Liberia: Charles Ghankay Taylor, Defiant And Passionate To The End

Johannesburg — Outgoing Liberian president, Charles Ghankay Taylor, left power and his capital Monrovia on Monday, after handing over power to his successor and vice president, Moses Blah.

Taylor, 55, boarded a Nigerian jet and flew out of Robertsfield International Airport, accompanied by his wife Jewel, family members, a number of close associates and bodyguards and the chairman of the African Union, Mozambican President Joachim Chissano, as well as Ghana's president, John Agyekum Kufuor - the chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).

The immediate destination was Abuja, the Nigerian capital, where he landed late Monday, but his final destination is reported to be the comparatively sleepy backwater town of Calabar, in the southeast, far from the glamour and glitz of high-powered business centre, Lagos, or the political pulse of Abuja.

South African President Thabo Mbeki also witnessed the handover ceremony in Monrovia.

It was a vintage performance by Taylor, the showman, who thrives in the public eye, when he has the attention of the media and distinguished guests. In a 17-minute, articulate and unscripted speech, Taylor was ever the master of the spoken word - alternately defiant, dismissive, bitter, hectoring, emotional, gracious and prophetic, showing little of the ruthlessness, cruelty and impatience he is said to demonstrate in private.

Taylor was at his most charismatic as he prepared to bow out and head for exile in Nigeria. But he could not resist speaking his mind in the ex tempore address, peppered with references from the Bible and African adages. Even as he relinquished power, the embattled, grey-bearded Liberian leader was determined to hold his head high and show that he was still in command.

He again criticised the United States - with a brotherly message for President George W Bush - and warned his fellow West African leaders to watch out. Today, Taylor said, he was being forced out, but they could be next. He said that Africa faced great danger when crucial decisions on the continent were being made in foreign capitals..

Taylor made no mention of the mess he leaves behind in Liberia, a broken country, brought to its knees by almost 14 years of civil war and rebellion, launched first by him and, since 1999, by Taylor's determined armed rivals. Instead, Taylor said that history would view his legacy kindly, because he had fulfilled his duties in the interests of the people of Liberia.

Many Liberians - bemused, displaced, homeless, wounded and hungry, and whose rights have been stripped away - may beg to differ. Taylor's supporters enthusiastically applauded his every word as he spoke at the Executive Mansion handover ceremony.

The Taylor sympathisers, and his young and lawless militia fighters, may wonder what the future holds for them, now that Taylor has gone. The new transitional leader, Moses Blah, is himself due to hand over power to a yet-to-be-selected administration in October.

In his acceptance speech, after Taylor had placed the green presidential sash over his head, Blah appealed to all Liberia's factions - including the rebels who made the departure of Taylor a condition for halting the war - to lay down their arms and join hands to return peace to the country. "I am a unifier. I do not want to fight," said Blah.

West African leaders are hopeful that, with Taylor gone, they can help Liberians to rebuild their country and usher in the beginning of what should be a democratic transitional period in Liberia.

Extracts below of Charles Taylor's valedictory speech.

Today is unique in that we take another step forward, a step that should bring relief to the people of this nation.

I smile today because there are two things that I desire for Liberia; 1) that they will live 2) that they will see peace. And so today for me is the day of moving forward. We must now put the past behind. You know, there are those that may believe that this day, and I agree with the chairman of Ecowas, that this should be the end of the war. The stepping down of the President of Liberia, the coming into office of vice president, must all be looked at as the process of beginning the rebirth of this nation.

It is essential, exceptionally essential, that the international community accept this challenge today as an opportunity to help the people of Liberia, at least once. The last time around, we did not have the opportunity. Now, you have no excuses. We beg of you, we plead with you not to make this another press event, where you come with the big pronouncements, you are out of here, elections are held, you are gone; disarmament, partial demobilisation never taking place, reintegration never occurring, thus leading to a renewed war and asking another president to leave.

You must now seize this opportunity to help Liberia. (Applause). History will be kind to me. I have fulfilled my duties, (Applause) in the interest of the Liberian people. The presidency is not important, it's not important. Could we continue fighting? Yes. But, above all else, the people must matter. (Applause)

And so I have accepted this role, what I would see as the sacrificial lamb - and you know I'm a Christian, so forgive me. I have seen some journalists report that I sometimes talk like a Baptist preacher - well I've never been a preacher, before, but I speak very well. But I say I see myself as during the days when Jesus was taken before the High Priest, Caiphus. And you know, Jesus was without sin. And Caiphus looked at him and said: "well, it may be expedient that you should die". And now, because Jesus died, we are saved today. I want to be the sacrificial lamb. I am the whipping boy.

You know, it's so easy to say, "because of Taylor". There will be no more Taylor after a few minutes. And now the Liberian people need the good. Please, yesterday for me was a statement of fact. I may have stepped on a few toes, but I don't care, because history must show the facts. Today, that's behind us. We want to see Liberia move forward. We want you to come in and help us and embrace us. The Liberian people have suffered far too long.

Before I leave, I want to mention something that I think is important. There is a story of three cows. There was a red cow, there was a white cow and there was a black cow. They were friendly with lion. After lion had eaten up all of the little antelopes around, he decided that he would have a meeting with the cows, to discuss future meals.

And so he met them and talked, but he kept the secret. The secret was to wipe out these three cows, but they did not know.

So he went to the white cow and the red cow and said, "listen guys, there is this black cow. I don't like how this fellow looks. So, I'm hungry. Let me just eat him and you guys will be fine". And the two cows said, "yeh, go ahead and eat him". He grabbed the black cow, he wiped it out.

He got hungry again. So, he came to the white cow and said, "you are white, you got no problem. This red cow is trouble. Let me eat this red cow". The white cow said "But of course, go ahead and eat the red cow." He grabbed the red cow. He ate the red cow.

When he got hungry again, he came to the white cow. The white cow said "Ooooh! But you promised that you would not do this." But he said, "you should have known that if I had I wiped out the red cow and the black cow, that you are next."

I say to my colleagues - the chairman of the African Union and the chairman of Ecowas - Africa is at the crossroads. This new one-world government, we must be very careful. Liberia is a soft spot. Decisions are not being made in our capitals. They are being made in foreign capitals. You must be careful. Today is Charles Taylor. The black cow is going. The red cow is waiting out there. (Loud applause)

African leaders must face up to certain responsibilities. I know the heart is willing, but the flesh is weak. The more Africa begins to take care of her own internal problems, the less some of the major powers, that are bent on one-world government, will cease and desist from interference on this continent. (Applause). We have to be mindful. And I say this (with all) (without) stupor, that Africa be mindful. It looks simple now with promises. But we must be mindful. And I hope that this will yield some good fruit.

I want to praise Almighty God for this nation, that at least this government was not overthrown and that anarchy did not exist where the constitution of this republic would be trampled upon. And I say, I warn and I urge, there is always this temptation when we have crises to let ideas come in.

Liberia is a sovereign state and must remain. No nation, the United Nations, Ecowas, AU must never seize any opportunity to usurp our constitution and dictate to our people. The Liberian people must be left to determine their destiny. (Applause)

There's an on going process in Accra (Ghana). I am hoping that after I leave it can come to Liberia. If Charles Taylor, if Charles Taylor is the problem, he will be out of here in the twinkle of an eye. And I say, let well meaning Liberians come home. If we respect this constitution, a government formed in Accra is a violation of Article 1 of the constitution.

Let them come home. Let that government be formed in Monrovia. You cannot complain about Taylor and say you are afraid to come here. The international peacekeepers are here.

There are these very caring politicians and experts outside that impress major governments and countries that have no constituency in Liberia. Let them come home and form this government here and the Liberian people will support it.

I leave, leaving the constitution of this republic intact. If you dismantle it, it will be to your detriment. This constitution must remain intact. This is a political environment. The political dispensation calls for the executive branch of government to compromise. No one has the authority, no one has the authority in Accra, in the United Nations or anything to dissolve the Supreme Court of this republic or the national legislature.

If you try to do it, and I cannot stop anyone from doing it, but it will be usurping the constitution and integrity of this republic. The national legislature of this republic is constitutional. The Supreme Court and the judiciary of this republic never heard of anywhere. And, because this government remains, it would be a travesty of justice if anyone were to think that he or she or anyone has the power to dissolve the honourable Supreme Court of this republic.

There are well meaning Liberians. I say this, because I have to say this, I am ongoing now, but history will show that I warned that this should not happen. There is sufficient room to play. If it's a matter of jobs, give them jobs. That's what it's all about. It's about jobs. Give everybody jobs, come home, let's get it done.

I want to thank everyone. I want to thank President Bush, even though we have had some disagreements - and I think I'm entitled to my opinions, just as he is entitled to his. But I believe that he's a Christian and I know he has a good heart even though he has been misled with lies and disinformation. But I know that God will reveal the truth to him. I have nothing against him. I believe he has made decisions based on the lies that have reached him. But the republic of Liberia will survive. And I know he means well. And I urge him to do everything to help Ecowas and this country to move forward. (Applause)

I want to thank the secretary general of the United Nations, Secretary General Annan. He's been really going through a lot. I remember the last conversation I had with him, I could see that he is well meaning, because being a West African and an African, being in that position and seeing the region from where he hails consistently in crisis, I think he wants to do well. And I want to thank him and his staff and all the United Nations' personnel, all of the non governmental organisations and people of goodwill.

I want to express heartfelt thanks to Dr K A Paul, who has been here. He has prayed with us, he has talked with us. I tell you sometimes, Dr Paul, in trying to get this thing right, he has asked me: "are you going to keep your word, it's important that you do?" He said this to me, I think, a million times, I got tired of listening to it. Dr Paul, I'm out of here.

I want to thank the executive secretary of Ecowas, who is not new to this job, but this is his first time in that position, he's trying, and most particularly the patience of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. (Applause). We want thank you for all of your great work. I want to thank all of the contributing countries of the peacekeepers.

And as my good friend and brother, President Mbeki, just said, I'm not sure if he has his full instructions yet, but I can see that he intends to listen to these instructions somehow. (Aside). Excellent! (Applause).

I think it would be good, I think it would be excellent. You know, I will tell you. I'm sure President Mbeki will do something about this. Because you know, South Africa - and, you know, this is not to embarrass my brother - but I think South Africa will seize the opportunity to do something for Liberia now. We were there for them. And you know, Liberia is a peculiar little country. At the time that Liberia took a stand, along with Ethiopia, in the

International Court of Justice - against apartheid - major powers of the world thought we were crazy and justified apartheid.

Yes, Liberia and Ethiopia went to the International Court of Justice. And I'm sure this relationship - where we provided passports for South Africans, we contributed to the ANC. Madiba was here before he got arrested. I think South Africa will seize this opportunity and I plead with President Mbeki. This is an African affair. (Applause). This is an African affair and I hope that, as we are getting the logistical assistance from other parts of the world, that other countries will come in to the rescue of Liberia. Because, we in Africa believe that when your brother's house is on fire, you do not bring benzyne, you bring water.

I want to praise God for all of you here today. I thank you. I thank the people of this great republic for all that you've done for me. I pray God that God will be with you.

There is one individual that is not last. I can remember that about two or three weeks ago, he flew in here. And I do not know how to speak like the Nigerians, but he said (with a Nigerian accent) "Ah, my brother, this matter, I would like for you to it and come to me. We are brothers. You are my small brother - and he tapped me on the thigh - and I said I will come.

President Obasanjo has proven that Africa, wanting to be strong, can be strong. (Applause) Nigeria continues to remain not just the powerhouse of West Africa, but the powerhouse of Africa. And you know how I got to know, as soon as you speak to President Mbeki, he says "Ah, contact my big brother, President Obasanjo." So you know. I really want to thank him and I want all Liberians to thank President Obasanjo, for not just today, but for all of the contributions that he has made before and that he is about to make again.

And now he's taking on this responsibility through this invitation (political asylum and for Taylor in Nigeria). I want to praise God for him, the government and the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

I leave you with these parting words, God willing . . . I will be back. God bless you.

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