on 5 February 2012
This book is neither a biography of Charles Taylor, nor a history of Liberia and its civil war. Rather, it is exactly what the title suggests - a study of the both Taylor and Liberia and how each affected and continues to affect the other. The book is impressive in its meticulous portrayal of multiple viewpoints. We rarely, if ever, see only one side of the story. This inclusion of multiple viewpoints enables us as readers to weigh the evidence for ourselves and contributes significantly to the thought-provoking nature of the book.
In terms of the evidence probided, the author gives us not only a multitude of statistics, but also numerous, well-selected quotes from a variety of relevant people, including those close to Taylor. This kind of evidence brings the events to life for us as readers and gives us insight into the context in which these horrendous events took place.
Waugh has succeeded in creating a highly readable account. For the most part, especially during the places where the story is told chronologically, the narrative flows in a way which makes you not want to stop reading. On occasion, however there are some disjointed transitions. These generally occur in places where Waugh has digressed to give further detail on topics such as the general conditions prevailing in Taylor's Greater Liberia. It can be difficult in these places to keep hold of where each of the pieces fit within the complex story being told. Overall, however, these are few, and do not detract from a generally fluid style. I highly recommend this book to all who want to undestand this period of history and the personalities who made it.
on 10 February 2012
Founded by freed American slaves, Liberia has been for a long time a lonely exception in the geopolitical African situation, an outpost of western capitalism in Africa. Because of its hard-currency economy, employment opportunities and stable government, people from around the region were drawn to it. Not only did the country fare well by regional standards; in a century when Africans and descendents of Africans struggle for basic rights, the self-governing black settlers of Liberia had it all. However, all that glitters is not gold. For a long time the Americo-Liberians were the only power holders in Liberia, stressing the difference between settlers and natives, between the rich coastal cities and the poor internal countryside. When finally in the 80s a native with indigenous roots, Samuel Doe, became head of state, he wasn't able to unify the country. In fact, he stressed this time another type of difference, that of his minority group and of all the other tribes. On top of that, he depleted the economical prosperity of the country. This is the scenario in which Charles Taylor, the main "character" of this essay, moves his first political steps. Colin Waugh follows his personal and political life from the beginning to the very recent present, this book being published in 2011. Through one of Liberia's and Africa's most controversial figures, he traces all the main moments in Liberia's history, and some of Sierra Leone's too, considering the close links between these two countries.
This is not a novel, of course, but it's a thorougly accessible essay. You don't need to be an expert about African history and issues to be able to enjoy it. I personally found a little bit too detailed the part referring to Taylor's war in the 90s, but this could be a merit for some other reader. To sum it up: well written and deeply informing.
on 28 June 2012
I very much enjoyed reading this book as I know little about West Africa and wanted to expand my knowledge. I found most of the book enthralling and eye opening in terms of Liberian history and internal politics (by which I mean oppression, patronism and kleptocracy). The book does really read as a biography of Charles Taylor set to the context of Liberian politics but as a reader you develop a disturbing sympathy for the protagonist. Maybe I mis-interpreted the writing but I detected a certain admiration for Taylor's character (which you should realise is described alongside portrayals of equally vicious although less famous political players). The part of the 'Taylor story' I was most interested in was his period as president and his involvement in Sierra Leone, but this part seemed to be dealt with summarily with little hard information on his activities.
What was also eye opening was the extent to which countries instigate or support insurgencies in their neighbours' territory, in some cases for quite personal reasons. There is also some interesting information regarding Sirleaf's (the current President and doyenne of the donor community) relationship with Taylor and her involvement in the civil war.