13 November 2012

Liberia: When Are the Means to an End Convenient and Then Feared


The end may justify the means as in the case of Liberia where fear and horrendous atrocities determined the outcome of the presidential elections in 1997. But now there are fears that the "means", in the hands of "enemies", could be devastating in justifying the new governors' feared end. Hence, President Charles Taylor is seeing enemies everywhere with the "means." Such enemies now include the Americans whom he last week accused of plotting to overthrow him. In recent times, he has been forced to abandon his luxury homes to sleep in squalid hidden places. Outside, he travels concealed, like cargo, in a 100-car convoy with a Libyan supplied helicopter hovering above to detect hidden enemies beneath with the possible means of justifying their end. The President is now living with his own Frankenstein, facing the truth that when one uses devious means to attain power, the end is uncertain and ever illusive.

This is the dilemma of African rulers. One of the primary causes of instability on the Continent is the means politicians apply in getting to the top. If the means are plagued with unsavory strategies, which is usually the case, fears linger that others may discover these means and use them to also justify their end. Therefore, a government that comes to power through violent means must be changed through violent means. And the perpetrators of violence for political objectives must always look over their shoulders to ensure that someone else does not use the means in justifying the end. With this, suspicions linger, enemies perceived or real abound. Paranoia sets in and the innocent pay the price in constant instability. So is the case with Liberia - three years after elections hailed as the freest in the country's history.

The means to victory in Liberia are so feared that plots and subversions are discovered almost on a daily basis. Hence, the personal security of the President takes the bulk of the budget, with Taylor reminding critics, "I don't play with my security." Despite acquiring a massive approval of over 80% of the votes, confidence in the electorate is lacking, and energy is spent on depriving suspected foes the means to justify their end.

One of the first acts Taylor instituted to deny "enemies" the means when he came to power was to eliminate those who knew his means that justified his end in becoming President. His rivals, fellow warlords were quickly driven out of the country while others, like the Dokies and many others, were killed. Original members of the rebel faction, National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), such as Moses Duopu, Elmer Johnson, among the hundreds, were swiftly eliminated because they helped formulate the means.

On becoming President, he then embarked upon the specifics of destroying the means. Huge markets were cleared of peddlers, particularly if they were men. Taylor had good reasons for this policy. During the war, many of his rebels were infiltrated in the cities disguised as peddlers, standing in the streets for days "selling" a pack of cigarette, for example. Through this, they gathered intelligence and mastered the terrain, and infiltrated the communities. Arms and ammunitions were smuggled into the cities and other areas. To send the message that the capital, Monrovia, was unsafe, special squads were sent on grenade-throwing missions and the targets were public areas such as night clubs, markets, etc. Many innocent people were killed in this campaign of terror that proved his desired objective of the omnipresence of his rebels everywhere, therefore his power. Now, the chickens are coming home to roost. The President fears that these strategies, these means, are now in the hands of his enemies to be used against him. Paranoia has consumed him and the means to rid himself of it, as his predecessor Samuel Doe discovered, are scarce.

Following the destruction of markets, displaced centers were demolished and thousands of homeless residents ordered to return to their villages in rural Liberia. This had to be because every displaced center was suspected as harbouring "enemies." Weeks ago, this policy was extended to refugee camps holding about 33,000 Sierra Leonean refugees. According to a Freetown newspaper, the camps, near the Sierra Leone border, were set ablaze by Taylor's Army because they suspected dissidents were hiding in them. Residents near the Executive Mansion (which some Liberians now call the Executioner's Mansion) were evicted at gunpoint by Taylor's ruthless Anti-Terrorist Unit due to fears that dissidents were living in the area. Many home owners who have lived in the area from the 1940s and now too old to find alternatives, were told never to return because they posed a security threat to the President.

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