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October 2003 • Vol 3, No. 9 •

The Liberian Limits of Empire

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

With the growing collapse of the so-called Operation Renewed (or is it Restored?) Freedom in Iraq, the Administration seems determined to not send any real troops into the troubled rebel-torn state of Liberia.

It has sacrificed seven (7!) as part of America’s commitment to restoring peace in the West African nation. Liberia has a long history, which connects intimately with the United States.

Those who formed the state were expatriated Blacks who were returned to Africa with the support of the American Colonization Society. What these Westernized Black men brought to West Africans was—for want of a better word—colonization and exploitation of the indigenous people by the Americo-Liberian minority. Truth be told, the Americos actually placed other West Africans in bondage, on the nearby island of Fernando Po, to tap rubber trees for the mighty American multinational, Firestone. (For decades, Liberia was known as “the Firestone Republic.”) Although begun in 1822 as a refuge for Black freedom, it did not mean freedom for many indigenous Liberians.

Here’s the point: if Liberia was founded because Blacks couldn’t be treated fairly in the U.S. nearly 200 years ago, and these so-called freedmen didn’t treat Africans fairly, what do you think U.S. whites will do?

A West African remarked to me recently that the Americans would never send real troops into Liberia. I wondered why this person was so certain. “Two words,” was the response. Which two words? “Somalia,” was the first, “Blacks,” the next.

I thought about it, and nodded my head in agreement.

The Somali debacle, of African militias firing automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. troops is the stuff of modern American nightmares. And the other reality, that Liberia is a Black nation, means that America will always devalue Black life; they do it at home, why not abroad?

I couldn’t argue with that logic.

If we remember when the U.S. was trying to sell the Iraq adventure, there were lines of conservative pundits and talking heads claiming, “The Iraqis will welcome us with flowers!” “They will dance in the streets in joy when the U.S. rolls in!” they exclaimed. It doesn’t look like much celebrating these days.

Perhaps the guerilla war is getting in the way of the wild celebrations. Uh-huh. They’re dancing, alright, they dance every time they see an American Humvee get bombed or grenaded.

It looks like Operation Iraqi Folly now, doesn’t it? Several months into the Iraq debacle, now a breath of caution begins to enter the minds of the absolute ideologues who run U.S. foreign policy. They think of Black rebels opposing the depredations of U.S. military, and quake at the possibility of it devouring time on the night’s newscasts. And they send 7 armed U.S. soldiers into a city of nearly 1 million people.

That’ll show ’em.

Black politicians are pushing for greater U.S. military involvement in Monrovia, but the Bush Administration is reticent.

Several years ago, when Nigerian troops entered Liberia, there was considerable Nigerian opposition to their getting involved. At the time, Liberians welcomed them. Before long, however, Liberian rebels began chipping at Nigerian peacekeepers.

Nigerians remember those encounters, and are concerned that it not happen again. Similarly, American political leaders remember Somalia, and don’t want to see that disaster replicated.

The solution? Do as little as possible. Pay others to take the risk. Support it with speeches, and some money. But keep the bodies to a minimum. Call them peace-keepers, but keep them as far away as possible from the fighting.

And so, Liberia continues to tumble into turmoil. Warlords and presidents may be called war criminals, but what of the international diamond and gold-traders that pays them with weaponry?

Liberia does have one saving grace; it seems to mark the limits of Empire.





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