Tag Archives: LURD

American Warlord

All the advantages of being the president’s son yielded very little in the way of easy profits for Chucky. Even with the deck stacked entirely in his favor, he failed to distinguish himself in the field of hustlers, entrepreneurs, and monopolists in Taylor’s Liberia. In business, as with the [Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU)], Chucky seemed to be the biggest obstacle to his own success.

That’s from American Warlord, Johnny Dwyer’s new book about Charles Taylor’s son Chucky. It’s more than a book about Chucky, though. It’s among the best-researched books on Liberia, and probably the only page-turner. Dwyer offers new details and insight into countless topics of Liberia intrigue.

Chucky’s story starts in Massachusetts, where he was born to a Trinidadian woman named Bernice. Charles Taylor abandoned the family early on and started engaging with Liberian diaspora politics during the Tubman era.

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Chucky had an unremarkable childhood in Florida. He made his first trip to Africa as a teenager in 1992 to reunite with his father, who was in Gbarnga. Chucky hung out with Taylor’s fighters and ventured around Bong. Apparently at one point he asked for permission to, and then did, kill a prisoner.

Chucky’s return to Florida did not go well. He tried to kill himself. He got into fights. He was arrested after pointing a gun at a man’s head following a robbery. Facing jail time, Bernice asked Taylor to take him. Taylor placed Chucky in school in Ghana, but he had trouble there. Taylor then moved him to Monrovia, where he was promptly suspended for slapping a classmate.

In 1996 Chucky requested his father’s permission to set up a private security force to protect Taylor and his men, a force that would come to be known as the Anti-Terrorism Unit (ATU). Chucky set up a training base in Gbatala, but quickly realized he did not command the respect of the boys and men he was supposed to be training. They had battle experience and he did not. Nor did he compensate for this in exceptional leadership ability. It appears Chucky started committing violent acts to instill fear and respect for his leadership among ATU fighters, and this included horrifically violent hazing, sometimes result in death.

What Chucky did and told others to do is to list some of the most horrific abuses committed during the war. Chucky ordered his own people tortured for small accidents. His father was frequently cleaning up his messes and trying to keep his crimes out of the media; after all, the ATU was (for a while) a secret, unconstitutional militia.

Dwyer’s account of Chucky’s life is remarkable, but American Warlord is equally worth reading for insight into other aspects of modern Liberian events. Did the CIA help Charles Taylor break out of jail in Massachusetts? Based on new details Dwyer provides, my sense is no. Taylor appears to have broken out of prison – a prison that experienced several escapes previously – with a friend. In Ghana he found that people assumed the only way you escape jail in the US is with CIA help. When this narrative worked for him, he used it, when it didn’t, he didn’t.

Did the ATU knowingly support al Qaeda pre-9/11? Here again the answer seems to be no. The ATU seemed to think the two al Qaeda guys at Gbatala were no different from the ordinary sketchy foreign businessmen who found Liberia advantageous for a certain sort of business.

Did the US arm LURD rebels in Guinea? This was a question I always thought was interesting, but now it seems inconsequential. We provided military training to LURD and this training heavily influenced the balance of power between LURD and Taylor. Relatedly, I always used to think America overstated its role in getting Taylor to leave. I now see that our support of LURD and total unwillingness to help Taylor in any way was at least in large part responsible for Taylor stepping down.

There are also stories that I never even knew to be curious about. The only American official left at the US Embassy in Liberia after Tubman’s murder claims (not corroborated) that he simply showed up at the Executive Mansion to see what was going on, and appointed members of the military junta that followed, including Doe.

There’s so much more. Chucky had an American girlfriend who moved to Liberia during the war to be with him. Chucky’s post-war stint in Trinidad trying to record hip-hop is one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction things. Dwyer recounts Chucky’s reaction to Lord of War, a film that based a character on him. Dwyer tells us about Chucky’s Florida trial, which is interesting on so many levels not least that the case against Chucky for torture was being prepared during the Bush administration by at least one Justice Department official who was herself allegedly tied up in a scandal related to Abu Ghraib. And just when you’ve finished the book and are feeling sad there’s no more (though of course happy there’s no more because Chucky is in prison) Dwyer offers a moving appendix on his sources.

American Warlord comes out April 7. Pre-order it here.

Weah’s new party includes former LURD and Taylor people

What I learned from a (gated) Africa Confidential article on developments in the October 2011 presidential race in Liberia, that is already well underway:

There are no plans to replace [Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's] Vice-President[,] Joseph Boakai, 66, but many favour a younger running mate.  We hear that former human rights activist and current Minister of Public Works Samuel Kofi Woods, 46, is a favoured candidate.
The UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, Ellen Margrethe Løj, again hinted that UNMIL may stay well beyond October 2011 – investors want their own security guarantees.
In August, the CDC [formerly the Congress for Democratic Change] announced that it had become the Coalition for Democratic Change. Its fellow coalition members include former foes such as the Progressive Democratic Party, led by Sekou Damate Conneh, better known as leader of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD); the National Patriotic Party, still irrevocably linked to ex-President Taylor; the Liberia National Union, headed by Winston Tubman, and the True Whig Party, a very slimmed-down version of the party that dominated Liberian politics for decades. Dissidents in the CDC and other parties have questioned the viability of this coalition of rivals.
  • “There are no plans to replace [Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's] Vice-President[,] Joseph Boakai, 66, but many favour a younger running mate.  We hear that former human rights activist and current Minister of Public Works Samuel Kofi Woods, 46, is a favoured candidate.”
  • “The UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, Ellen Margrethe Løj, again hinted that UNMIL may stay well beyond October 2011 – investors want their own security guarantees.”
  • “In August, the CDC [formerly the Congress for Democratic Change] announced that it had become the Coalition for Democratic Change. Its fellow coalition members include former foes such as the Progressive Democratic Party, led by Sekou Damate Conneh, better known as leader of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD); the National Patriotic Party, still irrevocably linked to ex-President Taylor; the Liberia National Union, headed by Winston Tubman, and the True Whig Party, a very slimmed-down version of the party that dominated Liberian politics for decades. Dissidents in the CDC and other parties have questioned the viability of this coalition of rivals.”

Crisis Group report on Guinea

Here is an excerpt from an International Crisis Group report that just came out on the massacre of protesters in Guinea last month:

The defence minister, Sekouba Konaté, a key figure in the current power structure, has important connections with rebel and militia groups from Guinea’s and Liberia’s recent past. He has built up substantial connections within the military and business community over the years and has reportedly gained considerable control over the award of government contracts.51 For example, the contract awarded to an American company SCS Hyperdynamics to share offshore oil exploration, was done with his support.

 

Konaté was appointed by Conté to oversee operations of the LURD rebels in Macenta due to his experience in the Liberian and Sierra Leone conflicts. He has strong ties with the LURD leadership and rank and file and is currently tightly linked to Aisha Damate Conneh, an important figure in that organisation to whose house in Conakry he provides protection. He has also helped secure jobs for ex-LURD combatants at the Cellcom phone company.53 These links may shed some light on the reported presence of Liberians among the armed men who attacked and killed protesters on 28 September. In addition, several credible sources claim that Konaté, or people acting for him, have been involved in recruiting young men from his Malinké ethnic group to join the contingent at the Kaliah military training centre.

I haven’t read the whole report yet (microeconomics midterm on Monday!), so if anyone gets to it before me let me know what you found most interesting.