By Tarty Teh
I thought about first reading Dr. Patrick Seyon’s piece, in the May 2000 online version of The Perspective Magazine, that has driven Mr. Harry Greaves Jr. out of his hibernation away from the horror he helped plan and which resulted into the death of 220,000 Liberians who, like Dr. Patrick Seyon, were never ”in the know” about the activities of an outfit known only as the ACDL. But why should I overload myself with Dr. Seyon’s dissertation when Harry Greaves’ presumptuous pontification can cause a stir even among the dead? While Mr. Greaves can easily afford his long vacations from some of the troubles he makes, some of us have neither the means nor the inclination to ignore the suffering he caused.
Dr. Patrick Seyon was the water boy for the band of Americos who first coalesced as ACDL (Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia) which, according to Mr. Greaves, ”operated on two tracks and at two levels” from Washington, D.C. Apparently Dr. Seyon was aware of only the track that led to the U.S. Capitol Hill where he was led to deliver a testimony against an elected government of President Samuel Doe. As I remember his testimony in early 1990, it was Dr. Seyon’s belief – echoed later by Mr. Francis Afonso Dennis, former Liberian ambassador to Washington in the lost dispensation – that democracy was on the horizon in Liberia in 1980 when the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) overthrew the 130-year-old Americo Liberian Empire. It was that apparently slow-rising democracy that was aborted by the coup that removed the last Americo president (before Charles Taylor) from office.
That was quite a leap, given Dr. Seyon’s limited capacity for recognizing a multi-track system such as the one that was in place when he was called upon to voice the Americos’ disgust with having a semiliterate, native African president named Samuel Doe heading the country they founded. For that, Dr. Seyon incurred the wrath of many who saw him as an African Liberian face on an Americo plan. He didn’t please me then, and does not please Greaves now. But that was then, this is now. The plan that the ACDL put forth called for recruiting Charles Taylor from prison to execute it. Taylor had a neat dictum for his mission: ”The only good Doe is a dead Doe.” In the end, President Doe and 220,000 other Liberians died. Harry Greaves spent much of that period of gruesome death and destruction on vacation from his original plan after his initial elation, expressed in dazzling prose. All that is part of our recent history. We have since screamed at one another at conferences about how to fix what was destroyed by Greaves’ plan. And just when we have begun to talk to each other about what to do next, here comes Greaves with some redistribution and re-direction of already assessed blames.
Mr. Harry Greaves is a much capable man in promoting any cause he believes in. I read his gleeful press releases in 1989, marking Charles Taylor’s progress as he tore up Liberia. My respect for Mr. Greaves is therefore based mostly on his talent in skillful communication. In his latest offering, however, Mr. Greaves appears not to care very much what anyone thinks about what he says and how he says it. And therein lies the presumption that perhaps this, too, will fly over our heads even if it is a lame effort by an otherwise capable performer:
”If the election results are to be believed, 3 out of every 4 Liberian voters, all of whom suffered the trauma of that war, voted Mr. Taylor into office in July 1997 even though they knew he started the war and in many cases personally suffered privations at the hands of his militias. While we all know those elections were not conducted on a level playing field, that intimidation played a role and valid suspicion of massive cheating abounds (which we have not been able to prove), the fact of the matter is that Mr. Taylor is now in office as an elected president. I am not one of those who subscribes to the view that Liberians deserve what they are getting because they voted Mr. Taylor into office.” – Harry Greaves Jr.
Mr. Greaves witnessed another bad presidential contest in 1985. In that election three candidates campaigned for the presidency. Each used the same government-owned and -operated media outlets to get his message to the voters. (Of course, Taylor, in 1997, didn’t allow the same kind of free access to the state-owned media. For most people, however, there was much more at stake than the luxury of freedom of expression.) In the end, the 1985 presidential election results were reported as being close enough that the winner could not boast of more than half of the vote. That, of course, was unacceptable to Greaves and others who are used to political mudslides. When someone wins by a modest margin, people who are used to total victories are incensed and therefore refuse to wait for the next round of orderly contest.
I am not sure whether Dr. Seyon’s support of the overthrow of President Doe was a mistake. My hope is that he believed that he was doing the right thing. But no one died as result of Dr. Seyon’s testimony on Capitol Hill seeking President Doe’s removal. But Greaves and others did help Taylor actually carry out the physical removal of President Doe and the destruction of everything in their path. Now, it was just a mistake:
”We all make mistakes – all of us except, of course, St. Patrick, who, as he reminds us with great sanctimony throughout his diatribe, is without blemish. Making a mistake is not a sin. Repeating it is. When I make a mistake, I like to fess[sic] up to it, make amends where possible, resolve to learn from that mistake, then move on looking for solutions. I believe the Liberian people made a big mistake in 1997, the painful reminder of which is with them every day in the form of no electricity, no decent drinking water, sewage in the streets, a barely functioning healthcare system, inadequately equipped schools, no jobs, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, loss of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, blatant disregard for the rule of law, a security apparatus run amok – all of this happening whilst the ruling class comprising a small clique of government officials lives ostentatiously. The Liberian people will have an opportunity to correct that mistake in 2003 and I believe they will.” – Harry Greaves Jr.
Yet Mr. Greaves would not speculate on the size of the mistake he and his ACDL colleagues made when they planned the war from which we are still suffering, nor does he feel a need for a partial expression of regrets without attaching a catalogue of participants who responded to his initial aggression. The long list of every group that fought in the war that was forced on us includes our version of the very army each nation maintains to protect its sovereignty – our Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). What’s so wrong with a national army fighting an invasion? The clue to that question lies in the fact that the person heading the nation was, for once, not an Americo.
Of course, the debate between Mr. Greaves and Dr. Seyon, according to Greaves, is about estimating how much death can be crammed into a ten-thousand-dollar budget. Greaves seems to maintain that it took more than $10,000 worth of killing tools to doom 220,000 Liberians. Well, Greaves and his ACDL may have given Taylor only $10,000, but a ten thousand here and a ten thousand there quickly added up to more deaths. With Taylor now successfully in power, death and destruction are now measured by money withheld. A $50,000 SUV here and a $80,000 Mercedes Benz there for President Taylor’s personal security forces, will keep food and knowledge away from children and ensure their early death.
Reading this, you would have thought that Harry Reaves was talking to his soccer team after a defeat: ”Making a mistake is not a sin. Repeating it is.” Sounds neat, doesn’t it? But how about this. The one that cost Liberia 220,000 lives was not Greaves’ first mistake. It was his second that I can vouch for. The first one I know of was the one in which he escorted Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa into Liberia to remove President Samuel Doe in the 1985 coup that failed (See Dr. H. Boima Fahnbulleh’s ”Of Lies and Pretenses”). On their way in for the commando raid, the invaders left an otherwise militarily
prepared Dr. Fahnbulleh at Liberia’s border with Sierra Leone ”due to some misunderstanding.”
But it’s only a mistake – which ”the Liberian people will have an opportunity to correct … in 2003 and I believe they will,” says Harry Greave Jr. I think Mr. Greaves thinks we are still a stupid bunch. This, however, is no longer his problem; it’s ours.
– Tarty Teh
Copyrighted © Tarty Teh 2000