FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What’s Behind the Crisis in Liberia?

by LEE SUSTAR

The rhetoric is about AIDS and poverty, but the agenda is oil and empire. George W. Bush’s mid-July tour of Africa highlighted the ways in which the U.S. is consolidating its economic and strategic role across the continent–from preparing a possible deployment of American troops amid Liberia’s civil war, to praising pro-market “neoliberal” policies in Uganda, Senegal and South Africa.

But the more involved the U.S. becomes in the crisis-wracked continent, the clearer it is that Washington isn’t the solution–but bears responsibility for the civil wars and social catastrophes across Africa. Exhibit A is Liberia.

Established in 1847 by wealthy Americans determined to rid the U.S. of slaves by sending them to Africa, Liberia functioned as a virtual American colony, ruled by a tiny elite of the descendants of former slaves. Known as Americo-Liberians, they worked with U.S. companies like Firestone, which established the world’s largest rubber plantation there in 1926, while the indigenous population remained impoverished.

During the Cold War, Liberia, despite its small population–still only 3 million today– became a key outpost for U.S. efforts to undermine national liberation movements and prop up pro-Washington dictators in the name of fighting communism. In 1980, Master Sgt. Samuel Doe took power in a coup against the Americo-Liberian elite. When the Reagan administration took over the White House, it immediately flooded the new regime with millions of dollars in aid, in exchange for help in its efforts to destabilize nearby Libya.

Doe ruled through assassinations, repression and fraud. Once the Cold War was over, the U.S. cut him loose, and he was assassinated by rebel forces in 1990. “Master-Sergeant Doe is the latest victim of imperial euthanasia,” wrote Nigerian journalist Tunji Lardner. “He died because his treatment was withheld by the United States and his life-support system shut off.”

After a civil war in the early 1990s, the power vacuum was eventually filled by Charles Taylor, an Americo-Liberian who used widespread hatred of Doe and ethnic tensions to mobilize support. Taylor had backing from Libya as well as the former French colonies of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, and he successfully exploited regional rivalries to divide a series of peacekeeping forces sent by West African nations–principally, Nigeria–in the mid-1990s.

A combination of brutality and bribery allowed Taylor to win presidential elections in 1997 with 75 percent of the vote. Key to Taylor’s success was his control of much of the region’s diamond trade and his constant shifts of alliances in the region.

To tighten his grip, Taylor sponsored an insurgency by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in neighboring Sierra Leone. The RUF seized the former British colony’s diamond mines and smuggled the gems to Liberia, where Taylor took a cut and top Western mining companies cashed in.

Like Taylor in Liberia, the RUF–known for amputating the limbs of its opponents–was brought into the government in Sierra Leone in 1999, with the blessing of neighboring countries, as well as London and Washington. When the “power-sharing” deal threatened to unravel, a British-led contingent of some 13,000 United Nations (UN) peacekeepers moved in to prop up the government–while RUF leader and Taylor ally Foday Sankoh was awarded control of the ministry that controls diamonds. Taylor also backed a militia’s attempted takeover of diamond mines in neighboring Guinea, another former French colony.

The pattern is similar in Ivory Coast, where violence by Taylor-backed militias and an anti-immigrant backlash has effectively split the country between a mostly Muslim North and a Christian and animist South. Some 3,000 troops from France–the former colonial ruler of the country–are maintaining the status quo, leading some Ivorians to call for U.S. troops to replace them. Meanwhile, Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has intervened in the Liberia civil war by sponsoring yet another militia–the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL.

For its part, the U.S. has been reluctant to become directly involved in Liberia–but faces increased pressure to do so from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Anan, whose native Ghana is a close U.S. ally and key player in the region. Even France, which opposed the U.S. war on Iraq, has called on Washington to intervene–despite their competing interests in the region–to keep the situation from spinning out of control.

The fact that the Liberian capital of Monrovia, a city of 1 million people, remains without running water or electricity has led many who opposed the war on Iraq to support a U.S. peacekeeping force on humanitarian grounds. But anyone who believes that Washington will act out of concern for innocent people in Liberia should take a closer look.

Until now, the U.S. has been content to pressure Taylor by working with the government of Guinea–which got $3 million in U.S. military aid last year–to support the main anti-Taylor rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). While Taylor has been indicted for war crimes by a United Nations tribunal, the LURD is little different.

“There is not one person who wields real power within the LURD who has clean hands or comes close,” a European diplomat told the Washington Post. “The upper tiers are filled with the perpetrators of rape, looting and cannibalism.” According to Human Rights Watch, LURD forces have been involved in kidnapping, summary executions, looting, rape and forced recruitment–and like Taylor and the RUF, use young boys as combatants.

So while Bush has called for the ouster of Taylor–who has provisionally accepted an offer of exile in Nigeria–Washington’s solution is to replace one warlord with another. If the U.S. does move to intervene militarily, it’s because Liberia sits near substantial oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea. U.S. oil companies–including Exxon-Mobil and Chevron-Texaco–are expected to invest more than $10 billion in African oil this year.

At the same time, Washington is moving to boost its military bases in “the Arab countries of northern Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa, through new basing agreements and training exercises intended to combat a growing terrorist threat in the region,” the New York Times reported. Add to this Washington’s pursuit of free-market policies across Africa, and George W. Bush’s real goals in Africa become all too clear.

So does the need to oppose them.

LEE SUSTAR writes for the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at: lsustar@ameritech.net

 

More articles by:

LEE SUSTAR is the labor editor of Socialist Worker

February 22, 2018
Jeffrey Sommers
Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector
Mark Schuller
Haiti’s Latest Indignity at the Hands of Dogooders, Oxfam’s Sex Scandal
T.J. Coles
How the US Bullies North Korea, 1945-Present
Ipek S. Burnett
Rethinking Freedom in the Era of Mass Shootings
Manuel E. Yepe
Fire and Fury: More Than a Publishing Hit
Patrick Bobilin
Caught in a Trap: Being a Latino Democrat is Being in an Abusive Relationship
Laurel Krause
From Kent State to Parkland High: Will America Ever Learn?
Terry Simons
Congress and the AR-15: One NRA Stooge Too Many
George Wuerthner
Border Wall Delusions
Manuel García, Jr.
The Anthropocene’s Birthday, or the Birth-Year of Human-Accelerated Climate Change
Thomas Knapp
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Russiagate
February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail