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Wednesday | July 09, 2003

So how did we wind up in Liberia

By Steve Gilliard

It is not widely known or acknowledged, but the turmoil in Liberia has nearly a century of class hatred and discrimination at it's root.

While American blacks "colonized" the country, it is forgotten, at least in the US, that people already lived there. Those people would suffer under the domination of the US immigrants which sought to remake the country in their image.

Internally, the country was divided into four major social blocks. The mulattos, headed by President Joseph Jenkins, dominated political and economic power in the country. ....African-Americans and West Indians of pure African descent came next. .... Below this group were the recaptured Africans who were called, "Congos." These people had been brought to Liberia by the American Navy, after they were recaptured on slave vessels. At the bottom of the list, were the indigenous Africans who resided on territory and adjacent territory claimed by Liberia

This bias turned Liberia into a constantly brewing pit of conflict. Discrimination against the natives lasted until 1944 until the election of William Tubman. While he ended the most rampant discrimination against the locals, the bias of the mulatto and African-Americans lasted well into the 1970's.

In 1981, Mst. Sgt Samuel K. Doe took over the government in a violent coup against the president William Tolbert. Then he killed the former ministers. Meanwhile, he was sucking up to the Reagan Administration, which gave him $400m because he was supposedly anti-communist.

-During the Reagan Administration, over $400 million in economic aid was given to the Doe Administration; and $50 million was given to the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). For example $15 million worth of rice, under a plan by the US Government was imported into Liberia each year; and under the US Military Assistance Programme (MAP), over $13 million was spent annually to arm Doe's 6,000-man force. The traditional argument was that Doe and his regime were bulwarks against communism in Africa, given the fact that the United States used Liberian territory as a base to send arms to "democratic forces" in Angola and Mozambique. However, by 1987, most of that money could not be accounted for by the Doe regime. The United States Government was forced to send auditors from the accounting firm of Arthur Young and the consulting firm Louis Berger, to audit funds given by the United States Government to Liberia. As expected, the mission of the auditors failed because the Doe Administration refused to cooperate with the auditors

Charles Taylor, the current president and indicted war criminal, came on the scene in 1989, by invading the country from Ivory Coast.

Although the Liberian-civil war was ignited by the brutal dictatorship of President Samuel Kanyon Doe, there were underlying ethnic hatred coupled with political dictatorship which permitted the crisis to implode. For over 174 years of its history, the Liberian governments fostered ethnic hatred and political dictatorship.

When African-American of pure African heritage permanently seized political control of the Liberian government in 1884, they continued the "old-boys network", of political dictatorship. From 1944 to 1980, the administrations of William V.S. Tubman and William R. Tolbert attempted to rectify the political and economic conditions that divided the people. To some extent, they succeeded in bridging the gap that divided the Liberia people into an indigenous "country people" and "Americo-Liberian" class. However, the change was not fast enough and not substantial enough to hold back the political tidal wave that was coming. The old guards continued to dominate political power, through a de facto one-party state, which even excluded members of the Americo-Liberian class who wanted political change.

This insanely brutal civil war, which had mass rape and murder as daily occurences, ended in 1997, when Taylor was elected in a fraudlent election.

The reason the US is being asked to intervene is because of the rampant instability Liberia brings to the region.

Open warfare may now be confined to Liberia, but conditions for its spread are ripe. The RUF remain active just across the border from Sierra Leone inside Liberia. President Taylor continues to harbour dissidents bent on invading Guinea. Sierra Leonean "hunter" militia opposed to both Taylor and the RUF are keen to join an advance on Monrovia.

Taylor continues, with Libyan support, to push a grand scheme of political change in West Africa. He has been the key figure in the attempted destabilisation of Guinea and Sierra Leone. His continued violation of UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions and history of using peace agreements to secure tactical military advantage suggest that the current Mano River Union peace process is not the answer to the regional crisis. That process is largely an attempt by President Taylor and his allies to ease LURD pressure, buy time for a counterattack, and produce sanctions on Guinea. It should not divert attention from the primary cause of the crisis: Charles Taylor himself.

What we have here is a mini-Congo, with the fear that the whole region could explode in warfare. The US is rightly eager to avoid landing in a mess like Liberia. Because it is a mess and US forces could get sucked into a nasty war
with no right side. Taylor is an operator with his hands drenched in blood, but the LURP is home to child rapists and human flesh eaters. The US could have to kill both sides and any other random players.

The problem for the West African states is that they don't have the military competence to bring order alone. They're traffic cops at the Indy 500. They need US firepower and support. The untrained mobs and child soldiers have never seen the effect of an AC-130 and well placed artillery fire. If the goal is to end the war, the rebels may well have to face real soldiers with real firepower.

But the risk is yet another regional war in Africa if they don't step in.

It's not an easy decision to make. Intervention now, and face a brutal civil war or intervene later in a brutal regional war.

Posted July 09, 2003 12:28 PM


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