By Omari Jackson
The announcement that he would be concealed from the eyes of mortal men for almost a century did not come as a surprise to him. What concerned the former Liberian president were the intrigues that characterized the entire charade. So while he received the news about his concealment with a sense of foreboding, his mind was afar, hunting the experience he had gone through in The Hague.
Though he must count his days, Taylor could only stare blankly at the prison walls, and beads of perspiration formed on his forehead, despite the humming air-condition, with its attendant mild temperature. But in examining the road he traveled so far, Taylor could sense that he should have had a premonition of his eventual fall into the hands of his enemies, especially the day he predicted that he would return, if God willed it. In his temporary prison cell, he knew the die was cast. He had come so far to cross the Rubicon, and yet, the Rubicon was so far away. That his chances of gaining freedom were gone, was nothing much to worry about.
All said and done, he had fought a good fight. What else could a mortal do? Now that he had been condemned and presently caged like a violent animal, he willed himself away to God.
He thought of his final days in Liberia, and particularly after he was assured of maximum protection by his presidential peers. That day was unlike any other day. It was after much consultation and self-examination before he reached the road of no return. He could see the day of all days. He was dressed in his lovely all-white attire and to the observers, from representatives of the United States to anyone interested in the history making epoch, he appeared well collected in his thoughts and in high spirit.
But before he came to deliver his last farewell and departure message to the Liberian people, he had had the time to shed sincere tears at his residence. He could not understand why life was haunting him. Well, by every account he had reached the end of it. And it was either he remained stubborn and died like Samuel Doe, or he learned from history and preserved his life. He had chosen the latter and here he was on his way to deliver a message, clearly explaining the major reason he was about to give up the throne and not only that but also leave Liberia, at least, he believed, for a while. After the initial salutations, Charles Taylor appeared emotionally overpowered. His voice was somber, reflecting the days he had wept for the decision he knew he must make.
In a voice indicating a man who had lost any hope he had for redemption, Charles Taylor justified the actions of the war. “The people’s revolution had been justified as former President Samuel Doe’s administration was corrupt and responsible for numerous atrocities and human rights abuses.” He knew too much was at stake, but the soon to be forgotten president was prepared to claim self-righteousness for the destruction of Liberia. He told of the beginning of the LURD rebels and pointed accusing fingers at the United States.
“Our friend and ally the United States refused to acknowledge the existence of war,” Taylor said, with reference to the LURD rebels. In the beginning, many entertained the belief that there was nothing like the LURD rebels and that Taylor was creating imaginary enemies to perpetrate himself into power. “The international community, led by the United States and Britain, had denied Liberians the right to defend themselves by imposing arms embargo,” he said. Since he had lost all shades of trust, the international community realized that it was too dangerous to allow the government to make arm purchases for the war.
So now that he was being sent away, Taylor went on, “A UN travel ban prevented government officials from visiting Western nations to defend our cause and timber sanctions starved our country of revenue.”
“[The United States] caused this war… but we appreciate their presence. They can call off their dogs now,” Taylor said bitterly. After a lengthy diatribe against the United States, Taylor said, “I’ve decided to make the ultimate sacrifice, and be the “sacrificial lamb”, the “whipping boy”. That was the crust of the matter. Presently, Taylor recognized that he was day-dreaming and doing a lot of thinking. Why did he forget his own prophetic message that he was a sacrificial lamb? Now he was seeing the writing clearly on the wall. The only difference was that he was seeing it on the prison walls. Long before he agreed to go into exile and spared Liberia of bloodshed, he failed to note that he was a doomed figure of little or no consequence. And whatever anger he had against the United States and Great Britain, he realized that he was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. His disappointment was the extreme power that other countries wielded over others.
But he considered the ultimate sacrifice, which hung over him like the sword of Damocles: “I must stop fighting now.” But was Taylor making the decision out of fear? No, that could not be. He said, “I do not stop out of fear of the fight. I stop now out of love for you. For me it is no longer important that I fight. What is important is that you live and there is peace.” Like a dream, Taylor remembered his parting words to a stunned nation. It was a period of tears, anger and frustration.
“”I’m stepping down from office of my own volition,” Taylor declared. “No one can take credit for asking me to step down.” But at the same breath, he contradicted himself, for leaving Liberia was too hard for him. “I did not want to leave this country,” Taylor said, choked with emotion, “I can say I am being forced into exile.” But now he was concerned about the suffering in Liberia. He said: “I can no longer see you suffer, the suffering is enough.” All along Taylor was fighting back tears while the women wept for him. The parting was unbearable! But in his characteristic manner, Taylor prophesized: “God willing,” he said, “I will be back.” Remembering these thoughts ignited the sentiments of sorrow and regret that had buried deep in his heart. He wanted to return as a triumphant leader and not as a fugitive in shackles. Taylor saw it as the end of the world.
For all his troubles in this world, Charles Taylor believed he was a good man. Though the world considered him otherwise, he had always believed that there was much humanity in him. The fact that he had been condemned for events he was far away from fitted his conclusion that he was like a sacrificial lamb, being disposed off for others. Yes, he made the ultimate sacrifice and willingly allowed himself to be sent into, what he had thought, would have been a brief exile, where he could have returned home to the loving arms of his people.
For the last couple of hours, Taylor had been reviewing the road he had traveled so far and the people who had all contributed, and ganged up against him. Questions that kept coming back to him were: was my sacrifice, since the epoch year of 1989 invasion of Liberia, worth it? What did he achieve so far that now that he would spend eighty years sitting in jail, he could look back on as his legacy? His heart beat faster and the thought that he was a failure or had been a failure because of the involvement and manipulations of powerful nations frustrated him. For the last fourteen years, whatever he thought he was determined to achieve for Liberia and its people failed miserably. But was he really a failure?
Even if he was, he reasoned it was due to the involvement of powerful nations who had some stakes in the matter. “It was a system of divide and rule as usual,” he said to himself. “And the African just went for it, swallowing it without asking any question.”
Then his mind went on the period when the revolution was launched. With hundreds and even thousands of volunteer soldiers, his forces swarmed across the entire land mass of Liberia. While his forces made significant gains, thousands of the young soldiers died, or were cut down by the enemy.
As he reflected in German, “Heute rot, morgen tot,” in which by the rough understanding, meant, “Today red, tomorrow dead. Here today, gone tomorrow.” He was bitter that many thousands of his teenage soldiers in arms were gone.
Taylor believed that his teenage soldiers who died for the revolution were the real heroes of the Liberian war. In pain, the former president reflected in Latin, “Heu, vitam perdidi, operose nihil agendo,” in which it is translated, “Alas, I have wasted my life, industriously doing nothing.”
He could argue against that opinion since he succeeded in removing the despot whom at the time all Liberians, with some exception, wanted to be removed from the throne. Perhaps, Taylor realized that the lessons of the Liberian war could mean that at least one should not base his hopes in adventures that may eventually call into question the real motive. Like Ovid, (in Metamorphoses, 1, 190), Taylor could say, “Immedicable vulnus ense recidendum est ne pars sincera trahatur,” meaning, “An incurable wound must be cut out lest the sound part be infected.” This was the principle he had applied when he launched the ill-fated war. And still, it is what his enemies would want him to experience. He was highly convinced that he was on the right side of history. His captors provided a pseudo “Onus probandi” that is to say, “the burden of proof,” for the crimes (lies) he was accused of. At least he had shown to the world that he was a man who stood up against a tyrant and won. So now that he was being sent away for good, he could say, in a manner of consolation that, “Here The Man.” He looked at the temporary prison walls, and by calculation, he knew he had been up for the last four hours, unable to sleep, since he heard the number of years he would be put away. Even he realized that nature had denied him repose.
It is the beginning of a long and a tortuous road that would eventually destroy him. Ghankay knew, and had been aware that the world had already condemned him. But, whether the condemnation would lead to his death, he did not care. In those days where he was king in what he described as Greater Liberia, he remembered how the youths had sung his praises.
“Anybody say no more Taylor we’ll kill you like a dog…”
Those were the days that had passed like a dream. He heard a voice from afar and the former Liberian chief executive stretched his head to see what it was. The time was far spent. He felt his body sagging and he leisurely lowered his head; his eyes shining as he thought about the end of his adventures.