Will Taylor’s departure help the US blackmail the ICC?

In the presence of numerous African dignitaries, including the new chairperson of the African Union (AU), Mozambican president Joachim Chissano, President Thabo Mbeki  of South Africa, and Ghana’s head of state, John Kufuor, who also heads the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), Taylor passed the baton on to his deputy, Moses Blah.


Taylor has repeatedly accused the United States of fomenting civil strife in his country, and manipulating a brutal war, which resulted in him losing his grip over the bulk of the war-ravaged country.


In a radio address on the eve of his departure, Taylor said he “was being forced into exile”. He also accused Washington of backing the main revel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).


“I am forced into exile. I am standing down from office [of] my own volitionébut I am being forced into exile,” he said. “This is an American war against Liberia. LURD is a surrogate forceéwell they can call off their dogs now,” he added.


Presiding over his own demise in a bizarre ceremony witnessed by some of Africa’s heavyweights, the discredited former warlord did not fail to, yet again, blame US President George W. Bush for using food as a weapon of war against the Liberian people.  He added that Washington’s refusal to intervene by committing troops had put him in an impossible position.


During the Bush blitzkrieg in Africa at the beginning of July, there was intense speculation whether the Americans would commit troops to Liberia. The standoff between Bush and Taylor over “who does what first,” raised the tempo in many African capitals, as the humanitarian toll in and around Monrovia soared.


But apart from a grand total of seven US marines, the Bush administration has not been in any haste to commit a larger deployment. Though US warships are anchored off the coast of Monrovia, troops will not be sent inland unless a “ceasefire” is in place, according to US officials. This policy has been ridiculed by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. He told the BBC that it is like sending a fire-engine to a fire scene, but refusing to help until the fire is put out.


In the view of a prominent Mail & Guardian columnist, John Matshikiza, whatever one might feel about the US’s policies about invading other countries, saving foreign lives is not high on the list.


He provides three damning answers to explain why the United States is reluctant to invade Liberia. Firstly, there is no oil in Liberia. Secondly, the country is full of nothing but “niggers” (sic) Thirdly, Matshikiza argues that “the Firestone Tyre Company is perfectly capable of taking care of its lucrative rubber plantations with its own highly experienced security services anyway”.


He claims that desperate citizens of Monrovia are asking an “uncomprehending president of the USA: where are you, my long-lost Uncle Sam?” but do they, or him, understand what the plea is actually about?


Liberia’s unique colonial experience is linked to the American colonists who landed there, forcibly repatriated from the US, just as their ancestors had been forcibly removed from various parts of Africa some centuries before, explains Matshikiza.


“A steady stream of former slaves was shipped across the Atlantic and dumped in Liberia and Sierra Leone from 1820. Naturally, their search for long-lost relatives was fruitless, since they could have originated anywhere from Angola to Senegal”. Hence, Matshikiza observes that to think of the white, Southerner, George W. Bush as a potential liberator, is “a joke”. It provides more than a clue as to why the Americans are waxing lyrical, given their history of military interventions over the past 50 years.


However, there are additional factors which may shed more light on this apparent paralysis by an administration which is hitherto characterised by its biligerence and 

aggressive gung-ho antics: “Mogadishu” and the International Criminal Court (ICC).


The humiliation suffered in the Somali capital by US Marines é a nightmare they are afraid may recur é is a risk not worth taking, especially in the current domestic political climate which has given rise to new investigations on questions of intelligence vis-é-vis weapons of mass desrtuction in Iraq.


To escape international justice, the Bush administration insists on extracting full exemption from being prosecuted for war crimes at the ICC. It has, in blatant disregard of a gargantuan humanitarian crisis in Liberia, sought to blackmail the ICC by demanding these exemptions as a quid pro quo.


In the absence of US troop deployment, with Taylor’s exit confirmed, it remains to be seen how effective the 3000-strong Nigerian-led peacekeeping force will be to prevent an escalation of anarchy.


As the former president makes his way to Nigeria to settle into a life of exile, uncertainty about him being indicted by a United Nations-backed war-crimes tribunal  in Sierra Leone over his support for the rebels there, still reigns.


It would be a travesty of justice if a ‘deal’ has been struck granting him immunity. For the AU, too, while it may boost its self-confidence at being able to put out a run-way fire without the aid of Uncle Sam’s fire engines, it will have to explain whether such a ‘deal’ has been a ‘trade-off’ with America.

(Mr. Iqbal Jasarat is Chairman of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)