"... you had brought in experts from Africa, Europe, America and elsewhere to look at Liberia's education and health systems, agriculture, mining, the infrastructure, investment climate, et cetera in preparation for the day when you would eventually became President. At the time you controlled 99.9 per cent of the country. But five years into office, Monrovia, the capital city, is still without running water and electricity, in fact the city is decaying and the people are saying the President hasn't delivered. What is going on? What is there to show for past five years?
Taylor: Why haven't I delivered?
Taylor: I will tell you. I have not delivered, yes. And I've told the Liberian people that I have not delivered and I have explained to them. Any nation, in fact all nations coming out of civil crisis, whether we go as far back as World War II where Germany was rebuilt, Japan was rebuilt, you need assistance. Liberia started off on a very terrible note. In the first instance there was great opposition from some powerful countries to my being elected President. Following my election, there were predictions that the government would not last for six months, and then it would not last for 12 months, and then in fact on the famous CNN programme Diplomatic Licence, experts predicted that I would have gone. As a result, everything has been done to stop this government from moving. Every pressure that you can think of, through World Bank programmes, through IMF programmes, have been applied. So it is impossible to deliver.
Next month, (July 2002) will be four years since we have been engulfed in a renewed state of crisis, where terrorists continue to attack us from neighbouring countries, fully financed and equipped by powerful states. I'm using 'powerful states' here because I don't want to get into calling names, because each time you present them face-to-face with the facts they punish you even the more. So little countries are frightened, you are frightened to talk about their wrongs.
Baffour: That's not right.
Taylor: It's not. But that's the reality of the world now. When powerful countries begin to plan propaganda, lies and disinformation about you, every other little country begins to scramble for cover because they are afraid they would become a target, and so you are left out there hard and dry to suffer. It is very terrible. Even against the point where the United Nations, that you hope you could go to for mediation and solace, becomes the whipping rod. For example, this rebel war has led us not to deliver to our people, yet we have been punished. In the first instance there was an arms embargo placed upon us, sanctions placed upon us, our officials have been barred from travelling to even present our case. The country has a national budget of less than $90 million US. How do you deliver? There has been a conspiracy out there to destroy this country and our people, and we don't know why.
So yes, we have not delivered. We have told our people that we are capable of delivering and we want to deliver, but our hands our tied, our feet are tied, and the propaganda machinery of these powerful nations are just too overwhelming for us.
Baffour: From what you've said, do elections matter? Right from 1992, the international community wanted Liberia to held elections, and so elections were held here in 1997. My question is: Why hold election and ask the people to vote in leaders of their choice, if some rebels just come in from Guinea and impose their will on the people and country. And the same international community that wanted the elections in the first place, does not even condemn the rebel attacks but rather punishes, as you say, the legitimate government that came out of the elections.
Taylor: I will tell you. This baffles anyone and everyone, but that's not even the strongest question. Even if that were to happen, I think the greatest travesty of justice is the fact that we are told by the same international community: 'We are aware that terrorists are attacking you, we are aware that thousands of people have been killed, we are aware that more than a million of your people are displaced, but we don't like you and so you may not defend yourself and so we go to the UN security counsel and we impose an arms embargo, and we deny you the right to self-defence even under Article 51 of the UN charter.'
And who is there to talk about? No one. Because the most powerful countries are the ones that are perpetrated the injustice against Liberia. That's what I call a round-about way of overthrowing governments. 'First we go in, we make you a demon, we cut off all resources, we isolate you and your people are to come on to the streets, there is anarchy and overthrow you. If that doesn't happen, we will continue to kill the people of Liberia through a proxy rebel war until the people see it our way.' Thank God the Liberian people have not fallen for us.
So are elections necessary? That was your question. Yes, elections are necessary because in the final analysis the strength that I get or any other nation gets is when your people can say, 'We did it, we voted for this man or woman and we stand by it.' There is no way for anyone to come from the outside and say, 'Well, we are not sure that you are responsible for electing this man.'
Baffour: Regarding this rebel war, some people say: 'Yes, it serves him right, he started it all, he is being paid in his own coin.' What do you say?
Taylor: Well, where am not sure that we can fuss about that. I did start a war, but it was a different kind of war. I started an uprising here to liberate the Liberian people from the Samuel Doe regime that was involved in many atrocities. That's the difference. The rebels now coming in from Guinea have no political agenda. They have come in, they have raped women, they have burned down towns and villages, they have pillaged the Lofa County, they have herded people into buildings and burned them alive. These are terrorists.
But if one argues that well, 'He is getting some of his own medicine', I say Doe had a level playing field. The Doe government did not have an arms embargo placed upon it. It did not have powerful nations supporting an armed incursion against it. Here, this government, my government, has powerful nations working against it. We have proof of weapons seized from those countries. We have illegal combatants in jail right now who testified to their training, where they are coming from, and then you put an arms embargo on us. There is not a level playing field. If you want me to taste some of my own medicine, create a level playing field. Let my government be given, under Article 51 of the United Nations charter, the right to self-defence. Lift the arms embargo and this war will be over.
Baffour: In short you are saying Doe has made peaceful change impossible in Liberia, and you have not?
Taylor: Of course. Of course. We've told the rebels, 'Look, there is a democratic process here. Elections are scheduled for next year. Lay down your arms, come to the ballot box, let's pursue the electoral process.' That's the way to go. We have created all avenues here for peaceful discussions. There are no political prisoners in any jail in this country. We have freedom of speech. We have freedom of the press. There is a clear environment for discussion, for reconciliation, and there is a reconciliation conference coming up in July. We hope they would come to that conference. Let's see if we can talk about it. But not coming to the ballot box is not the right way to go.
Baffour: If you were asked to sum up the rebels' grievances, what would you say?
Taylor: To be frank, I don't even know what the grievance is. Some of the people supporting them - Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, comes backwards and forwards here. Alhaji Kromah has not come. He was in the last election and lost immeasurably. Some of the other people, I don't know what the grievances are. We don't have political prisoners here. We have freedom of speech. There are 17 political parties in this country. No political leader is under arrest. I hope I knew their grievances. I don't.
Baffour: There is something that fair-minded people in this country and abroad do not understand. You and your government received United Nations punitive sanctions for, according to the United Nations, supporting the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Guinea supports the LURD rebels who are attacking you right now, and Guinea gets no sanctions, not even a slap on the wrist.
Taylor: (Laughs). Nothing, there is nothing.
Taylor: Because powerful countries are involved. My minister of information has just told me that when your master is your enemy, you are doomed. That's why I am saying the world is more dangerous now than during the Cold War. It is more dangerous because if you look at the whole issue of equilibrium, that balance does not exist in the global community right now."