Now that self-proclaimed “sacrificial lamb” Charles Taylor has been exiled to Nigeria and a power-sharing agreement has been signed, the international press examines what’s next for Liberia.
Talks between the government and rebels nearly crumbled when rebels demanded top posts in the transitional government, though they eventually backed off. An interim government is slated to take power in October, replacing the current administration of Moses Blah, the former vice president who took over after Taylor stepped down last week. Elections are scheduled to be held in two years.
In the capital city of Monrovia, civilians, government and rebel forces all greeted the peacekeeping troops with relief; however, looting and outbreaks of violence continued. The Financial Times reports rebels maintain a hold on territory supposedly controlled by West African peacekeepers. The paper said, “The rebels’ presence highlights a widely held belief that the west African and US soldiers … are doing a praiseworthy job but are highly constrained by a shortage of manpower.”
Currently about 200 U.S. troops are on the ground to back up some 1,000 Nigerians—about one-third of the West African peacekeeping troops to be deployed in Liberia. Humanitarian aid workers transported food and other desperately needed supplies to the hundreds of thousands of civilians left starving and homeless by months of fierce fighting.
Several papers reported that U.N. officials are calling for a stronger peacekeeping force in the beleaguered country—one similar in size to the 17,500 troops that—along with British forces—helped to stabilize Sierra Leone back in 2001. The London Telegraph quoted one official, who said, “The lesson of Sierra Leone is that quick-fix, short-term solutions just don’t work.” According to the Financial Times, the U.N. envoy in Liberia said the mission there would need “strong involvement” from the United States.
An op-ed in Johannesburg’s conservative Sunday Times said the ousting of Taylor is a positive signal, demonstrating that African leaders are “willing to police each other.” The op-ed concluded, “Liberia became the public launching pad for Pax Africana. The era of ‘I am my brother’s keeper’ has finally arrived in Africa.”
As for Taylor’s whereabouts: He and his entourage of nearly 100—reportedly mostly wives, children, and other family members—are now said to be living in Calabar, Nigeria. The Telegraph said that his hosts “have ordered the garrulous Taylor” to keep a low profile. And with Nigeria’s hospitality apparently the only thing standing between Taylor and a U.N. war crimes tribunal, the paper said, he’s “on his best behaviour and adhering to the Nigerian instructions.” Still, concern exists whether the ever-defiant Taylor will try to influence events from afar. As the New Democrat, a paper run by Liberians in the Netherlands, put it, Taylor “remains a sword hanging over the region,” adding that unless his militias are completely demobilized, “they are a time bomb.”
Nigerian papers suggested that the country will decide in its own time, however, how to handle its new resident. According to the independent Lagos daily Guardian, a state governor said the country may eventually give him up. “If the U.N. Security Council votes that Charles Taylor should be handed over, why not, we can sacrifice him for the benefit of the whole sub-region.” But the independent Vanguard quoted the Nigerian foreign minister who warned that any possible intimidation by the international community—particularly the United States—to extradite Taylor will go nowhere. “Nigeria will not be harassed by anybody about the indictment, and that is final,” he said.