Ghana and Charles Taylor
My first travel with Pa Kabbah was to Ghana. The High Commissioner to Ghana H.E Allie Bangura is in the true sense of the word my brother from another mother. Because of him I had been visiting Ghana regularly, about four five times every year.
Allie Bangura and Kabral
KabralBlay-Amihere had been invited as guest of SLAJ at our Annual General Meeting at Lagoonda under the Presidency of Ibrahim El-Tayyib Bah. By then he was the President of the West African Journalists Association (WAJA) So when Kabral came back as Ghana’s High Commissioner to Sierra Leone it was for me the cementing of a truly fraternal relationship.
These two men had been planning for President Kabbah to pay a visit to Ghana to cement the relationship between the two countries. I do not know what happened but perhaps between the two men and more Kabral, I was invited to join the delegation to visit Ghana. I love Ghana so I gladly jumped at the invitation. It was while we were leaving that I got to understand that there was a mini summit of some sort and Pa Kabbah will meet Charles Taylor for some sort of peace talks, along with some moral guarantors. I was excited as a journalist that I would have an exclusive story to send for my newspaper.
Ghana’s Presidential jet
We travelled onboard a Ghanaian Presidential jet. It was an old one, with the sitting room settings in front and a compartment in the back where we the extras (security and journalists) sat. While airborne Ambassador Allie Bangura came to the back and the State house cameraman and reporter and me then moved to see the other side of the aircraft. The entire walls were covered with white exquisitely carved wood depicting Ghanaian scenes on the entire surface such that the whole interior of the aircraft was transformed to look like the sitting room in a Ghanaian house. The seats were not the normal plane seats but settees which had belts, and they were set around a table in a comfortable houselike setting. Ofcourse Pa Kabbah watched us looking around as he continued his conversation with Kabral, the now Late Hon. S.B. Marah and Ambassador Foyah who was then our representative in Liberia. After the brief look we went to our own compartment at the back where the Ghanaian airforce steward on the plane served us some biscuits and soft drinks.
We landed and we were driven to the hotel … where Pa Kabbah stayed and then taken to our own lodging. We woke up early and got to the hotel and left for The State House where President Kabbah was to meet and greet President Kuffour and then the plan was we were to then go the Conference center where the deliberations would take place.
Taylor’s Special Court Indictment
We entered President Kuffours office where he briefly welcomed President Kabbah and we took pictures but no recording, and then went outside to wait. We waited and saw Thabo Mbeki arrive;Obasanjo and then Charles Taylor dressed in a white Mao suit complete with matching white shoes and swinging a walking stick.
The wait became a bit long and when I saw Kabral come out with a frown on his face I knew something was wrong. But it was almost midday now and we were anxious to know what was it. It was Ambassador Foyah who broke the news to us that the Special Court had indicted Charles Taylor and the Prosecutor had held a press conference in Freetown calling on the Ghanaian government to arrest Taylor. This was a shocker … would the Ghanaian government arrest a sitting President of another West African country? … for us journalists the adrenaline was flowing, something big was definitely about to happen … this is history I said to myself and I am going to witness it first hand.
We were outside the doors of President Kuffour’s office in the State House and waiting. Kabral walked out of the room and I ran after him. Then I got to understand that the Special Court had sent the warrant to the Ghanaian High Commission but not in the proper way and at first it was refused by a very witty and clever deputy. Finally it was faxed to Ghana and the lawyers got to work. Fortunately for Charles Taylor, President Kuffour was a lawyer, his foreign minister then Nana AkuffoAddo was a lawyer and President kabbh too was a lawyer. The trouble was that this had never before happened and if it did happen what signal will it be sending to other Heads of State? Will they ever trust Ghana again? These were troubling questions.
Then we were told the Heads of States had made a decision and we rushed to the conference centre. We waited for the Heads of state and they came in and continued to confer in the small room at the conference centre before they trouped in one by one. South Africa and Nigeria were considered the big boys so they spoke. Thabo Mbeki spoke on behalf of Africa and Obasanjo on behalf of ECOWAS and he gave us the inkling that Charles Taylor will tell us what was the decision.
Charles Taylor walked over to the dais and you will think the man is under no pressure as he delivered a powerful speech. In short he said the decision had been taken and for the good of Liberia he had decided to step down from the Presidency and ended by his now famous line … “God willing I will be back.” He repeated this line again in Liberia when he was leaving for Nigeria.
After his speech the crowd dispersed and I chased the Taylor entourage. They were now bloody and the guns had come out. They went straight to the airport and the AK47s were now in full view, being carried by men with a determined look on their faces that if anybody tries to stop us here there will be bloodshed. The sped through the streets and at the airport spread out wide as Taylor was driven to the step of the flight, where he got down and what appeared to be an unhurried stride climbed up the stairs and his aides rushed in. The flight which was one of the old Ghana Presidential fleet took off.
That evening the debate was all around Ghana, but I had to wait until the next day to get the juicy part.
All the other Heads of State had left but we continued on a two day official visit, which saw President Kabbah visiting the Ministry of Defence, the Regimanuel estate and a few other places. Then it was rest for him and in the evening I had the priviledge to enter his room for a brief chat. And trust the journalist in me I asked the question what happened in that room whilst we were outside waiting?
President Kabbah explained that they were talking when the Foreign Minister came in and informed them about the special court indictment. He said Taylor completely broke down and almost went round to hold their feet to beg them to do something for him. He said Taylor was virtually trembling and he was pleading with them saying “my brother do something for me please I beg.”
He said he was looking at the man and saying to himself is this the same man who when holding a gun appears so strong and brave? He said he came to the conclusion that Taylor was a big coward. Kabbah said he offered the solution that they disregard the indictment and allow Taylor to leave. He said Taylor came round to thank him over and over again, and that was when he now sat down to eat.He said Taylor was very anxious to leave before they changed their mind. It was Obasanjo who however told him he had to step down and offered him temporary sanctuary.
That was when I actually got close to President Kabbah. After the official part he had a restful period at the presidential retreat, built by Nkrumah at the top of the hill over looking the Akosombo dam. In the morning we wnt to see him and he said the place was very peaceful and he had been working on his speech. He said he was ensuring that a similar retreat was built at Bumbuna. At dinner that evening I saw the humorous side of Kabbah. He liked to crack jokes and my when the old man laughed it was a rich laugh. It sounded like a real rich man laughing with a wonderful baritone voice. He tried to be happy and relaxed when he had the opportunity.
Wednesday March 26, 2014