A Pound Of Flesh, But In Whose Interest?

A Pound Of Flesh, But In Whose Interest?
  • PublishedMay 3, 2006

If there ever was a time to talk frankly as Africans, it is now. What I can’t stand is the regime of selective justice that the so-called “international community” (another clever term for Euro-America) is pushing Africa into.

As if I knew the Charles Taylor saga was on the way! After pressure from the “international community”, Liberia asks Nigeria to hand over Taylor to the UN Special Court in Sierra Leone, despite the deal given him by the same “international community” in 2003, only to realise that Taylor’s trial could disturb the peace not only in Sierra Leone and Liberia but the whole West African subregion, and therefore, he must be moved to The Hague where the Dutch would not accept him unless some other countries promise to host him as prisoner if (or is it when?) found guilty. At the time of going to press, no country had come forward. And the farce played on!

Didn’t Euro-America know that Liberia, having just come out of a bitter rebel war and presidential elections, needed a period of calm and reconciliation, and only after that should it, if necessary, take on divisive matters such as Taylor’s trial? In the first place, Taylor has not been charged with anything done in Liberia itself. So why trouble an already troubled country?

The answer is two-prolonged: (1) Euro-America has no respect for Africa, our sensibilities and national interests, and (2) we, Africans, allow them to treat us so, like children. What is wrong with us Africans? Even the African Union (AU) which helped broker the immunity-from-prosecution deal that sent Taylor into exile in August 2003 is now quiet. Speak AU speak! Africa is waiting to hear your lovely voice. Show some leadership!

Perhaps we have to expose the propaganda for what it is. What is happening has nothing to do with Euro-America wanting justice for any African victims of anything. If it were, there would not only be UN courts for Sierra Leone and Rwanda, there would also be UN courts for Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, DRCongo, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Sudan and many more besides.

What is happening is basically America (and as usual, with Britain in tow) trying to settle “personal” scores with Charles Taylor, and this has been dressed up as a “war crimes” issue for global PR purposes. But they fool only the gullible.

Taylor and America go back a long way. There is even speculation that Taylor’s 1989 rebel war in Liberia was a CIA job gone sour, a job to overthrow Samuel Doe’s government that had become a huge embarrassment for the Americans. Never mind the myth about Taylor’s jailbreak in Boston where he faced extradition charges brought by Doe’s government, Taylor himself told me in five separate interviews held over a period of 10 years (between 1992 and 2002) that “during the war, there was full cooperation between me and Washington and every move we took, we consulted Washington first”. Each time I asked him to elaborate, he would say, “I am leaving that for my book” but he never came to write the book.

In fact, but for the American “cooperation”, Taylor’s rebel war (or if you like, Liberia’s suffering) would have lasted, at the most, four months – a short, sharp shock, instead of the seven years it took. Taylor launched the war on 24 December 1989 from the Côte d’Ivoire border. By March 1990, his forces had swept everything before them and were sitting on the campus of the University of Liberia in the very heart of the capital, Monrovia. Only one street separated them from the remnants of Doe’s army then holed up in the Executive Mansion (the seat of government) on the other side of the street. Doe’s men were there for the taking. And all would have been over!

Enter American “cooperation”. Washington despatched the then assistant secretary for African affairs, Herman Cohen, to tell Taylor not to attack Doe in the Mansion, instead Washington would ask Doe to leave peacefully and save a bloody war in the centre of Monrovia. Sometimes Taylor is his own worst enemy. He listened to the Americans and allowed his forces to sit on their hands for two months – in the centre of Monrovia! – while the American-Doe negotiations went on. By the time he could say Boston, Nigerian and Ghanaian Ecomog planes were bombing his army out of Monrovia into the outskirts of the city. This action in June 1990 prolonged the conflict and gave birth to a stalemate that stretched over the next seven years with seven warring factions in action. I had occasion to meet Herman Cohen at the University of Leiden in The Netherlands in 2000 and asked him about this. He did not deny going to meet Taylor in 1990, but said he didn’t ask him not to attack Doe in the Executive Mansion. In one of our five interviews, Taylor cursed himself for having listened to the Americans: “I made a terrible mistake; terrible, terrible mistake,” he said, clenching his fist.

However, along the way, there came a parting of ways between Taylor and Washington, and the Americans have never forgiven him. Such that, even when Taylor cleanly won the 1997 presidential elections with a thumping 75.33% of the vote, Washington used the “international community” to impose unofficial economic and UN military sanctions on Liberia, which paralysed Taylor’s ability to govern. When the sanctions failed to put Taylor out of power in the first year in office, Washington moved up a gear by using the CIA to train a rebel group in the forests of Guinea to attack Taylor’s government, starting from mid-1998 (see interview on p14). This, again, was supported by Britain. It was this rebel war that culminated four years later in Taylor accepting the immunity-from-prosecution deal brokered by Ecowas, the African Union, UN and the Bush/Blair governments that took him into exile in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, in 2002, Washington had again leant on the “international community” to set up the UN Special Court in Sierra Leone, ostensibly to try those who bear “the greatest responsibility” for war crimes in that country, but in reality the undisclosed raison d’être of the Court was to get Charles Taylor out of power and humiliate him to boot. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see why the UN would treat the war in Sierra Leone more seriously than the war in Liberia where more people were killed!

And the plot thickens! In 2002, Taylor finally committed “political suicide” by refusing to allow the Americans to exploit Liberia’s offshore oil on terms very disadvantageous to Liberia. Instead he wanted the Chinese who have excellent offshore oil technology to do the job and on better terms for Liberia. Economically, Taylor was right to refuse the American offer, but politically, it was his death warrant. If he had allowed the Americans to exploit the oil, he would still be in power today, and the current circus about war crimes would not have arisen in the first place.

Keen observers cannot fail to notice the sheer malice and frivolity dripping from the original 17-count indictment against Taylor written by the former chief prosecutor, the American lawyer, David Crane. It comes as no surprise that the Court, in order to prevent public ridicule, has now reduced the charges to 11 and re-written whole sections of Crane’s indictment or changed the dates and venues of some of the alleged crimes. If Taylor gets a fair trial and a simple thing as an average intelligent lawyer, the prosecution will have a torrid time in court. So be prepared to hear in the near future that the goalposts have been moved to include alleged war crimes committed in Liberia proper.

For example, if people are to be tried for supporting rebel groups in other people’s countries, are Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Tony Blair whose governments supported, funded and armed rebel invasions in Liberia (1999-2003) and DRCongo (1986-2003, resulting in the death of an estimated 5 million people), going to be tried?
To me, the most disturbing aspect of the trials at the UN courts in Sierra Leone and Rwanda is the subliminal racial element involved. Unbeknownst to the gullible in Africa, including the 300 African NGOs dragooned into the Western-instigated “Campaign Against Impunity”, is the unsaid fact that “impunity” only becomes an issue if the perpetrator of war crimes in Africa is a black African. If the perpetrator is “white” – white African or Euro-American – or a black African supported or put up by a white African or Euro-American, impunity counts for nothing!    

If you don’t believe it, please come with me on a tour of Africa. In Côte d’Ivoire, there are Euro-Americans involved in the conflict, hiding behind the scenes – and nobody is talking about any trials there. In Angola, despite the horrendous atrocities committed by the Western-backed Unita rebels, nobody is talking about trials there. In Namibia, because white Africans were the major perpetrators of war crimes in that country, no one talked about trials when independence came in 1990. Ditto Zimbabwe. Ditto South Africa. Ditto Mozambique. Even in Mozambique, because the Renamo rebels were set up by the white government in South Africa to do harm to Mozambique, no one talked about trials when the war ended. Rather Renamo was encouraged to turn itself into a political party and stand for elections.

In DRCongo, where 5 million Africans have been killed in two invasions instigated, funded and armed by Euro-Americans, using Rwanda and Uganda as the public face of it, nobody is talking about trials there. There is no UN court for Congo, but there is a UN court for Rwanda, and we’ve just seen the premiere of the fourth Western-made film on the Rwandan genocide – but unless the rules of arithmetic have been changed, 800,000 deaths in Rwanda (though regrettable) can never be more than 5 million deaths in Congo! But who cares? Somehow, the message being put about is that the African ceases to be a barbarian when his atrocities are instigated and supported (or he himself is approved) by Euro-America. Is this why the leadership in Rwanda and Uganda who led the Congo invasions, or encouraged the formation of splinter rebel groups there to do their dirty work (all catalogued in two UN expert panel reports), are deemed to be above the law? And by extension the rebel leaders in Congo who now sit in the transitional government in Kinshasa and will be running for elections soon? Impunity, what impunity?

Charles Taylor may be standing trial, but let it not be said that they dragged him there because they wanted justice for Africans. That would be an insult to us Africans!

Written By
Baffour Ankomah

Baffour Ankomah is New African's current Editor at Large. He has spent much of his 39 years of journalism at the magazine, having served as its Assistant Editor for 6 years, Deputy Editor for 5 years, and Editor for 15 years, retiring from active service in 2014. In 39 years of his journalism career - Africa and his many causes have been his passion. His personal column, Baffour's Beefs, which has been running continuously in New African since 1987, is a big hit and a must-read for the magazine's worldwide readers. He is now based in Zimbabwe, where he and his wife Elizabeth run their own media consultancy and fashion house called "African Interest" which trades under the trademark "I am African".

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