7 January 2008

Liberia: Citizens Lose Interest in Taylor Trial


Monrovia — The trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, is set to resume on Monday. But Boakai Fofana of allAfrica's Monrovia office says the case has not generated a high level of interest.

It's the new year. The streets are as lively as ever with commuters moving up and down to meet their day's requirements, while thousands of miles away in the Hague, the Netherlands, their former president, Charles Taylor, is being arraigned again before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The resumption of the trial of the charismatic man who dominated the Liberian political scene for more than a decade after launching a rebellion in 1989, should have generated a very high level of national interest, especially considering that he was president of the country for about six years before stepping down following pressure from another rebel group opposing his regime.

But this doesn't appear to be the case. Aside from a few media outlets that have carried the story, most Liberians are not particularly aware of the various intricacies surrounding the case and its delays and are therefore not giving it much attention.

Some political pundits are of the opinion that there is a "quick-to-forget syndrome" that affects many Liberians. These observers think Liberians get excited and overly sentimental in the immediate aftermath of an incident, but as time elapses, memory of that incident, no matter how grave it is, tends to fade away.

A very good example is that of the former rebel general, Prince Johnson, who is notorious for his part in the death of the former president, Samuel Doe. Johnson is now a senator, voted in by his constituency. He seems to ply the streets of Monrovia without any semblance of security, sometimes waving to on lookers as though a national hero. His past deeds? Gone in oblivion!

Taylor and his trial may face the same fate, albeit in a different way. What concerns ordinary people nowadays, according to one young Liberian, Edwin Wilson, is "rebuilding the country, the prices of basic commodities and job provision rather than an endless trial."

Liberia has a huge population of young people, from whom Taylor boasted that he drew his support. When he was at the peak of his power, many believed in him so much that they thought there was nothing so complicated that the "Papay" (Liberian slang for "Father") could not solve.

But walking the streets of Monrovia today, and gauging people's opinion, it is clear that his sympathizers have either lost hope in the possibility of his acquittal, or that they too have fallen prey to the "quick-to-forget syndrome."

Taylor's family members, party loyalists and former members of the defunct National Patriotic Front of Liberia, the rebel group he headed prior to his presidency, are still glued to unfolding events from the Hague. During the weekend, they organized a "prayer service" for the former president at the First Baptist Church in Monrovia.

For its part, the government of Liberia under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has said that it is hopeful that Taylor will receive a fair trial. Deputy Information Minster Gabriel Williams said that the interest of the Liberian government is to see that the rule of law is carried out to the fullest, and that Taylor receives a fair trial.


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