There are no happy endings
This is not the first time I have written about Charles Taylor, and it will not be the last. We are still, as a continent, to learn the object lesson that he gave us back in 2006. He is a guy who fascinates me.
Charles Taylor’s story reads like a Hollywood movie script. And that should be hardly surprising considering that his political career was indeed scripted in America. Not in Los Angeles of course, but in Washington DC. At the time of writing, he was appealing – futilely I think ‑ at the Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague to overturn his 50-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
How this lay Baptist preacher became a warlord, a President and eventually a jailbird is the stuff of blockbusters. Charles Taylor inexplicably escaped from prison in the US in 1985 after he had been convicted of looting millions of dollars from the American government. Taylor says a prison guard “escorted” him to freedom, tacitly indicating that the US government had something to do with the “escape”.
He reappeared in Liberia as an opponent of Samuel Doe; dealing in blood diamonds that found their way to the US. He was to eventually become President of Liberia – a country that was created and owes its existence up to today to the US.
When it was revealed in 1999 that Taylor was selling gems in the US (some reports said he did this through televangelist Pat Robertson of the 700 Club) to fuel wars in West Africa, the Attorney-General for Virginia blocked all investigations into the matter. Taylor’s relationship with the US soured, as do the relations of just about all puppets with their masters tend to do, and in 2003 – after facing a sustained armed rebellion – he said he would leave the Presidency if American “peacekeepers” were deployed to Liberia.
Washington sent three warships off the coast of Liberia and Taylor stepped down and went to Nigeria for succour at the bosom of another US ally, Olusegun Obasanjo. One account says he thought he would be safe there because Obasanjo was having an affair with Taylor’s sister.
If that is true, it turned out to be insufficient insurance as Obasanjo was to throw Taylor to the dogs and he ended up at The Hague, while another close US ally – Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf – ended up as President of Liberia.
And this is where we get to Charles Taylor’s object lesson for Africa: the scripts from Washington – unlike those from Hollywood – do not have happy endings. In a letter to continental leaders after his demise, he said: “And here I am, a former African Head of State who has been transplanted from our continent to an isolated jail cell in the Netherlands, awaiting trial at the hands of a court behind which the powerful nations are to be found …
“Today it is me and God only knows who it will be tomorrow.” So what has this to do with anything, one may ask. Well, I thought of Charles Taylor as I read about the sad events in Kenya this past week.
Al-Shabaab fighters murdered scores of people in Kenya. Their gripe is that Kenya is colluding with the US and other Western interest groups in fomenting instability in Somalia. Unlike Charles Taylor, I have a soft spot for Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta – not least because he faces the same fate as the former Liberian leader at The Hague.
And thus it is difficult for me to understand why his government has apparently continued arrangements agreed to by his predecessor to essentially support Western interests in Somalia.
Some may not know it, but Somalia is oil-rich. And by 1993, according to one account, two-thirds of that country’s territory had already been parcelled out among four major transnational oil companies.
Much of the instability in Somalia right now is situated in areas where firms like Jacka Resources and Genel Energy want to drill holes for oil. Others, like Royal Dutch Shell, say they hold oil exploration licenses; and yet others are claiming tin, iron ore, copper, cobalt and chromium in Somalia as their own.
Somalia is being pillaged while Africa thinks this is about “piracy” or some other such trite and banal claim.
And through it all, countries like Kenya are assisting this pillaging. In 2011, Kenya’s government signed an agreement with Israel for co-operation in fighting Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. The result is that no less than five Israeli drones are stationed in Kenya for attacks on Somali territory.
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of Pan-African News Wire says: “(The) latest push into Somalia by the combined forces of Kenya, France, the US, Ethiopia, AMISOM and Israel is clearly designed to make this strategically located Horn of Africa nation a base for imperialist intrigue. “The US Africa Command, known as AFRICOM, already has a base in neighbouring Djibouti. So does France.
“A similar outpost in Somalia would strengthen the overall objectives of the Western capitalist states: to secure East Africa as a continuing source of oil, raw materials, shipping lanes, tourism and cheap labour.”
As I said, I like Uhuru Kenyatta. I hope he does not end up where Charles Taylor is. Africa’s leaders have displayed a remarkable propensity to forget that America has no permanent friends, just permanent interests.
No one is ever permanently in America’s good books. Yesterday it was Charles Taylor, only God knows who it will be tomorrow. There is only one guarantee: this is not cinderella stuff and here will be no happy endings.