L eaked recordings have revealed that former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor made calls to allies from inside a maximum security British prison. In the phone calls, Mr. Taylor rallies allies and assures his supporters that he has never abandoned them. With elections scheduled for October, there are fears that the former warlord, despite serving a 50-year sentence for his role in multiple atrocities in Liberia and Sierra Leone, still maintains influence over Liberian politics.
Founded in 1847 as a colony for freed African-Americans, Liberia later became a dystopian reflection of its name: ‘Land of the Free’. Charles Taylor is a formidable figure in this tumultuous history. Following studies in the USA he returned home to work for the government, but fled to Libya after being caught embezzling funds. There, with the support of Muammar Gaddafi, and allegedly the CIA, he plotted the downfall of President Samuel Doe.
Forming a rebel army, Mr. Taylor gained significant chunks of territory in the First Liberian Civil War (1989-96), during which President Doe was murdered. He was elected president of Liberia in 1997, some citizens sang the exonrating chant: 'you kill my ma, you kill my pa, I will vote for you', in a plea for peace.
As president, Mr. Taylor was accused of aiding rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra Leone, who committed atrocities, by selling weapons in exchange for blood diamonds. He was eventually captured and tried in The Hague. After being found guilty on all charges, including terror, murder and rape, in 2012 he replied: “Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time”.
“Liberia is neither the shell of a country it was when Charles Taylor left in 2003, nor are Liberians the broken people Taylor left behind,” said Robtel Neajai Pailey, a Liberian academic based at Oxford University. She told TWW that the former warlord “may wield influence over his former allies” but that the average Liberian is more “politically astute”.
As October elections near, Mr. Taylor's National Patriotic Party, headed by his ex-wife Jewel, have joined forces with the Congress for Democratic Change, led by former football star George Weah. According to Dr. Pailey, security is a “major concern” ahead of the vote because the security services are "under-resourced and insufficiently trained".
As election day approaches, the phone call revelations are therefore disconcerting. Still, Dr. Pailey is confident that the country has “been in peace for too long to allow [Taylor] or anyone else to destabilise the country”.