Charles Ghankay Taylor



President Charles Ghankay Taylor             

The warlord-President
Part I



Charles Taylor was born in Arthington, near Monrovia, on January 28, 1948. He was the third of 15 children of an Americo-Liberian father, Nelson Taylor. His mother, Zoe, was a Gola-woman. In 1972, Charles Taylor arrived in Massachusetts, USA, where he studied economics. In 1977 he graduated from Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. During his College years he flirted with Marxist and Pan-African ideals and ideas though this did not prevent him of  having a lavish-lifestyle which occasionally forced him to work in a factory, as a truck driver and as a mecanic to pay for his extravagant expenses. Charles Taylor also became involved in radical Liberian student politics, joined the Union of Liberian Associations (ULA), and already showed his leadership ambitions by becoming its national chairman. It was while being the national ULA chair that he led a demonstration of Liberian students against President Tolbert when the latter visited the USA in 1979. Tolbert challenged Taylor by inviting him to debate with him, a debate that was won by Charles Taylor. When Taylor, however, stated that he would take over the Liberian diplomatic mission in New York he was arrested and jailed. President Tolbert showed clemency and invited him to return to Liberia. 

In the spring of 1980 Charles Taylor returned to Liberia. On April 12, President Tolbert was murdered during the military coup that brought master-sergeant Samuel Doe to power. Charles Taylor joined the ranks of Liberia’s first tribal President and soon  became Director of the General Services Agency (GCA), responsible for all government purchases, with cabinet rank. In May 1983, President Doe accused him of embezzling $ 900,000 and he was fired. The accusation has never been proven and may have been occasioned by Taylor’s sympathies for General Quiwonkpa, member of the Gio tribe and co-organizer of the successful 1980 coup, but who later disagreed with Doe and led an unsuccessful revolt against his former comrade. Taylor did not wait to be caught by Doe’s men and fled to the USA in October 1983.

In May 1984 Taylor was arrested in Massachusetts, on demand of President Doe – on good terms with the Reagan Administration – who wanted his extradition. He spent 15 months in the Plymouth County House of Correction in Massachusetts. In September 1985 he escaped from this US prison, under circumstances that have never been clarified.  According to some reports he managed to escape by sawing through the bars, together with four petty criminals. Other explanations of his successful escape indicate that he might have escaped with connivance of the Reagan Administration who – becoming increasingly embarrassed with the atrocities and human right violations of the Doe regime - wanted to get rid of its former protégé.

This is just another part of Liberian history that hitherto remains unknown. However, whatever the truth is, there were never made any efforts to recapture Taylor. His whereabouts during the following four years also remain unclear. He may have been in Libya where he became close friends with the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who is supposed to have aided him with funds, military training and supplies. In the late 1980s Charles Taylor emerged in West Africa, where he meanwhile had become close friends with another Gaddafi protégé, President Blaise Compaoré. The latter had become President of Burkina Faso after the overthrow and assassination of President Thomas Sankara, in October 1987. Blaise Compaoré had masterminded the coup against his long-time friend Sankara. ‘Beau Blaise’, as the francophone Burkinabe people call their President (‘Handsome Blaise’), provided valuable support to Charles Taylor and his men during the years that were to follow. On the eve of Christmas 1989, Charles Taylor, heading the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), invaded Liberia from Ivory Coast, aided by Gio and Mano opponents to Doe’s regime and with assistance from regular soldiers from Burkina Faso. It is worth noting that during these years of preparation Taylor was also supported by many, mostly exiled, Liberians – many of them of Americo-Liberian descent – who, however, later disagreed with him and became his most ferocious ennemies.

The Christmas invasion was the start of a cruel civil war that devastated the country and ruined the economy, a process already started under President Doe. Over 200,000 people were killed, many more wounded, nearly one million Liberians fled to neighbouring countries whereas over one million people became internally displaced. Property was stolen, damaged and destroyed. The war ended – temporarily - in 1997 with Taylor’s election as Liberia’s new president, after elections that were said to be one of the most honest in the country’s history. “He killed my father, he killed my mother – still I voted for him” was the explanation of many Liberians who were war-tired and feared a renewal of the fighting in case Taylor would lose the presidential elections. Obviously, the elections were conducted under intimidation despite being qualified as “fair and free” by international observers. Taylor won with 75% of the votes whereas his main opponent, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Unity Party), collected nearly 10%.

Following his elections victory Charles Taylor was sworn in as Liberia’s 22nd President but already a year later he had to face an armed opposition led by the ‘Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy’ (LURD). Later, MODEL joined the armed resistance against Taylor’s regime. President Taylor’s involvement in the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone led to U.N. arms and diamond embargoes and a travel ban for the Taylor regime in 2001. The U.N. Security Council approved a one-year extension of the arms and diamond embargoes and added a new ban on the timber trade in 2003. Also in 2003, Taylor was indicted for war crimes by the UN-backed Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal. President Charles Taylor became increasingly isolated, rebel forces neared Monrovia and under increasing international pressure he resigned on August 11, 2003. He was succeed by his Vice President, Moses Blah, who thus became the country’s second President of tribal descent.

During his seven-year presidency Charles Ghankay Taylor had earned a place in history as Liberia’s most criminal President, responsible for the death and mutilation of tens of thousands of people, accused of the embezzlement of large sums of money,  serious human rights violations, war crimes, abuse of power, even cannibalism. Granted asylum in Nigeria by President Olusegun Obasanjo, former President Charles Taylor escaped arrest from the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal but late 2003 the Bush Administration put a prize of US $ 2 million on Taylor’s head, thus embarrassing Nigerian President Obasanjo. When the year 2003 ended it was reported that a private military firm, the UK-based Northbridge Services Group, had people ready to kidnap the former warlord-President to cash the money.

Nowadays, former President Charles Taylor has become an international pariah who lives in Calabar, Nigeria, where he occupies the Old Residency, a colonial mansion, overlooking the Cross river. He is not allowed to leave the country following the travel ban imposed by the United Nations’ Security Council which in early 2004 also adopted a resolution enabling the freezing of all his foreign bank accounts.

Wanted by Interpol, indicted by the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal, chased by ‘bounty-hunters’, will Charles Taylor continue to live unpunished in Nigeria? Or will he go back to Liberia ("God willing I'll be back"), as he boasted before he boarded the plane that brought him to Nigeria?

Part II: Taylor and Al Qaeda


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