This week, the newly installed first ever woman democratically-elected president of an African country, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has been the toast of America, from her address to a joint-session of the U.S. Congress (the Senate and House of Representatives - and a feat only a few women have had the privilege), to her meeting at the United Nations, and then to a boisterous welcome by 53 members of the African Ambassadorial Group in New York. Some time this week, she will be meeting with U.S. President George Bush. She has within three months of her taking her oath of office, accomplished a feat that most African leaders will never dream of accomplishing in their lifetime presidencies.
Of course, Mrs. Sirleaf is playing to her greatest strength, as an internationally recognized bureaucrat. Apart from serving as Vice President of the African Regional Office of both Citibank in Kenya, and Equator Bank (HSCB) in Washington, DC, she was also Assistant Administrator and then Director of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), essentially a position equivalent to that of Assistant Secretary-General of the UN. After her speech to the joint-session of Congress, interrupted with lots of applause and standing ovation, Congress decided to increase the $100 million allocated to Liberia by another $50 million, making a total of $150 million, but far lower than the over $300 million America had given during the transitional period.
But behind all these hoopla and status cheering applause, is the fate of former warlord and President of Liberia, the exiled Charles Taylor, the man who plunged Liberia into 14 years of strife, murder of over 200,000 Liberians and dislocation and mayhem of incredible proportions. Charles Taylor is now in exile in Calabar, the capital of the best talked-about tourist states in Nigeria, Cross River State.
Charles Taylor is in Nigeria, after Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo offered and African leaders agreed to have him resign and go into exile in Nigeria, after the whole world coalesced in a demand, led by U.S.'s George Bush, that he stepped down for the good of Liberia. In 2003, whilst African leaders were trying to broker an easy resolution of the Liberian problem, the United Nations justice tribual seating in Sierra Leone issued a warrant for Taylor's arrest, charging him with war crimes. The charges asserted that "Taylor created and backed the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, which is accused of a range of atrocities, including the use of child soldiers." The U.N. prosecutor also said that "Taylor's administration had harbored members of Al-Qaeda sought in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania." But the crisis came to a boiling point during Taylor's official visit to Ghana when the U.N. issued the indictment, placing Ghana's President Kufuor in a big diplomatic mess. But with the advise and backing of South African President Thabo Mbeki, against the urging of Seirra Leoneon President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, Ghanaian police refused to effect the warrant for Taylor's arrest, who quickly returned to Monrovia.
But on August 10, Taylor went on national television in Liberia and announced that he would be resigning and leaving office the next day. On August 11, accompanied by Presidents John Kufuor of Ghana, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, and Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and in a plane provided by Obasanjo, Charles Taylor resigned and flew to Nigeria where he was provided with houses for himself and entourage. So far, it would appear that Mr. Taylor has obeyed Nigeria's condition for granting him the asylum - non-interference in the political affairs of Liberia.
Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf should be commended for stirring away from the Taylor debate, though patently and importantly connected to the Liberian situation. She has made it plain in many speeches that her priorities are the rebuilding of Liberia and reconciliation for Liberians, job employment and educational opportunities for the teeming thousands of former child soldiers, and the provision of basic amenities to the Liberian people. Originally, she had said that Charles Taylor was not on her list of priorities, but unfortunately agitators, stridently led by some in the United States, are bent on making Charles Taylor's arrest that of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's first priority as well as her first headache.
Of course, there is no doubt that the United States Congress in November, 2003, had passed a bill that included a reward offer of $2 million for Taylor's capture. On December 4 the same year, Interpol issued a "red notice", suggesting that countries have the international right to arrest him. Taylor is now on Interpol's Most Wanted list, noted as possibly being dangerous, and is wanted for "crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention." Now, don't tell me that with Nigeria's porous security borders, the shark-infested mercenary legion would not have been out for blood in collecting the $2 million reward, if Taylor didn't have the means of protecting himself, which goes a lot to be mindful and frightened about what is happening right now.
As I said earlier, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is being pressured to do something about Charles Taylor and on March 17, 2006, she formally requested that Nigeria hand over Charles Taylor. It is very unfortunate that outsiders are luring her away from her stated priorities. The Charles Taylor case is a Pandora's box for Mrs. Sirleaf. She should stir clear from it. Those who want Charles Taylor's head on a plate should go ahead and get it for themselves. I am sure that Mrs. Sirleaf is more than cognizant of the fact that as obnoxious and criminal of Taylor's murderous regime, he still has a lot of supporters in Liberia and that there is no need to reopen the festering discontent.
Of course, Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo has an even higher burden in helping President Sirleaf succeed in Liberia, by not allowing her to jump into the minefield that is Charles Taylor. And the way he could do this is borrow a leaf from the canny President Abdoulaye Wade, who agreed to turn over dictator Hissene Habre of Chad to the International Court of Justice, but with the understanding that only at the approval of the African Union. Of course, being on the ground floor and wearing the shoes, and knowing where it hurts most, African leaders refused to allow Hissene Habre extradited.
Already, it seems Obasanjo has learned from Wade's politically astute actions. He has said that he would consult with other African leaders, and I must add he should have the African Union have the last say as to whethere Charles Taylor should be allowed to become a martyr in the mode of Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia who died recently and became a hero, rather than the butcher and common criminal he is. We have a saying that "Trouble de sleep, 'Inyanga' go wakem." Let the trouble that is Charles Taylor continue to sleep in Nigeria.
Chika Onyeani is the bestselling author of the internationally acclaimed and controversial book, "Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success," as well as publisher and editor-in-chief of the award-winning African Sun Times newspaper. Hear Onyeani interviewed and tell more than 10,000 other authors worldwide how to be a bestselling author on: http://www.wbjbradio.com/viewshow.php?id=50&aid.