How Machiavellian are African leaders?

The International Scallywags’ Network (known as the ISN) has been dealt a relatively severe blow with the death of Slobodan Milosevic of a heart attack days before his sentencing at the International Criminal Court at The Hague in The Netherlands, and the arrest of Charles Taylor as he tried to flee into Cameroon from his luxurious exile retreat in southern Nigeria.

Milosevic was on the point of being convicted of various counts of genocide in the remnants of Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia. The numbers killed in the name of ethnic cleansing were horrific and the manner of their killing unbearable to contemplate. Milosevic’s death cheated the survivors of some sense of vengeance and justice being played out for their emotional relief.

I don’t know if one can compare atrocities and genocides, but Charles Taylor was responsible for equally horrific acts of human cruelty in Liberia and Sierra Leone. He directed a civil war that drew hundreds of thousands of impressionable youths into an orgy of shooting, looting, rape and mutilation of innocents, left to limp off into whatever sanctuary they could find if they did not die of their injuries. These were among the most widely reported activities of this modern-day African holocaust.

It took months of bloodletting for the United Nations to kick in and do something about what was happening in Yugoslavia. The American and British armies finally went in (as they do all over the place) and kicked sufficient ass for the genocide to come to a halt.

It took critical weeks for the same UN to wake up and belatedly send a multinational force into Rwanda to try to end a colonially invented tribal genocide from running its course — but not before almost a million Hutus and Tutsis had slaughtered each other with the most appalling brutality, led by the agricultural panga (cheaper than the Gatling gun) introduced by King Leopold of the Belgians, himself responsible for introducing this form of mass genocide into Central Africa.

Up in Liberia and Sierra Leone, for reasons best known to themselves (and the CIA) Taylor, Prince Johnson and Sankoh Fode, among others, were bringing a similar kind of holocaust into the already impoverished wastes of their own black African population. This went on, under the appreciative camera eyes of CNN, the BBC and others for a number of years.

If I remember correctly, a number of African heads of state, led by presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, had taken a personal interest in gently easing Taylor out of this holocaust of his own creation, operating on the principles of the newly formed African Union’s so-called ‘Peer Review Mechanism” to get the man a quiet retirement home in Nigeria, rather than face the inevitable vengeful mobs that had tortured other African chancers like one of his predecessors, former Liberian president and murderous despot on his own account, Samuel Doe, to death.

Both the above African presidents, looking serious about their important business, saw the odious Taylor off to Abuja and presumably agreed that he would have a safe and quiet life, so long as he kept out of Liberian politics. (It somewhat helped his cause that Taylor has been described in some circles as Obasanjo’s brother-in-law. Smart move.)

But how Machiavellian are our African leaders? How long would it take before whatever their promises to Taylor, no doubt backed up by dollar accounts at various international shopping outlets to keep himself and his entourage in comfort (while people are starving in Darfur and the Northern Cape, for example), would be forgotten and his overdue date with the International Criminal Court at The Hague, let alone the far more important appearance before a people’s tribunal in Liberia or Sierra Leone, or both, would become inevitable?

Sinister stuff. Stuff best left forgotten.

But if you’ve lost an arm, a leg or a loved one in some sinister war that no one cares to explain, how can you forget? Why should you forget? How can you forget the pious promises of the African dream?

When it was announced that Taylor was to be extradited from Nigeria, after all those political charades, I was certain he would snake his way out of the problem in one way or another. After all, a man who had escaped from prison in the United States and then gone on to become a warlord and finally president of an independent African state, without the US cavalry bothering to come and get him, can hardly be expected to sit around in his villa in Calabar, waiting for his brother-in-law’s cops to come and escort him to a military plane to fly back to face the music in a mere banana republic such as Liberia.

And so, indeed, Taylor, aided and abetted by someone high up in the Nigerian state apparatus, jumped into a limousine and headed deeper into Africa. Someone, somewhere, blew the whistle and he was apprehended as he tried to cross into yet another unmonitored African dictatorship: the former German/French/British territory of Cameroon, run as an unmonitored one-man show by Paul Biya.

It will be interesting to see how the AU’s Peer Review Mechanism deals with the next stage of the process. It is curious that so few African leaders who have signed up to this protocol have had anything to say about the Taylor affair, and indeed about the atrocities committed during his tenure as president of an African republic. And it will be very interesting to see if an African leader, Charles Taylor or anyone else, is ever forced to face the consequences of a rule of arrogance and unaccountability.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Eastern Cape schools to only open for grades 3, 6...

The province says the increase in Covid-19 cases has made it re-evaluate some decisions

Malawi celebrates independence day, but the first president left his...

The historical record shows that Malawi’s difficulties under Hastings Banda were evident at the very moment of the country’s founding

Gauteng health MEC Bandile Masuku’s first rule: Don’t panic

As Gauteng braces for its Covid-19 peak, the province’s MEC for health, Bandile Masuku, is putting his training to the test as he leads efforts to tackle the impending public health crisis

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday