Monday, March 27, 2006

Where's Chuck?

There was much rejoicing about a week and a half ago when Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf asked Nigeria to extradite her dictatorial predecessor Charles Taylor, but after a decade of following African affairs, I've learned to be cautious in such cases. Taylor has been indicted for war crimes by the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, accused of having armed and funded the hideous Revolutionary United Front rebel group.

Taylor has been in exile in Nigeria after an internationally-brokered deal that led to his departure from power. Nigeria's president Olesegun Obasanjo had always promised to extradite Taylor if a request were made by a democratically-elected Liberian government.

The democratically-elected Pres. Johnson Sirleaf has made that request yet mysteriously, Taylor remains in Nigeria. Why has he not been arrested and handed over to Liberian authorities, as required under the provisions of the international arrest warrant? Or at least why is he not under arrest under Liberian officials can come and collect him? He is within a guarded area in the city of Calabar but Calabar is on a peninsula and an escape by sea is hardly inconceivable. Charles Taylor is a wily, devious individual. He's made a lot of ill-gotten money for a lot of people, even after his removal from power. Those people are surely not keen to see him behind bars.

Pres. Obasanjo is under serious international pressure for attempts to make him president-for-life, for the country's massive corruption problem which he's failed to address and for the ecological disaster and resulting instability in the country's oil-producing Niger Delta region. His government has even attempted to ban anyone from promoting gay rights. He risks going the way of Kwame N'Krumah, a leader who became a continental demigod as his own country fell to pieces. If he lets Taylor escape the country, then even his increasingly tarnished international reputation will collapse.

Update: Looks like my skepticism was justified

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