Saturday, April 4, 2015


And if you thought Lebanon and Lesotho were a mess, now let’s take a look at Liberia, the land of freedom as its name suggests, but alas its recent and current politics somewhat belies. It was established on the wonderful idealism of a free state for former black slaves, a means by which they could return to their roots – or at least to the continent of their roots. The American Colonization Society established the first settlements between 1821 and 1838, while poor blacks and “Black loyalists” were doing much the same next door in Sierra Leone. It declared independence in 1847, becoming the first Black republic, though in fact barely 5% of the population are descendants of liberated slaves; the rest are indigenous peoples who, by the most absurd irony of history and ideology, have been regarded as “inferior” and treated as “second-class citizens” by the immigrants from the outset – liberated slaves running a free country by enslaving 95% of its indigenous population! And we are surprised that the whole thing finally collapsed into brutal civil war!

The modern troubles started in 1980 when food price riots led to the overthrow of the government of William Tolbert and the significant installation of Samuel Doe; significant because he was a Sergeant in the military, but mostly because he came from the indigenous population, which meant the American immigrants had finally lost power and Liberia was now just another African state like all the rest, stripped of whatever was left of its theoretical idealism. The anarchy and economic collapse that Doe brought was augmented by the guerrilla army of Charles Taylor, which took the country piece by piece, eventually murdering Doe as it seized the capital. But Taylor’s forces were divided among themselves, and splinter group fought splinter group, peacekeepers from overseas were hounded out, and Taylor finally took power in 1995. That lasted less than 5 years, with rebellions throughout the time, and accusations that neighbouring states were assisting the rebels (they were), and allegations that Taylor had perpetrated war crimes (he had).

In 2003 Taylor fled to Nigeria, from where he would be taken to The Hague to stand trial for those war crimes, and be found guilty. 15,000 UN peacekeepers, its largest force anywhere in the world, continue to be completely ineffective, and now spend most of their time assisting in the battle against that still more indiscriminate rebel army, Ebola.

The current President is also Africa’s first woman head of state, though Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s election was by the lowest turn-out in political history, a boycott by her main rival, and even then she allegedly had to rig it to win. She hasn’t done a bad job as it happens, though there are contradictions. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for what the judges called “her efforts to secure peace, promote economic and social development, and strengthen the position of women”; the following year they gave it to Barack Obama for his “efforts” to bring world peace, since when he has become embroiled in wars in Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq…and note that the same prize has also been awarded to Henry Kissinger, Menachem Begin and Yassir Arafat, so it really doesn’t mean very much, and probably the Peace committee should adopt the policy of the Literature committee, which is to wait till the end of a person's life, and judge their life's work, rather than rushing in after one half-decent foray.

Mrs Sirleaf also won the 2011 Nobel Prize for Nepotism, when she made one of her sons Chairman of Liberia’s national oil company and another son deputy governor of the national bank. A nice little earner, as we say in England! It should also be noted that a Truth and Reconciliation commission after the fall of Charles Taylor recommended that she, because of her close association with him, should not be allowed to hold any public office for thirty years. That was thirty years Mrs Sirleaf; not thirty weeks. Charles Taylor is currently serving a 50-year jail term in a UK prison.

And then there are blood diamonds, which are slave-mined and force-mined in Sierra Leone, and then sold to Liberia in exchange for weapons. Theoretically the United Nations' "Kimberley process" has put a stop to this, but in practice, no it hasn't, because Liberia simply isn't bothering to implement the process, in spite of signing up to it; another credit star to be added to Mrs Sirleaf's list of great accommplishments.

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