Why the trial of the former Liberian despot may destablise the West African Region
Charles Taylor, tyrant and former leader of Liberia has been caught on the Cameroon border in north-eastern Nigeria while trying to escape extradition to Sierra Leone or Liberia.
Taylor is facing 17 counts of war crimes committed during his time in power.
By Chippla Vandu
The mainstream media can sometimes be uncanny. When the newly-elected Liberian president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, visited Washington earlier this month, journalists were so eager to hear from her about Charles Taylor.
The tyrant and ex-Liberian leader has been living in asylum in Calabar, a quiet seaside city in the South East of Nigeria. Taylor's presence in Calabar was part of a peace deal brokered by the United States government, the Nigerian president and the African Union in mid 2003 when Liberia was in the heat of a civil war.
With Taylor in exile, Liberia successfully underwent a democratic transformation that saw United Nations-monitored free and fair elections held in late 2005.
Charles Taylor's asylum in Nigeria has always been something of a nudge. Before the tyrant went into exile, he was indicted by a United Nations court in Sierra Leone for war crimes.
Taylor, it was said, had played a role in the Sierra Leonean war by backing the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, which saw hundreds (and possibly thousands) of people dismembered.
Of course, Charles Taylor denied the charges and presented himself as a sacrificial lamb - he boldly compared himself to Jesus Christ, a man who was hardly understood during his own time.
Taylor's exile in Nigeria was a necessary evil. This was the same man who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Nigerian peacekeeping soldiers in the mid 90s. Yet, his exile was necessary to end the last Liberian civil war.
President George Bush of the United States requested that Taylor should leave office in 2003. The Nigerian president agreed to grant him asylum on the condition that no government, body or person would harass Nigeria.
But Nigeria has been harassed several times by congressmen in the United States and Human Rights bodies for harbouring Charles Taylor.
Of recent, after visit to the United States, which included a standing ovation from the US Congress, pressure was put on Johnson-Sirleaf to request for Taylor's extradition. She appeared to give in to this pressure by formally asking Nigeria to hand Taylor over.
Without a doubt, the Nigerian government was angered by such a move and seemed to say "come get him if you want him." After all, the Nigerian president allowed Taylor to come live in Calabar as part of a deal to end the Liberian civil war.
This is a fact that must not be overlooked in any discussion on the current state of Liberia. Had Charles Taylor not left Liberia, the civil war would not have ended at the time it did.
With Liberia in relative peace at the moment, the Taylor issue appears to have resurfaced in full swing and there appears to be a School of Justice that is hell bent on seeing that this one-time warlord is brought to face the United Nations tribunal in Sierra Leone immediately.
I wonder where this School of Justice was when hundreds of Liberians were being slaughtered as LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) rebels marched towards Monrovia in mid-2003.
Charles Taylor is a dangerous man, and he becomes even more dangerous when one considers the fact that he still has supporters in relatively peaceful but highly-unstable Liberia.
Anyone thinking of having Taylor extradited to Liberian soil must be joking. Why would anyone want to stir up a hornet's nest?
Taylor's presence in Liberia would not only be highly controversial but would also stir up emotions amongst his supporters. Liberia has no functional military or police force. Security is still provided by United Nations peacekeepers.
Why then has Charles Taylor become such a priority to the Liberian government? A need to seek closure? At what cost?
At some point in future--when Liberia is more stable--it will be necessary to have Mr. Taylor answer for his crimes and rot in jail if (when) found guilty but the current rush by the Liberian government to bring Taylor to justice is indicative of intense pressure from some foreign bodies and governments. And a government that is in so much need of foreign aid and assistance is left with little or no choice than to abide.
Should Taylor ever be extradited from Nigeria, he should be flown straight to Sierra Leone. He should not be allowed to step foot on Liberian soil. The Liberian government, which should be attending to pressing issues at home, caved in to international pressure by asking for Taylor at a premature time.
I only hope those putting so much pressure would be kind enough to cough out the millions of dollars that would be needed to try the tyrant in court.
This story can only get more interesting!
Vandu is a Nigerian writer and academic. Based in Holland, he blogs as Chippla
How should the unfolding saga be handled? Is foul-play on the part of the Nigerian Government responsible for Taylor's sudden escape?
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What a wonderful and balanced observation that writer has.We need guys
like him to sit at that UN.If representatives were individually
selected,then you have my full vote.
The UN is only interested in affairs of their interest and leaving out the fate that can befall the war ridden Liberia,only equal as of now to a crawling baby,depending on the
international community to stand and even walk.
Those guys there,(Liberian Warriors)have only put down their weapons for now to
know peace as you rightly said,Taylor was still up to the task before
abandoning issues like those today for the love of peace,but if the UN
thinks that paramount is to book him for his crimes and not bring up the
crawlling war stricken baby Liberia,then watch out,we may be in for
renewed and this time not only a civil war.
A WORD TO A WISE IS ENOUGH.LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE.
Like Vandu's story highlights, I have been wondering whether the new Liberian
president has her priorities right. She has just won an election and thanks to the
absence of Charles Taylor there is some degree of peace. This is enough capital to
build her government on.
Burning issues like reconstruction, social services, job creation and especially peace and reconciliation between the factions should have been the most pressing. I believe Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf had rightly said Taylor was not her immediate priority.
But since whoever pays the piper calls the tune, the west have prevailed. Unfortunately, it is Liberians who are going to suffer if Taylor's arrest and incarceration disrupts the present fragile peace.
The question we have to ask ourselves is: How long will we Africans continue to accept dictated rules and laws from the west? And how can we disobey the west when we continue to beg them for help like paupers?