A Taylor of Two Cities
If you're a reader of Dickens you'll immediately get the title. It's a pun on one of his best books 'A Tale of Two Cities' set in the era of the French Revolution. The two cities referred to were London and Paris but I'm referring to Freetown and Monrovia, and the significantly different reaction of both cities to the ruling in Mr Taylor's trial.
Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, has been found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone. The UN-aided Special Court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty of the charges but cleared him of being in command of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC. NOT the Ghanaian AFRC) or undertaking a criminal enterprise. The Sierra Leone civil war raged from 1991-2002 with tens of thousands of civilians killed. Many atrocities were committed and the war was fuelled by the diamond trade.
While the BBC, reporting from Freetown, relayed a sense of closure and justice felt by Sierra Leoneans. Their report from Monrovia painted a gloomy picture, with people feeling that this was a political move by the west or that Sierra Leoneans should take responsibility for what happened in their country. Paraphrasing one interviewed man in Monrovia, “Sierra Leoneans were involved in the Liberian civil war; we haven't dragged their leaders to court.” It's a sentiment shared by many Liberians as well as the feeling that the ICC is a “whiteman's court”.
Sierra Leoneans are, on the other hand, satisfied with the verdict. Paraphrasing one man in Freetown, “He's a criminal. Liberians should understand. They shouldn't let our friendship be destroyed by one man.” His sentiment was shared by many others with him. The importance of the guilty verdict on Taylor was expressed by some victims of atrocities during the war.
I think what many Liberians feel is that their president should not be tried for what happened in Sierra Leone. If he were been tried for war crimes in Liberia I guess the reaction would have been different. Anyway, I hope the effect of the trial on diplomatic relations between the two countries is not significant. Whatever you think of the trial, whether it was fair or unfair or whether the ICC was set up to prosecute only Africans, what matters most is that both nations get over their violent past and do what they can to improve the lives of their traumatised people.
Jerome Wematu Kuseh