Welcome to The Vice Guide to Liberia. In this eight-part series, VBS travels to West Africa to rummage through the messy remains of a country ravaged by 14 years of civil war. Despite the United Nation’s eventual intervention, most of Liberia’s young people continue to live in abject poverty, surrounded by filth, drug addiction, and teenage prostitution. The former child soldiers who were forced into war have been left to fend for themselves, the murderous warlords who once led them in cannibalistic rampages have taken up as so-called community leaders, and new militias are lying in wait for the opportunity to reclaim their country from a government they rightly mistrust. America’s one and only foray into African colonialism is keeping a very uneasy peace indeed. In Part 1, Vice’s own Shane Smith provides a brief history lesson and some essential context for understanding what caused Liberia’s civil war and how things got so bad. Liberia was originally planned and founded as a homeland for former slaves back in 1821. But fast forward a bunch of years and a military coup and you find the First Liberian Civil War in 1989: yet another third-world regime change in which the US-backed opposition, led by Charles Taylor, overthrows a government unfriendly to US interests. Once in power, Taylor’s corrupt, dysfunctional government quickly finds itself under attack by local warlords, leading to the Second Liberian Civil War ten years later. From there things go from bad to total shit.
While Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor’s trial for war crimes and sundry other atrocities continues at the Hague, the ex warlords of Liberia remain in their native country. Some are harassed by cops; others are hunted by vengeful gangs. The lucky few still maintain control over some territory.
In this chapter, VBS meets General bin Laden, so named to strike terror in the hearts of his enemies. After springing bin Laden from jail, VBS is invited back to his compound, where bin Laden leads us to his roof and tells us about his neighborhood improvement plans. Mid-interview, after a suspect group of men unfamiliar to bin Laden assembles in the courtyard down below, VBS is forced to flee.
Eager to see what the UN and Liberian government are actually doing, VBS meets up with a local journalist who plops us down in the center of West Point, the worst slum in Liberia. Without any modern plumbing, the people of West Point have taken to using the beach as a dump and giant outhouse. The area smells like, well, a dump and a giant outhouse, and it goes without saying that residents’ health suffers a whole host of issues. Here we also happen on a young Liberian rapper, who gives us a couple verses about the scourge of Africa: AIDS. From there it’s off the visit a heroin den, where we watch a twelve year-old smoke heroin and describes raping a woman at gunpoint. It gets worse.
Nearly 70 percent of Liberia’s female population has been raped, but that horrifying figure just begins to describe the depths of Liberia’s depravity. There’s also the not-minor issue of cannibalism—specifically, the devouring of one’s enemies. To learn more about these atrocities, we pick up General Rambo and take him to the compound where he once commanded his own rebel faction. Rambo convinces us that the Liberian rebels who lay in wait outside Monrovia could take over the city in two hours if the UN leaves the city. The UN is scheduled to begin pulling out next year.