Global Policy Forum

Can Clinton Administration "Africa Guru",


By Tom Kamara

The Perspective
May 18, 2000

Atlanta - When Liberia's Charles Taylor castigated the Clinton administration for using "burnt out" American diplomats instead of relying on the skills and contacts of the Rev. Jesse Jackson to solve his orchestrated horrors within West Africa, many dismissed the warlord as a madman not knowing the difference between his left and right hands.

But evidently, this is far from the case, as the ex-rebel leader indicated when he invaded the American embassy and killed a number of fleeing opponents, while recently threatening to arrest the US Ambassador in Monrovia. So Rev. Jackson, a trusted Clinton Africa "democracy expert", is once again set to roam around Monrovia to find a solution to Sierra Leone's killing fields. But Rev. Jackson's comparison of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC), with Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front (RUF), an insult too much to bare, forced the Sierra Leone Government to declare this Clinton's Africa "Democracy Guru" an un-welcomed person in their country.

A US-based organization, the Coalition for Democracy in Sierra Leone, in a letter to Rev. Jackson, reminded him that the Lome Agreement, which he brokered by convincing Taylor to convince Sankoh to sign in return for diamonds and no peace, has only worsened affairs in their country. Prior to his planned tour, the organization warned Rev. Jackson that Sierra Leoneans would "greet his presence with contempt", vowing that massive demonstrations would be staged to protest Mr. Clinton's "half-hearted commitment" to peace in their country and Mr. Jackson's role.

But President Clinton, according to reports, remains hopeful that the Lome Agreement will survive, a view denounced by Amnesty International-USA, which called on the President to admit that the Agreement, carved out by his friend Rev. Jackson, is beyond repair. "The United States has demonstrated a lack of engagement with realities of ensuring justice and peace in Sierra Leone," AIUSA chief William Shulz told the Associated Press. And the Liberian Government, through its embassy in Washington, in a letter to the Washington Post, is once again insisting on the Lome Agreement (which it campaigned for and got) as an "African" instrument to uphold, while referring to men like American Senator Judd Gregg as "absurd" for insisting that the war in Sierra Leone will last as longs as its source ­ Liberia - is ignored.

To the contrary, Rev. Jackson remains steadfast in his support of Taylor, Foday Samkoh, and his Revolutionary United Front (RUF). In the Baptist preacher's view, the amputation of children limbs, abduction of thousands of others transformed into mindless killing machines, large scale plunder of diamonds for drugs and guns, put the RUF and Mandela's ANC in the same category. Thus in Rev. Jackson's eyes, Sankoh and Nelson Mandela stand on the same podium as equals. This is the type of insane, unbelievable analogy one gets when individuals with limited understanding of conflicts and non-existing conscience are thrown into negotiations as peacemakers only to leave societies devastated while satisfying their ego.

"The voice of the RUF in Sierra Leone is Foday Sankoh's voice and his voice would be a positive one", the Baptist preacher declared. Moreover, Rev. Jackson is suggesting more foreign money for rebel chief, a man who controls diamonds mines, contending that this would help Sankoh be a Mandela. "The support that he (Sankoh) needs to turn the RUF into a political organization is deserved", Jackson declared, despite the fact that the RUFP (RUF-Party) is a registered political party in Sierra Leone. The logic we are getting from who carry the Bible on their chest while justifying evil is that in the quest for political power, anything goes. Societies are laid to waste, innocent people butchered, children left without a future, all so that money can be given to the perpetrators of such evil for the formation of political parties.

But Clinton's African democracy guru had more surprises for many, including human rights organizations and his own State Department which has written consistent reports on appalling human rights abuses during Liberia's war and since the July 1997 elections, repeatedly pointing fingers at Taylor for well documented atrocities, including his personal creation of the RUF as an extension of his rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). There are "no clean hands", he declared in defense of the RUF. "There is blood on everybody's hands and no clean hands", the preacher added when reminded by reporters of the unimagined atrocities committed by Taylor and his role in Sierra Leone. "If Charles Taylor can talk to the (RUF) commanders and they hear that, that would be positive. It would be different if he [Taylor] were encouraging fighting but he is not".

Thus, the contest for the truth in perhaps West Africa's worst horrors since the days of slavery, now lies between Rev. Jackson on the one hand, the US State Department and a consortium of international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on the other.

Meanwhile, Mr. Taylor is back in action in defense of his RUF, warning that "The attacks on the RUF (by Government forces) could not only hamper the mediation work by the Liberian team but also end the lives of the hostages." In grand style as Africa's new "Ghandi," however insulting the comparison, Taylor again condemned the Americans for refusing to help secure the hostages and vowed to submit the financial bill to the UN for his "peacemaking efforts in releasing the UN hostages. "The Liberian government expresses anger over the turning down of its request to the US embassy (in Monrovia) to facilitate the evacuation of the hostages."

We must recall that when the RUF launched its Freetown Offensive in 1999, it was Taylor who called for a ceasefire and peace talks when it became clear the rebels were on the run. He declared that a military defeat of the RUF was inconceivable and proceeded to ensure his wishes by arming the rebels and sending reinforcements. Peace talks as a breathing space for re-arming was a constant strategy Taylor used throughout the Liberian war. "We will talk, and talk, and talk, and talk about the talks", he once boasted, warning that in the final analysis, the Nigerians would get fed-up and leave. It happened.

Thus, Rev. Jackson's clout as a peace broker in West Africa rests with his personal contacts with, and affinity to Taylor, a man referred to by former RUF commander Sam Bokarie, as "chairman." So it is understandable that Rev. Jackson would see Taylor's Liberia as key to ending the Sierra Leone horrors. Nevertheless, what is incomprehensible is the fact that Mr. Clinton's "Africa guru" has refused to recognize Liberia as the oxygen providing life to Sierra Leone's never-ending terror, while he increasingly portrays Taylor as a man of peace, a rational individual disturbed by the amputations and mindless killings he is in fact fomenting. Mr. Jackson prefers to sell Taylor as an integral, indispensable part of a solution not because of his "chairmanship" of the RUF as Bokarie tells us, but because of his "statesmanship" and "love" for peace. Here lies the problem, the deception buried under Rev. Jackson's clout in American politics, particularly as US elections draw near.

The truth of Liberia's links to the rebels is that the RUF, (whose leader Foday Sankoh trained in Libya with Taylor and was a pivotal member of Taylor's military team during the Liberian war with the proviso that his services would be compensated with Taylor's sponsorship of his rebellion), military strength significantly improved after Taylor was installed President by the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha. The departure of the South African security group Executive Outcomes, as Sankoh demanded in return for peace, left the military terrain virtually uncontested. While the South Africans, who had succeeded in capturing diamond areas from the rebels were departing, another group of South Africans, mainly neo-Nazis now comfortable in Monrovia, along with Ukrainians, were arriving via Monrovia to perfect RUF fighting and organizational skills.

The diamond areas soon fell back to Sankoh, buttressing his longstanding ties with Taylor which were cemented when, according to documented reports, the first group of RUF rebels, almost entirely Liberian and Burkinabe mercenaries, crossed into Sierra Leone from Liberia in 1991. The diamonds became lucrative and unstoppably enticing in solidifying the ties, with a recent Canadian report indicating that 31 million carats of diamonds passed through Liberia from Sierra Leone.

With a crumbled economy and justifiable international isolation due to heightened corruption and human rights abuses, Taylor's needs for diamonds to maintain mercenaries, sustain an ever-expanding cycle of cronies, finance his lavish life-style of Rolls Royces, fleets of armored plated Mercedes, a sprawling swimming pool in a city lacking drinking water, etc., meant that Sankoh must sustain the war, perhaps not to win, but to siphon the diamonds in infinite chaos since stability would most likely end the plunder. The Lome Peace Agreement - forced on Sierra Leon by Rev. Jackson and Taylor, which awarded Sankoh sole ownership for diamonds, fulfilled Taylor's dream. This is why Mr. Clinton must listen to men like U. S. Senator Judd Gregg for concluding that the war in Sierra Leone cannot end without dealing with its source--Taylor's Liberia.

The UN force, along with the Sierra Leone government forces, may in the short run succeed in pushing the rebels out of Freetown and other major towns. But soon, they will regroup in Liberia as they did in 1999 (leading to the Freetown offensive that left 5,000 dead) for renewed offensives, better trained better armed, thanks to the diamonds flowing through Taylor's Liberia and the zealousness of South African neo-Nazis along with Ukrainian Mafioso's to serve, according to many reports including one from The Washington Post.

According to The New York Times, documents found in Sankoh's looted home reveal that the rebel leader was now circumventing his ally Taylor as a middle man and dealing directly with diamond vendors. This helps in explaining Sankoh's abortive 1999 trip to South Africa, (one of Mr. Taylor favorite spots where he was once honored by President Mandela at a lavish state dinner). But Sankoh was asked to return to Sierra Leone only because the UN blew the whistle, embarrassing the South Africans and driving through a lesson that he could not so easily circumvent an influential middleman as Taylor.

Moreover, the documents shed light on the split within the RUF. Former RUF commander Masqita, once in charge of diamond areas, severed ties with Sankoh on disarmament and vowed to take his case to "chairman Taylor." According to a Freetown newspaper, Bokarie's contended that Sankoh had betrayed the RUF by endorsing UN disarmament plans. Since then, Bokarie remains in Taylor's security entourage as a key operator, according to Africa Confidential. Could it be that the struggle over diamonds, with Masqita siding with Taylor, was the actual cause of the split which led him flee to "chairman Taylor" after executing 8 of his commanders? Sierra Leoneans and others misread the split as signal that with Masita's departure, Sankoh would readily disarm.

All these factors and more indicate that Rev. Jackson needs Taylor's blessings if he is to win the Nobel Peace Prize for ending Sierra Leone's terror. Nevertheless, the American's ties and links with Liberia makes it difficult for the Clinton administration to achieve its declared objective of lasting peace and democracy in Sierra Leone.

Early this year, the Liberian News Agency, a mouthpiece of the Government, declared that Rev. Jackson, along with former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen, were "employed" by Taylor to help end Liberia's demonization. Rev. Jackson's first act in this direction was the hosting of Liberian "Reconciliation Conference" in Chicago. Rumored to have been sponsored by Taylor with hundreds of thousands of dollars, Rev. Jackson later took the "reconciliation conference" to Liberia, where be berated brutalized Liberians for ignoring God by interrupting the centuries-old oligarchy of Americo- Liberians, descendents of freed slaves who settled in what is now Liberia and proceeded to institute a system of black apartheid that lasted from 1822 to 1980. In church, Rev. Jackson denounced late President Samuel Doe as a dictator and hailed Taylor as a democrat destined to give Liberian a fresh beginning.

This was hardly a way of reconciling a people so bitterly divided after a war which left 250,000 killed, including 45,000 children, over 10,000 women raped, about half a million still in refugee camps, and a totally collapsed economy in which the Government is incapable of providing such basics as safe drinking water and electricity, not to mention roads. The Baptist preacher did not see any moral inequity for the butchering of 250,000 people in retaliation of the execution of 13 settler officials in 1980 after a bloody coup in which his declared "democrat", Taylor, actively participated by blocking the international airport to stall the rumoured return of ousted officials.

Moreover, just few weeks after Rev. Jackson's "reconciliation conference", Taylor's security forces attacked ethnic Krahns (President Doe's ethnic group) in densely populated city neighbourhoods killing as many as 300, according to the US State Department report, although the actual figures were much higher since the government refused to allow relatives and friends to claim the bodies. Women and children were gunned down and wounded ones hauled out of ambulances, according to the medical charity Medicins Sans Frontier. Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Rev. Jackson's mentor, once warned that "True peace is not merely the absence of tensions, it is the presence of justice", Jackson the "reconciler" and "peacemaker" made no comments. Perhaps this was another price Liberians had to pay for ignoring God by rejecting cruel masters as they did in 1980.

But Rev. Jackson's love affair with Liberia's settler rulers did not begin with Taylor. In 1974, the American visited Liberia, where late President William Tolbert presented him a gift, a solid gold Rolex watch, along with a request that he should lead a lobby for increased American attention to Liberia's economy problems. (Somehow, settler presidents seem convinced that Rev. Jackson holds the key to America's money. Taylor, too, initially believed that with Mr. Jackson on his side, the Green Backs would roll in containers.) The Reverend proudly took the watch and offered immense thanks. But he did something else once he landed home: He rebuked Tolbert and Liberia for the gift and request, announcing that a country which could afford such gifts has no need for aid. He was right, except that he was dishonorable, since an honorable, decent act from this "man of God" would have been to refuse the gift with the same message he delivered after landing home with his gold watch. To the contrary, the Baptist preacher took the gift and reneged on his promise.

Similarly, when Liberians in the United States, during the early days of their civil war, asked Rev. Jackson to deliver a speech during a program organized to mirror the Taylor organized killing fields, the Baptist preacher reportedly demanded a $10,000 fee. They could not afford the money and he could not afford to deliver the speech.

The saying that "medium is the message" is now increasingly applicable to Mr. Clinton's Africa envoy. This belief that only a Blackman can relate to and understand black problems is nonsense. There are far more reputable blacks (and whites) such as Assistant Secretary of State, Susan Rice, Trans-Africa Ronald Robinson, former Senator William Gray, Ambassador Richard Holbrooks, and a host of others who have shown more objectivity and better understanding of Africa's problems than Reverend Jackson.

Rev. Jackson's personal affinity to leading Americo-Liberians such as Romeo Horton, a key Taylor crony, and others, deprive him of the objectivity, moral authority needed to negotiate any peace in Sierra Leone. Clinton may mean well for Africa, but by relying on the judgments of men like Jesse Jackson, America is contributing to continued chaos, corruption, human rights abuses, all factors that nil down prospects for stability so needed for socioeconomic development. It is time for Mr. Clinton to listen to those "burnt out" diplomats so detested by warlords like Taylor. Rev. Jackson is considered a civil rights leader in America, but in Africa he is a killers' rights leader.

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