Liberia, spin doctors and a "youngdemocracy"

By TART TEH
Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston


I won't be surprised if this is the beginning of aneditorial-by-consignment campaign - write an editorial or twodefending the indefensible in your own
name and get a bag of rice or two. It happened before. When Monroviawas littered with dead bodies from hunger and disease at the heightof Taylor's drive for power, the interim government of President AmosSawyer paid residents one bag of rice for every two corpses buried.

The Liberian National News Agency (LINA), the supposed bastion ofeditorial talents for the country, has issued scant bylines for thenumerous articles it has cranked up since the government of PresidentCharles Taylor closed down the two leading independent radio stationsin the country.

Without fielding its own editorial talents, LINA has found a JamesWesseh to mouth the latest euphemism for the unfolding disaster towhich fewer and fewer people are willing to bear witness, let alonebe a part of. So if you thought Liberia was the oldest democraticrepublic in Africa, think again. We are now ''a young democracy.'' Itmakes you wonder how young Liberia's democracy really is. I wouldguess that we are going on three years - our anchor year being 1997,the year of the mudslide the brought President Charles Taylor topower. But some of the euphemisms are just slightly older thanLiberia's democracy. ''Greater Liberia'' began in the early 1990s inwhat was once known as the Hinterland (spelled with a capital H inLiberia's official literature).

That was because the Pioneers' surrogate, then rebel leaderCharles Taylor, had to reside in the Hinterland for as long as itwould take for him to drive from office the only African Liberian tobe elected president of his own country, Samuel Doe. And so rebelleader Charles Taylor lived not in the Hinterland but in ''GreaterLiberia.'' Because Taylor had to do a lot of it, killing was renamed''erasure,'' at least according to Mr. Thomas Woewiyu, during one ofthe speeches marking one of his defections from the Taylor camp. Ofcourse he's back with President Taylor. Mr. Woewiyu's conviction wasa shifting deal. It usually ended up where the easy money was. Hence,in the absence of conviction, reward is sufficient as inducement forpitching for the Taylor team.

Milton Teahjay is a well-paid spokesman for the Taylor government.But lately if he writes at all, he does so under the label LINA. Hegoes to conferences abroad, but has lately skipped the pressinterviews that were once a staple of his high-profile defense of theTaylor government way ahead of the Minister of Information proper,Mr. Joe Mulbah. Now perhaps prudence has set in, so Mr. Teahjayassumed what must now be his rightful place in the wait-and-seecorner. I guess the logic is ''Why get your hands dirty when you havea James Wesseh seeking to make a name for himself?''

I won't be surprised if this is the beginning of aneditorial-by-consignment campaign - write an editorial or twodefending the indefensible in your own name and get a bag of rice ortwo. It happened before. When Monrovia was littered with dead bodiesfrom hunger and disease at the height of Taylor's drive for power,the interim government of President Amos Sawyer paid residents onebag of rice for every two corpses buried.

Wesseh, however, is not a push over. He was probably shown thissuitable target, and so he wrote: ''In all sincerity, the PUL[Press Union of Liberia] leadership has done disservice tothe country by outrightly condemning the action of government in theabsence of investigation. Now that the ownership of Star Radio hasbeen clarified, what is the PUL role on this matter? In a youngdemocracy like ours, the PUL must learn to divest itself of partisanpostures which are still glaring both in actions and utterances ofits officials.'' And since everybody but the press knows its role inLiberia, Wesseh leaves with this lecture: ''The press, the worldover, is a professional institution that engages in investigative,analytical and balanced reporting of events and not rumours andemotions.''

There is hope for rehabilitating the editorial prostitutes. But wecan reduce the likelihood of this shameful and coerced thoughtpeddling by removing the cause of it. President Charles Taylor isprepared for the long haul. But we don't have a prayer for recoveryas long as Taylor is a part of that process. There is no room for anycompromise with President Taylor; there is no room in Liberia forboth him and us.
•Teh is the Washington D.C-based columnist of USAfrica TheNewspaper. 3/26/00