MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — The ex-wife of former Liberian President Charles Taylor said the convicted war criminal made "the ultimate sacrifice" by exiting the country 10 years ago Sunday, an event that effectively ended a brutal 14-year civil war that claimed 250,000 lives.
In an interview with The Associated Press marking the 10th anniversary of her ex-husband's departure, Jewel Taylor, now a powerful senator representing the former president's stronghold of Bong County, said the war may have been a "necessary" chapter in Liberia's history.
"Every country has gone through some crisis," she said. "I believe if you talk to historians as to where we were when the crisis began, there might be some who say the war was necessary."
The senator's comments underscore Liberia's complicated relationship with Taylor 10 years on from war. The former president retains a vocal following despite well-documented abuses committed by his fighters — many of them children — and his plundering of the state's resources after he came to power in 1997.
On Aug. 11, 2003, Jewel and Charles Taylor flew to Nigeria amid intense international pressure and persistent rebel attempts to capture Monrovia. Three years later, not long after Liberia completed its first postwar election, Taylor was arrested and transferred to The Hague, where he faced trial at a United Nations-backed tribunal over crimes committed during Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war.
Last year, Taylor was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Ten years after the end of the civil war, Liberia's current government, headed by 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, still has several challenges to improve the lives of Liberia's 4 million people. Sirleaf's government will mark the 10-year anniversary of the Liberian war's conclusion on Aug. 18, the day a comprehensive peace deal was signed in Accra, Ghana.
At a press briefing last week discussing the plans, cabinet minister Conmany Wesseh encouraged Liberians to use the anniversary "to carry out creative actions to thank themselves and others and renew their dedication to building a peaceful, prosperous and happy Liberia."
Sirleaf's government has made "immeasurable gains" in consolidating peace and promoting reconciliation and development, Wesseh said.
But critics accuse Sirleaf of not going far enough to root out corruption in her administration. And they question how much her government's development projects have improved the lives of ordinary Liberians, taking particular issue with large-scale agricultural and forestry concessions that have dispossessed the rural poor.
Vice President Joseph Boakai acknowledged that large swaths of the population believe they have not benefited from the government's accomplishments. He said there is still a need "to try to touch the lives of people so that they feel the benefits and dividends of peace."