Taylor: Justice at last for slain journalists
A boisterous Chris Imodibe, the late Journalist, would have been very excited in reporting the sentence of former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, in The Hague, had he been alive. I could imagine the energy the ebony black reporter, would have put into analysing the facts and circumstances leading to the former Liberian leader’s sentence. As a political scientist, he would have gone a step further to examine the political implication of Mr. Taylor’s sentence, as the first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes since World War II. Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted former Liberian President for supplying and encouraging rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in a campaign of terror, involving murder, rape, sexual slavery and the conscription of children younger than 15 years into the rag tag army led by Mr. Fodey Sankoh, who was a close friend of Taylor.
He was also found guilty of using Sierra Leone’s diamond deposits to help fuel its civil war with arms and guns while enriching himself with what have commonly come to be known as “blood diamonds.”
Chris that I know, would have asked in his report the likely reason(s) why Africa, the second largest continent, is in a fix, even though, the continent is rich in natural resources. As an energetic reporter, he would have asked, why has Africa’s situation not changed, despite its relatively young population, and years after it shook off the vestiges of colonialism. And why is Africa up to its neck in aid, and why do Africans have these big problems stemming from failure of governance, and why is it that the world’s poorest people reside in Africa?
Imodibe would have probed further in his report, the reason why African leaders do not play along in achieving economic transformation and ensuring that the continent is developed. He would have asked “whether the sentence of Taylor in The Hague, will make Africa’s political leaders urgently focus on creating the enabling environment for business to flourish.” It would have been questions, upon questions.
Although, there are many versions today as to how and where Messers Imodibe and Awotesu met their untimely death as reporters covering the Liberian civil war, what is not in doubt is the fact, that Taylor was said to have personally led the troops that carried out the carnage at the Nigeria Embassy in Monrovia. At the Embassy, thousands of Nigerians and other nationals, who took refuge there, thinking that Taylor would respect the sanctity of the embassy in accordance with diplomatic rules, were killed defencelessly. Shortly after this incident, I was among the reporters that visited the Nigerian High Commission in Liberia, what we met on ground was most disheartening. As the personal belongings of all the innocent souls massacred at the embassy littered every available space in the embassy. The entire structure was riddled with bullets. We were told that it was possible Chris and Tayo found their way back to the embassy since they could not readily find help to leave the country. Nobody was, however, certain whether or not they were among the people killed by Taylor and his gang at the Embassy.
But now that Mr. Taylor has been made to finally pay for the heinous crimes he committed against the people of Liberia and majority of the people in the MANU river region especially Sierra-Leone, I see Chris Imodibe’s spirit busting into a healthy laughter shouting justice at last, even though, it took long years to come.
However, it is proper for us to examine briefly the possible reasons why Taylor was convicted. Much of the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor focused on the role played by so-called “conflict diamonds” in funding rebels in conflict areas.
According to the United Nations, conflict diamonds are “...diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognised governments, and are used to fund military actions in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.”
The “blood” diamonds were illegally traded to fund conflicts in war-torn areas, particularly in West and Central Africa, according to the World Diamond council, which represents the commercial diamond trade.
Taylor was accused of arming rebel groups and terrorising civilians during the decade-long civil war in exchange for uncut diamonds smuggled out to him in empty mayonnaise jars. He was, therefore, found guilty of aiding the rebels, but a judge ruled that prosecutors failed to prove he was in command of them.
The reason, why Taylor’s sentence is welcome, is the fact that apart from the innocent people caught up in the conflicts that the trade fuels, especially the Revolutionary United Front led by late Fodey Sankoh, thousands of men, women and children in countries such as Sierra Leone were used as slaves to extract diamonds. They were often forced to use primitive, back-breaking methods such as digging into mud or gravel along river banks with their bare hands. The collected material is then separated using hand-held sieves. Years after the end of Taylor’s war of terror, a visit to Liberia especially Monrovia and Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, showed a large army of men and women who living their adult lives without limbs.
Those who suffered in Sierra Leone’s notorious and brutal civil war reveled in the fact that Taylor was finally held to justice for the bloodshed, an act of accountability that had seemed implausible to many.
In the diamond-mining region of Kono, where much of the atrocities took place, almost everyone has a story to tell about the Revolutionary United Front rebels, who, the Special Court for Sierra Leone concluded were supported militarily by Taylor.
The high level of crime in Monrovia occasioned by Taylor’s miss-rule before the advent of democratic governance in that country had at a point reached an alarming proportion. A year and half, after peace was gradually returning to Liberia, Mohammed Bello of FRCN and I along with some other reporters accompanied a Nigerian Air Force Hercules plane to supply relief materials mainly made up of rice donated by the Nigeria government to the Liberian people.
On arrival in Monrovia, a Nigerian High Commission official graciously agreed to house all the reporters in the Nigerian House located opposite the Headquarters of the Liberian Lone Star. That telecommunication company was rumored to be owned by Taylor, and it was then, the sole telecom company operating in Monrovia. The Nigerian Embassy official told us, that he never wanted us to take up the accommodation reserved for us, because of the high rate of crime in Liberia then.
I was not so lucky, during my fourth visit to that country, which was Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf first inauguration as Liberian President. Although, I arrived Monrovia very conscious of my previous experience and relish my narrow escape. I made sure that all the precious items on me were well taken care of, and I also avoided all forms of outing and concentrated on my job. I was shocked beyond words, how I was still robbed in my fifth floor hotel room, dispossessed of all my money and equipment. How the young men and women, carrying sophisticated weapons’ that night got into my room at 2.30 a.m. till date is still a misery. I am able to tell this story, however, because I am alive by His grace today. This incident was one of the most traumatic experiences I have ever had as a journalist. The American journalist, who came from one of the media houses in New York to cover the same inauguration ceremony, was not so lucky, as he got killed that night.
As I managed to cover my assignment, a dejected person, every Liberian youth I encountered then was very willing to show off the violent tactics they learnt during Charles Taylor’s inglorious years in power. This is certainly not a good legacy from Taylor.
•Omonhinmin is a Media Consultant based in Lagos.