CNN and the True Faces of the Titans of Terror
NPFL rebels, now Govt. soldiers without training
are among the most atrocious Africa has known.
Checkpoints were docorated with the remains of their
victims as shown above
18 February 2002
If the CNN report on Liberia, shown last week, was meant to generate
sympathy for Charles Taylor and international interest in the country’s continuing terror, then it
succeeded in one key aspect, and that is showing the true faces of the
competing Armies of terror.
The power of television is that to a significant extent, it leaves the
viewer to render judgment. The camera. nevertheless, refused to conceal
reality, and was adamant in distinguishing between facts and
A similar report by news agencies, papers or radio
would have left a different impression. There were Taylor’s much
troops” singing their famous song “Anybody nor wan Taylor
we kill you like a dog,” as the camera gave them a close-up,
their manacing song buried in the reporter's description of their
"valour" past and present. The reporter talked about their
“absolute loyalty,” but perhaps his measurement of absolute
loyalty is based on another song by the same choir, “You killed my ma,
you killed my pa, I’ll vote for you…”
Such songs in many counties would lead to bewilderment, but Taylor has
defined the confines of terror to such an extent that singing “Anybody
nor wan Taylor we kill you like a dog" is normal. Did the CNN reporter
understand the lyrics or was he simply transfixed by the terror on their
apparently drugged faces? In truth, though, the rebels, called elite troops,
were just singing truth. They have killed those who “nor wan
Taylor”. and continue to do so.
There they were, the “elite troops” in ragtag uniforms, posing for the
camera, and rekindling memories of how they butchered women’s bellies
to settle bets on the gender of children inside. These are “elite and
better trained troops” the media refer to very often. But in reality,
distinguishing them from the rebels is difficult, if not impossible, for
they come from the same roots. In fact, the “elite troops” have
become more notorious, now that they are licensed, as “Government
troops”, to execute suspected enemies with rewards and to loot
properties with impunity. They
know that pronouncements against atrocities and looting are only meant for public ears.
Secretly, Taylor tells them, "don’t mind what I say in public…”
This is a pact he had with his unpaid rebels now extended, as
he is a “democratically" elected leader
Then there was the Minister of Defence, a former rebel commander named Daniel
Chea. There he was on camera, struggling with concepts, justifications for his
war, and words. He could not have passed for degraded night watchman,
but so are many of Taylor's officials, most of them society's wretched
who took their chances with the warlord to reap benefits later.
It was a clear case of difference between facts and faction, perhaps
inadvertently portrayed. For those thinking what Liberia is like, it has
not changed. There was the band of old, haggard, hungry-looking men
matching in uniforms that swung on them as if they were borrowed for the
occasion. The music sounded as if they were singing different tones, and
perhaps they were. But this is not surprising, knowing the psyche of those in
power and their iron determination to recreate the Liberia of their great
grandfathers now found only in museums in the deep American South were
most of the slaves came from to settle in what is now Liberia as
It was a comical scene. Reading
about the "peace match by survivors of the war" as carried on
CNN Mobile created a different
impression—that of mammoth peace match. This was until CNN showed the
demonstrators, uniformed, despondent tired looking school children
dragging lazily behind an equally lazy military band.
It is as if they were coerced into matching, a practice well-known
behind Taylor rebel lines when people were dragged out of their homes at
gun point to demonstrate against ECOMOG.
The CNN report was also striking for the reporter’s choice of interviewees
who seemed carefully positioned. There was not a single member of civil society, church or
the opposition. All three persons interviewed were well-fed and staunch government
loyalists or beneficiaries with carefully prepared and rehearsed scripts
of wanting "peace", the now mundane mantra of Taylor's open
and closet supporters who see no evil in his orgy of executions and
theft, only crying "peace" when his victims fight back as
cronies fear losing their criminally acquired properties and privileges.
Then there was chieftain of terror himself, on camera mimicking Liberia’s
autocrat William Tubman in speech. To him, every event, however
ghastly, is an act, and there he was pretending to be a statesman
while devising Machiavellian schemes for business as usual against foes.
He was shown indicting the international
community for his self-inflicted wounds. Although one would have
expected some balance, such as Taylor's attacks on Sierra Leone for
its diamonds, and on Guinea to extend his criminal conquest, there was none of that.
For the uninformed, the impression left was of a betrayed man left
to defend himself against the odds. It was the callous international
community, not his regional criminal exploits, causing the horrors..
Despite Taylor's vow to continue stealing Maritime and other
resources to “defend my
people”, it is now clearer that the people are more afraid of his
“elite” troops. Tubmanburg was looted not by the rebels, but his
"elite troops." Series of reports continue to indict them for the
spree of looting in other towns. A teacher, in note,
explained how a government soldier from his neighbourhood came from Tubmanburg with dozens of
chickens. He was searching for buyers.
There are those still blinded by Taylor's near-mystical success, and therefore
see him as invincible. But what they miss is the fact that this success
was made possible only by hundreds of Burkinabes, Libyans, Ghanaians,
Gambians, Sierra Leoneans, French military experts, etc., who
wanted a staging post to be like him. There is nothing magical
about a man full of show and no substance as he has shown sitting in
that condemned seat of the Liberian prsidency. "Da Cha Taila
morale" indeed, as his loyalists say. It will subside just as it
is evident that we have not yet seen the best of Taylor’s US-based pr
teams, among them former US Assistant Secretary of State for African
Affairs Herman Cohen, allegedly paid US300,000 to give a killer and
thief a human face. For the hundreds of thousands of dollars received from a country
of no water, electricity or health service, it is certain the pr
teams will do
But they must try harder, for facts cannot always be buried by fiction.