Who Will Liberate Liberia?

Will Liberia get enough help from the United States and others to get back on its feet?

October 20, 2003

Will Liberia get enough help from the United States and others to get back on its feet?

Liberia’s turmoil is a source of dispute over whose obligation it is to help the country. Despite President Charles Taylor’s removal, hundreds of thousands of Liberians are wandering the country homeless and destitute. Meanwhile, the United States — Liberia's colonial "patron" — and others debate whether or not they have a responsibility to help. Our Read My Lips feature examines what is at stake.

How desperate is the current situation in Liberia?

“It’s like nuclear war on earth.”

(Joseph Saye Guannu, historian and Liberia's former ambassador to the United States, September 2003)

What caused the country's problems?

“We took the Ten Commandments — and reversed them: thou shall not kill — and we are murderers. Thou shall not steal — and we are pathological thieves.”

(Liberia’s Archbishop Michael K. Francis, September 2003)

How then should biblical values applied to the crisis?

“You need to forgive one another — the only thing that can give peace is love.”

(Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo, September 2003)

How large is ousted President Charles Taylor's ongoing influence?

“Charles? Oh, he’s still in charge. I’m going to see him next week. What’s wrong with that? We got business to contend with.”

(Cecil Brandy, Liberian minister of agriculture, September 2003)

Is everyone in the United States happy about Mr. Taylor's removal?

“Liberia has been a predominately Christian country. And the U.S. State Department is paving the way for the Muslims to take over Liberia.”

(Pat Robertson, religious broadcaster and Christian Coalition founder, July 2003)

Why was it necessary to remove President Charles Taylor?

“We believe that if we let Taylor get away with this, warlords will continue to run all over Africa.”

(Daniel Macauley, international human rights group activist with No Peace Without Justice, September 2003)

What does Charles Taylor have to say about this?

“I will be back.”

(Charles Taylor, ex-President of Liberia, September 2003)

What the chances for that?

“Taylor is clearly rebuilding his network. He is like a vampire. Until you drive a stake in his heart, he won’t die.”

(Jacques Klein, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s special representative for Liberia, September 2003)

Does Charles Taylor have anything in common with Saddam Hussein?

“He’s like Saddam Hussein, you know he’s gone — but he’s not dead.”

(Olayinka Creighton-Randall, head of the Campaign for Good Governance in Freetown — the capital of Sierra Leone, September 2003)

Where can Liberia's refugees find shelter?

“We aren’t even good enough to be refugees — because whoever is left here now has no money to go away. We can’t go to Sierra Leone. We can’t go to Ivory Coast. We can’t go to Guinea. Liberia is all we have — and it’s still not safe.”

(Alfred T. Brima, field supervisor with the Liberian Refugees Repatriation and Resettlement Committee at Tatota, September 2003)

What will it take for Liberia to recover?

“African-led diplomacy — combined often with African troops, backed up by the UN and now the United States is the recipe for success. If we don’t have superpower support our chances of success are slim.”

(Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, September 2003)

How far has Liberia's political culture disintegrated?

“The United Nations, the United States and Liberians will have to remind themselves of what a state does: food, shelter, sanitation, an army, health, education — and justice.”

(Joseph Saye Guannu, historian and former Liberian ambassador to the United States, September 2003)

Why do Liberians set their hopes on U.S. help?

“There is a saying that Liberians get upset only when the price of rice goes up — or the U.S. Embassy closes its visa section.”

(Emily Wax, Washington Post columnist, September 2003)

How does Liberia view its relationship with the United States?

“It’s like a beautiful woman who you are really deeply in love with. They leave you. You say okay. They ask you to come back. You go. Our vision is clouded. We have been in love with America for so long. We can’t stand the thought of breakup.”

(Joseph Koilor, 40-year old Liberian cab driver, September 2003)

Does the crisis in Liberia pose a threat to U.S. national security?

“A collapsed West Africa could become — like the Taliban’s Afghanistan — a haven for terrorists and narcotics, as well as a section for infectious diseases.”

(Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist, July 2003)

How open are Liberians to direct U.S. involvement?

“We need America. If they come, we will hug them. Let them roll in Rambo style — and we will say, ‘Come in, our brothers. Take care of your Little America. We’re not upset.”

(Liberian Methodist Pastor Fannah Tartieh, September 2003)

Does the United States have an obligation to help Liberia?

“Other nations have stepped up to the plate after the collapse of countries where they have special responsibility: Britain in Sierra Leone, France in Ivory Coast, Australia in East Timor. Now, it’s America’s turn.”

(Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist, July 2003)

Why are some calling for little U.S. intervention?

“The United States has trained the military in Nigeria, the main West African power, to handle these sorts of missions.”

(Wall Street Journal editorial, July 2003)

What is the risk that comes with U.S. intervention?

“There is risk that the Pentagon will try to get by in Liberia on the cheap — investing American prestige, but insufficient clout. We have seen this movie before.”

(Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, August 2003)

Finally, what is Liberia's original mission?

“The Liberian national seal and motto displays: ‘The love of liberty brought us here.’ ”

(Patrick Saydee, Liberian Senate’s procurement director, September 2003)