Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Ending the Horror

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Ending the Horror

Article excerpt

As a Liberian living in Zimbabwe, I, like many of my expatriates, have been tying up Africa's phone lines trying to reach my relatives in Monrovia. The reports of violence in the mainstream press have deep meaning for me, as I worry about the fate of my family, especially my mother, who was just released from the hospital. My sister told me that rocket-propelled grenades fired by Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel forces had landed on the house where she lived. My mother's house also suffered such an attack. Thankfully, their lives were spared, but immediately after the explosions destroyed the houses, desperate vandals looted them, and my sister and mother are now among the 1 million Liberians who are displaced. They were able to seek refuge at the Faith Healing Temple in Logan Town, about a mile from their homes. As I spoke to them, the voices of others, especially crying babies, were audible in the background.

Historical Underpinnings of Crisis

Liberians have become the world's refugees, fleeing their country en masse. They have been running for the past 13 years, but some would say that they started running in 1980, when Samuel Doe took over the country. He did so in a violent coup d'etat during which Liberia's 19th President and then Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union) William R. Tolbert was killed. The 1980 coup undermined and ultimately derailed the growing political reform and democracy movement that had emerged in the late 1970s to challenge the True Whig Party dictatorship of Tolbert. It also launched the country's descent into political violence and criminality, a descent which has continued unabated.

Liberia-U.S. Relations

When Master Sergeant Doe took over the reins of power in Liberia, the Reagan administration embraced him. It viewed him as a line of defense against the Soviets during the cold war. The Liberian government between 1980-1985 was the largest recipient of U.S. aid in Sub-Saharan Africa, receiving $500 million during that period. But Doe did not spend that money on schools or hospitals, nor did he maintain the country's infrastructure. He did, however, with U.S. encouragement, modernize the Liberian military. Salaries and benefits for soldiers were increased. The army used its enhanced position to launch terror and mayhem on ordinary Liberian civilians. In this way, the militarization of politics in Liberia was born. Doe became the most repressive Liberian leader in its history, while President Ronald Reagan called Doe his good friend and entertained him at the White House.

Liberia at that time had a so-called "strategic relationship" with the United States. The country was the location for a broadcasting relay facility owned by the Voice of America that beamed U.S. propaganda to continental Africa and the Middle East. It also hosted an Omega Navigation Station, which was a naval intelligence gathering entity for the south Atlantic, and the United States and Liberian governments had an agreement that allowed the U.S. military access to Liberian sea- and airport facilities. The U.S.-based Firestone Corporation had the world's largest private rubber plantation located in Liberia.

When Doe rigged the Liberian election in 1985, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz said that given the high illiteracy rate in the country, it came as no surprise that Doe won the elections--Washington therefore duly recognized him. …

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