Global Policy Forum

France And Taylor's


By Anthony Lewis

June 5, 2001

Many wonder why the French and Chinese opposed the imposition of sanctions on Liberian timber. The obvious reason is that because Chinese and French businessmen exploit the Liberian timber. We tried to piece together people and names to follow the trail of the timber, the circle of influence and decision makers in Paris. There is no doubt that many peace loving French people are appalled like everybody else by the criminal acts of the Sierra Leone rebels and the unconditional support they receive from their patron, President Charles Taylor. However, the government of France made sure that the Liberian timber, an important source of revenue for Taylor and his closest friends was not included in the sanctions.

The first and most rational reason is that unlike the diamonds, rebels in Sierra Leone don't export timber to fuel their war. The second and most interesting reason is that some French business people are making lots of money with the rare wood coming out of Liberia. Who are these people and what are their connections to Mr. Taylor?

To understand this, one has to go back to the special relationship between a French businessman and the NPFL. In the 1990s, one of the most important allies of Taylor in Ivory Coast was a French man named Sampei. Sampei had lived in Liberia, and said to have had a logging company. When the military coup took place in 1980, Sampei moved to Ivory Coast and somehow continued to do business in Liberia. He married a Liberian woman and they had children. He was very attached to the land and helped Jackson Doe during his campaign. When Charles Taylor started his war in 1990, Mr. Sampei saw an opportunity to re-start his logging business in Liberia. He followed Taylor and the NPFL toe to toe as they advanced in the country.

While he lived in Abidjan in the 1980s during the Doe regime, Sampei made many friends in the Ivorian political circles. He befriended the man who had a great influence not only on Ivorian politics but also on the African policies of France, Mr. Michel Dupuch Ambassador of France to Ivory Coast. Michel Dupuch is known to have traveled to Gbarnga on a few occasions to meet with Taylor during the war. With the forests in Ivory Coast totally depleted in less than two decades by French logging companies, Liberia became the new frontier. Following in the footstep of Sampei, with the political blessing of Michel Dupuch, French companies invaded "Greater Liberia". They were well aware of the unstable conditions in Liberia, so the port of San Pedro, in the Southwest of Ivory Coast became the port of exit of Liberian timber towards Europe. From a dying costal town, San Pedro boomed during the war and was the market place for Liberian diamonds, timber and gold.

In France, Jean Claude Mitterand, son and Advisor to the President, was in charge of African affairs. Mr. Michel Dupuch, the Ambassador of France and close advisor to Houphouet Boigny reported to him on African affairs. At the time of the war, there was a great instability because of the introduction of multiparty politics in Cote d'Ivoire. The Liberian crisis was a major international concern before Desert Storm. Whatever position France may have had on the Liberian war and which somehow influenced the sub-region, was certainly made between the two men. Mitterand Jr. left his post as Advisor to President Mitterand to go into private business. His successor in office was Bruno Delaye, a close friend of the family and former French ambassador to Togo.

All of this took place in the 1990s. The question would then be how does this have anything to do with timber and sanctions on Liberia in 2001? The response is clear. Sampei died a few years ago, but his children have revived his logging conglomerate. They are more powerful and richer than ever. Michel Dupuch, the former Ambassador of France in Abidjan is now occupying the office of African Affairs at the Elysee Paris. Mr. Bruno Delaye, who had occupied that office, is now heading the office of cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris. Although the two diplomats belong to two different political parties, they somehow represent a continuity in French African affairs. How all of these influenced the French position on the sanctions remains to be verified.

The third and final reason why timber is not cited for sanctions is that timber is a Liberian issue and is not connected to the problem in Sierra Leone. Taylor is not being sanctioned for the wrongs he is doing in Liberia, but for his involvement in Sierra Leone That's a Liberian problem and it's up to them to take care of their own forests. Just as the same companies in two decades depleted the rain forest in Ivory Coast, so they will do with the Liberian forest.

Indisputably , France's involvement with Liberia's timber ("Taylor's presidential pepperbush") or "logs of war" is no hidden secret. The environmental advocacy group, Global Witness, for example, recently reported, based on records of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), government regulatory agency on the forest sector, that "The FDA semi-annual report covering the period from January to June 2000, reported that in those six months, production, estimated at 679,352.76m3, was more than that of the previous four years put together." Global Witness also cited the Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC) - the logging company engaged in the effusive destruction of the Liberian rainforest - as having exclusive use of the eastern town of Buchanan, from which it ships huge quantities of timber to Europe, mainly France.

So if timber is the new lifeline (since the banning of diamonds) that now sustains Taylor in aiding the rebels in Sierra Leone, and has contributed to the continued instability in the West African sub-region, there is but only one way to stop this: cutting off this lifeline which has provided the necessary source of revenues critical to Taylor's criminal adventures. Finally, France and other countries that are key importers of Liberian timber can help bring an end to this war by discontinuing any future purchase of this product.

More Articles on Timber
More Information on Sierra Leone and Liberia
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