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(en) Workers Solidarity #77 Liberia: The myth of humanitarian intervention

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 22 Sep 2003 11:05:55 +0200 (CEST)

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Every so often the newspapers fill with stories of a crisis in some
third world country. We see pictures on our screens of gunmen,
starvation and suffering; inevitably we hear calls for humanitarian
intervention. Over the summer, we were told of a crisis in Liberia.
A brutal civil war, a corrupt leader, child soldiers, starving
civilians: it seemed that the whole world was crying out for
intervention by the US or UN.
The cries did not fall on deaf ears. 3 US warships carrying 2,300
marines anchored off the coast and the UN authorised a
peacekeeping force to intervene to stabilise the country and
enforce a ceasefire. On August 11, Liberia's president Charles
Taylor stepped down, under pressure from the US. A peace deal
was signed and West African peacekeeping troops arrived.
Liberia has since disappeared from our TV screens. It would
appear that the crisis is over and the foreign intervention has

At least that is what you would think if you only knew about
Liberia from newspapers and television. Unfortunately, the reality
of the situation is entirely different. Unbeknownst to most of
those who were appealing to the US to intervene, the US
government has been actively intervening in Liberia for a long time
and were directly responsible for the most recent humanitarian

Liberia, founded by freed slaves from the US in the 19th century,
has always been a client state of the US. They have intervened
covertly to replace Liberian government's that they didn't like on a
number of occasions [1]. President Taylor, whom they initially
supported, incurred their displeasure in the late 1990's when he
backed rebel groups in neighbouring Guinea and Sierra Leone, in a
bid to seize some of the extensive diamond deposits of these
neighbouring countries. The US then began a long campaign to
oust Taylor.

They funnelled money through their regional ally Guinea, to create
a proxy army, the LURD, which invaded Liberia. The LURD
campaign was based on terror, reminiscent of previous US proxy
armies in Africa and Latin America. Human rights reports have
documented how the LURD press-ganged children into their army,
kept their troops high on drugs, shelled civilian areas, massacred
villagers and requisitioned their food, thereby ensuring a mass
exodus into the capital.

The US aggression against Liberia was hardly much of a secret
for those who cared to look. Ed Royce, the chairman of the US
house sub-committee on Africa, warned Taylor as far back as
1999 that "[Taylor] should be made to realize that the US has the
ability and the will to undermine his rule." The Liberian
government themselves referred to "a policy of 'regime change' in
the form of a proxy war."[2] After deliberately creating the
humanitarian crisis, the US cynically used it to justify the final
intervention to replace Taylor. The Liberian crisis was suddenly
bathed in the full glare of the global media spotlight. We heard
liberal media commentators appealing to the US to intervene on
humanitarian grounds. This media focus allowed the US to
complete the Liberian regime change, as the UN authorised an
intervention force and Taylor was forced into exile. The world's
media went home as soon as the US had achieved their objective,
regardless of the fact that the crisis hadn't been solved at all. A
week after the 'peace deal' up to a thousand villagers were
massacred by rebel troops in Nimba county [3].

The story is horrific, but sadly typical. This is what intervention
and peacekeeping always means. Peacekeepers can't be deployed
against the wishes of the permanent members of the UN security
council, who also happen to be the big imperialist powers. In
general, they are only employed to maintain the status quo once it
has reached a balance favourable to these big powers.
Humanitarian catastrophes are a favourite ploy, not only to justify
intervention to the world, but to depose an unwanted ruler without
actually having to fight against him and to decimate the society to
such a point that not only will there be no resistance, but they will
be welcomed with open arms.

When such intervention is being talked about in the media, you
have to ask, "why this? why now?" The answer is almost always
because it is in the interests of one of the big powers to intervene,
and they want to enlist the liberal humanitarians as cheerleaders
for their invasion. Western media is pervaded by a deep-seated
racism which means that they don't even bother to try to
investigate the background of conflicts in Africa, they just adopt
an implicit assumption that this is the type of things that Africans
always do. At the same time as the Liberia crisis was in the
headlines, the world's media had been steadfastly ignoring the
much bigger, bloodier and strategically important war in
Congo-Zaire, which has caused an estimated 3-5 million deaths in
the last 5 years - so much for humanitarianism.

We live in a world where there is no international force that is
capable of intervening to prevent humanitarian crises. Western
governments are continually intervening in the third world, but
power and greed are their motivations - humanitarianism is simply
not a factor. The most important thing that ordinary people in the
West can do to help Africa is to prevent our governments from
intervening in any way; their interventions are always selfish.

If we think of Africa as a drowning woman, we can best help her
by making our governments take their foot off her head.

Chekov Feeney

1.eg Tubman 1971, Tolbert 1980

See also Anarchism and the fight against Imperialism

This page is from the print version of the
Irish Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'.

Print out the PDF file of this issue

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