In This Review

Charles Taylor and Liberia: Ambition and Atrocity in Africa's Lone Star State
Charles Taylor and Liberia: Ambition and Atrocity in Africa's Lone Star State
By Colin M. Waugh
Zed Books, 2011, 352 pp.

Waugh has written a splendid biography of one of the most fascinating figures in recent African history. Charles Taylor rose from modest circumstances to become a powerful warlord during the civil war in Liberia in the 1990s. In 1997, he was elected president, but he was later forced from office. In 2003, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (based in The Hague) indicted Taylor for a bevy of war crimes, including terrorism, rape, and the conscription of child soldiers. (A verdict in the case is expected soon.) Waugh relates this story with a wealth of telling details that reveal Taylor as a savvy strategist who carefully nurtured his relationship with the press and courted a wide range of international allies, from Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi to French officials to Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaoré, all of whom offered Taylor diplomatic support and resources at one time or another. Waugh never underestimates Taylor, but he also makes it clear that Taylor’s sole motivation has always been a desire for personal aggrandizement and wealth.