-Aborts Interview with eNCA
As an African adage would go, “escaping from one’s own shadow is a difficult thing to do, and this recently manifested itself in the life of former President Ellen Johnson when she deliberately walked off the set of a South African online television interview after being pressed by the interviewer about her support of Charles Taylor.
Charles Taylor was Liberia’s President who was ousted by concerted efforts through war and later allowed asylum in Nigeria in 2003.
In the interview with the eNCA while attending programs marking 25 years of democracy in South Africa, former President Sirleaf flatly declined to answer questions about her direct link to Taylor who led the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), Liberia’s biggest warring faction, during the civil war. NPFL’s first shots were fired in 1989 and were sustained for 14 years.
When asked about her take on reasons for the civil war that devastated the entire fabric of the country, Sirleaf said the war was necessary because slain President Samuel K. Doe and his supporters took control of the country’s wealth and denied people the basic right to participate in the decision making of the country.
“The war was fought because the poor got poorer and there were no opportunities for people to compete for leadership through political means. The elites were those who benefited from the country’s wealth and that led first of all to the coup d’état in 1980 before the coming into power of the very people Taylor and others fought to get out of office through the war,” she said.
She maintained that after the coup d’état, Liberians voted Taylor; they thought only he was best suited to usher in democracy, stabilize the country and rebuild what had been destroyed. However, according to her, conditions did not change in the country and that eventually the country had to go through civil war.
Sirleaf said she regretted supporting Charles Taylor but declined to tell her interviewer why she regretted supporting her one time close associate.
“Oh yes, we have supported Charles Taylor and in fact he had a lot of support but I maintain that supporting him was a wrong decision,” she answered.
But when pressed for answers to questions of why she believed supporting Taylor was wrong, she said “because we think whatever was the motivation for him taking leadership was never achieved”.
Although her sole purpose of attending the interview was to discuss issues about democracy, mainly with South Africa, a country once divided along racial lines and celebrating a milestone of democratic governance, Sirleaf’s interviewer insisted on asking her more questions about her link to Charles Taylor when he was a rebel leader.
“You know one thing; we don’t want to politicize our society. I have enough of that in my life time. Charles Taylor is gone and we should let him be in peace. Our nation has peace, our nation wants to find new ways for unity and reconciliation so I don’t want to get involved with discussion on Taylor,” she warned the interviewer.
The interview took a sharp turn when he asked Madam Sirleaf if she owed Liberians an apology for supporting Taylor. She answered, “No.” Pressing further, he wanted to know why she did not think she needed to apologize to the Liberian people. This time, she answered sharply: “I said no.”
In a fit of frustration, Sirleaf abruptly ended the the interview, saying she felt “hijacked” by the interviewer since she did not go to his newsroom to be exclusively interviewed about her connection to former President Charles Taylor who is now serving a 50-year jail sentence in London.
Although the journalist apologized to her for repeatedly bombarding her with questions exclusively on her link to Taylor during the opening stage of the interview she refused to continue the interview, claiming that she felt hijacked and discomfited by his intrusive questioning and was therefore aborting the interview which she did rather abruptly.
“Have we come to this interview to talk the Liberian politics? You don’t define what I say. We are here to talk about democracy but, you want to talk about Liberian politics? Come to Liberia and I will give you full time to do it.
“In fact this interview has ended. You don’t hijack people this way. You called me here to talk about democracy but if you turn the interview into Liberian politics then I am out of here,” Sirleaf said as she disconnected the lapel microphone, emerged from her seat and walked away.
Apparently, her interviewer had sourced some of his questions from an interview he had earlier with former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, who had earlier agreed to an asylum request from Taylor as part of the Peace deal agreed in Accra in 2003.
In that interview, Obasanjo, who also attended the South African celebrations for democratic governance, said it was the United States government that pressured former President Sirleaf to request the extradition of Taylor.
“The U.S. broke their own assurance they gave to us all that for the sake of peace in Liberia all they wanted was for Taylor to leave. Nothing else was talked about concerning the extradition of the former president for trial on crimes of war or whatever,” he said.
Meanwhile, South Africa commemorated 25 years of democracy on Saturday, April 27, 2019. On that day 25 years ago in 1994, the country held its first non-racial democratic elections. The commemorative program brought together various groups and organizations from around the country. April 27 in South Africa is now celebrated each year as “Freedom Day” to mark beginning of the country’s long and painful road to democracy.