30 minute version

Eight o'clock at night. Monrovia, Liberia. The streets are deserted. Reports have been heard earlier in the day of two murders of Mandingo tradesmen of the west of the city. The government has denounced dissident conspirators known to be plotting invasion of the country in a five-star bar in Freetown. Sorious Samura awkwardly checks his bow tie in the bathroom mirror of his decrepit hotel bedroom. He is about to meet Africa's first Mafia head of state, a fugitive from American justice, known for his Rolls Royces, endless dating of beauty queens and $100 million annual earnings from the illicit trade in diamonds and marijuana -- Dr. Charles Taylor, President of Liberia -- a man who also happens to have won a thumping majority in national elections in 1997. A presidential limo scoops Sorious up from outside his hotel.

When Charles Taylor stood for election in 1997, it was under the banner of "Him who spoil it, let him save it." Taylor certainly spoiled Liberia -- in pursuit of power, his men were responsible for the death of some ten thousand ordinary Liberians and indiscriminate looting. Taylor acquired diamond fields and other trade concessions that are estimated to earn him upwards of $100 million  a year.

At the executive mansion, the fruit of those spoils are clear for all to see. Sorious is greeted by "Chuckie" Taylor, the president's son and commander of the 1st Battalion Presidential Guard. The two pass alongside the finest Serves porcelain, Louis XV furniture, portraits of Taylor as a Nimba warrior. But these corridors know more than just gilt. They know horror. It was here that the stomach of former President Tolbert was slit wide open. Samuel Doe shot twenty military officers in the courtyard. And last week, Taylor, true to the form of the Liberian warlords who came before him, signed the death warrant of fourteen senior military men. The president greets Sorious as an old lost African brother. Does he look like a barbarian? A man capable of cannibalism? Not in the slightest. Everything about Taylor is utterly...charming.

Sorious has come to Liberia to understand the forces that wrenched the heart from Liberia. 50,000 Liberians -- some humanitarian agencies say 200,000 -- died during the civil war between 1989 and 1997. Mutilation, murder, cannibalism: the causes of death knew no bounds. Similar blood has now spilt in Sierra Leone, to the west of Liberia, Sorious' home country. To what extend is Taylor now trying to break the cycle of violence in his homeland? Can Liberia -- can Africa -- be exorcised of its demons?

Sorious takes us back 10 years, a time when savage violence swamped Monrovia. Through archive available to INSIGHT NEWS TELEVISION he will tell us the horrific story of the demise of a former president of Liberia, Samuel K. Doe in 1990. He was publicly tortured to death by factional leader Roosevelt Johnson. He dismembered body was then paraded through the streets of Monrovia. In the eight year civil war that followed, private armies in Liberia butchered one another. Invading the country from the north, an economics graduate from Massachusetts, Charles Taylor and his NPFL army massacred its way to the capital. INSIGHT NEWS has exclusive access to disturbing, unseen images of the terror.

Ownership of Liberia's vast natural wealth in diamonds, iron ore and rubber was instrumental to the war - and Taylor has never hidden his interest in becoming rich and powerful. Set in the most beautiful landscape imaginable, Sorious joins Taylor in his luxury jeep on a tour of diamond mine to the south of the country. For a natural, national resource, the security which surrounds the mine is extraordinary. Taylor is constantly surrounded by security guards. He is treated with extraordinary deference. Taylor's men dispense gifts. People bring their children to touch him. To all intents and purposes, this man is a Godfather - Coppola's film is, actually, his favorite movie of all time -- and the diamond mine his private vault.

But Sorious tells us that this mine is the public face of something far more sinister. For while official export figures record annual Liberian exports of diamonds at some $30 million, the Antwerp Diamond Council - the world's central diamond exchange -- reports some $300 million. Since the 1950s, because of its American dollar currency, Liberia has been a central trading place for the smuggling of diamonds -- as well as drugs, petrol, cigarettes, in fact almost everything. By all accounts, concessions to entrepreneurs and official rake-offs from private transactions drive this country and its ruling elite.

In Monrovia, the HOTEL AFRICA is straight out of the film CASABLANCA. The hotel bar is an open meeting point for the many European, Israeli and Lebanese businessmen who cut deals with the government. The Rolex watches and Montecristo cigars that clutter this place are at odds with the bombed out decor and cheap prostitutes sat at the bar.

Sorious is here to meet Dutch businessman Gus Kouwenhoven. Kouwehoven first appeared in Liberia to trade minerals and timber with former president Samuel K. Doe. He has recently returned -- rumored to be doing business with Taylor.

In a secretly recorded encounter, Gus tells Sorious of the extraordinary opportunities for entrepreneurs in the new, post-war Liberia. You can trade everything here but the bonanza business is illicit diamonds -- buying them off rebels who've made the three day journey from the border region, close to Sierra Leone. The government are very supportive. The hustler spirit is back in town. The atmosphere reminds him of the late days of Samuel Doe. But you can never rely upon friends and have to take care. Richard Ratcliffe, a British diamond valuer who until recently lived at the Ducor Palace Hotel, has just been deported for "mercenarism." Their crime: allegedly fabricating documents which demonstrate the relationship between the government and rebel forces in Sierra Leone.

Sorious leaves the bar. For the first time, he is confronted by the reality of daily life in Liberia. For Monrovia is a rusty, wreck of a place, despite being the capital of a major West African power, the nominal address of most of the world's shipping and once the landing point of African-American settlers liberated from slavery. Buildings are bomb damaged. The streets are littered with debris. Garbage is pilled up, awaiting its weekly collection by workers from Save the Children. Since the city has no running water -- it hasn't for about a year now -- people sell bottles of water at vastly inflated prices on the street. There are hundreds of traffic lights -- but none of them work. Liberia looks like it's in a state of seige. It is in a state of seige.

The Central Police Headquarters in Monrovia is housed beside the President's Executive Mansion. The only man in town just worth seeing just now, even though Taylor won an overwhelming majority in the 97 election, is Taylor's security chief.

JACK THE REBEL was one of Taylor's top fighters in the NPFL army. Jack's well known in Liberia. Five years ago, in an act of self-regulation meted out by the NPFL, he was publicly flogged for maltreating civilians. Today, Jack is responsible for ensuring the President's private security and stability in the country...and he is a fair reflection of Taylor's inner cycle. He's enormous. Bedecked in jewels. Ferociously loyal to his patron. He's a gangster sidekick from an action 'movie', very uncomfortable in a quasi-military uniform.

Jack tells Sorious of the constant threat to Liberia from external forces. There are five rival faction leaders sitting just now in a hotel in Freetown plotting Taylor's fall. Agents of Guinea have been found - and shot in the north. To the West of Monrovia, Krahns and Mandingoes are fighting one another. And EU, encouraged by the UK, has just blocked an important aid package.

Sorious asks Jack about illegal diamonds smuggled out of Sierra Leone. He asks him about the recent reported execution of fifteen military officers close to Taylor, accused of treason. Forty others are reported missing -- where have they gone? Jack refuses to answer. He gets angry. These are just lies put out by Sierra Leone, Guinea and the EU to frustrate intervention. Sorious is asked to leave.

For Sorious, the secrecy and insecurity is familiar. It is a constant refrain in Africa. The state can't and won't invest in the well-being of its people because after financing tanks, guns and village "heavies", there is no money left for public works.

As he leaves the police headquarters, Sorious looks about the streets. There are unemployed young men everywhere. In L.A., they would be fashionable Bloods or Crips. Here they are the life -- as well as death -- of society. Young men constitute the bulk of the 85% of the population who are jobless in Liberia. And yet these boys are the livelihood of Taylor's "revolution." Over a fifth of combatants during the civil war were children. Now young men, they remain Taylor's key support in the country -- and that's what makes Taylor's regime different to all the other military, or quasi-military dictators in Africa. Other regimes have -- or appear to have -- an institutional, perhaps even a military constituency. Taylor's power is rooted in a disparate band of dispossessed young men. He has to keep them happy -- or they are likely to desert to a rival faction. With the public money to keep them quiet, he has to keep the country on red alert.

Sorious approaches one gang. They disperse. A second group asks him about his camera, jokingly offering to trade it for a woman. A third group, aged no more than twenty, decided to shout over one another, in return for beer -- and a $20 bill.

These boys are Nimbas. Former combatants in the war, part of Taylor's army -- the NPFL. What's Sorious? Krahn? Nimba? Mandingo? Where's he from? Sierra Leone! They all have family there in Freetown. The war? They say Mr. Doe once shot six hundred NPFL bro' in a ditch two blocks away. The looting? One boy got hold of a portable stereo sold at the port for $3. Another claims to have seen a heart wrenched from a Krahn. Work? There isn't any. Should have taken the security job in Lofa which paid $7 a month -- that's what one or two in the battalion have done. One boy points at passing smoked-glass Cadillac traveling towards the Executive Mansion -- that could be me. Another throws coins at a can on the wall -- bored.

Back in his hotel bedroom, sat on the bed, loading a new tape in his DV, a gilt mask on his dressing table -- a ridiculous gift from Taylor -- Sorious remembers the youth he knew in Freetown. The young boys sucked into the conflict, forced to take drugs and act as killers. These Liberian boys are much the same -- but a few years on. They were forced into combat because there was little else to do. Today they still kick around with nothing to do. Few expectations. No horizons. But Taylor is their leader. He may do little for them but he's the biggest gun in town, the top guy, and what little they have is constantly under threat.

The documentary CRY FREETOWN carried two memorable images: Moses carried on to the back of a truck...former child soldiers playing in the sea...Sorious remembers them. Are Mafiosi like Taylor, a population of parasites like Kouwenhoven, cronies like Jack and listless, marauding, jobless young men the destiny of his own country, Sierra Leone? Just now it seems likely. What's more, this dangerous, complacent cast of characters is familiar throughout Africa. They personify a venal, vision-less continent that is the root cause of the conflict and violence.

The road to Voinjama in North Western Lofa County. It reaches to the border of Sierra Leone and Guinea. It is one of the most dangerous routes in Africa just now. People are regularly shot in this highway by government and rebel troops. After rebel incursions and looking, NGOs have evacuated their offices here. Sorious sits in a luxurious Cherokee Jeep, courtesy of H.R. Owen of Mayfair, crawling along the muddy highway. Jonathan Taylor, the president's nephew and executive assistant, is at the wheel. Puff Daddy pumps out of the car CD.

For many years, Lofa County has been volatile. The rainforest here -- one of the last remaining in Africa -- has been home to rebels fighting in Sierra Leone. When the RUF has been forced on the back foot, they have built networks of hideaways in Lofa's trees. It is a key route for the export of diamonds out of the Mano River region of Sierra Leone. It's a region that holds countless financial promise. Diamonds can be easily excavated and there are invaluable deposits of iron ore that countless foreign investors have dreamed of mining to counter cheap Latin American competition.

On the long four hour journey, Sorious tries to draw Taylor on the issue of Liberia's alleged support for the RUF. He refuses to answer, referring to talk about life in London, the music of Puff Daddy, France's performance in Euro 2000 -- anything...

Finally, Sorious and Taylor's nephew arrive at Voinjama. "Arrive" is a bit of a misnomer since it takes forty minutes for security men, traveling in our convoy, to tell Sorious that it's safe to leave the vehicle. The sight that confronts Sorious is extraordinary -- six Guinean bandits tied up and sat by the road -- just one of many regularly arrests. Jonathan Taylor explains that this is a regular occurrence here. Sorious looks on. He knows he's being manipulated. He tries to speak to the more. Surreptitiously, we manage to record a non-descript general view of Voinjama. It's main street -- full of men in army fatigues -- but who they're fighting for is anyone's guess.

The following day -- at a dowdy basement in Monrovia -- Sorious meets Amos Sawyer. Between 1990 and 1994, Sawyer was president of the Interim Government of National Unity. Today, he runs the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, an organization that monitors human rights in Liberia. At one time or another, Sawyer has tried to break peace between warring factions and interests in Liberia -- to little avail. He knew Samuel Doe well. The two men are left alone.

Sorious has taken Sawyer a series of photographs of individuals who were party to the Abidjan peace accord of the late 1990s and members of the NPFL, AFL and other warring factions who at one time or other have played a role in the Liberian civil war. Where are they now? Most are dead, murdered by rivals of one shape or another.

Sawyer believes that Liberia's problems stem right back to its foundation. The American slaves who arrived in the country had a survivalist, frontier mentality. They ruled the country as tyrannical autocrats -- the mentality remains in Liberia today, as dictatorship continues through a series of armed gangs who each in turn grab power. What is the answer? Sawyer doesn't have one.

Supported by workers from the UNHCR, Sorious is taken to visit a refugee camp in Tubmanberg. Today, there are an estimated 70,000 Sierra Leoneans living in camps in Liberia displaced by the civil war. Sorious speaks to them about their experience. Why is it that we allow people who are greedy, vicious and have no interest other than their own to dominate our African lives? People speak of poverty. The need for someone to act as chief, to go out and provide for them. In the camp, a group of young men shout at Sorious, abuse him, tell him to go away. They are RUF.

The following day -- an official audience with President. Sorious has been invited to the Executive Mansion to hear about Taylor's peace for the region and strategy for reconstruction of the county.

Since his election in 1997, Taylor has made endless grandstand speeches on the theme of reconciliation and reconstruction. In July 1998, he was a key participant in a high profile National Conference on Liberia's Future, hosted by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Taylor claims that he was also personally responsible for securing the recent release of UN peace-keepers taken hostage by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, citing it was evidence of Liberia's new role as a beacon of regional peace and stability. Sorious challenges Taylor. The encounter is dramatic. The debonair Mafia boss meets the troubled, sincere Sierra Leonean, desperate to find a solution to Africa's trouble.

Why did Taylor recently execute fourteen top security men supposedly loyal to him? Forty others remain unaccounted for -- where have they gone? How is that the Antwerp Diamond Council records $300 million worth of diamonds sourced in Liberia, while the Government budget says it is just $30 million? How could Taylor reject the British and American allegation that he supports the RUF, when refugees in camps talk openly about rebel soldiers living in the camps, going about their business and trading diamonds with dealers in Monrovia? 85% of the Liberian population is unemployed. The government can not afford to keep the lights on and water running in Monrovia. There is little evidence throughout the country of public spending. And yet, Taylor runs a fleet of Rolls Royces and earns an annual income, estimated by the US Ambassador to Liberia four years ago and the Interim Government seven years ago, of $100 million upwards. Couldn't a fraction of that wealth be invested in improving the lot of ordinary Liberians, say keeping the lights on in Monrovia? Perhaps even sowing the seeds of a political system which would allow an individual without a private arm to win power?

The film closes on a Sunday morning at Mother Turay's church in Monrovia -- one of the many healing churches that have started up in Liberia since the close of the civil war in 1997. Worshippers at the church are dressed in white. In an act of exorcism, Mother Turay casts spirits from the souls of her congregation. Sorious sits towards the back of the church. He is respectful. The service is symbolic of the country's need to excise its memory of the barbaric madness of civil war.

The sadness of Liberia is that chaos, rather than stability, suits the short-term needs of its leaders. Will African leaders who have won power brute force ever use that power to bring about the sort of change that will break the cycle of violence? It was democratically elected leader-but was it shortsighted? Surely, democracy that one day is expressed through violence.