Jun 1, 2012 on
Charles Taylor would call me on regular basis in the early 1990s. It’s not that I was a friend of the former Liberian rebel leader and later president, whom the International Criminal Court recently convicted for his role in aiding the bloody Sierra Leone civil war. Rather Taylor needed me. I was a media gatekeeper who could give him access to an audience of millions of African listeners, including Liberians. These were the days before the advent of independent FM radio in Africa, and millions of Africans had no recourse but to tune to international broadcasters like the BBC and Voice of America as credible news alternatives to the government-monopolized radio stations.
For my part, as the director of VOA’s English-to-Africa broadcasts, I pursued newsmakers like Taylor to enrich the news offerings to our listeners. The advent of satellite telephone in the 1980s revolutionized our coverage of African civil conflicts. Rebel leaders were no longer isolated in faraway bush headquarters awaiting the occasional reporter, usually a Westerner, to arrive to get their stories out. With the advent of direct dial, we could talk directly to murky figures within seconds, and my rolodex quickly came to read like a Who’s Who of Cold War and post-Cold War warriors: UNITA leader and one time U.S. ally, Jonas Savimbi of Angola, Renamo leader, Afonso Dlakama, of Mozambique, Rwandese Political Front leader, Paul Kagame, Somali warlords and others.