Friday, March 31, 2006

finis tyranni

Map of West Africa, 1621.

Charles Taylor is now in the hands of an international tribunal in Sierra Leone. He had been exiled to Nigeria, but the head of the newly-elected democratic government of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first woman president and a cousin of Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae Occidentalis, asked for his extradition. Nigeria granted this, but did not arrest Taylor, who promptly disappeared. I had told Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae Occidentalis that the extradition had been granted, but when I heard about his escape, I was wisely silent. He was captured trying to cross the border into Cameroon with a sackful of dollars.

The press in Liberia and Liberians in exile are pleased. It is hard to underemphasize what a monster Taylor is. He fomented civil war in his own country and across West Africa, unrest responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. His troops of choice were child soldiers, given drugs and automatic weapons, weirdly dressed in women's clothing and wigs, happily indulging in rape and mutilation. Charles Taylor makes Milosevic look like a pussycat. He has destroyed a generation of young men, who now have to be incorporated into a society with 85% unemployment. Liberia, once the model for Africa, is now one of the most dysfunctional countries in the world.

Taylor was still dangerous from his luxurious home in Nigeria, interfering with Liberian politics from abroad (many of his right-hand men were elected to the Liberian legislature). Had he not been caught, the idea of a Charles Taylor with nothing to lose loose in West Africa is terrifying. Still, the support he can still rally and the desperate situation of Liberia make for a very unstable situation for a war crimes trial. President Johnson-Sirleaf has suggested sending him to The Hague, which would be an excellent idea, removing him from volatile West Africa and providing more of a global focus on the situation. If someone like Charles Taylor cannot be tried for crimes against humanity, than international justice is a joke.

I suspect much of the pressure to extradite Taylor and then to arrest him once he disappeared came from the United States. As much as I hate to recognize anything good coming from this White House, I have to in this case. The UN has been also instrumental in allowing for the end of the civil war and peaceful and democratic elections. I like the idea of Irish and Mongolian soldiers working together to make the streets of Monrovia livable. Still, much more has to be done. Bono is certainly right about debt relief, but that's not all. Europe, the United States, and other large markets should open their doors to African goods. Call me a liberal, but yes, lots of money should be thrown at the problem. Infrastructure, utilities, and education are essential. The United States, having created Liberia, has its own moral responsibility. One more thing: not one more gun should be sold in Africa. Arms merchants should be treated at least the same way that we treat the cartels that bring cocaine into the United States.

Let us pray for a peaceful and prosperous Africa.

PS: Another thing. During the 80's, Taylor was arrested in the US on a Liberian warrent issued by the then-dictator of Liberia, Samuel Doe. He mysteriously escaped from a Boston jail, after which he eventually returned to Liberia to overthrow the Doe regime. Some people think the Reagan administration, having decided to stop supporting Doe, was involved in his escape. Is this true? Hard to say, but it is not unthinkable, given US policy of supporting and then overthrowing the same dictators they had supported (Saddam Hussein, Noriega), a policy embraced by the Reagan administration. A little bit of extra responsibility on our hands, then.

PPS: A heartbreaking report about Taylor's Liberia.


crystal said...

This is chilling stuff. I'm embarrassed that I don't know much about current events in Africa ... m knowledge is limited to the few historical characters like Richard Burton and Chinese Gordon.

late adopter said...

I keep thinking that someone should do a PBS documentary on the History of Liberia. It would help Americans identify with an African nation rooted in America's past and maybe spur on greater attention to its future.