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Author Topic: Blame America for Conflict in Liberia, Too  (Read 4386 times)
Ayinde
Ayinde
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« on: July 12, 2003, 04:16:49 AM »

by Gerald Caplan
Friday, July 11, 2003 by the Globe and Mail / Canada


I once drove across West Africa from Sierra Leone to Nigeria, where I was living as director of the CUSO-Nigeria program. Even at the time, it was an extraordinarily reckless venture. Today, the very idea of such a journey is ludicrous. Sierra Leone? Liberia? Ivory Coast? Guinea? All are in turmoil. That's why there's such pressure on President George W. Bush to intervene against Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is responsible for much of the conflict in all four countries. What is less known is that the U.S. is substantially responsible for Charles Taylor.

Tyrants don't materialize out of the blue. They're a product of their circumstances, just as ordinary men and young boys don't turn into sadistic killers unless they've been brutalized. Liberia has been cursed with almost a century and a half of appalling governments that have been actively supported by the U.S. for all but the last decade. That's how a Charles Taylor became possible.

Liberia was created in 1821 by Americans who wanted to rid the U.S. of some of its black slave population. About 20,000 ex-slaves were repatriated to a continent they had never known, where they proceeded to grab the best land for themselves and treat the local Africans as savages. Clearly, even as slaves, they had been Americanized with remarkable success.

Formally, Liberia was one of the rare African states that didn't become a European colony. In a country of perhaps two million souls, the elite descendants of the Americo-Liberian settlers numbered between 20,000 and 40,000 people. Their role was to support whatever American interests wanted. In 1926, in return for generous considerations, they bestowed on the Firestone and Goodrich companies a 99-year lease for the world's largest rubber estate, which was duly protected by the might of the U.S. Navy.

The Cold War gave a renewed lease of life to Liberia's venal and oppressive elite. Even while Firestone methodically looted the country's natural resources and forced labor became the preferred form of industrial relations, American paranoia about Africa falling prey to Soviet blandishments knew few bounds.

The consequences for the entire continent were devastating. For 40 years the U.S. embraced and bolstered a series of vicious dictatorships and nihilistic rebels. In Liberia, America's apparent strategic interest meant a new deal with its Americo-Liberian friends. In return for U.S. generosity, the Americo-Liberians allowed the Americans to turn their little country into a key Cold War outpost in Africa. While the ruling clique thrived in Monrovia, the seedy old capital, the country stagnated and the vast majority of rural Liberians simmered with resentment. Against the ethnic exclusivism of the Americo-Liberians, other Liberians turned in solidarity to their own ethnic groups or, as Westerners prefer saying, their tribes.

In 1980, a little-known, barely educated sergeant named Samuel Doe, who had been trained by the American Green Berets, stormed the president's mansion, disemboweled the corrupt old head of state, turned the country into the preserve of his own small ethnic group, and was promptly embraced by the United States. Samuel Doe was dumb as a door, yet savvy enough to protect American interests as his predecessors had done.

A grateful America responded. Between 1980 and 1985, this brutal, tyrannical, destructive regime received more than $5-billion from the U.S. -- more per capita than any other country in Africa. Mr. Doe's successor, Mr. Taylor, indicted for crimes against humanity, is another benchmark. He is one of many American chickens coming home to roost in Africa.

The Bush administration now believes it needs Africa to combat terrorism, as a giant market for American products, and for its abundance of high-quality oil. It needs Liberia to be stable. But after a century of American-backed regimes and corporations, the Liberian people also need to become a nation again -- an enormously difficult and expensive project.

Mr. Bush should intervene not out of great humanitarian motives, but out of basic accountability. For damages knowingly incurred, his country owes Liberians compensation in full.

Gerald Caplan is the author of 'Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide'.

http://www.globeandmail.com
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Ayinde
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« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2003, 11:47:40 AM »

Martin Woollacott
Friday August 1, 2003
The Guardian


The world cannot just watch as west Africa falls apart, the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, said last week. But the extraordinarily reluctant way in which the US has been edging toward the commitment of troops to Liberia shows the Bush administration still refusing to accept more than a limited share of responsibility for a country which America both helped to create, in the 19th century, and helped to ruin, in the 20th. The forces President Bush has put on standby off the coast may not even land, if the units which other west African nations are to send to Liberia prove capable of bringing the fighting to an end on their own. Even if they do set foot in the country, American engagement, one official said, will be limited in "both space and time".

The increasingly familiar post-Iraq ironies are all here. On the one hand, because America is losing soldiers at an alarming rate in Iraq, not one American life can, it appears, be risked in Liberia. On the other, the precedent of the Iraq war weighs even with an administration whose basic instincts are strongly anti-interventionist.

On his recent African tour, Bush had to deal directly with the argument that, if Americans can go to war, among other reasons, to rescue Iraqis, then why cannot they undertake a modest deployment to a country with which America has close historical ties, and which is crying out for US help? On the one hand, the Bush administration believes that coalitions of the willing are the best model for interventions of whatever kind, and that UN involvement, although sometimes useful, is not a necessary condition for action. On the other, in the Liberian case, it has been cooperating with the UN, and working toward the dispatch of a regional peacekeeping force under the UN flag. It will be a force, however, which the US will support, but in which its soldiers will not serve. This position may, superficially, seem similar to that adopted by Britain, whose troops in Sierra Leone have never been part of the UN force there. But the British insisted on that separation so that they could take a more active and combative role, not because they have a UN taboo or so they could shirk the fray.

Whatever the theoretical rights and wrongs, the combination of a UN military presence and an independent expeditionary force has worked so far in Sierra Leone. The French case in Ivory Coast is different again, but still shows the former metropolitan country ready to respond to an emergency in a former colony.

Although the US stands in an essentially similar relationship to Liberia as Britain does to Sierra Leone, and more distantly, as France does to its former colonies in west Africa, it has consistently avoided the duties implicit in that relationship. In spite of its enormous influence there, the US never seriously urged reform on the elite of freed slave families who were Liberia's settler and ruling class until 1980. Without much consideration, Washington decided that the brutal and incompetent regime of Samuel Doe which was then installed in Monrovia was not only acceptable, but deserved substantial aid, and that its rigging of elections in 1985 was a step toward democracy. "Great powers don't reject their partners just because they smell," said Chester Crocker, the then assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, quoted in Mark Huband's book on Africa after the cold war.

As rebels closed in on Doe in 1990, the US did try to persuade him to leave the country, a move which might or might not have helped, and America did encourage and fund - as it is doing today, a west African peacekeeping force. But it never risked its own troops, except in short forays to evacuate Americans or protect the embassy. America's interest in Liberia, its would-be leaders, and the troubles of its people had waned as the cold war, during which Liberia had provided a useful base and a dependable vote for US policies in international forums, wound down. It shrank indeed to the point where the Americans took little notice of the manoeuvring going on to oust Doe, even where an old enemy like Libya was involved, or of the misguided policies of some Francophone west African states. American sins of omission thus played a part in the chain of events which ended with Charles Taylor taking power, inaugurating an even worse era for Liberia and its neighbours.

All the countries affected by events in Liberia had weaknesses which made them vulnerable to the processes of political and social breakdown, encouraged and used by Taylor. These processes essentially began in Liberia and spread from there to affect Sierra Leone, above all, but also eventually Ivory Coast and Guinea, and to draw in Nigeria, Ghana and other regional states in largely futile interventions.

Thus the US bears a degree of responsibility not only for the suffering of Liberians but for the larger west African crisis. What were once relatively stable rural societies in Liberia and Sierra Leone became landscapes of horror, and what might have been manageable rifts between the elites of the coastal cities and the peoples of the interior opened up into civil war. The wrecking of rural society and the destruction of what viable government institutions had survived in the cities went together to produce the enfeebled states of today. It is perfectly proper to argue that the more stable countries in the region and in particular the local superpower, Nigeria, should take a leading role in trying to give failed neighbours a new start. But they have limited resources, problems of their own, and interests of their own. The record shows that they have sometimes worsened rather than improved the situation by the ways in which they have intervened. This surely means that, as Tony Blair has argued, western powers have a part to play, not to repeat the arrogance of the past but if possible to repair it.

The inattention of the US as forces gathered to rid Liberia of Doe was not of course culpable because Doe was worth preserving, but because the succession to him was critical to Liberia's future and the US might have been able to affect it for the better.

Instead it used Nigeria to keep Charles Taylor from power, and Liberia got the worst of both worlds, both a prolongation of the war and Taylor confirmed as president in the end. Today the main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, is a coalition of 18 parties in uneasy charge of the troops on the ground.

Even if effective and humane political leaders emerge, however, there is a huge task of physical, social, and psychological reconstruction in which Liberia will need sustained help from outside. America had much to do with the unmaking of this little nation, and, if asked, as it surely will be, should have much to do in its restoration.

· The Skull Beneath the Skin by Mark Huband. Westview

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,5673,1010265,00.html
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