Newspaper article The Mail on Sunday (London, England)
Byline: From Edna Fernandes SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT IN MONROVIA, LIBERIA
It is 1982 and as day breaks in Liberia, the Krahn tribe prepares for the initiation of its high priest. Against the sound of the drumbeat, he is taken to an isolated area, led by a man in a carved black mask.
The priest stands before an altar, naked. The elders bring a little girl, unclothe her and smear her body with clay. The priest slays the child. In a ritual that spans three days, her heart and other body parts are removed and eaten. In the course of those days the priest has a vision: he meets the devil who tells him he will become a great warrior. The devil says to increase his power he must continue the rituals of child sacrifice and cannibalism. The initiation is complete and the priest is now one of the most powerful leaders in West Africa. The priest is 11 years old.
As prophesied, the boy priest grew up to become one of Liberia's most notorious warlords: General Butt Naked. He and his boy soldiers would charge into battle naked apart from boots and machine guns.
The initiation sacrifice that he carried out aged 11 was the first life he took out of the 20,000 deaths for which he now claims responsibility. His rivals dispute the number of deaths as impossible to prove. Yet what is indisputable is that during Liberia's 14 years of civil war, the man became known as one of the most inhumane and ruthless guerrilla leaders in Africa's history.
After the former General Butt Naked confessed his past to Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2008, one internet blogger asked: 'Is this the most evil man who ever lived?'
His crimes included child sacrifice, cannibalism, the exploitation of child soldiers and trading blood diamonds for guns and cocaine, which he fed to boy soldiers as young as nine. Yet today he says he is a reformed man. In July 1996, the warlord had 'an epiphany'. Having spent 14 years holding nightly conversations with the devil, he had a blinding vision of Christ who told him to end the killings and convert.
This was a Damascene conversion like no other: the former tribal priest and warlord is now known as Pastor Joshua Milton Blahyi. Aged 39, he is married, a father of three and lives as a Christian preacher .
He says if he can change, anyone can. He also calls for the tribal religious practice of child sacrifice and cannibalism to end, saying it still goes on in Liberia to this day.
Liberia's TRC, set up to investigate the war's atrocities, reported in 2009 and called for a pardon for Blahyi on the grounds of his candour and remorse.
Now in an exclusive interview with the MoS, Blahyi says he is willing to go the International Criminal Court in The Hague and be tried for war crimes. He lifts the lid on Liberia's secret societies that conduct child sacrifice and cannibalism, as well as his role in the war - and his desire to change.
His interview paints a terrifying portrait of one man's descent into Hell and his quest for redemption. It is a confession that will leave many asking whether such crimes can ever be forgiven. It is a question he asks himself.
Along with Ethiopia, Liberia is the only African country without roots in European colonisation. It was founded and colonised by freed American slaves in the early 1820s.
Yet its recent history has been blighted by civil war. Between 1989 and 2003, Liberia's intertribal war killed 250,000 people, displaced one million and led to one in five children becoming soldiers .
During the course of the conflict, this corner of West Africa became a nexus for the trade in blood diamonds and cocaine, gunrunning and laundering the funds of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. The instability emanating from this one country posed a danger far beyond Liberia's borders, as far as our shores.
General Butt Naked was one of the leading warlords, fighting guerilla groups including that of Charles Taylor, who later become president of Liberia and is now being tried for war crimes at The Hague. …