By Tarty Teh
If whim, which foils prediction of each of their next moves, is a natural gift
for African leaders, then their quest for accolades is conversely easy to
predict. This means that predictability can only land the predictor within the
realm of folly for a given African leader; it does not determine which station,
along the path of foolish consistency, may be next. With this in mind, let’s
take a look at what the Liberian National News Agency (LINA) circulated on its
“President Taylor has won the ‘Father of the Millennium’ award in London,
England, during the recent International Youth Conference. Making the
disclosure last Thursday during the dinner hosted for Lone Star players, the
Youth Advisor to the President, Benjamin Sanvee, said the award is in
recognition of President Taylor’s love and care for the young people of
Liberia.” – LINA (4/24/00)
Jealousy cannot be ruled out as a motive for anyone who would frame a question
against this obviously monumental achievement by President Charles Taylor. But
I am not sure if any award has ever been issued for so large a time span and
without any hints of spatial limits. The renowned theoretical physicist Albert
Einstein, for instance, got only a piece of the millennium – a tenth of it, it
turned out – when Time Magazine named him “Man of the Century” this year. We
are told that there is hardly any spatial separation between a genius and a
plain nut. Taylor could very well be the latter.
I, for instance, was once named “Distinguished Liberian Citizen” for 1996 by a
Liberian church in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. Even so, some people said I did
not deserve the honor. Some argued that some of my friends had engineered my
selection for the honor. Yet, the recognition was only for one year, by one
church group, for a given population of a given nation.
While I was not all that sure someone else didn’t deserve the tribute more, I
did not understand the logic of my detractors who devalued the input of my
friends as character witnesses. Nevertheless, in 1997, I had a part time job
through the temporary job agency, Career U.S.A., in Washington, D.C., and won
the honor of “Employee of the Year” for that company, but only for its
Washington, D.C., area district. This time, however, no one interviewed any of
my friends as a means of determining the value of my job performance.
But what if the church or the job agency said that I was “Citizen” or “Employee
of the Century”? That would have strained credulity and taken away from the
sincerity of the professed homage. Even before someone found out that I was a
dedicated worker, I would have had a similar opinion of myself in that regard.
And so, such honors both affirm and confirm what we suspect as individuals in
our quest for glory. We should therefore be suspicious of honors without
I cannot disagree that President Charles Taylor is “Father of the Millennium”
without a context. As father for his children, a millennium may not be long
enough for what his children could confer on him, especially given that there
are no other fathers competing in the arena of his brood. Logic excludes other
fathers enough to make the point moot. But this particular honor comes as
result of “President Taylor’s love and care for the young people of Liberia.”
The foregoing is a drastic departure from what was the prevailing thought
before this honor rolled in. The question was whether Taylor should live
despite his crimes, or die because of them. A credible spin away from that
question should not start with an award that ignores Taylor’s most recent and
immeasurable destruction of lives. There are people who are afraid of Taylor
enough to keep quiet. The quiet ones are perhaps not so dangerous as those who
break into a song and dance out of fear of the man.
Do we really think that Charles Taylor doesn’t know that those who are fishing
for honors for him are acting out of fear? If Taylor does know, then what does
accepting the honor say about his own mental state? It will not even be fair
to question the motives of those who conferred the honor. Survival is motive
enough any day in Liberia. I am only wondering what Taylor thinks this honor
is worth in the eyes of people outside his sphere of deadly influence.
Can we assume that Taylor has no faculty for perceiving the preposterous
dimensions of the honor the sycophants bestowed on him? President Taylor
earned some respect without the sycophants’ enhancements which now dilute what
plausible ground was left for not declaring him insane.
President Samuel Doe had no such luck. He was barely literate, and so
stupidity was the predicted cause of any administrative malfunction that
resulted from applying even textbook remedies to any of the many problems
Liberia faced. So Taylor was contrasted with Doe as smart enough not to do the
obviously foolish thing. And so when the Dokie family was wiped out just a
week after the Taylor government listed Mr. Dokie as “an enemy of the state,”
one of the refrains was that Taylor was too smart to be a part of a messy way
of silencing opponents. President Doe would have been stupid enough to do such
I could not argue but so much with the claim about President Doe’s stupidity.
Only now such is also President Taylor’s growing profile. Here is an example
of President Doe at his weakest. One day he looked at the figures of, perhaps,
the GNP for some of the friendly G7 nations and decided to ask for help toward
his development goals for Liberia. He asked the U.S. for two billion dollars;
Japan one billion; the EEC, two billion. Soon President Doe had over five
I am not sure if any of the countries or institutions replied to his requests.
I don’t believe the problem lay with the countries and institutions that got
President Doe’s requests. I thought President Doe didn’t know how big a
billion was – even the American billion, not the British one. If President Doe
was required to write down the number, he might be a bit more impressed by it
and less glib in asking for it. The number $1,234,567,890 would be roughly 1.2
billion dollars. That’s more than twice the amount of money he was asking for.
Similarly, I wonder if President Taylor understands the scope of a thousand
years. Maybe if we quit calling it a millenium then it would not seem so
compact. Galileo lived roughly 400 years ago. Along the way he, I believe,
spent some time in jail for saying the earth moved around the sun. That must
have been soon after he, or some other nut, said the thing was not flat.
When Galileo plunged into physics and astronomy, there was barely any previous
knowledge in those endeavors to go on. Every subsequent thinker had the notes
of the previous thinkers until we got Internet and e-mail. So what did Taylor
do for his people, let alone mankind, to occupy such a large chunk of human
existence as “Father of the Millenium”? Perhaps the Romans had a right idea
but the wrong man when they sentenced Galileo to prison. Taylor needs to go to
jail – again.
Whose fault is it? Taylor continues to get what he wants. And so over time,
what was sincerely ours becomes his. And heaping accolades on him helps him
more than it helps us. But now that the sycophants have given away the biggest
honor, what will we give Taylor next time he comes calling? That may be sooner
than we think, unless we send him packing first. And if we don’t act soon,
there will be no honor left for ourselves.
– Tarty Teh [Washington, D.C.,
Copyrighted © Tarty Teh 2000