A requiem for Charles Taylor
Even behind bars in faraway England, Charles Ghankay Taylor, the onetime rebel leader who broke from prison in the United States to start a rebellion in Liberia with his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) still lives on.
Like a cult figure, De Papay or Ghankay as he is fondly called by admirers or even haters still has a very strong following back home. Most still remember fondly Taylor’s days at the Executive Mansion when the nation’s wealth used to be spread around frivolously. Beneficiaries of that era still yearn for a return of Taylor so that they can tailor their pockets to fit Taylor’s largesse.
Yes, they still talk about days when Beauty Queens were showered with gifts of cars and wads of freshly minted crispy United States Dollars. Taylor, they say would dish out a lavish party and spray the national team, Lone Stars with cash, whenever they returned from winning a football match. And if you are in Taylor’s government, money should not be your problem.
Backed with his charisma and eloquence, Taylor was and is still the man to beat in Liberia. Thus, when news started emerging the other night that the man who once promised Liberians that, “God willing, I will be back,” was dead, you can just imagine the anxiety that stirred in most quarters. As usual, it was the usual rumor mill that was at work. They said Taylor; was dead. They claimed he died of a heart attack in England where he was serving jail term having been convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leones.
Liberians waited with baited breath as the news spread like the proverbial bushfire in the Harmattan. Social media was at work; the chatter was all over Facebook and Whatsapp. I was also caught up in the Taylor obituary rumors when a friend who knows that I am an Information specialist sent me a text requesting to know whether or not it was true. Then, another tracked me down on Facebook wanting to know if indeed; “De Pappay was gone.”
Then, there was no official position on what was turning to be breaking news even if it was from bush radio. But my doubts were as clear as the crystal ball – Taylor cannot be dead because such news would not hide especially when you have the likes of Umaru Fofana and Jonathan Paylalay (both BBC Correspondents) who would relish breaking the news. They are naturally gifted at what they do and I am not sure such new would escape them.
It was not long that I saw a post on the Facebook page of former Press and Public Affairs Chief of the Special Court for Sierra Leone denying the claims. “A rumor on social media claims that former Liberian President Charles Taylor has died in prison. The rumor is false. Mr. Taylor is well and continues to serve his sentence in the UK,” Peter Andersen posted. I am not sure that was enough to clear the doubts that
Taylor was still in British jail, but what would have led to such bush radio? I am still baffled.
I have lived long in Taylor’s land to know that should he be freed and decides to return to Monrovia today, his fans would spread their ‘ lappas’ from Broad Streets to the Roberts International Airport ( not a short distance ) to give him a hero’s welcome . Times there were when people used to celebrate the former President’s birthday with lavish parties and t-shirts printed. Obviously, he still has buddies in prominent positions in the country and his return would signal a continuation of business as usual.
However, from what I know, Taylor still has a lot of time to spend behind bars. He promised that with the will of God, he will be back to Liberia. David Crane, the US born Prosecutor who indicted Taylor once said; “those indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity are guilty and they will never see the light of a free day,” (he had backtracked on his words though).
We wait to see then who wins the day but for now; hold on your tributes and your Requiems for the former Liberian President is alive and kicking.
By Osman Benk Sankoh
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