Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond by Denis Johnson:
It’s late September and the Liberian civil war has been stalled, at its very climax, for nearly three weeks. The various factions simmer under heavy West African clouds. Charles Taylor and his rebels are over here; they control most of the country and the northern part of the capital, Monrovia—the part where the radio station is, and many nights Taylor harangues his corner of the universe with speeches about who he’s killed and who he’s going to kill, expectorating figures with a casual generosity that gets him known as a liar, referring to himself as “the President of this nation” and to his archrival as “the late Prince Johnson.” Meanwhile Prince Johnson, very much alive, holds most of the capital. Johnson’s titles are Field Marshal, Brigadier General, and Acting President of Liberia; “Prince” is just his name. Johnson’s men eliminated the president two weeks ago, and they’ve been roaming the city ever since, exterminating the dead president’s soldiers, piling their bodies on the streets—as many as two hundred one night—or scattering them along the beaches. They, the president’s decimated Armed Forces of Liberia, occupy a no-man’s-land between Taylor’s and Johnson’s checkpoints, more or less in the middle of the city, a gutted landscape of unrelieved starvation where the dwindling group robs and loots and burns and the skeletal citizens wander, dying of cholera and hunger. In Johnson’s sector are stationed about a thousand troops from the ECOWAS—Economic Community of West African States—a sixteen-nation group that has sent this peacekeeping force to Monrovia with instructions, basically, not to do anything. The ECOWAS forces enjoy a strange alliance with Prince Johnson. Everybody thought they’d arrest him; instead the ECOWAS troops stood by while Johnson’s men shot and kidnapped the president, Samuel K. Doe, the first time he set foot outside the executive mansion after several weeks of lying low, and they ducked for cover while Johnson’s rebels searched out and killed sixty-four of Doe’s bodyguards, hunting from room to room of the ECOWAS headquarters. Meanwhile, two U.S. ships wait offshore with a force of Marines, exasperating everyone by merely floating and floating while the corpses mount…because nobody wants either of the rebels to rule the land, and the only people capable of installing an interim government of reasonable types are the American Marines, for two reasons absurdly obvious to all Liberians: first, because they’re Americans, and second, because they’re Marines. Liberians don’t want another coup like the one in 1980, when Samuel K. Doe, then an army officer, took over and executed the cabinet before TV cameras on the beach. The firing squad was drunk and was obliged, in some cases, to reload and shoot again from closer range.