I’m not yet paranoid enough to believe that the Ebola virus was developed deliberately in some lab or the other for the express purpose of destabilising and wreaking havoc in Africa, as was Aids. I’m not quite there yet but what I do find puzzling is the easy casualness and the lack of urgency on the part of the news media when dealing with this epidemic. In the early stages of the outbreak it was relegated to one of the last items at the bottom of the news somewhere before the sports and the weather. In other words we open with the Middle East and conclude with Africa.
And here then is the paradox, we want more coverage and yet at the same time something within us cringes at the very mention of the word Africa on the news. And why is that? Because in the pit of our stomach we anticipate some yet new horror to be announced. Will it be abduction of children, draught, famine or refugee crisis caused by war? Our attitude is: “Oh hell, what now?” We ask to know and yet dread to know.
Why is this exactly? Because we’ve been so saturated by endless reports of atrocity that we expect nothing less. If we listen to the television evangelist like Pat Robinson et al., Africa is simply being punished, like Haiti, for wickedness. God has cursed this continent . The curse of Ham scenario has been used for centuries as the biblical excuse for justifying slavery. A very convenient and lucrative explanation for continued exploitation by the west.
If God is so in the business of punishing sin why hasn’t He visited His wrath on firms and corporations like Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers in America, who wilfully and knowingly caused global chaos by fraud and stock market manipulation; thereby ruining whole economies and causing countless millions to lose their homes and life savings? Conscious and malicious acts resulting in many cases in suicide. No one went to prison and more often the executives were rewarded with 100 million dollar payoff options with the proviso that they not name their fellow conspirators.
So I have to ask what exactly is Africa’s sin and who determines the sentence? When we look at for instance Liberia and Sierra Leone where the outbreaks of the Ebola virus were first reported we notice some startling similarities; of the three countries where the outbreak is most prevalent (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) the natural resources in common are: gold, diamonds and Iron ore worth trillions of dollars and yet all three countries are in dire poverty. To fully understand the psychology of Africa today we need to focus firstly on one man: Charles Stevens the former president of Liberia who is now serving a fifty year prison sentence for crimes against humanity (courtesy of the Hague Tribunal). He is a perfect template for how things are done in Africa. Is it merely a coincidence that the three places of greatest atrocity happen to be the same three places of the Ebola virus? Just happenstance, right?
To start we have to take a look at Liberia and how it came into being to begin with. Liberia came into being in 1821. In answer to the question:
“ What the hell do you do with a bunch of ex slaves when you don’t want them hanging around and maybe causing revolution?”
You ship them abroad, back to where they came from, supposedly, i.e. Africa. Now the fact that there is no postal address called Africa doesn’t matter. You just dump them on some shore in the heartlands, leave them some provisions and money and wish them well. The money came from Quakers and Methodist intent on righting wrong and doing some good thing to make up for centuries of abuse. The only problem was that the indigenous population who were living there weren’t consulted. \The repatriated Americo-Liberians were mostly mulatto (most of them having white fathers since their mothers were raped), and who felt superior to the savages who never witnessed the blessings of Christianity and slavery. The result was the establishing of a creole elite class who soon tried to laud over the native inhabitants (think Haiti and the Mulatto elite who have been in power from 1800 to the present and Baby Doc Duvalier who just died).
What the Americo Liberians did with the blessing of the United States, was set up a little Southern plantation system based on the principles of Booker T. Washington and the Talented Tenth.
Or in other words, if you pull up your pants and shine your shoes, embrace Christianity and get an education you will prosper. We may live in Africa but that doesn’t mean we have to be African.
“Don’t keep company with those no ‘count boys from bush.”
Our eyes should be firmly on America and Europe. In this I find that Liberia has a lot in common with Montserrat in terms of aspirations . From the beginning certain prominent families stayed in power, The King family and the Tubman and Tolbert. The main party was the Whig Party and they made absolutely certain that the top 5% (Americo –Liberians) owned everything and were never out of office because the indigenous people lacked the right to even vote although they had to pay for the comforts of those in power. Add to this the presence of Firestone Rubber, the American company which pretty much was the sole employer.
They were synonymous with the United States government and they determined public policy. It was Firestone Rubber who demanded that Marcus Garvey not be allowed entry into Liberia on penalty of loss of a 5 million dollar loan to government. Firestone ruled supreme with a fifty year contract free of taxes. Everything went along peacefully for over 150 years of what was effectively one party rule until one day a certain army sergeant decided on a different approach. Instead of waiting to be born again and returning as an American, Sergeant Samuel Doe in 1980 chose instead the more direct route of
Stalin and so entered the mansion of the then president Tolbert and placed a bullet in his head. This involved little dialogue but made an immediate impression on the Liberian populace who were already disgruntled about the price of rice having risen. Sergeant Doe’s communication skills were never great but he did make himself understood. What he couldn’t do equally well though, was to calm foreign investors or locate the funds which the former president (like most African leaders) had wisely hidden away in Swiss accounts. For help Samuel Doe had to turn to another Liberian, one that was more familiar with the habits of the west: Enter One Charles Taylor. Taylor had studied abroad and spent much time in Washington and New York , two locations where there are sizeable Liberian communities in exile. He also attended school in Boston which would prove very useful to him.
Charles Taylor has all the charm and guile of a Caylpsonian, as a matter of fact his father is Trinidadian. It's his mother who is Americo-Liberian. He grew up enjoying privilege and knowing he was a son of expectations. He was by no means from the bush. He got his degree from Bently College in Massachusetts . What he learned from an early age was the gift of making himself useful to those in power. A useful skill to have. Since Samuel Doe was practically illiterate he needed someone to transcribe his thoughts and arrange meetings and account. Taylor was a master of logistics. He could keep railroads moving on time (assuming Liberia had railroads). He was minister in charge of commerce and he could produce when called upon. He was famous for his can do attitude. The only slight problem he had was that he always knew he was the cleverest man in the room at any given time.
The problem with ambition is that it always draws attention to itself. Eventually Samuel Doe began to notice that Taylor had a gift for making money disappear from accounts. This state of affairs finally came to a crisis when Taylor vanished to the U.S. where he thought he was safe. He however was soon arrested in Massachusetts. Taylor was awaiting extradition back to joyous Liberia and a certain firing squad when he was able to call in a few favours. He was able to buy his way out of prison and put into play a new game plan.
Charles Taylor had certain things going for him chief among them was his personality and his ability to appear totally confidant and reasonable. He knew for certain that the powers that be (substitute United States and Britain here), do not like dealing with what they term: “A loose cannon.” When doing business , they prefer a known quantity. In other words when doing theft and plunder, they prefer their puppets submissive and reasonable. They did not know what to make of Sergeant Samuel Doe with his machine gun and army fatigues. They preferred instead Charles Stevens in his Brooks Brother’s suits and Rolex watches (which he got into the habit of giving away as gifts to Bill Clinton and the televangelist Pat Robertson together with Arabian race horses and real estate).
Taylor did return to Liberia eventually but not in handcuffs, He returned leading his own forces. With a little help from friends like Muammar Gadaffi and others he was able to arm and maintain a liberation army. Drawing on the general dissatisfaction from rival tribes in the North (The Mano and Gio especially who weren’t getting any of the goodies that Sergeant Doe was dispensing to his own favourites the Krahn tribe especially from which he sprang.) he soon had a brisk civil war going and Doe was captured and killed. Charles Taylor then became president which was quite acceptable to Washington.
Now the question which is often asked is why Charles Stevens employed the tactics of mutilation of the young? Did he just wake up one day and say: “Time for some atrocities”.
The thing is that Charles Taylor is a keen student of history and he merely followed the example of King Leopold of Belgium who mutilated and killed some 10 million in the Belgium Congo to teach them fear of disobedience. He asked for a certain quota to be fulfilled daily and failure to deliver resulted in loss of limb. Leopold by the way never even visited the Congo once and yet he implemented these policies which resulted in genocide and him becoming the richest man in the world and I don’t think God got around to cursing him or Begium as yet although I suspect He might. As the Haitain say:
“Bay kou bliye pote mak sonje”
He who whips forgets, but he who is whipped never forgets.
Charles Taylor as I say is the template of what happens with power in Africa. He went on to do a brisk business in arms and diamond smuggling. He was equally at home in Sierra Leone as he was in Liberia. They have a very similar history only instead of American sphere of influence write in British. Sierra Leone too was started by slaves who upon repatriation did exactly the same thing to the indigenous tribes. In the 1980’s it was just as ready for explosion and change as Liberia. Charles Stevens took advantage of his opportunity and exchanged arms for diamonds and was able to move freely from border to border. When he faced pressure and sanctions from one place he merely moved to another.
To add to the feast there was also Guinea which was ripe for his special skills of diplomacy. Not to mention Narco dollars from pure cocaine from Colombia. He had endless funds to finance his civil war. He also perfected the art of the Liberian sailing licence by which for a certain fee any rig still afloat could obtain a licence to sail and pollute anywhere on the high seas (do you remember the Exxon Valdez, anyone?) Charles Taylor made enough to conduct a war on three fronts and keep a flock of lawyers busy at the same time.
(For what is war but diplomacy by other means as Von Clauswitz says)
But here then is the take away: Generation after generation fresh exploiters come to Africa. When will it cease? The answer is never. It would be nice to pretend otherwise but the truth is that Africa’s curse is its endless resources. No other continent on earth has such an inexhaustible amount of riches. Every time an exploiter thinks that there is no more to be found a fresh discovery happens. The result is that they come and go but never quite leave. There is always something new in Africa to steal. This was the saying from the time of the Egyptians and it hasn’t changed. Men will always look on Africa the way King David looked at Bathsheba when he saw her sunning herself on the rooftop. With lust. The sin of Africa is poverty. It is a crime punishable by death. Not having can be very fatal to your health.
But yet and still, despite all this disaster talk of wars financed by foreign corporations, and countries like China which happily sells arms to both sides of any conflict knowing full well that they’ll do business with whoever wins. Still I don’t feel despair because I see a new and un- apologetic energy in the youth of Africa. They are ready to do business and find a way out of no way. They keep finding new uses for the cell phone( including banking and rescue services in rural areas where there are neither banks nor police). Wherever there is a need they come up with a solution. This is why they say there is always something new coming out of Africa. And even African cinema finds new ways to tell a very old story and is not afraid to tell it.
As to Ebola, now that it has spread beyond Africa to the west, a miraculous cure will suddenly be found. Capitalism is more resilient than even Ebola. There is too much money to be made for a cure not to be found, and this might have a little something to do with why America is suddenly sending humanitarian aid (to Liberia and not to Sierra Leone).
Britain is suddenly sending humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone( not to Liberia). And France is suddenly sending humanitarian aid to Guinea only.
Governments do not have friends. They have interest. Still, be at peace my friend. Success has many parents but failure is an orphan. When Africa dies then the earth dies. And not until.