Taylor has only himself to blame

He was given one chance, and just one, of being able to live his life out quietly in a Nigerian refuge. All he had to do was renounce politics, renounce any right to speak to the media and keep a very low profile. There have been and still are several former presidents around the world who have taken advantage of what has now become a standard process whenever a leader faces defeat from rebel forces. To avoid that last bloodbath in a capital, the leader is offered refuge in a country that is not a neighbour but which promises to protect him and his family. He has to resign his posts and promise never again to be active in politics. He effectively disappears into obscurity. We saw this with Idi Amin and Milton Obete of Uganda, with Colonel Mengistu of Ethiopia, with several assorted types from the Caribbean and Central America. Taylor took the deal and then tried to flee, to go into exile and almost certainly plan and launch one more effort to attain supreme power in his unhappy country. For Taylor will do, and has done, almost anything to win power. He plunged his own country into the bloodiest civil war seen in West Africa. He fanned war and rebellion among his neighbours to gain allies and destroy those he saw as threats. He climbed to the political summit over a mountain of bodies and stayed in power by killing. He is not a nice man. Admittedly Liberia was never much of a democratic example until very recently. Founded, in effect, as an American colony by freed slaves, it showed many of the symptoms of other settler states, ruled by a foreign minority, with the single exception that the minority in Liberia was black. The indigenous inhabitants of Liberia did not win the vote until after the Second World War. This Afro-American elite was overthrown by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, an indigenous inhabitant. The low rank was indicative of the fact that the higher ranks of the army were reserved for those of settler descent. Taylor, of Afro-American descent and educated in America, launched an armed rebellion. But it soon became apparent that this had nothing to do with creating a democracy in Liberia and was nothing like the wars of liberation waged in the south of Africa. The rebellion was nothing more than a plan to make Taylor president. Rebellion is sometimes justified, as the wars of liberation were, but Taylor got involved in wars to win power and his wars to stay in power paid little in lip service, and nothing in fact, to democracy and change. Admittedly he did win the election that was part of the process that ended his first acts of violence, but most agree he won through fear. He was prepared to plunge West Africa into anarchy and see millions die rather than lose power and the sort of people he supported in neighbouring states make Renamo and Unita look like choir boys. He is facing trial for how he supported a neighbouring rebel movement. We think this is the best way forward, rather than having him tried for crimes against his own people. There are problems in setting precedents for how a president runs a country. There is no need to give larger powers any cloak of legality when they interfere in the internal affairs of small countries. But there can be no argument that international law can take its course when a dictator creating and arming foul rebel groups in other countries is nabbed. Much of Southern Africa would have had no problems with seeing South Africa’s last white presidents tried on such charges for their involvement with Unita and Renamo and the bloody wars they plunged Angola and Mozambique into. Amnesties saved them. Taylor’s trial will send a message to all.

April 2006
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