Author Tags: Civil Rights, Politics

Following five years of practice in civil litigation specializing in Commercial Litigation and Intellectual Property Law, Dr. Mgbeoji enrolled at the graduate programme of Dalhousie University where he graduated, summa cum laude, with an LL.M in 1999. A recipient of the Governor General's Gold Medal for the highest academic standing at the graduate level in Dalhousie University, Dr. Mgbeoji undertook his doctoral research in Patent Law, graduating, summa cum laude, in 2001. Throughout his academic career, Dr. Mgbeoji has won numerous academic awards, scholarships and fellowships including the Killam Scholarship and the Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft Award. Prior to joining Osgoode Hall Law School in July 2003, Dr. Mgbeoji taught Intellectual Property, Torts, and Advanced Seminar in Patents at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Dr. Mgbeoji's teaching and research interests are in Patent Law, Trademarks, Copyrights, Trade Secrets, International Law on the Use of Force, International Environmental Law, Biotechnology and Law, Comparative Intellectual Property Law, Indigenous Peoples, and Anthropology. Dr. Mgbeoji has authored one book, Collective Insecurity: The Liberian Crisis, Unilateralism, & Global Order (UBC Press, 2003) and has co-authored another book, Environmental Law in Developing Countries: Selected Issues. His third book on Patents and Indigenous Peoples will be published in 2004. He is in addition, a consultant to the Environmental Law Center of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Dr. Mgbeoji is currently working on a treatise on Canadian Patent Law. EDUCATION: LL.B (Hons) Nig., B.L. (Lagos), LL.M (summa cum laude) (Dalhousie), J.S.D. (summa cum laude) (Dalhousie).

[BCBW 2003]

Collective Insecurity: The Liberian Crisis, Unilateralism and Global Order

When American news networks provided their coverage of the horrors in Liberia, minimal historical background was given. In Collective Insecurity: The Liberian Crisis, Unilateralism and Global Order (UBC Press $80), Ikechi Mgbeoji provides that historical background and examines how stability in the post-9/ll era can only be achieved if the United Nations Security Council is reformed and ‘legitimate governance’ is entrenched in African states.

Liberia, one of Africa’s oldest countries, is his case in point. In 1819, the American Congress accorded $100,000 to send freed slaves back to Africa. After two disastrous voyages, the first black American settlement was established on a 60-mile stretch of land south of Sierra Leone. Its capital Monrovia is named for American president James Monroe, a member of the original sponsoring organization called the American Colonization Society. Monroe boasted Monrovia would be a “little America destined to shine gem-like in the darkness of vast Africa.” Unfortunately his Society had purchased land from six Bassa chieftains that was disease-ridden, lacking potable water and deluged by 200 inches of rain for six months of every year. Many freemen died of malaria. The Society blithely kept sending more settlers.

As emigrants from the American south, the Americo-Liberians soon established a stratified society similar to the one they had left. That is, they disenfranchised the indigenous peoples, restricting the movements of aboriginals. Relatively light-skinned arrivals from Virginia and Maryland, bolstered by an influx from the West Indies in the mid-1800s, were the only citizens of Liberia. They formed the True Whig Party that retained power for more than a century.

Some progress towards egalitarianism was made by President William Tubman, elected in 1944. Neither the United States or Great Britain would recognize the sovereignty of the freed blacks and their territory, so Africa’s first independent republic, the country of Liberia, was born in 1947 with a constitution prepared by a Harvard professor. Tubman improved health, housing and education.

William Tubman’s replacement in 1971, William Tolbert, could not restrain the in-bred corruption of his True Whig regime. In April of 1979, students and the employed finally rioted in response to a 50% increase in the price of rice. The one-party oligarchy was finally toppled after 140 years by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe and 16 men who jumped the fence at the Executive Mansion and disembowelled Tolbert in his bedroom in 1980.

Members of the international press were invited to witness the slaughter of 13 cabinet ministers, wearing only their underwear, lashed to telephone polls, executed by drunken rebel soldiers. Their leader, Doe, aged 28, was the son of an illiterate army private from the remote Krahn tribe. Ten years and 36 coup attempts later, Doe’s vice-president declared, “God chooses the leader, so God is the only one who can tell the leader when his time was up.”

God, apparently, had been whispering in the ear of a poor Americo-Liberian named Charles Taylor. Educated in the United States, he did not espouse any political doctrine. “I’m not interested in ideology,” he said in 1979, “I just want money and I want to be on top.” By 1990, Taylor’s vicious and undisciplined rebels had taken charge of Monrovia’s second-largest city, Buchanan, and all foreigners, including 150 Peace Corps volunteers, were urged by their own embassies and consulates to leave Monrovia. Doe’s reprisals were as feared as Taylor’s incursions.

Taylor’s rag-tag forces were bloodthirsty beyond imagination. Many dressed in bizarre costumes, killing cowering and innocent Liberians for sport. One soldier taunted defenceless civilians under his supervision. “Please let me kill you, it’s been minutes since I killed anyone, please…” Whereupon he dragged someone into the bush and killed him. This mercenary returned. “I want the number twenty. I like the number twenty.” He counted down a line of refugees and executed the 20th one on the spot.”

The civil war was interrupted by a bizarre press conference. “Let someone else be harassed,” said President Doe, in frustration. “I’m a human being, too. I’m supposed to relax. I have to think about my children. I want to do a Ph.D. I am, still, the youngest president in the world.” Lunacy and violence prevailed. The United States sent 2,500 Marines on six warships to ensure all remaining 2,000 Americans could be evacuated, plus all diplomats and Liberian children born in the U.S.

Captured by the swaggering and often drunken ‘Field Marshall Prince Yeduo Johnson,’ President Samuel Doe was bound and tortured on videotape on September 9, 1990, with bullet wounds in his legs and some severed fingers. He bled to death.

The American naval forces left Liberia in the hands of West African peacekeeping troops. The splinter group of rebels led by Prince Johnson disbanded and he fled the country. Charles Taylor controlled about 80% of the country, but not Monrovia. About one-third of Liberia’s two-and-a-half million people were reduced to refugee status.

Liberia, created by the United States, could have been pacified by the U.S. naval forces, but Washington decided Liberia was a game that wasn’t worth the candle. Thirteen years later, Charles Taylor was in Monrovia, bloodshed and cruelty were rampant, and President George Bush, during a whirlwind tour of some carefully selected African states, suggested America might have to intervene. It didn’t.

“Liberia was the epitome of governmental dysfunction, political chicanery and the expediencey of international politics,” writes Mgbeoji, a Nigerian-born law professor. Pulling few punches, Mgbeoji brilliantly dissects all the reasons why Africans boxed into artificial states have not yet cohered into stable countries, dating from the colonial delineation of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. He points out that of the 53 African states in modern times, only ten have similarities to their precolonial identities. “Notorious UN indifference or halfheated responses to armed conflicts” has encouraged powerful neighbouring states to meddle. It all “foreshadows a return to the primitive age of rule by might.” 0-7748-1036-X

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2003]