Q-&-A with Cholo Brooks: A Liberian Journalist

Image by Ruthie Ackerman. Liberia, 2007.

Cholo Brooks worked for the BBC African Service during the war. Now he runs a local news agency, Global News Network in Liberia. His book "The Rise and Fall of Charles Taylor" will be out early next year.

He took the time to speak to us about the challenges facing Liberian youth after the war.

RA: Can you give us an overview of the challenges facing Liberian youth after the war?

CB: First of all, the bulk of those that took up arms were youth some as young as 10 years old. These young children were programmed to take up arms for their so called masters. The war lords promised to give them good things in return. After the war started subsiding the youth did not get what they were promised. Some of them had their arms and legs amputated as a result of heavy fighting, so many of them became helpless. Many became beggars in the street because people could not come to their rescue.

RA: What was happening before the international community got involved?

CB: Prior to Mr. Taylor's departure we had 350 plus amputees. Over 350 of them were here using crutches or wheel chairs. Some dragged their legs because they had no legs to walk and no arms to do anything. Mr. Taylor recruited these guys so prior to his departure to Nigeria and subsequent transfer to The Hague many of them demonstrated at his residence and at his workplace. After he realized it was getting too much for him he decided to order one of his commanders to take all of them off the street and put them in a truck and have all of them killed. So that helped to reduce the huge number of ex-combatants who were severely handicapped. There are still some. Those who are here now were those that were in other counties that did not fight in the dragnet of Mr. Taylor. When Mr. Taylor left some started coming back to Monrovia to demand benefits from the government.

RA: So, what did the Liberian government and the international community do to help the youth that were left after Taylor's departure?

CB: The youth were placed into schools. They were given some benefits to help them restart their lives. And those who regretted taking up arms decided to go back to school. And those that felt they had no interest in going back to school took their school kits and sold them and again they went back in the streets.

RA: A lot of the former fighters and amputees say they went through the schools and the government training programs, but when they're finished there are still no jobs. What can the government do? What can the youth do?

CB: That's where the problems come. The government refused to have institutions that will help to get these girls and boys off the streets. Some went to school to try to acquire something and then after graduation where do they go? You have to go and work somewhere for sustenance. And the government could not afford to provide job opportunities. So it's the government's responsibility to provide job opportunities for those youth.

RA: When I talk to ministers in the government they say they don't have the funding.

CB: The problem here is growing everyday. People opted for change that's why a lady was elected. A lady that was highly respected was chosen. In fact people cast their ballot because of her reputation and where she had worked. People felt if we take this lady as the President, Liberia will regain her yesteryears. After she was elected there was a donor conference to support Liberia and millions were raised for the reconstruction. Now people are wondering what is happening because the money that was raised at the conference has not been seen. We have been told as journalists that some of the reason is that corruption cannot continue to exist because the fear of the international community is if we give this money it won't be used for the purpose intended. So you have to do your best to get out those perceived to be corrupt and make sure you have a government of transparency, a government of credibility. So the money cannot come because the donors want transparency.

Right now there is corruption within the government within every sector of the country. So the money that can be used to help Liberian youth is on hold until the government does away with corruption.

RA: Without money what can the government do?

CB: All the government needs to do is to build vocational institutions because the bulk of our youth are not doing anything. People are now looking up to their children for survival. Children are hustling in the street. If you were to find a young person and give them bread to eat they'd rather go and sell it because they have to bring something home to their parents. Their parents cannot afford anything anymore. So what the government needs to do is build vocational institutions to help educate.

RA: But if there are no jobs what good are vocational training programs?

CB: You build those vocational institutions at the same time you provide certified security levels in the country because without sound security no one wants to come to invest. You can only have employment if you have investment. What the government has to do is to make sure the country is secure.

We are all traumatized. So you also have to develop a method to help de-traumatize those that have been traumatized to make them useful in society. You do that by having vocational institutions and after they graduate from these institutions you waste no time finding them jobs where they can make money for themselves.

You have the bulk of the companies looking for qualified individuals. You have local and international NGO's that place announcements in newspapers everyday requesting employment, but you have to have credentials. You should at least be a high school graduate and the bulk of these guys that took up arms did not even go through elementary school. So that's where the problem is.

You notice if you go on Broad Street you see a lot of these guys loading cars. Those are the guys that cannot afford to acquire anything. So at the end of the day they jack cell phones from people for their survival.

Recently the government had to send the police to the cemetery because young people used to go to sleep in the graves because they could not afford to pay rent.

RA: What can the U.S. government do now?

CB: A few weeks ago I heard that Peace Corps volunteers are expected at any time. That's a good start. The Americans also need to release the funds that were made available during the donor conference. America has set a condition that no funds will be dispersed until Liberia qualified as a state of transparency. Of course I agree you cannot send the money if it's mismanaged, but the American government needs to come in and make sure the government is transparent. I am a Liberian, but I don't trust my own Liberians.

The American billionaire Robert Johnson came and promised to provide money and job opportunities, but we have to see it happening right away. Liberians are tired of promises. We want to see it be done right away. I think the American government should supplement the government financially to speed up what needs to be done to rescue Liberians.

RA: You have a book coming out soon. Tell us about it.

CB: The title of the book is "The Rise and Fall of Charles Taylor" and it will be out early next year. In it I talk about how Mr. Taylor came to power and how Mr. Taylor used the youth of this country. Many of the youth were recruited against their will. Many were recruited because their father or mother was killed so they had no alternative and they thought I'll take up arms to protect myself.

RA: What promises did Taylor make that were broken?

CB: Before he captured Monrovia he told his boys was to go to Monrovia and capture a building. If you capture a building it is yours. If you kill 100 people to capture that building it is yours. And that's exactly what happened. When they came they captured buildings and innocent people were killed in the process. So after he came to power he formed a committee to retrieve those buildings so those that were occupying buildings were thrown out. So then they felt dejected. So they started to join hands with another group. That's how we had these splintered armed groups. So if I'm upset with you I formed my own group to turn against you and that's how many of them got killed. Because for every time Mr. Taylor heard there was a group planning to break off he'd have everyone killed.