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The Liberian crisis in perspective

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century rendered slaves in America redundant. Mechanised production methods turned slave labour into a fetter on production and consequently a drag on the profits of slave owners. To solve the problem, the slave owners and their representatives (US government) formed an NGO called the American Colonisation Society whose task was to ship slaves to their original home of Africa. This is how the American slaves came to be dumped in present-day Liberia.

Today this small country is deeply embroiled in a senseless internecine war that has seen thousands killed and many more maimed or displaced; this mainly because of the abundant natural resources found there. The Guinea Coast of West Africa has recently been found to be replete with oil deposits and natural gas and Liberia is said to possess one of the largest reserves of these. It is also generously endowed with precious minerals (gold, diamonds and quite recently 8 kymbalyte sites have been discovered). Its dense forest cover harbours timber, rubber, etc in addition there are abundant maritime resources.

Some people unfortunately seek to explain the problem in Liberia as being tribal in character. But like the ones in Congo, Ivory Coast and indeed all conflicts the world over, the tribal/ethnic element is a mere smokescreen. The real causes are found in the economic interests of the warlords and their sponsors and financiers in the big business community.

The wealth and resources of the region are owned and controlled by western business companies and the local leadership to the exclusion of the people. However, bereft of any revolutionary solution to this state of affairs, some seek to constitute themselves into a force that would replace the puppet local leadership and in turn control these resources not in the interests of the masses but for themselves. Thus they aspire to shift the balance of forces in favour mainly of new capitalist groups abroad that are also seeking to break the monopoly of the existing (mostly ex-colonial) business companies. But as the whole sordid affair resolves around personal monetary interests and profits, the alliances are not always as sincere and smooth as expected and loyalties easily shift. In an interview Charles Taylor granted Baffour Ankomah, the editor of New African magazine on 20 June 2002, this particular Liberian leader said “during the war there was full cooperation between me and Washington, and then we got into a different phase. And God willing, we've got to get back to the original place where I want to do business with America, I want to engage it”.

Arms industry
Prominent among the business interests deeply involved in the Liberian crisis and indeed all wars are those in the arms industry. Arms dealers do not only find warlords great partners, they actually instigate them and then stoke the fires of conflict. Even where countries are under UN arms embargo, the sanctions are circumvented through various means the most common being done through forging the end-user certificate. In the case of Liberia a 64-page UN report released at the end of October 2002 revealed that Liberia clandestinely bought and received more than 200 tons of weapons between June and August 2002 in spite of the 1992 UN arms embargo which was strengthened in 2001.

As for the rebels, it is no secret that weapons are openly sold to them by the almighty gunrunners, sometimes with the tacit connivance of UN “in the field”.

The immediate cause of the carnage is that the US, UK, Guinea and Sierra Leonean Kamajors (traditional hunter/warriors) have ganged up with a few Liberian rebels called LURD to cause havoc. The idea is to wage a proxy rebel war, get the Liberians to become fed up and rise up against the government. This fact was revealed by a confidential report of an Ecowas Military Mission to Liberia dated 14 June 2002.

 but global capitalism pulled the trigger
One of Taylor's militia executes a man begging for his life: but global capitalism pulled the trigger

When Charles Taylor “escaped” from prison in the US and went to Liberia and launched his rebel war in December 1989, he was in the good books of the US capitalists. The reason for his incarceration was an alleged embezzlement of some $900,000 which Samuel Doe's government accused him of. At that time Taylor was the Director General of the state-owned General Services Agency. But at the same time Doe's dictatorial rule had become so unpopular that change was imminent. The Americans knew this and actually needed a replacement. Thus the apparent orchestration of the jailbreak by the US authorities. He flew to Ghana from Boston but was immediately arrested by the Ghanaian authorities, as they believed it was impossible for an African to escape from a top security prison in the US. Needless to say the Americans in all likelihood got the Ghanaians to set him free. But before he captured Monrovia after years of fighting, he had a falling out with the Americans. It is believed that NPLF rebel fighters had cornered and wiped out President Doe's Israeli commandos and the Israeli government vehemently protested to the US. And that was it.

That partly explains the breaking away from Taylor of Prince Y Johnson to form the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL). It is interesting to note that no sooner had the UN Special Court on Sierra Leone been constituted than Prince Johnson intimated from his exile home in Nigeria that Liberians including Taylor be brought in to face war crime charges. This sour relation with US drew Taylor more and more close to the French capitalists who looted Liberian timber and other resources in return for an unflinching and consistent support in the war effort.

But things got worse with the Americans when Taylor began castigating the US for not having done anything meaningful to Liberia throughout its life as an American satellite state. He claimed for instance that the 1926 Firestone factory was only set up to rip off Liberian rubber and that Lamco situated at Bomi Hills only succeeded in creating a deep hole in the ground as the iron was depleted. But the straw to break the camel's back was Taylor's rejection of Dick Cheney's Halliburton oil deals. Desmond Davies, editor of West Africa magazine writes in the 26th May – 1st June 2002 issue:

“Liberia is another country in which Halliburton (once operated by US vice president Dick Cheney) was keen to do business. This may come as a surprise, given the antagonistic stance the Bush administration has taken towards President Charles Taylor's government. But Halliburton knows how to apply pressure on embattled governments in the hope of getting concessions.

It seems that a couple of years ago Halliburton's representatives made Charles Taylor an offer he could not refuse: “give us oil-drilling rights and we will help remove the international pariah status of the Liberian government”. (By the way, there is oil in Liberia as in the case of neighbouring Sierra Leone.) Taylor, who was keen to see UN sanctions removed, agreed and Halliburton was asked to draw up an agreement.

The company's representatives duly returned with an agreement. But one wise head at the Central Bank in Monrovia asked for a second opinion. The agreement was referred to a Canadian oil lawyer, who is based in the US, to go through it with a fine-tooth comb.

After serious perusal of the agreement, the lawyer came back with his verdict: the deal was not in the interest of Liberia and, therefore, the government should not sign. That was it. And that's how Taylor came up with “Liberia is not for sale”.

Given the failure of Halliburton to secure a deal in Liberia, it is not surprising that the US administration wants to see the back of Taylor.

In fact as far back as 1997 when Taylor won the elections CNN's Diplomatic Licence programme “predicted” that his government would not last a year or six months. So desperate was the US in seeing Taylor out that while he was away attending the peace talks in Ghana last June the US embassy in Monrovia unsuccessfully attempted to oust him through vice president Blah.

UN experts (under US control), who in spite of the untold suffering and the countless deaths, recently described the effect of the UN sanctions on the people as “negligible”, explicitly expressed that the crisis in Liberia is according to the agenda of the powers that be. The UN also showed its involvement in the affair when it demanded financial reports how Liberia spends its income.

In November 2002 Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf admitted in an interview with a local newspaper the Analyst that the opposition was not prepared to assume leadership. And yet the US, as reported by Radio France International on 6 August, is pushing for Johnson-Sirleaf to step in as interim president when Taylor is finally pushed away. On the other hand it was clear at the Ecowas-led summit in Ghana that both rebel groups (LURD and MODEL) do not have any know-how to deal with the issues that go beyond waging a war of terror. They do not have a political agenda, not a policy document to guide them.

But perhaps the last card for the US is the indictment by David M Crane, the American chief prosecutor of the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Americans feared that the peace talks in Ghana could abate or even halt hostilities altogether in Liberia. In that case general election, due to be held in October 2003 would go ahead peacefully. Now, in spite of Taylor's “problems” (which many Liberians seem to understand were imposed by some outside forces) he would win. So to forestall such an unwanted possibility, the indictment that was judicially approved on 7 March was finally slapped on Taylor on 4 June in time to prevent cessation of the massacres.

Finally it was instructive to hear the South African authorities claiming rather naively that the stepping down of Taylor would be an example of an African solution to an African problem. But what else could they say as loyal sycophantic servants of US-led capitalist interests? The problem in Liberia is not African; it is not western; it is a global, profits-making issue! It is big business. But above all the solution is not Taylor stepping down. It is the profit system getting out.