LRoc: a famous Liberian living abroad
Forced to stay inside with a contagious flu, I was watching CNN this morning when an interview with a Liberian artist from Atlanta, Georgia, was announced. Music producer LRoc - since it was him - is the son of a former Minister of Finance executed on the beach of Monrovia on that fatal day in April 1980. Then 16 years old, he fled with his American mother to the USA where he has been living for the past 29 years, building a career as a successful songwriter and music producer. In 2005 LRoc - aka James Elbert Phillips - was the co-winner of a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
Though my interest in Liberia and Liberians has no limits, my knowledge of Southern hip-hop, crunch music and the R&B scene is virtually non-existent. After consulting Wikipedia and Google I knew more.
As a child during the 1970's, James Elbert Phillips studied classical piano although he was not an enthousiast student - it was his parents' choice. He was more interested in Steve Wonder, Prince and Parliament Funkadelic. He taught himself to play the bass guitar. Initially listening to funk bands such as Cameo, the Time, and the Brothers Johnson, later his musical tastes broadened including Count Basie, Thad Jones, Chaka Khan, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.
LRoc - aka James Elbert Phillips - is now a successful songwriter and music producer, working with Jermaine Dupri's So So Def Recordings. He has co-written and co-produced many singles like Janet Jackson's "Call on Me" and "So Excited", Mariah Carey's "Get Your Number", Murphy Lee's "Wat Dat Hook Gonna Be", ", LL Cool J's "Control Myself," Nelly's "Grillz" and Usher's "Yeah'" which won him the Grammy Award in 2005.
One of the most interesting articles and interviews I read about him was published by Starpoynt Magazine. A more technical article - but difficult to read for a non-initiated layman (sorry ladies!) like me - can be found here. For an easier to read 2008 interview with the man behind Jermaine Dupri click here. Also in 2008 the Sunday Paper published an interview with him.
Why do I focus attention on him?
There are three reasons. One is that it shows that there is no need to associate Liberia with only bad news. The publicity handicap, however, is that "Good news is no news."
The second reason is that it once again shows that creative and precious Liberian human resources contribute more to developments abroad than at home. LRoc is of course far from the only one, there are tens of thousands of his compatriots residing in the USA. Of course I respect the right of individuals to choose their domicile where they want, but their country needs them.
I also understand individual Liberians to decide to live and earn a decent living in e.g. the USA, where they enjoy the rule of law and other basic human rights which in Liberia can easily be jeopardized - as recent history has shown. To expect them to give up a guaranteed peaceful existence in the USA for an uncertain future in Africa's Oldest Republic, is not realistic. But - and that is my third reason - this conclusion increases the urgency to rebuild Liberia, to establish the rule of law, and to create a society with sufficient jobs and equal opportunities for all. If that is not guaranteed, they sure won't return to Liberia.
It is a painful but realistic conclusion.
Kimmie Weeks and The New Liberia
When I taught at the University of Liberia – in the early seventies - among my students was one Weeks, a bright young man, very outspoken, very sympathetic. He was part of the progressive forces opposing the Tolbert Administration and True Whig Party hegemony. At one time he also was editor of the Revelation, one of those anarchistic hand-outs closely associated with the famous journalist Albert Porte. Anarchistic in the sense that they did not obey to the rules of the class society where their cradle once stood. Sincerely progressive, with the ideals and ambitions of real reformers (I do not say: revolutionaries), and gifted with a more than average intelligence, they represented the hope every society needs to advance ‘to higher heights’, to paraphrase former president William Tolbert.
I watched the CNN movie on Kimmie Weeks and hardly could believe my eyes. What a personality! What an incredible story! Born in 1981, he was a child during the civil war. During the early years of the war, his mother and Kimmie fled, landed in a refugee camp where malnutrition, infections and diseases decimated the population. When sick, the young Kimmie was given up and tossed on a pile of dead bodies. Thanks to his mother (who is she???) who refused to accept Kimmie’s apparent fate, he was rescued. According to his official web site, he then pledged a solemn oath: to fight for a better future for Liberia’s youth, later extended to other African countries.
In 1998, former Liberian President Charles Taylor made several attempts to assassinate him after Kimmie investigated his government’s involvement in the training of children as soldiers, subsequently releasing a groundbreaking report. Eventually he was forced into exile.
I will not repeat here what has been published elsewhere. But my interest was aroused. Who is Kimmie – apart from his own personality? I decided to dig into my memory and to consult some friends.
The following story emerged. Interesting - as will be clear from what follows.
Kimmie’s father was one of the famous Weeks brothers. Rocheforte L. Weeks was his father, born on August 15, 1923 in Crozierville, one of Liberia’s famous historic settler towns. By the way, the notorious oppositional Albert Porte, at one time editor of the already mentioned Revelation, also originated from Crozierville.
Rocheforte Weeks was the first Liberian president of the University of Liberia. After its creation in 1951, two Americans were at the helm of the nation’s highest institution of academic learning. For various reasons, President Tubman decided in 1959 to install a Liberian as head of the institution. The flamboyant Rocheforte Weeks served as President of the University of Liberia from 1959 till 1972. President William Tolbert appointed him as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1972, replacing Rudolph Grimes (who had demonstrated a lack of loyalty as perceived by Tolbert in the preceding year, after the death of President Tubman).
The Weeks family is or was one of the largest Americo-Liberian families. During the Tubman Administration (1944-1971) the three Weeks brothers were famous: the charismatic Rocheforte Weeks, his elder brother James Milton Weeks, who was at one time Minister of Finance, and brother Anthony, former Director of the Budget under Tubman.
The three Weeks brothers were accompanied by three Sherman brothers who in the same period were among the most powerful of the Americo-Liberian families. Charles Dunbar Sherman undoubtedly was the most powerful of them. Politician, academician, businessman, key person in religious and other organizations, he also served as Secretary of the Treasury in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Liberia’s ‘Growth without Development’ model was at its zenith – thanks to the abundant foreign investments in the country’s natural resources.
And then we also had the three Tolbert brothers. William Tolbert, who had patiently served under Tubman as his Vice-President for nearly twenty years, rose to the highest public position. Brother Frank served for many years as the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate whereas brother Stephen, rather a businessman than a politician, was nominated Minister of Finance by his brother-President. The uncrupulous and tough Stephen Tolbert also was the owner of one of the largest and most successful commercial enterprises in the country’s history, the Mesurado Group of Companies.
All these reflections emerged while watching Kimmie Weeks. His eloquent leadership, his gift of communication, no doubt he is the son of his father. A born orator, as this other great man, Barrack Obama. I was not surprised to read Kimmie’s political ambitions, and his ultimate goal: the country’s leadership.
In my opinion, Kimmie Weeks has the characteristics and potential of 'the new Liberian'. After watching the various movies available, on You Tube and elsewhere, and judging from his CV and background, I strongly have the impression that he has the potential to play a crucial role in the future of his country where – to paraphrase Martin Luther King – he and his children will not be judged on their background, but by the content of their character.
Liberia desperately needs people like Kimmie Weeks who have the potential to bridge the Past and the Present - as Liberia's present leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf aims to realize. They, together with other strong Liberians, must bridge the divide between the various segments of the Liberian population, without re-establishing the old order.
Whereas Ellen represents the older generation, Kimmie is an exponent of the new generation of Liberians. They both represent The New Liberia where labels such as 'Americo-Liberian' and 'Congo-people' have become anachronisms. One nation, one people, one destiny. 'By God's command'.
Twenty Years Charles Taylor: 1989 – 2009
Today I was reading the daily and weekly summaries of the Trial of Charles Taylor site, that excellent initiative and project of the Open Society Justice Initiative. Again I was fascinated by what is happening a few miles from where I live and work. In the Special Court for Sierra Leone, housed at the International Criminal Court in a suburb of The Hague, former President Charles Taylor is defending himself against eleven charges. If convicted he could spend the rest of his life in an English prison – since the UK government has agreed to accept him in case the SCSL judges would find him guilty.
Taylor is denying all charges – which shouldn’t surprise. Last week he said that he did not order Sierra Leonean rebel forces to attack Freetown in 1999. In fact, he is denying everything, his contacts with RUF leader Foday Sankoh after May 1992, the murdering of Samuel Bockarie and Daniel Tamba, and giving orders for the execution of Superman, a Liberian commander of the RUF, Sierra Leone’s rebel group, responsible for so many atrocities and notorious for its mutilation of children and adults by hacking off arms (‘short sleeves’ or ‘long sleeves’). One of the prosecution witnesses, Joseph Marzah, a former member of Taylor’s invasion force, in 1989, and fighting force, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) last year testified that Taylor had feasted on Superman’s heart. Charles Taylor called prosecution allegations that he was involved in ritual sacrifice and cannibalism ‘racist’.
Taylor has no choice but to deny everything. He denied that he ordered the NPFL and RUF rebels to subject civilians to sexual violence and forced labor, that he used child soldiers who were drugged. He also denied giving orders to kill and eat the members of the Krahn tribe, or to kill UN and West African peacekeepers. He further denied supplying arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Sierra Leone in return for diamonds mined by the rebels in Sierra Leone, or allowing the RUF to have any radio stations in Liberia.
Taylor calls everything ‘a blatant lie’, dismisses witness’s evidence as ‘concoction’, and is in the ICC / SLSC court room as self-assured, flamboyant and charming as ever.
I had to think of two BBC articles I read a couple of months ago. In a series of weekly viewpoints from African journalists, former BBC editor and Ghanaian minister Elizabeth Ohene wrote about her encounters with Charles Taylor. Read her account here. It makes fascinating reading. It tells about the multiple faces and roles of Charles Taylor: a rebel and soldier, his presidency of Africa’s first Republic, and now defending himself in a high-profile criminal case, being the first former African President to stand trial.
In another article BBC's Mark Doyle looked back at Charles Taylor's life.
Whatever one may think of Charles Taylor being guilty or not – and personally I have few if any doubts - Charles Taylor, from his invasion in Nimba County in December 1989 to his trial in The Hague in 2009, has already entered Liberia’s history as one of the most fascinating personalities of Africa’s oldest republic.
Liberia and the Decolonization of the Mind
This afternoon I went to the VU University Amsterdam to attend the inaugural speech of one of the recently appointed Desmond Tutu Professors of VU University Amsterdam. Four Professors were installed and presented during the launch of the Desmond Tutu Programme on December 4 last year, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu himself addressing the audience. Today, Desmond Tutu Professor Stephen Ellis delivered his inaugural speech entitled ‘South Africa and the Decolonization of the Mind’. The Desmond Tutu Programma’s themes are Youth, Sports and Reconciliation and each of the four Chair Holders deals in his address with these themes from the perspectives of their respectives disciplines and expertise in which processes of reconciliation in South Africa are contextualized.
Liberian readers and other followers of Liberian affairs know Dr. Stephen Ellis from his well-known book ‘The Mask of Anarchy. The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War’ (New York University Press, New York) but apart from Liberia, he also is an expert on Nigeria, Madagascar and South Africa.
The main message of Prof. Ellis address was: contemporary history of African countries, South Africa in particular, is very much concentrating on the phasing out of colonial dominance. For most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa this occurred in the 1960s, for some in the 1970s - notably the Lusophone countries – for South Africa it was the end of apartheid and the first multiparty, democratic elections, which brought the ANC government to power in 1994. The freeing of African peoples from colonial dominance, albeit sometimes hindered by neo-colonial manoeuvring, went hand-in-hand with the introduction of a Western concept of the nation-state. Any analysis of subsequent events in the new-born states was from this perspective.
Ellis argues that it is increasingly irrelevant to consider the colonial period as pivotal for African history.
His point of view is a challenge.
I could not help but think of Africa’s oldest Republic. Liberia had its colonial period. Would it be wrong to say that the end of this colonial period started with the 1980 military coup of Samuel Doe and his PRC? However, we tend to think that the colonial rule which master-sergeant Doe ended, was replaced by another semi-colonial period dominated by a particular segment of the population, Doe’s tribe, the Krahn from South-eastern Liberia. This was followed by a struggle for power in which many tribal and other personalities participated.
In fact, we are falling in the trap which Prof. Ellis just pointed out. We are judging and analysing the contemporary history of the people now inhabiting the region known as Liberia, from a colonial or neo-colonial angle. Maybe we should stop doing this, and stop explaining the problems of Liberia from this perspective. Instead, we should focus on the history of relationships between the Gola, Kpelle, Loma, Kissi, Mende, Vai, Mandingo, Mano, Gio, Bassa, Grebo, Kru, Krahn, to name just a few of them, of course not leaving out the 19th c. settlers, the freed slaves from intercepted slave vessels, so-called Congo-people, and their descendents. But the Americo-Liberians, as they called themselves, and these Congo people, are just an incident in the history of the peoples of this part of West Africa, I thought today, listening to Prof. Stephen Ellis lecture. ‘Who the h*** was A.B. Tolbert?’, future generations may ask. Both Liberians and outsiders should re-focus their view on Liberia’s contemporary history. Maybe, we all should decolonize our minds.
With many thanks to Prof. Stephen Ellis and the VU University Amsterdam .
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's Independence Day speech
In case you have not yet read the July 26 speech of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, which she presented during yesterday's Independence Day celebrations in Bong County, you can read the full text here. The original text is also available at the Executive Mansion site.
The reason why I have choosen to reproduce here the entire text is (1) in light of the recent turmoil about the TRC report (also see my July 9 posting, 'Controversial TRC report rocks Liberia'). In her Independence Day speech President Sirleaf for the first time commented on the TRC report. It is important to note that she did this in a prudent and responsible way; (2) In her speech she also presented the achievements of her administration (which is half-way now). Impressive as it may seem, in reality it is very modest - which though is not her fault.
The National Budget for the new Fiscal Year which was recently presented amounts to not more than US $ 1 million a day (some US $ 360 million in total, if I remember well). Furthermore, the reported amount of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) of some US $ 8 billion is important as a sign of confidence that foreign investors like Firestone and ArcelorMittal have in the country's future political stability. Yet, ArcelorMittal for instance, recently decided to freeze its investments in the West African country of Senegal and any time the same can be expected for the company's activities in Liberia (the rehabilitation of the Nimba ore mining operations), given the present global economic and financial crises and the gloomy outlook for the iron ore mining sector. Moreover, the Central Bank's national reserves are not more than US $ 50 million. In all, it is not a rosy picture for the development of the modern Liberian economy.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to get to know the full text of her speech, which reads as follows:
Her Excellency Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President of the Republic of Liberia
On the Occasion of the
162nd Independence Anniversary of the Republic of Liberia
Gbarnga, Bong County,
27th July 2009
Mr. Vice President & Mrs. Boakai;
KWAA KER WON TONO!
When on January 16, 2006 I spoke to the nation, I recognized that the vote for me was a vote for change. More than that, it was a vote for peace, security and stability, a vote for individual and national prosperity, a vote for healing and leadership. I expressed humility in the enormity of the challenges that lay ahead – to heal our nation’s wounds, redefine and strengthen its purpose, make democracy a living and effective experiment, promote economic growth, create jobs, revitalize our health and education facilities and services, and quicken the pace of social progress and individual prosperity in our country.
We have restored lights and water missing for over fourteen years, to the Capital and a few other cities. We have started the reconstruction of primary and neighborhood roads and the streets of our Capital city. We have attracted private investment of over US$ 8 billion in our mineral, agriculture, forestry and oil exploration potential. We have constructed or renovated more than 215 schools, 30 hospitals and clinics, several county administration buildings, court houses and security facilities throughout the country. The Telewoyan Hospital in Voinjama is now renovated and in full operation while a US$10 million renovation of the Tappita Hospital is underway. The majority of our schools throughout the country will have books with a national orientation when they open in September. For the first time in two decades, six year olds will start school knowing only an environment of peace.
We have made significant progress in settling arrears to former security forces, civil servants, foreign missions, former Legislators, regional and international organizations. We have qualified for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and obtained Threshold status under the Millennium challenge Corporation. We have strengthened the General Auditing Commission and established the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC). We have mobilized non-official flows from foundations, non-official organizations and individuals to the tune of US$15 million to support our capacity building, education and market development program. We have increased revenues from US$80 million to more than US$347 million, pensions from LD$50 to LD$1000, civil servants salaries from US$15 to US$80 with a floor of US$100 for security, teachers and health care workers.
The JFK Hospital is undertaking a program of major physical renovation and capacity building and is on an irreversible path to recovery. We have started judicial action for recovery of illegally sold government physical assets in five of our diplomatic missions. We have restored our nation’s good relationship and reputation throughout the world. In recognition of this, VIPs from 17 countries visited us and I was privileged to make 14 official visits and be honored by 4 nations and 24 institutions of higher learning. Moreover, we have restored in all citizens, particularly the young, hope in the future.
Fellow citizens, a nation rises to its potential when its people are prepared to seize the opportunity, to capture the moment, to accentuate the positive. A nation rises to its potential when its people are proud of their achievements, are prepared to extol their values, are ready to rise above self interest in demonstration of nationalism and patriotism. Such was the character of Martin Luther King when, despite the discrimination and inhumanities to which his people were subjected, saw not the nightmare of things that were but the dream of things that could be. Such was the character of Nelson Mandela when he said “the impossible remains the impossible until it is done”. Such was the character of Barack Obama who when no one believed that an African American could become President of the United States said, “Yes, we can!”
Fellow Citizens, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent three years interviewing tens of thousands of Liberians in country and amongst the Diaspora. We commend them and each and every person who participated in this process. Where the report lives up to its mission and mandate, the Liberian people have my steadfast commitment to work with all branches of government, the Independent Human Rights Commission, the religious community, civil society and the media to actualize its recommendations. This is as much as I can say to you as I am named in the report for sanction and I have been advised that it would be legally imprudent for me to give a more extensive comment on the report. Also, my comments could be misinterpreted as an attempt to influence what ever action the National Legislature might take on the report, and I do not intend to do so. I believe in the wisdom of the Liberian people and am convinced that they will make a proper judgment on the TRC’s Final Report.
Fellow citizens, as many of you know, I have dedicated my life to navigating a future for Liberia free from war and fear and grounded in individual freedom and opportunity. Sometimes, the circumstances were opaque, the distinctions between evil and good were not so clear—this is the nature of conflict and war. Like thousands of other Liberians at home and abroad who did, I have always admitted my early support for Charles Taylor to challenge the brutality of a dictatorship. It was equally clear that when the true nature of Mr. Taylor’s intentions became known, there was no more impassioned critic or strong opponent to him in a democratic process. I have talked about this openly over the past twelve years and expressed remorse to the Liberian people for my misjudgment. In turn, the Liberian people rendered their judgment. In 2005, I was elected President of the Republic of Liberia. My mandate was to return hope to the country and to make the children smile again.
During the past three years, my Administration has remained true to the faith that the Liberian people bestowed to me in that election. We have made gains toward restoring our security and our prosperity – and more importantly restoring our belief in ourselves, our potential, and our love of God and country. I know that there is much work to be done to bring the benefits of this work to all Liberians and my Administration will not rest until the gains of peace are felt by all. I strongly believe that Liberians, through their vote, have an inherent right to determine the direction of the nation, just as I believe that they each, in their own way, has the wisdom to know truth and the desire to seek reconciliation.
I will always stand as a servant of the Liberian people and will always respect their wisdom.
KWAA KER WON TONO!
To be frank, I have no idea what 'Kwaa Ker Won Tono' means. 'Our struggle continues'?? Or, 'Hail Liberia hail'?? Or 'Let Justice prevail'??
I would greatly appreciate readers' help.
Controversial TRC report rocks Liberia
One week after the publication of its impressive final report, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) is at the center of a political storm which only seems to intensify. Its findings and recommendations have surprised many – both inside and outside Liberia.
Reactions included 'Mockery to Justice', 'TRC Retracts Controversial report', 'An Incomplete Report', 'Liberian Opinion divided on Truth and Reconciliation findings', 'Liberians React to Truth Commission Report', 'War Crimes Group Wants Ellen To Resign', 'Civil War Panel Seeks to Ban President from Politics', among many other news reports.
Notably the suggested public sanction affecting President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, including her name in a list of over 50 ‘political leaders and financiers of different warring factions’ who should be barred from holding public offices for a period of thirty (30) years, shocked many people. They also could not understand why some well-known perpetrators were left out for prosecution or recommended to be pardoned – such as Joshua Milton Blayir (‘General Butt-Naked’) who admitted to ritual killings and cannibalism, and being responsible for 20,000 victims. Same for Thomas Boye Bioaju Boye, former Chief of Staff of MODEL, one of the warring factions, and 34 other perpetrators of various crimes during the civil war (see pp 268/269 of the report).
In February of this year President Sirleaf had testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, admitting giving Charles Taylor a financial support of USD 10,000 when he was preparing to oust sitting President Samuel Doe, in the late 1980s, but she denied any military role. Her testimony was not revealing anything which had not been publicly known before. During her presidential campaign she had said the same. Before the TRC she apologized for ‘her foolishness’ and said she withdrew her support when realizing Taylor’s ruthlessness, greed and ambitions. Numerous news agencies and newspapers published her testimony and apologies, e.g. the BBC, AllAfrica, Radio Netherlands, the Washington Post. However, the TRC justified inclusion of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s name in the list of persons recommended for public sanctions ‘because she had not shown remorse’ for her acts.
The foregoing leads me – for the moment - to two observations. First, the TRC Commission has done an impressive work and has produced a very interesting report, outlining the root causes of the civil war, naming and shaming many of those responsible for the atrocities committed during the 14-year civil war. Its historical analysis clearly shows how divided the Liberian society is, not only the A.L.- Congo /tribal divide but also the competition between the approximately 16 different tribes in the country. In accordance with this reality, one gets the impression that the outcomes of some of the deliberations of the commission result from negotiations. Reportedly, one of the committee members, Pearl Brown Bull ('Historical review'), refused to sign off on the final report.
The report’s recommendations will surely feed the debate in and outside Liberia for the coming months, if not years. Besides, it may be a (minor) legal technicality but does the TRC mandate include the recommendation for public sanctions? At first sight I have not found any reference to it in Chapter 3 ('Mandate', notably p.28).
Secondly, Liberia may be again heading for political trouble and instability. Warlords like Prince Johnson – known for his capture, torture and killing of President Samuel Doe and now an elected Senator (!) – have been threatening to resist arrest. Others will try to manipulate more discreet. It is very unlikely that former warlords like e.g. the Mandingo warlord Alhadji Kromah (leader of ULIMO-K), now a Professor at the University of Liberia, will accept that they have to face justice. Protracted discussions will take place in the National Legislature, the only institution in the country which has the right to decide whether or not the TRC recommendations will be enacted into law. Some former warlords occupy seats like e.g. Nimba County Senators Prince Johnson and Adolphus Dolo, formerly known as ‘General Peanut Butter’, loyal to Charles Taylor, but also Blamo Nelson (Senator for Grand Kru Country and former Director of Cabinet under Charles Taylor) and Jewel Taylor-Howard (Senator for Bong County and former wife of Charles Taylor) to name but a few. It is interesting to note that in parliament the opposition has a majority and may force President Sirleaf to resign, leaving the floor to Vice President Joseph Boakai who hails from Foya District, Lofa County.
Liberia’s future again looks dim. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and so-called IDPs (‘Internally Displaced Persons’) have returned to their country or village in recent years: productive workers, housewives, mothers, students, children, old people wanting to spend their last years in ‘This land of liberty’. Foreign investors (ArcelorMittal, Firestone, and the Malaysian logging firm Sime Darby) and local businessmen are increasingly showing interest in the economic potential of Africa’s oldest republic, a country well endowed with natural resources. Last year Liberia had a record economic growth figure of over 10 per cent. Still, a lot needs to be done, and a growing number of the 15,000 or more Liberians in the USA – most of them well educated men and women - is considering to return home. One of them once told me: ‘We need foreign investors to develop the country and the UN to keep the peace.’
I am afraid that he is going to be right for the next couple of years.
‘Let Justice Be Done To All’
The booming economy of the 1950s and 1960s enabled the construction in Monrovia of (then) prominent buildings such as the Capitol (1958), the Executive Mansion (1964), the City Hall and the Temple of Justice. The inscription ‘Let Justice be Done To All Men’ on the Temple of Justice on Capitol Hill was certainly inspired by noble thoughts. However, it was disputed as from the beginning, and for three reasons: 1) because of the lack of rule of law, 2) because of the existence of unjust laws and 3) because of the male chauvinistic and sexist formulation of this basic human right. Damaged during the civil war, the Temple of Justice was renovated in 2008 and to the joy of many the old description had been changed into: ‘Let Justice Be Done To All’. Still recently, the altered motto evoked many reactions.
But ‘justice’ is more than changing mottos. Not long ago, Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) released its final report on the civil conflict, 1979 – 2003. Last week it held a National Conference on Reconciliation in the Unity Conference Center in Virginia, Monrovia.
The conference once more demonstrated how divided the Liberian society still is, how fragile peace, how many challenges of reconstruction and national reconciliation exist and, last but not least, how difficult it is to ‘render justice to all’.
A group of war victims demanded reparations for injuries inflicted on them, the Chairman of the TRC called for unity, but the central issue was the setting up of a special court to try those accused of war crimes and human rights abuses during the conflict. Human rights activists spoke out in favor of the creation of a special war crimes tribunal – as has happened in neighboring Sierra Leone – but in the end conference delegates failed to sign a resolution calling for the prosecution of warlords.
Early June already, one of the most notorious warlords - now Senator for Nimba County - Prince Johnson, revealed the existence of a list of names of 110 former fighters, including Charles Taylor’s warlord Roland Duo as well as his name (Prince Johnson). He again warned that he would resist any attempt to prosecute him: ‘I am saying again that any attempt to arrest me, there will be trouble.’
Other former warlords called for unity and reconciliation and begged for clemency: Alhaji Kromah, former ULIMO leader, now Professor of Mass Communication at the University of Liberia, Roland Duo, NPFL commander, and ex-rebel general Moi Bleayu Moi, of the defunct MODEL, a rag-tag army from the east. Former warlord Boi is now a reverend, like another warlord-turned-pastor, Joshua Milton Blahyi (‘General Butt Naked’ who admitted to taking part in human sacrifices as part of traditional ceremonies intended to ensure victory over ennemies).
‘Let Justice Be Done To All’ – changing the Temple of Justice's motto is easier than enforcing the rule of law.
‘This Child Will be Great’ – Some reflections
Wow. What a book! What a woman! What a life! I just finished reading Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s autobiography, ‘This Child Will be Great. Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President’ (HarperCollinsPublishers, 2009).
The book amazes, the book fascinates. The book not only tells the story of a remarkable woman, it also provides a very valuable insider’s look into the history of Liberia since 1980. I am sure that this book will become a standard work in the already long list of literature on Liberia. In my opinion, this book is a must read for everybody familar with Liberia, who loves Liberia and who believes in Liberia.
What makes me so enthousiastic about President Sirleaf’s book? What impressed me the most in her work? What shocked me most? Does her autobiography throw new light on Liberia’s contemporary history? And, aren’t there any questions left, or new questions, after reading her memoir? These are logical questions and I will try to briefly answer them.
Before doing this, I would like to draw your attention to some very interesting reviews of Sirleaf's memoir which were recently published: Shelby Grossman on her Liberia blog, Ruthie Ackerman on Forbes.com, another book review in the Economist, and not to forget Emmanuel's numerous postings on President Sirleaf on his blog 'Liberia and Friends Journal', Dr Abdoulaye Dukuly on The Liberian Journal, Lynn Sherr's review and interview with President Sirleaf, Carl Hartman's review for the Associated Press, to name just them. Highly recommended!
Now my questions. The first question – ‘What makes me so enthousiastic about President Sirleaf’s book?’ – is the fact that everything she describes is so reckognizable. This is not to say that the book contains no news – far from that. But having lived in Liberia for a number of years in a very crucial period of this country’s history (described in Chapter 4, ‘The Tolbert Years’) – including the 1979 Rice Riot - and having witnessed the April 12 coup (Chapter 5, ‘The 1980 Coup’) many events she relates are very familiar. So are the key actors. It makes it a very easy to read book, at least for me and despite the at times horrific events she describes.
The second question is more difficult to answer ( ‘What impressed me most?’). I am equally impressed by her competence, international network, courage, tenacity. When she was Minister of Finance in President William Tolbert’s government (in the late 1970s) she had the reputation of being one of the smartest cabinet members. Her working experience has resulted in a vast network of key-actors – on the African continent as well as worldwide - former or sitting African presidents (Nyerere, Mandela, Museveni, Kagame, Obasanjo, Compaoré), Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Robert McNamara, George Soros, a.s.o.. Her vast experience in international organizations (World Bank, UN) and international business (Citibank, Equator Bank) now is a major asset of her presidency.
Equally impressive is her courage and the hardship she endured in jail (Chapter 8, ‘The Attempted Coup’and Chapter 9, ‘Escape’). She survived Doe’s prisons where thousands of Liberians perished. After the rigged 1985 elections, she refused to call Samuel Doe President, and addressed him as ‘General Doe’, which would infuriate him. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is no ‘yes-person’ ("say yes to the right people").
What also impressed me was her frank criticism of the French government, for its role in the preparation (or prevention) and aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, as well as Kofi Annan’s failing in this respect (Chapter 12, ‘UNDP and Rwanda’). Also former American President Jimmy Carter’s is being criticized for his role in the 1997 elections in Liberia (Chapter 13, ‘War Some More / 1997 Elections’). It takes courage to state this as boldly as she does, in particular because now she is President of an African country that desperately needs as many international friends as it can get - and the funds that go with it.
Then, what shocked me most (among the many shocking events described) was the physical abuse by her then husband: ‘He pulled out his gun (.....) and struck me on the head with the butt of it.’ (page 39). A large part of Chapter 2, ‘Childhood Ends’ tells the story of her marriage and what went wrong. This experience must have contributed greatly to her actual view and position on domestic violence, rape, and the empowerment of women.
Then, the next question: What is the value added of this book? Does this autobiography throw new light on Liberia’s contemporary history?
As for the first question, I am sure there are many more strong African women, but it is extremely instructive to get an in-depth view of the life of one of them who, moreover, now is 70-years old and the first elected female African President. She faces challenges and tasks which she will not be able to finish, as she admits on page 312, but that does not seem to discourage her. How many people would act the same at her age, in her place, and with her experience?
With her memoir, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has made an important contribution to the writing of Liberia’s contemporary history. Her autobiography puts the spotlight on her character, childhood, professional life, political activities, hardships, achievements, all in the context of Liberia’s recent history, it is difficult to say that no one else could have done it equally impressive and interesting. Here lies a challenge for historians: to write about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the story of her life from a different, less personal point of view.
This automatically leads me to my last question. Does her memoir raise any questions which she leaves unanswered?
I think the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. But that shouldn’t surprise us. First of all, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has proved to be a smart politician, and we cannot expect her to tell all secrets she knows. After all, she has to politically survive for at least another three years, the second half of her presidential term. Moreover, if she would have presented a complete picture then we would not have had a 334 page memoir (including her Inaugural Speech as Liberia’s 23rd President) but maybe 800 or 1,000 pages.
One of the main questions which remain unanswered concerns her exact relations with former President Charles Taylor. She gives some insight in her book, where she tells about their first contacts and their subsequent meetings, her initial support for Taylor's fight to topple the government of Samuel Doe, her meeting with him in the Liberian bush in the early 1990s, and their later disagreement and dislike. What is clear from her book is that she knew Taylor and (at least in a certain period) had access to him. What explained this? Did this have anything to do with their common Americo-Liberian background or the shared tribal roots? Charles Taylor was the son of an A.L. father and a Gola mother, Sirleaf’s ancestors on her father’s side were Gola too. I do not want to play the tribal card, I am just curious.
What is crystal clear from her book, however, is that she wants Taylor in prison, condemned, she obviously does not want him to come back to Liberia, West Africa. She has no doubt about him being guilty for the atrocities committed in Liberia as well as in Sierra Leone. In this respect, today is an important day.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone resumes today, and the court’s decison will be given whether Taylor will be acquitted (see my April 14 and earlier postings on the SCSL). If the SCSL would acquit Taylor, President Sirleaf has a (big) problem. In case Taylor will not be acquitted, it cannot be ruled out that President Sirleaf will be asked to come to the SCSL in The Hague, to testify...
To end with, I have a (small) question which intrigues me. On page 268 of her memoir, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf writes: ‘On November 23, 2005, the National Elections Commission declared me the twenty-third president of Liberia.’ .
I also have stated on my website that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Liberia’s 23d president. However, there exists some confusion about the numerical ranking of Liberian Presidents. According to two eminent Liberian historians, Dr. D. Elwood Dunn and Dr. William E. Allen, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the 24th President of Liberia.
Who is right? Readers are cordially invited to react to this historical enigma and to give their view(s).
From the ‘rice riots’ to the Special Court for Sierra Leone
Thirty years ago the ‘rice riots’ were the beginning of the end of the Administration of President William Tolbert (1971 – 80). April 14, 1979 - ‘The day Monrovia stood still’, as described by the late Albert Porte, one of Liberia's most independent and prolific writers. A people’s protest against the increase in the price of rice resulted in police firing at demonstrators, killing hundreds maybe more than one thousand Liberians whose only fault it was to no longer accept the one-party rule of the True Whig Party, the political machinery of the Americo-Liberian elite. The ‘rice riots’ announced in a very violent way the end of an era of political stability which, it should be reckognized, was only made possible through the oppression of the majority of the Liberian people by a very small minority, not exceeding five percent of the total population.
Liberia underwent more changes in the thirty years that have passed since that day, April 14, 1979, than in the 150 years preceding it, one is inclined to say. A quarter of a million Liberians dead, many more wounded or traumatized, the modern economy in shambles, infrastructure destroyed, foreign investors chased away. Among the living persons bearing responsibility for most, if not all, destruction, killings, atrocities, cruelties is notably Charles Ghankay Taylor – first as leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), later as president of Liberia.
As I also mentioned in last week’s postings, Charles Taylor is standing before his judges in The Hague, the Netherlands, not because of his role in the civil war in Liberia, but he is being held responsible for his participation in or fueling of the conflict in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
On Thursday (April 9), Special Court for Sierra Leone Prosecution counsel Ms Brenda Hollis made her oral response to the defense submission of no answer (see my April 6 posting). I was very impressed by Ms Hollis, who inevitably repeated a number of the atrocities committed by RUF and AFRC fighters, aided by Charles Taylor as she more than once explained. Interested readers are referred to a detailed account of Ms Hollis’response as published by the webmaster of the Charles Taylor Trial site (‘International Criminal Justice in the Making’).
After Ms Hollis had concluded her submission and the defense counsel Mr Morris Anyah had said that he had no further response, the presiding judge, Ruchard Lussick informed prosecution, defense and the public that a decision on the Motion for Judgement of Acquittal/Submission of No Case to Answer will be rendered on May 4, 2009.
Hence, the Court will resume on May 4, 2009.
Face to face with Charles Taylor (Part 4)
An end to impunity?
(continued from April 8)
Three high-ranking officers of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) – Sierra Leone’s rebel movement which terrorized the population of the West African republic from 1991 to 2002 – were sentenced yesterday in Freetown for crimes against humanity. The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) found former RUF interim leader Issa Hassan Sesay, former commander Morris Kallon and former Chief of Security Augustine Gbao guilty. Sesay is to serve 52 years in prison, Kallon 40 years, and Gbao 25 years.
The trial of the three men was the last of three held at the Special Court. Five other people have been convicted of war crimes. One, RUF leader Foday Sankoh died in custody. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is the last one on trial – in The Hague, the Netherlands, for security reasons. Prison conditions in Sierra Leone, while being much less comfortable than those in the Netherlands, would make an escape easy. Mr Taylor is a wealthy and powerful man – he ‘had billions’ in two US accounts, his prosecutor Stephan Rapp declared - and he has proved to be capable of escaping from prison.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone is an independent tribunal set up jointly by the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations (in 2002). It’s mandate is to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996. The SCSL started its work in 2004.
Financing comes from voluntary contributions. Almost 50 countries contribute, notably the USA, the UK, the Netherlands and Canada. Despite their generous contributions the Special Court actually faces bankruptcy with a deficit of approximately USD 45 million – with a budget of nearly USD 70 million for the 2008 – 10 period. In or after 2010 the SCSL will cease its activities. Mr Taylor will then know where and how he will spend the coming years: behind the bars or as a free man.
Why so many details about the Special Court for Sierra Leone? Why spending some USD 200 million for the prosecution of about ten people? The same amount could relieve the lives of the tens of thousands of surviving victims, those with amputated limbs, those who were raped, whose houses and huts were burned down, whose belongings stolen, whose family members were killed, whose futures were destroyed.
Speaking from the point of view of the Netherlands I can give the answer. Enforcement of the international rule of law is (even) included in the Constitution of the Netherlands, the fight against impunity a priority of the Dutch government. Our Foreign Affairs minister Verhagen and Development Cooperation minister Koenders are uncompromising when it comes to the protection of human rights. According to them (and many others) Mladic, Fujimori, Hissein Habre, Miriam Mengistu, Duch, Omar al-Bashir, should not be allowed to get away with their heinous crimes.
Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor belongs to the same group. The SCSL prosecution heard more than 90 witnesses since the start of the trial in June 2007. The atrocities they described were almost unbelievable. One of Taylor’s top aides testified that Charles Taylor ordered soldiers to eat their victims. Another witness declared Taylor ordered him to bury a pregnant woman. Witness ‘Zigzag’ Marzah said Taylor ate human hearts, as part of a ritual of the secret Poro Society of which both he and Charles Taylor are a member (also see my March 14 and March 15, 2008 postings on this subject). When I saw Charles Taylor last Monday (see my April 6 posting), I felt no emotions. I saw a good looking, well dressed, polite man, who sat there, before his judges. His face was familiar: I have been following the NPFL-insurrection since its start in 1989. Also the four friends I was with, knew him very well. We have lived in Liberia or Sierra Leone and we all knew what was going on. Two of my friends met Taylor on more than one occasion in Burkina Faso. His friendship with President Compaore gave him a foothold in the capital Ouagadougou, where he now and then stayed during the first period of the Liberian civil war (1989 – 97).
However, sitting face to face with Charles Taylor, and listening to the defense counsel, Mr Morris Anyah, I increasingly felt uncomfortable and nauseatic. (Forcible) recruitment of child soldiers, rape, sexual abuse, limb amputations, torture, killings, cannibalism, human right violations, diamonds-for-weapons-business. The defense elaborated on the lack of proof, the unreliability of witnesses, the mis-spelling of names of villages. Meanwhile Mr Charles Taylor took notes, listened attentively, corrected even his defense lawyer.
I left the court room somewhat desperate and confused. It is good we have the rule of law. It is good we protect the fundamental human rights – also of those who are accused of the most horrible acts. Nobody is guilty before (s)he is found guilty, after a fair trial. It is better to free the accused not found guilty because of insufficient evidence than to condemn someone who is not guilty. All these one-liners came to my mind. Am I ready to accept this in the case of Charles Taylor?
Ellen: 'I supported Taylor...'
1) On February 12, 2009 President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf testified before the TRC, denying she was ever a member of any of the warring factions but admitting she made a financial contribution of USD 10,000 to the NPLF - before turning her back to Charles Taylor in a very early stage of the conflict. She apologized to the Liberian people. It was not the first time she publicly admitted this financial support; she already acknowledged it during the campaign for the past presidential elections. She also mentions it in her autobiographic book, 'This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Woman President', published yesterday (April 7). 2) According to a testimony on February 18, 2009, Charles Taylor, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Ibrahim Bah (RUF) and a retired Italian agent of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) organized a company, smuggling Liberian and Sierra Leonean diamonds in exchange for weapons. It was also said that Bah collaborated with Libyan leader Gaddafi and Taylor to form a rebel group which was then operating in the Sierra Leonean jungle after fighting in Liberia.
3) Patrick Alley, Global Witnness Director, on February 20, 2009 testified that Charles Taylor, Ibrahim Bah and Samuel Bockarie had links with Al Queda. They were involved in this organization's diamonds for arms deal and other business deals in Sierra Leone and Liberia whch yielded them significant financial gains. Mr Taylor also received USD 1 million for harboring two Al Queda operatives at the Gbartala base in Bong County after September 11, 2001 ('9-11'). Reports of Taylor's links with Al Queda are not new, however. It is expected that Charles Taylor will be the first witness in his own war crimes trial this summer. Will he speak as a former warlord, as a former president or as a well dressed millionaire-businessman?
A verdict in the war crimes trial of Charles Taylor is expected early 2010.
To be continued..
Face to face with Charles Taylor (Part 2)
(continued from April 6)
It was to be expected that the defence would like to have all charges against former Liberian President Charles Taylor dismissed. His counsel, Mr Morris Anyah, argued in a lenghty submission that took all day (yesterday) that the evidence presented was too flimsy to warrant a conviction. He acknowledged that terrible things had happened in Sierra Leone during the 11-year conflict, but denied Charles Taylor’s role in the planning or execution of the atrocities which resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims.
After Mr Anyah concluded his submission, prosecution counsel Ms. Brenda Hollis responded announcing that the prosecution wants to respond on April 9, which was accepted by the judges. Hence, the prosecution response will take place at 9:30 A.M. this Thursday.
I will not easily forget the looks of Mr Taylor during this day. I observed him closely and was astonished by the lack of emotions. It was only at two occasions that I noted a different attitude. One was at 10:30 A.M. when the defence counsel elaborated on the accusation of enlisting child soldiers. The former Liberian president then nervously moved in his chair, visibly feeling uncomfortable. The second time was when the death of Samuel Bockarie, aka Mosquito, was mentioned. It is widely believed that Samuel Bockarie, a one time ally of Charles Taylor, was murdered with his family upon orders of the warlord turned President. Mr Taylor frantically wrote notes during this episode of Mr Anyah’s submission.
It is recalled that Samuel Bockarie was one of Mr Taylor's top commanders in both Sierra Leone and Liberia. He was also involved in the conflict in neighbouring Ivory Coast, assassinating Ivorian rebel leader Felix Doh upon orders of then President Taylor. After the prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone had indicted Samuel Bockarie in March 2003, accusing him of crimes against humanity, General Mosquito, as Sam Bockarie was also known, threatened to 'spill the beans' if he were handed over to the SCSL. After killing Bockarie, Taylor's troops also executed his wife, his mother and at least three of his children. The Liberian Government's promise to investigate the circumstances surrounding the mysterious death of the former warlord never resulted in more clarity.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone - Face to face with Charles Taylor (Part 1)
He was impeccably dressed, wearing a double-breasted suit, a blue-silver tie and shaded, gold-rimmed glasses, each hand decorated with a big golden ring. When former Liberian President Charles Taylor entered the court room at 9:25 A.M. this morning, he cordially greeted his defence lawyers, looked at the public, then sat down – at about five yards distance from where I sat. When his eyes met mine, it seemed as if he nodded – he greeted me I thought, and automatically I greeted back.
At 9:30 A.M. sharp the court session was opened. The trial against the 61-year old former leader – once the most wanted man in West Africa – had resumed. Today, April 6, Taylor’s defence team was making its No Case Submission (Rule 98 Submission). This submission is an oral submission by the defence that the prosecution has not proved it’s case or has not rendered sufficient evidence on one or more of the counts in the indictment. I will leave the legal technicalities out here, those interested can read more here.
The 11 charges against Charles Taylor include acts of terrorism, unlawful killings, enlisting child soldiers, planning of a joint criminal enterprise. According to the prosecution he and the late Foday Sankoh, leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), connived to bring the diamond-rich regions of Sierra Leone under their control and each promised the other to give assistance to topple the sitting regime: Doe in Liberia and Momoh in Sierra Leone. The promise dated back to their stay in Muammar Gaddafi's Libya where they received a military training in the late 1980s.
Interestingly, another alliance linked Charles Taylor to then captain Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso (though not discussed during this session of the Special Court for Sierra Leone). Taylor promised Compaoré to help get rid of (then President) Thomas Sankara in exchange for Compaoré’s assistance in chasing Doe. Whereas any involvement of Charles Taylor in the killing of President Sankara in October 1987 has never been proved, the participation of Burkinabe soldiers in the NPFL-invasion of Liberia on Christmas Eve 1989 is an historic fact.The accused showed little, if any, emotions while Mr Morris Anyah, one of his his lawyers, spoke. In general, the defence counsel did a tremendous good job, I admired his eloquence and competence. Charles Taylor listened carefully and made notes; on two occasions he corrected him, when his defence confused the year in which an alleged act took place. I could not help thinking of the high costs of the Special Court (about USD 200 million) and that he - Mister Taylor or Charles Taylor as he often was referred to during the trial - had a much better treatment than most if not all of his victims.
To be continued..
Turmoil in the region
Killings in Guinea-Bissau, assassination attempt in Conakry
Are we witnessing another period of political instability in West Africa? After the August 2008 military coup in Mauritania, overthrowing the democratically elected government of President Sidi Ould Cheick Abdallai, and the military coup in Guinea-Conakry following the death of President Lansana Conte (see my December 23 posting), on March 2 President Joao Bernardo Vieira of Guinea-Bissau was brutally murdered, hours after the killing of the country’s army chief of staff, General Tagme Na Wai. The day before, a disgruntled junior naval officer failed to assassinate Guinea’s Navy chief, in Conakry, apparantly a further sign of instability in the country after the December coup. And in Mali and Niger Tuareg rebels have been staging deadly attacks on civilians and military personnel (2008).
Though some of these countries are far away from Liberia, the violent events in Guinea-Conakry and Guinea-Bissau could easily have repercussions for Africa’s oldest republic.
On March 1, a non-commissioned officer, Makan Oulare, tried to kill the country’s Navy chief in Conakry. Oulare was dissatisfied because he had not been promoted to a higher rank after the December coup, unlike some of his colleagues, in particular those serving on the National Council for Democracy and Development, the junta ruling Guinea after seizing power.
Already, several members of the junta were accused of plotting against the government of Moussa Dadis Camara, the captain who seized power in December, and arrested in late January. And in a wave of arrests in the past ten days, a number of military officers and civilians have been rounded up, among them Ousmane Conte, the late President Conte’s son. Ousmane Conte, an officer in the army, is accused of drug trafficking.
Guinea and surrounding countries, in particular Guinea-Bissau, have been targeted by international drug trafficking gangsters who take advantage of poorly policed coastlines and weak law enforcement institutions, and who use remote airstrips to smuggle Latin American cocaine through West Africa to Europe. Remember, in February 2008, almost 100 barrels containing about 2.5 tonnes of cocaine were seized from a ship off the coast of Liberia. It was the single largest drug seizure in the country’s history.
The country that increasingly has the reputation of being a narco-state, is Guinea-Bissau, one of the poorest countries on earth. Guinea-Bissau has had coups and counter-coups, military revolts and a short civil war in the recent past. President Viera, who had ruled the country from 1980 till 1999 when he was ousted by a military junta that included Na Wai, had been re-elected in 2005. On March 2 he was assassinated, a reprisal for the killing of Army Chief of Staff General Tagme Na Wai, the day before. Already in November last year Vieira had survived a gun attack on his home by mutinous soldiers, in what was probably a failed coup. Following the killing of President Vieira, the country’s armed forces command denied that there was a miltary coup and pledged to respect democratic institutions. Under the constitution the Speaker of the National Assembly takes over the presidency for a limited period pending presidential elections.
Today, on March 3, National Assembly speaker Raimundu Pereira was sworn in as interim head of state. But will the tension between rival armed factions disappear with the death of Bernardo ‘Nino’ Vieira and Tagme Nai Wai? Soldiers from Na Wai’s Balante ethnic group – the country’s largest – killed President Vieira, who is (was) from the much smaller Papel tribe. Besides, rumors point to the potential involvement of drug cartels in the assassination of Na Wai.
To be continued.
A glimse of Liberia in the 1950s
A good friend of mine sent me an interesting link to a 1958 movie of the visit of Prince Bernard of the Netherlands, the Prince Consort of Queen Juliana, to Liberia. The short movie, made for the Dutch National News Broadcasting Company ‘Polygoon Journal’, shows President William Tubman, Vice President Tolbert and other prominent Liberians.
Liberia in those days was a heaven for foreign investors and the movie shows pictures of ‘the world's largest rubber plantation' being Firestone's, and of Bomi Hills, where Liberia’s first iron ore mining company LMC (also) exploited the richness of the Liberian soil. The Dutch were very present in the rubber and mining sector. Not commonly known, it was a Dutch geologist, H. Terpstra, who in 1934 had discovered the Bomi Hills iron ore deposits, and most of the Bomi Hills ore was shipped to the Netherlands.
Relations between Liberia and the Netherlands were strong in those days. In October 1956 President Tubman had made a State visit to the Netherlands. The picture below shows President Tubman and his family together with Queen Juliana, Prince Bernard and their four daughters, among whom the actual Queen Beatrix, in the monarch's Soestdijk palace.
Prince Bernard would again visit Liberia in 1962 whereas Queen Juliana reciprocated with a State visit to Liberia in 1974.
The 1958 movie can be found here. Unfortunately, the accompanying text is in Dutch but for those who are interested how Liberia looked like in those days the movie is still worth watching!
Shots: arrival of Prince Bernard on Robertsfield airport, officially welcomed by President Tubman - the Executive Pavillion, Ashmun Street, Monrovia - Pioneers monument - Providence Island and an aerial view of Monrovia - market scene - Liberia Mining Company, Bomi Hills - the Firestone rubber plantation - Liberian dances, Klay District - departure of Prince Bernard. The official end of the movie (10 minutes) is followed by shots filmed by Prince Bernard himself.
PS With only 45,000 inhabitants, Monrovia then was one of the smallest capitals in the world.
Liberia has made considerable progress in restructuring its $ 4.7 billion debts
Last year Liberia obtained an important debt relief when in March it fullfilled a number of conditions under HIPC which cleared the way for an agreement with the Paris Club. The following month, Paris Club creditors agreed to restructure Liberia’s external public debt of about $ 1.5 billion, 97 percent of which consists of overdue arrears and interest. An important amount was immediately cancelled – over $ 250 million – whereas nearly $ 1 billion was rescheduled although the latter arrrangement also meant that a debt to the International Monetary Fund was replaced by a debt to the United States (see my posts of March 19 and 28).
Following the April 2008 agreement with the Paris Club - a voluntary gathering of individual creditor countries – Liberia had to negotiate with individual creditor countries involved in the deal. The countries comprising the Paris Club creditors of Liberia are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. One of the first countries announcing debt forgiveness was the US. A few days after the April 2008 agreement with the Paris Club the US Government announced it would cancel $ 430 million debt. Other countries followed (e.g. Denmark, Germany, Norway) or even preceded the Paris Club action (e.g. the UK).
Last Friday President Sirleaf told the international press that it will soon have reached agreement with all of its Paris Club creditors. Then it will start commercial debt talks with members of the London Club, she said. Liberia’s commercial debt is estimated to some $ 3 billion.
The Sirleaf Administration is to be congratulated with this achievement. Previous governments, in particular the presidents Tolbert (1971 – 1980) and Doe (1980 – 1990), borrowed irresponsibly. Ironically, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was in the Ministry of Finance when some of these loans were contracted, first as a young Assistant Minister (later Deputy Minister) for Fiscal Affairs, then - briefly - as Finance Minister, in 1979, when borrowing skyrocketed due to Liberia’s hosting of the Annual Summit of the OAU, the Organization of African Unity, in 1980.
It is dificult to say who is to be criticised most, borrower or lender. The financiers - in particular governments - often failed to apply objective criteria when granting loans. In a large number of cases geo-political motives proved decisive. IMF and World Bank did not always act differently. Too often, the US Government put pressure on the Bretton Woods Institutions to be lenient. Similarly, private financiers and bankers also put their own interest first when providing funds. To make matters worse, many loans were not for productive activities, others never reached the National Treasury...
The Bretton Woods Institutions and the US Government led the way in the restructuring and cancellation of Liberia's public debt, sometimes aided by friendly government. The Netherlands e.g. took over part of Liberia's debt to the IMF and subsequently cancelled it. Will the new Obama Administration break with the past and stop granting loans to countries like Liberia that are not capable of servicing or repaying these loans? At least the current financial crisis has taught us that reckless borrowing and reckless lending go hand-in-hand....