Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Really? You don't know who bought weapons in Liberia?? (minor updates)

Foreign Policy has a fascinating interview with Liberian Senator Prince Johnson, a former rebel leader and (early) Charles Taylor acolyte. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Liberia recently recommended that he be tried--it also recommended that Liberia's President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf be barred from running for office again for her initial support to Taylor's regime (but let's leave the latter aside for today).

What I find most surprising about Johnson's interview is this though:

Who supplied the guns to them? Who supplied the finance to buy the weapons? Who provided the training? It's a whole lot of questions that need answers...The first group of people that bear the greatest responsibility is not the fighting man but the people who supplied and bought the weapons. I don't know who planned and bought all the weapons, but the men didn't just come here shooting guns from the sky.

Umm--yeah right. I mean fair enough, the guns didn't just fall out of the sky (though given the flight safety record of some of the companies involved even that is possible). Still, I'm pretty sure A LOT of people know exactly where the guns came from. Why? Because since 2000, the UN has been monitoring the arms embargo--first on Sierra Leone and then on Liberia. And, well, if you watch a very nice Frontline documentary, Gunrunners, it will give you the basics of how the guns were purchased and financed. Global Witness has also done some really nice work on this. The International Crisis Group has also worked on this.

But to cut a long story short, it involves diamonds, timber, stocks of weapons in Eastern Europe, fake end-user certificates, unregistered aircraft, falsified flight plans, and transnational criminal networks. In some the UN reports, it even involves invoices, photos of Taylor associates with known weapons providers, photographs of the weapons on aircraft etc.

To add just one last thing: either Prince Johnson's staff hasn't briefed him, or perhaps he's just clueless (I won't make other assumptions since I know more about weapons trafficking than I do about the details of Liberian history) but really, where the weapons came from is open knowledge and to say that this needs investigation is simply not true and it's a distraction from more important issues. Thanks for the point about Khaddafi SNLII...

And the second thing, the important distraction is this: apparently Johnson is threatening to kill TRC members (which he denies) and is arguing that he has immunity from prosecution because of an amnesty law he says the legislature has passed.


  1. "the guns didn't just fall out of the sky "

    No, the cheap supply of automatic weapons initially came from Libya.

    They were then dispersed by nations that were aiding the insurgents in their battles to destabilize neighbors. Eventually, one witnessed two sides forming across West Africa: Those largely supporting of ECOMOG (Ghana, Nigeria, the Kabbah administration in Sierra Leone, et al) and those that were attempt to usurp the regional order through subversion.

    After the fall of Kabbah, isurgents such as the Komojors were helped somewhat by Nigeria, but an informal arms trafficking market also fed the insatiable demand for materiel.

    Since I was living with the Komojors, perhaps I'm a little biased, but I continue to blame an awful lot of the violence on the indirect maneuvers of Libya, part of Khaddafi's attempt to exert influence in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Eventually, the entire region caught the bug, even formerly stable nations such as Cote d'Ivoire. Colonial borders, the spread of destabilizing globalization, the recruitment of child soldiers, widespread use of commodities seized by guerillas (or governments) to fuel warmaking (rutile, "blood" diamonds, cobalt, drugs, et al), the growth of shanty cities yada yada yada didn't help contain the violence.

  2. SNLII--I went and double checked and Global Witness came to my rescue. Beyond training in the late 80s, which of course is the basis for later relationships, he of course received a lot of funding from Libya. The arms trafficking types explain that Libya did more facilitating of the weapons shipments and purchases than it did the actual providing. Libya also provided easy refueling and transit stops for the weapons shipments.

    This Global Witness report is worth reading:

  3. Umm--he is Taylor...sorry.

  4. I was there, Lil. Libya was given full credit. Now, Libya obviously didn't manufacture the weapons, but those weapons never would've arrived without the intentional help from Tripoli.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the first nation banned from providing arms within Africa was Libya, in 1992. Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d’Ivoire followed, but that's because they were the destinations for the armaments, not those doing the shipping.

    I should add that Benin and Sudan also are suspected of helping Taylor suborn international boycotts on sales of arms to Monrovia, but they didn't get the ban that Libya received.

    Yugoslavia (later China and possibly Iran) was where the guns began, and Liberia and other West African countries where they ended up, but the dirty fingerprints were left by Libya, often with the tacit help of Burkino Faso.


  5. I'm always surprised by how brazen the advertising and admittance of receiving help is, as well as the subsequent denials are...

    On the sanctions and trafficking front, I think you're right. I can't think of another provider being sanctioned but the only country I can think to add in terms of destinations is Somalia.

  6. Ah, "Senator" Prince Johnson now--this is the thug that skinned former Liberian President Samuel Doe alive and made a video of it, which circulated widely in Africa. Caligula's horse, as a Roman Senator, had more gravitas then Prince Johnson.

  7. Lil, I thought you might find this interesting:



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