Misc news from Liberia

Saturday, March 15
Many more atrocities committed by witness Marzah, ordered by Charles Taylor, according to his testimony before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Gruesome details of atrocities both in Liberia and Sierra Leone, it surpasses one’s mind. My initial reaction was ‘This cannot be true.’ Subsequently I thought ‘Why should someone tell or confess this?’ It puzzles my mind.

Maybe the most shocking confession made by Marzah relates to cannibalistic acts allegedly committed by former president Charles Taylor. It is not the first time such accusations are publicly made. It reminds me of the allegation made by Taylor’s former Defense Minister, Tom Woewiyu, cited by Stephen Ellis in his book ‘ The Mask of Anarchy’ (1999). Marzah’s testimony also disclosed involvement of Nigerian ECOMOG military personnel – bribed by Charles Taylor – in the transportation of arms to the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone. How reliable will this witness prove to be?

Starting Monday March 17, there will be a two-week judicial recess. Taylor’s trial will resume on March 31.

Friday, March 14
I just read a CNN report on the trial of former president Charles Taylor, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. A former aid to Taylor, Joseph “Zigzag” Marzah, yesterday testified before the Special Court for Sierra Leone, in The Hague, the Netherlands, that Taylor ordered his men to eat victims. Marzah said that Nigerian peacekeepers and United Nations personnel were killed and eaten on the battlefield by Taylor’s militiamen. He told the court more horror stories. What has happened during the civil war is unbelievable and I can understand that it is difficult to understand – sometimes also for Liberians but certainly for Europeans or Americans. How can the judges of the International Criminal Court and the Special Court for Sierra Leone comprehend, weigh and judge what happened and find out who is guilty?
The phenomenon of ritual killings, common in an important number of African countries, is hardly covered by the international media. As far as the Netherland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is concerned, it is not dealt with in the political reports ambassadors send to the ministry in The Hague. I am afraid other foreign embasasies are not doing a better job.

Wednesday, March 12
An old friend paid a surprise visit, Klaas Wit. We were neighbors in Harper, Maryland County, Liberia, in the late 1970s. He and Dr Regina Cooper led a village health worker training programme. The trained village health workers could, in the absence of qualified medical doctors, provide some relief to the sick and poor of this region who virtually were left on their own by the government in Monrovia and deprived of all advantages of (then) modern times. Klaas is curious to know what is left of this project which was a low-cost approach to tackle the health problems of rural Liberians. It was a project in the philosophy of the barefoot doctors.

The system of ‘barefoot doctors’ originated from China where it spread as part of the Cultural Revolution as from 1965. Its basic ideas with emphasis on primary health care and preventive medicine were important components of the Declaration of Alma-Ata, the output of a WHO conference in the city of the same name in Kazakhstan in 1978. In China the barefoot doctor system was abolished in 1981.

We spoke about the Tolbert administration, his assassination, Samuel Doe’s coup, the hanging of the Harper Seven (seven convicted ritual killers), and the conditions of nowadays Liberia after the devastating fourteen years of internal conflict. Klaas and I are both eager to see the country with our own eyes, to talk to the people we have known and who still are in the country. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf faces an almost impossible task, to rebuild the country and to re-unite its people after the civil war. She has to start from scratch. Electricity and running water are out of reach for the majority of the people, not to speak of a daily decent meal.

Monday, March 10
I heard the surprising news of the acquittal of Gus Kouwenhoven, the well-known Dutch timber trader and millionaire, accused of arms trafficking for his business partner, former Liberian president Charles Taylor. The latter actually stands trial, also in the Netherlands. The court found unsufficient evidence to convict the Dutch conflict timber trader. The prosecutor apparently had done a lousy job and the judges said that in public, though in other words. Everybody – at least in Liberia – knows that it was impossible to do business in this country while not pleasing or helping the president and this makes it very likely that the Dutch trader and the Liberian warlord-president connived. But such circumstantial evidence is no base for a conviction in the absence of solid evidence. Whatever one may find of the court’s verdict, we in the Netherlands have a solid judicial system and rule of law. Better to have ten accused suspects set free for want of evidence than one innocent suspect wrongly convicted and put behind bars.

Sunday, March 9
I was too optimistic when I started this weblog last year. After the first attempt in October I was absorbed by the completion of a major evaluation exercise: the evaluation of the Netherlands’ Africa policy (fortunately bilateral relations only!). At the end of January it was ready. The minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxime Verhagen, and the minister for Development Cooperation, Bert Koenders, sent the report to parliament, together with their policy reaction. One week later an impressive national conference took place, on Februay 13, which discussed the major outcome of the evaluation as well as related topics.

Hectic times were not over yet. At the end of February an international conference was held in The Hague, the Netherlands, partly occasioned by an evaluation report I completed last year. It focused on the Netherlands’ research policy in developing countries. The two weeks that have since elapsed were used to tighten social contacts I had neglected during the past five months, to sort out my overfloaded mailbox and to clean up my desk and office.

This entry was posted in Charles Taylor, Civil War(s) Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Gus Kouwenhoven, Liberia, Liberian Demography, Liberian Economy, Liberian History, Ordinary Liberians, Ritual Killings, Sierra Leone. Bookmark the permalink.