Communist League: The Civil War in Liberia

08 Nov 1992, Monrovia, Liberia — Young rebel fighters pose with their assault rifles in Monrovia during the Liberian Civil War. In 1989, Charles Taylor, leader of the NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia), launched a revolt against the regime of Samuel Doe and continues to fight for control of the country. By the end of 1990, the NPFL controlled 90% of Liberian territory, but not the capital. On June 11, 1991 President Sawyer proposed a peace settlement, to be overseen by a peacekeeping force (ECOMOG) from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in which all Liberians would be treated equally. Despite the peace accord, violence among the NPLF, ECOMOG, the AFL alliance, and other factions continued to escalate. Fighting continues for another seven years. — Image by © Patrick Robert/Sygma/Corbis

Compass: Journal of the Communist League

No. 87; August 1990

LIBERIA, on the west coast of Africa, has an area of 43,000 square miles (about the size of Iceland) and a population of 2.4 million. It was founded in 1847 by American philantrophic organisations as a colony for liberated black slaves from the United States.

Liberia’s two main exports are iron ore (which accounts for 70% of export earnings) and rubber — mainly from the vast US-owned ‘Firestone’ plantations. According to the late President of Liberia, William Tubman,

“. . most people were earning as little as pounds Sterling 38 a year”

(Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 18; p. 25,052).

Liberia’s capital, Monrovia (population 425,000) is named after James Mon~oe (1758-1831), the fifth President of the United States. Liberia’s unit of currency is the US dollar. Although Americano-Liberians comprise only 5% of the population, they have dominated Liberian politics since the foundation of the country in consequence of the country’s dependence on United States imperialism.

VIRTUALLY FROM ITS FOUNDATION TO THE PRESENT DAY, LIBERIA HAS BEEN A SEMI-COLONY OF UNITED STATES IMPERIALISM.

American interests in the country include:

“. . a ‘Voice of America’ transmitter. . . a telecommunications relay station . . ; an Omega satellite station; private investment amounting to some $350 million and extensive outstanding bank loans.”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 28; p. 31,283).

“Liberia was dependent on the USA for one-third of its budgetary needs.”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 32; p. 34,147).

“Access rights to Monrovia’s port and airport give to the US its only reliable gateway into West Africa and a staging area for supplies to anti-Soviet forces in Angola.”

(‘Time’, 6 August 1990; p. 27).

In 1971 William Tubman; who had been President since 1944 as leader of the ‘True Whig Party’ (which had ruled Liberia since 1870), died, and was succeeded by William Tolbert, previously Vice-President,

“. . a prosperous Liberian coffee and rice grower.”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 26; p. 30,405).

Unlike Tubman, however, Tolbert came to stand for

“closer links with the Soviet Union, a vision of cooperation with the states of the region and a tendency to believe in the rhetoric of the Organisation of African Unity.”

(‘Financial Times’, 1 August 1990; p. 4).

SUCH A FOREIGN POLICY WAS, OF COURSE, UNACCEPTABLE TO LIBERIA’S MASTERS IN WASHINGTON, WHO INSTRUCTED THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY TO MAKE ALL PLANS FOR TOLBERT’S REMOVAL.

The ‘People’s Redemption Council’ Coup

In April 1979 large-scale demonstrations broke out in Monrovia over a proposed increase in price of rice. According to official figures, 41 persons were killed and 548 injured when police fired on demonstrators. Damage was estimated at $40-49 million. Congress granted Tolbert emergency powers for a year and the university — described by Tolbert as:

” . . a breeding-ground for revolutionary and subversive ideas”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 25; p. 29,732).

— was closed down.

By this time Liberia’s foreign indebtedness

“. . was estimated at about $800-million.”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 28; p. 31,282).

In April 1980 it was judged that the time was opportune to put the CIA plans into motion. A military coup, carried out by a ‘People’s Redemption Council’, composed of junior army officers, seized the presidential mansion assassinated Tolbert and his Ministers, and proclaimed the coup leader Master-Sergeant Samuel Doe — President. Doe

“had recently received training from a United States military mission in Monrovia.”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 26; p. 30,405).

The new regime suspended the Constitution, proclaimed martial law and banned all political parties.

Liberia’s Increased Dependence

Following the coup United States ‘aid’ to Liberia was increased.

Between April, and December 1980 the US government sent four missions to Liberia (‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 28; p. 31,283).

“Since the overthrow of President William Tolbert in April 1980 total grants to Liberia were increased from $13.8 million in 1980 to $51,5 million in 1981.”

(Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 29; p. 32,296).

In April 1981 US forces took part in joint manoeuvres with the Liberian armed forces and the US destroyer ‘Thorn’ visited Monrovia. (‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 28; op. 31,283).

In May 1981 the Libyan ‘People’s Bureau’ in Liberia was ordered to close, and the Soviet Embassy in Monrovia was ordered to reduce its staff from 15 to 6. In July 1985 diplomatic relations were severed with the Soviet Union. (Keesings’ Contemportary Archives’, Volume 28; p. 31,283).

In August 1982 Doe paid a two week official visit to the USA during which he had a meeting with President Ronald Reagan. The US government agreed to provide training facilities for the Liberian armed forces, together with military aircraft and $15 million in military credits during 1983. (‘Keesing’s Contempotary Archives’, Volume 29; p. 32,296).

In September 1982 the International Monetary Fund approved grants to Liberia totalling $88 million. (‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume,29; p. 32,297).

In February 1983 Liberia signed an agreement with the USA worth $5 million for an improvement of Roberts International Airport in return for the granting of refuelling facilities for US military, aircraft. (‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 29; p. 32,296).

The Rigged Elections

As a result of

“pressure from Washington,”

(‘Financial Times’, 1 August 1 1990; p. 4),

particularly from

” a Congress alarmed by Mr. Doe’s systematic abuses of human rights,”

(‘Financial Times’, 1 August 1990; p. 4),

In July 1984 political parties were allowed to reform, subject to registration by the government. The ban on political parties was lifted. By the time elections were held (in October 1985), four parties had been registered:
Doe’s own ‘National Democratic Party of Liberia’ (NAPL),
and three opposition parties —
the Liberia Unification Party,
the Liberian Action Party and,
the Unity Party.

“It was noted that those parties which had succeeded in obtaining legal status were considered to be right of centre.”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 32; p. 34,146).

In October 1985 elections were held, in which Doe was declared elected President, with 51% of the vote, while Doe’s NDPL was declared to have won 22 out of 26 seats in the Senate and 51 out of 64 seats in the House of Representatives… By early November all the opposition parties had denounced the elections for:

“intimidation and irregularities.”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary Archives’, Volume 32; p.34,147).

while the US Congress had characterised them as

” . . fraudulent . ‘. marred by intimidation and ballot rigging”;

(‘Financial Times’, 1 August 1990; p. 4).

Only 9 representatives of foreign states (including that, of the USA) attended Doe’s inauguration.

‘Human Rights’ Breached

Although the US government – – and especially the US Congress — paid lip-service for political reasons to its concern for ‘human rights’,

” . . Washington had turned a blind eye to detention without trial, torture and summary execution.”

(‘Time’, 6 August 1990; p. 27).

and to the fact that

“. . more than $500 million in economic aid and military assistance Doe used to put down domestic opponents.”

(‘Time’, 6 August 1990; p. 27).

Before the election had been held, however, the Liberian government had committed the gravest ‘breach of human rights’ imaginable to Washington: it had defaulted on the repayment of its loans.

In June 1985 the International Monetary Fund ruled that Liberia was no longer eligible for IMF credits because of its failure to pay on time arrears of some $52.4 million.

In November 1985 Doe announced austerity measures, including 25% cut in the salaries of government servants:

“The measures were seen as a response to IMF demands for economic reforms.”

(‘Keesing’s Contemporary,Archives’, Volume 32; p. 349148).

Early in 1986, both Houses of the US Congress passed resolutions urging the Administration to suspend ‘aid’ to Liberia on the grounds that the 1985 elections had been rigged and that the Doe regime’s record on human rights was ‘poor’. The Administration, however, rejected Congress demands on the grounds that:

“. . President Doe had the power to govern.”

(Keesing’s Record of World Events’, Volume 33; p. 34,979).

In April 1986 US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker visited Liberia and had talks with both Doe and the opposition party leaders. The latter were arrested in May.

Although economic ‘aid’ to Liberia had been suspended under US law because of arrears of debt servicing payments, which by 31 March amounted to $660 thousand, after Crocker’s visit it was announced that the USA would give Liberia $42 million in economic ‘aid’ during 1986. The funds had reportedly been made available in exchange for ‘political concessions’ from the Liberian government. (‘Keesing’s Record of World Events’, Volume 33; p. 34,979).

In January 1987 US Secretary of State George Shultz visited Liberia,

“. . urging President Doe to undertake political and economic reforms.”

(‘Keesing’s Record of World Events’, Volume 33; p. 34,979).

Shultz praised Doe’s elections as

“. . quite open,”

(‘Time’, 6 August 1990; p. 27)

and as signifying Doe’s

“. . genuine progress towards democracy.”

(‘Time’, 6 August 1990; p. 27).

He did, however, express ‘serious concern’ about a secret arms purchase agreement signed between Liberia and Romania. President Doe had paid an official visit to Romania in October 1986. (‘Keesing’s Record of World Events’, Volume 33; p..,34,979).

However, the USA continued to finance Liberia during 1987 at a time when most of the country’s backers donors had suspended ‘aid’. The World Bank, for example, took such action in June 1987 because of the Liberian government’s arrears in repayments, resulting, it was alleged, from

“corruption and local mismanagement,”

(‘Financial Times’, ibid.; p. 4).

Nevertheless, US ‘aid’ to Liberia was cut to $36 million in 1987 and to $31 million, in 1988, and the Liberian government was warned that US ‘aid’ would cease unless payment of $7 million of arrears was received by May 1989. (‘Record of World Events’, Volume 35; p. 36,610).

In January 1988 a team of 17 US financial experts arrived in Liberia and wree given effective control of the Liberian government’s finances:

“The advisers . . . were empowered to countersign all financial documents issued by the government.”

(‘Record of World Events”, Volume 34; p. 35,885).

However, the American experts found themselves so frustrated by the Doe bureaucracy that their two-year contract was terminated after one year. By this time Liberia’s foreign debt totaled $1,700 million, with arrears on repayments amounting to $671 million. (Record of World Events’, Volume 35; p. 36, 610).

BY 1989, THEREFORE, THE DOE REGIME HAD CEASED TO BE ACCEPTABLE TO UNITED STATES IMPERIALISM, AND ITS INTELLIGENCE SERVICE SET IN MOTION FORCES DESIGNED TO CARRY THROUGH ANOTHER COUP WHICH WOULD REPLACE THIS REGIME WITH MORE ACCEPTABLE LOCAL PUPPETS.

A New Coup is Prepared

In May 1984 a former employee of the Liberian government named Charles Taylor was arrested in the United States and charged with misappropriation of $1 million of government funds. However, it was later announced that he had ‘escaped from custody’ and in December 1989 he appeared in the Ivory Coast in command of a small armed force which he led across the frontier into Liberia. (‘Review of World Events’, Volume 30; p, 32,898; Volume 36, p. 37,174).

By the spring of 1990 Taylor’s armed force was some 15,000 strong, had taken the name of the ‘National Patriotic Forces of Liberia’ (NPFL), had occupied most of the country and had advanced to the outskirts of Monrovia. (‘Le Monde’, 1 August 1990; p. 3; ‘Review of World Events’, Volume 36, p. 37,174; ‘The Independent on Sunday’, 5 August 1990; p. 14).

“An American offer to ferry Doe to safety was refused. His soldiers in the mansion are said to have told him that he could not leave without them.”

(‘Sunday Times’, 5 August 1990; p. 21).

The NPFL is very far from being a disciplined force:

“His men . . look as though they are at a weird fancy dress party. Instead of camouflage fatigues, they sport brightly coloured track suits. Some turn up for battle in crash helmets, others don dressing, gowns and women’s wigs . . . Looting has been rife on all sides.”

(‘Sunday Times’, 5 August 1990; p. 21).

The Split in the NPFL

In February 1990 one of Taylor’s officers, ‘Prince’ Johnson,

“…executed a number of NPLF commandos for alleged looting and desertion.”

(‘The Independent on Sunday’, 5 August 1990; p. 14).

This aroused Taylor’s wrath and a split occurred in the NPLF forces, Johnson breaking’away with a force some 500-1,000 strong. (‘Le Monde’, 1 August 1990; p. 3).

Johnson accused Taylor of being:

“a criminal and a rogue.”

(‘Financial Times’, 1 August 1990; p. 4).

and, embarrassed by Taylor’s

“. . refusal to commit himself to elections,”

(‘Time’, 6 August 1990; p. 27),

by July 1990 the US imperialists had come to regard Taylor as as unacceptable as Doe:

“Both Mr. Taylor and the man he is trying to overthrow, President Samuel Doe, are now seen (in Washington — Ed.) as dangerous and unacceptable leaders.”

(‘The Independent on Sunday’, 5 August 1990; p. 14).

and transferred their backing to Johnson:

“Mr. Johnson’s men (are) thought to have at least the tacit support of the US. . . . Diplomatic sources saw the offensive by Mr. Johnson as a US-inspired move.”

(‘The Independent on Sunday’, 5 August 1990; p. 14).

While Taylor’s forces were still camped on a ‘Firestone’ rubber plantation some 30 miles east of Monrovia, at the end of July Johnson’s forces

“suddenly appeared at the gates of Doe’s mansion, According to Tom Woweiyu, Taylor’s ‘Defence Minister’: ‘. . the US helped airlift ‘Prince’ Johnson and his fighters into central Monrovia.”

(‘The Independent on Sunday’, 5 August 1990; p. 14).

The three-sided civil war continues at the time of writing.

Meanwhile, on 29 August, at least 600 civilian refugees, including women and babies, were murdered by Doe government troops in St. Peter’s Lutheran church in Monrovia. (‘Financial Times’, 31 July 1990; p. 22).

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