A Planet of Nations
A Planet of Nations
On December 24, 1989, a man named Charles Taylor marshaled a band of armed rebels in the northern part of Liberia, a small country on the coast of West Africa. Carpeted in green jungle crossed by the occasional red dirt road connecting remote ramshackle towns, Liberia had never managed to attract much attention from the outside world. It carried none of the economic clout or strategic importance of continental powers like Kenya and South Africa. To outsiders, Liberia figured as little more than a historical curiosity, the place where freed American slaves settled and founded Africa’s first independent republic in 1847. Nor did Charles Taylor’s activities attract much notice. Military coups are a common occurrence throughout Africa, as much a part of reality as the tropical downpours that bring life to a temporary standstill in thousands of villages across the landscape before people tentatively poke out their heads and resume their daily activities. But this time something was different. Instead of racing to the capital and storming the presidential palace—as the incumbent dictator, Samuel Doe, had done a decade earlier—Taylor and his men were slow and deliberate in their progress, taking control of one town after the next. Rumors spread that the rebels were supported by Libya, a country that exercises much greater influence throughout the African continent than most people realize. Ultimately Charles Taylor would orchestrate a catastrophic civil war in Liberia, a conflict that would engulf neighboring Sierra Leone and lead to one of the worst humanitarian crises of the past century. At the time I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, where my wife and I were assigned to work in President Doe’s hometown of Zwedru, a remote place that could only be reached through days of travel along roads with mud pits the size of swimming pools or, alternatively, in a single-propeller plane that the tropical air currents would toss about like a toy in a bathtub. It was in Liberia that I first came to appreciate how national governance impacts the lives of billions of people every day.
Keywords: anti-corruption campaigns, birth control, cattle ranching, child labor, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), environmental stewardship, overfishing, ozone treaty, peer pressure, policymakers, renewable energy, rule of law, social capital, tax codes, urbanization, war (armed conflict)
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