Johnny Dwyer writes in Foreign Policy on the questions that remain after the verdict – a must read that details Taylor’s prison break (not that outlandish from a prison that had seen several breaks prior to his), and his supposed role supplying information to the CIA (spoiler: there’s no substantiated evidence that he did), to this great anecdote from Dwyer’s conversation with Taylor’s former Defense Minister Tom Woewiyu:
“I always used to tell him this parable about when the elephant tells you to do something, you don’t look at the elephant and say ‘no.’ Because the elephant is the most powerful animal on the face of the Earth,” said Woewiyu, who now lives in Pennsylvania. “America is the elephant of the world today.” Taylor told Woewiyu he believes his unwillingness to open up offshore oil development to U.S. companies led to his prosecution, a theory one former U.S. Embassy official described to me as “a crock of shit.”
When I first moved to Monrovia and had colleagues and acquaintances profess their love for Taylor I was shocked, but it eventually got boring. Taylor supporters—posturing young men not old enough to have lived through war, greying NPFL partisans grasping at faded glory, former child soldiers messed up from years of trauma and drug abuse, boys and girls named after him (Charles and Charlsetta), relatives living off the money they made during his plunderous reign—made for a rather pathetic bunch. The common denominator was a love for Taylor’s enduring charisma and a belief in an international conspiracy to deprive Liberia of its rightful leader…
So when outsiders report from media savvy pro-Taylor rallies in downtown Monrovia and mingle with the crowds of men watching the verdict from tea shops and “intellectual centers”— overcaffeinated men in love with their own voices—it may not be very accurate.
What about the woman selling fritters across the street, or the Krahn laborer trying to avoid walking through the rally? Or all the people in the vast suburbs surrounding Monrovia that didn’t make make the trek downtown to share their opinions?
Tamasin Ford reports from some of those pro Taylor rallies for NPR,
Before the verdict was announced, crowds bustled and debated on the streets in downtown Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. There was a strong — maybe somewhat naïve — expectation Taylor would be coming back to his homeland.
People cheered and clapped as they saw him appear on television. The man who was president from 1997 to 2003 still commands a lot of support and even adoration here. But as the verdict finally came down, the mood shifted.
The judge declared Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting the war in Sierra Leone on all 11 counts. They include arming rebel groups with guns and ammunition in exchange for diamonds, the use of child soldiers, rape, sexual slavery and acts of torture. He will not be coming back to Liberia.
“It makes me crazy because Charles Taylor had no problem with Freetown people,” says 23-year-old student Amara Sanoe.
Finlay Young discusses Taylor’s popularity as part of a system of patronage for the Daily Beast:
This “kindness” was actually an intrinsic part of Taylor’s strategy, a counterpart to his ruthlessness. Patronage is a deeply embedded social norm in Liberia, a potent strategy in a place where so many have so little. I look after you, so you belong to me. Academic William Reno, in his 1999 book Warlord Politics and African States, describes how Taylor ran a “shadow state” based on personal links. Formal administrative institutions were largely impotent. Taylor was perfectly formed for the intuitive, opportunistic life of a rebel, but not for the stolid bureaucracy of government. Paul remembers how “everything collapsed as soon as he left (for exile in 2003). Because everything was built on him.”
When researching a recent article on the post-war experience of some of these young men, I was struck by the fact that the only person who escapes blame for their present predicament is the man who bears greatest responsibility: Taylor. For many, the coming of peace signaled the permanent loss of respect. In Monrovia, they squat in the crowded spaces between lavish compounds, the towering walls of which are a reflection of the mistrust which corrodes post conflict reconciliation in Liberia.
BBC’s Robin White reflects on his six phone chats with Taylor over the years, along with some of the original audio which is definitely worth a listen:
New Year’s Days are usually a bit thin on news and much of the discussion in the Focus on Africa office on New Year’s Day 1990 was along the lines of “how on earth are we going to fill the programme?”
And then, Charles Taylor called.
Emily Schmall and Clair McDougall write about identity and Liberian history for the Daily Beast:
But Liberia’s notorious modern history—from Doe’s coup and his own torture and death at the hands of rebels; through Taylor’s presidency, his exile to Nigeria, and his war-crimes trial; and up to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s reelection late last year—is conspicuously absent from the textbooks that circulate in Liberian schools. When the prewar generation, including Johnson Sirleaf, was growing up, young Liberians read the civics books of A. Doris Banks Henries, a Yale-educated Methodist missionary whose The Liberian Nation: A Short History starts in 1839, when freed American slaves sailed to Africa to bring “civilization” and Christian values to a “savage, primitive, belligerent people.”
Dan Howden reports from Taylor’s home in Monrovia, White Flower, where he spoke to Vicky Taylor:
Among the great and good who would celebrate Taylor being found guilty will be many who were once seduced by his unusual charisma. They might be embarrassed to know that their tributes, signed photographs and gifts to a guerrilla leader who terrorised and captivated Liberia still decorate White Flower, Taylor’s modernist mansion on the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia.
Six years on from his arrest it’s a mouldering heap, where his young wife Victoria and their daughter, conceived during a conjugal visit to the Netherlands, wait for him to come home.
Sitting in the courtyard with its poor copy of Rome’s Trevi Fountain and a collection of rusting sports cars, she maintains that her husband has been the victim of a deep conspiracy.
“He’s not what the international community demonised him to be,” she says of someone charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and the recruitment of child soldiers…
“They say he stole $3bn. Where is that $3bn?” Vicky says gesturing around the decaying White Flower.
Indeed, the grand residence, built in four steps down the side of a hill in the once upscale neighbourhood of Congo Town, has seen better days. Dead birds and palm fronds compost in the drained swimming pool and stray dogs wander across the wrecked courts where tennis enthusiast Taylor used to play.
The inside has fared a little better and the chapel on the ground floor has Jewish Menorah candlesticks in homage to his new religion. The house’s bric-a-brac of politics and high living is at odds with her claim that he wants to return to Liberia to be a farmer.
The often bizarre and contradictory path of Taylor’s life is mapped out across the dusty reception room at his former residence. Kofi Annan smiles from a signed portrait stacked on the floor with similar keepsakes, a copper plaque commemorates a “peace award” given to him by the regional power bloc ECOWAS. Bearing down on the room’s white and gold French furniture is an oil painting depicting a serene Charles rising through clouds towards a smiling Christ. Among the family portraits lies a well-thumbed copy of the book Israel at 50.