper seeking an official position on the verdict.
Monitoring live international broadcasts here therefore left the conclusion that Liberia as a whole was grieving over the fate of its favorite son, the man who masterminded a mindless war that left over 300,000 people killed, tens of thousands more maimed, all to render the country one of the 3 poorest on earth.
But what was ignored was the fact that vocal and violent minority that took the international airwaves, since fear prevails for the majority, even if it is now evident that bull is being chained. It is a case of dodging a chained bull, but not many want to take a chance, fearing that the bull’s children, unchained and highly placed in government, will come after them.
On the other hand, the majority of those selected for views on the verdict were well-known Taylor diehard beneficiaries, giving the impression on the BBC, for example, that most Liberians, if not all, were in tears for a man whose footprints of death, poverty and disorder remain indelible.
The aura of power combined with invincibility so glaring during his conduct of his war, and the air of the untouchability that covered his presidency, led many observers of the African political scene to label Charles Taylor as one of the most feared rulers on the continent. This conclusion was not without reasons, for Taylor, from the onset, declared he had no objective of being ‘a weak leader.’
He would therefore deal with his opponents from a position of strength, not moral or intellectual strength, but the kind of strength for which he has now been found guilty on 11 counts of war crimes, including murder, rape, pillage and acts of terrorism, etc.
Whether this serves as warning and lesson for his loyalists, that brutality is a dangerous weakness and not strength, remains unclear because many of them still hold as truth strength based on violence and crime.
Now, with prosecutors demanding 80 years jail sentence, it is a case of dodging the kicks of a chained bull.
But Dakpanah Dr. Charles Ghankay Taylor is not without his defenders, even amongst astute foreigners expected to have a different value system based on justice and the sanctity of life.
Robin White, the BBC Africa Editor whose frequent interviews with the then rebel leader Charles Taylor glued Liberians to their radio sets as the country became a killing field with uncertainty decreed, spoke with nostalgia on the fate of a man he believes he knows.
The Englishman said, amongst many things, that Taylor had nothing in common with corporal Foday Sankoh, the Sierra Leone leader of the Revolutionary United Front who would perish in jail before facing justice. He said Taylor is ‘educated’, while Sankoh and his RUF bunch were not.
In validating Mr. Taylor’s footprints of economic mismanagement since he supervised a sub-terrain economy, Mr. White, like Mr. Taylor, blamed his misfortunes on the West, a theme that his lawyer, the articulate Courtenay Griffiths would emphasize at the trial, claiming his client ‘is a victim of 21st century neocolonialism’.
With all this, prosecutors want 80 years sentence for Mr. Taylor, a far cry from a life or death sentence in view of the horrendous crimes he is found guilty of. If Taylor gets 80 years, then he is luckier than his son Charles Taylor, Jr., the American citizen who commanded his father’s feared Anti-Terrorist (ATU) gang. American jurisprudence, in its swiftness, gave Chuckie 97 years for torture, only one of the terrifying 11 crimes for which his father was convicted.
But the British journalist’s judgment on a man who transformed the sub-region into a wasteland with roaming rebels, spanning from Cote d’Ivore, Guinea to Sierra Leone, represents how Africa is viewed with the prism of contempt. If someone in Britain had copied what Mr. Taylor and his allies accomplished in this region, one wonders whether the same views would have fallen from Mr. White’s lips? At one point, he admitted that his interviews elevated Mr. Taylor to folk hero status, even as houses were being burnt with their occupants inside. Mr. White could only say he hopes his interviews exposed the man for what he (Taylor) is, the nearest he came to compassion.
The venom and acrimonious remarks of grief coming from his loyalists are quite understandable, and must hail these individuals for their unending loyalty to a man they saw as their breadwinner supreme, even if he deprived tens of thousands others something money cannot buy—life. Short of violence and mayhem they have lived for almost 2 decades, these individuals should be encouraged to vent their anger at those they believe instructed their leader to venture in dangerous territory-Sierra Leone. It is now a case of dodging the feeble kicks of a chained bull as Taylor awaits sentencing.
What is worthy in this tragic comedy is the warning that no one is free to cause harm to others and walk free any more. The destructive concept of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states has been proven a thing of the past.
And despite all the sorrows that this tragic comedy has brought to loyalists, they can rest assured of one comfort. Unlike in Libya where the glorification of Muammar Gaddafi has been criminalized, they are free here in Liberia to build monuments in memory of their beloved leader. What they should not contemplate is repeating his deeds, for as both the declared conspirators—Washington and London—have warned, the long arm of international justice is indiscriminate.