Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 27 August 10 - 16, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
Behind Liberia’s Crisis
RHETORIC is about AIDS and poverty, but the agenda is oil and empire. George W.
Bush’s mid-July tour of Africa highlighted the ways in which the U.S. is
consolidating its economic and strategic role across the continent--from
preparing a possible deployment of American troops amid Liberia’s civil war,
to praising pro-market "neoliberal" policies in Uganda, Senegal and
the more involved the U.S. becomes in the crisis-wracked continent, the clearer
it is that Washington isn’t the solution--but bears responsibility for the
civil wars and social catastrophes across Africa. Exhibit A is Liberia.
in 1847 by wealthy Americans determined to rid the U.S. of slaves by sending
them to Africa, Liberia functioned as a virtual American colony, ruled by a tiny
elite of the descendants of former slaves. Known as Americo-Liberians, they
worked with U.S. companies like Firestone, which established the world’s
largest rubber plantation there in 1926, while the indigenous population
the Cold War, Liberia, despite its small population--still only 3 million
today-- became a key outpost for U.S. efforts to undermine national liberation
movements and prop up pro-Washington dictators in the name of fighting
communism. In 1980, Master Sgt. Samuel Doe took power in a coup against the
Americo-Liberian elite. When the Reagan administration took over the White
House, it immediately flooded the new regime with millions of dollars in aid, in
exchange for help in its efforts to destabilize nearby Libya.
ruled through assassinations, repression and fraud. Once the Cold War was over,
the U.S. cut him loose, and he was assassinated by rebel forces in 1990.
"Master-Sergeant Doe is the latest victim of imperial euthanasia,"
wrote Nigerian journalist Tunji Lardner. "He died because his treatment was
withheld by the United States and his life-support system shut off."
a civil war in the early 1990s, the power vacuum was eventually filled by
Charles Taylor, an Americo-Liberian who used widespread hatred of Doe and ethnic
tensions to mobilize support. Taylor had backing from Libya as well as the
former French colonies of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, and he successfully
exploited regional rivalries to divide a series of peacekeeping forces sent by
West African nations--principally, Nigeria--in the mid-1990s.
combination of brutality and bribery allowed Taylor to win presidential
elections in 1997 with 75 percent of the vote. Key to Taylor’s success was his
control of much of the region’s diamond trade and his constant shifts of
alliances in the region.
tighten his grip, Taylor sponsored an insurgency by the Revolutionary United
Front (RUF) in neighboring Sierra Leone. The RUF seized the former British
colony’s diamond mines and smuggled the gems to Liberia, where Taylor took a
cut and top Western mining companies cashed in.
Taylor in Liberia, the RUF--known for amputating the limbs of its opponents--was
brought into the government in Sierra Leone in 1999, with the blessing of
neighboring countries, as well as London and Washington. When the
"power-sharing" deal threatened to unravel, a British-led contingent
of some 13,000 United Nations (UN) peacekeepers moved in to prop up the
government--while RUF leader and Taylor ally Foday Sankoh was awarded control of
the ministry that controls diamonds. Taylor also backed a militia’s attempted
takeover of diamond mines in neighboring Guinea, another former French colony.
pattern is similar in Ivory Coast, where violence by Taylor-backed militias and
an anti-immigrant backlash has effectively split the country between a mostly
Muslim North and a Christian and animist South. Some 3,000 troops from
France--the former colonial ruler of the country--are maintaining the status
quo, leading some Ivorians to call for U.S. troops to replace them. Meanwhile,
Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has intervened in the Liberia civil war by
sponsoring yet another militia--the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL.
its part, the U.S. has been reluctant to become directly involved in
Liberia--but faces increased pressure to do so from United Nations
Secretary-General Kofi Anan, whose native Ghana is a close U.S. ally and key
player in the region. Even France, which opposed the U.S. war on Iraq, has
called on Washington to intervene--despite their competing interests in the
region--to keep the situation from spinning out of control.
fact that the Liberian capital of Monrovia, a city of 1 million people, remains
without running water or electricity has led many who opposed the war on Iraq to
support a U.S. peacekeeping force on humanitarian grounds. But anyone who
believes that Washington will act out of concern for innocent people in Liberia
should take a closer look.
now, the U.S. has been content to pressure Taylor by working with the government
of Guinea--which got $3 million in U.S. military aid last year--to support the
main anti-Taylor rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy
(LURD). While Taylor has been indicted for war crimes by a United Nations
tribunal, the LURD is little different.
is not one person who wields real power within the LURD who has clean hands or
comes close," a European diplomat told the Washington Post. "The upper
tiers are filled with the perpetrators of rape, looting and cannibalism."
According to Human Rights Watch, LURD forces have been involved in kidnapping,
summary executions, looting, rape and forced recruitment--and like Taylor and
the RUF, use young boys as combatants.
while Bush has called for the ouster of Taylor--who has provisionally accepted
an offer of exile in Nigeria--Washington’s solution is to replace one warlord
with another. If the U.S. does move to intervene militarily, it’s because
Liberia sits near substantial oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea. U.S. oil
companies--including Exxon-Mobil and Chevron-Texaco--are expected to invest more
than $10 billion in African oil this year.
the same time, Washington is moving to boost its military bases in "the
Arab countries of northern Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa, through new basing
agreements and training exercises intended to combat a growing terrorist threat
in the region," the New York Times reported. Add to this Washington’s
pursuit of free-market policies across Africa, and George W. Bush’s real goals
in Africa become all too clear.
So does the need to oppose them.
Sustar writes regularly for the socialist worker. His articles have been
published on ZNet, Counterpunch and the International Socialist Review.
July 13, 2003