Interview with Marcus Wade
Many of those who fled Liberia in the aftermath of its brutal civil war took up residence in Ghana, in the Buduburum refugee camp near the capital city, Accra. Twenty-eight-year-old Marcus Wade is among the thousands of refugees who live here, warriors and wartime victims side by side. A former soldier for Charles Taylor's rebel army, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia [NPFL], Wade spoke with filmmaker Nancee Oku Bright about his experiences as a child soldier in the war and his subsequent return to civilian life.
Preparing boys for battle
Bright: [How did you prepare to fight?]
Wade: As a young man going out on the front...you have to go and consult somebody, like a witchcraft [maker], and he will tell you that you have to go and sacrifice your people. That's how most of our young men, you know, got involved in it, because once you did that, you became brave, you know, to go out in front and fight. But for the particular factional leader to say, "Go and kill off your people just to become a part [of us]," I didn't witness that. But I saw people in an instance where they destroyed most of their family to become a part of a faction, or because they wanted to protect themselves, because that's exactly what [they] -- you know, we refer to them as medicine men or medicine people -- [that's what they] told them to do.
Bright: Who were [the soldiers] killing? What kind of people were they killing in their families?
Wade: You kill your mother, or you kill your daddy, or your sister or your brother. You must [at least] sacrifice somebody from your family to become stronger or to be able to go out to the front and fight. You've got to sacrifice. Nothing for nothing....
Bright: How did people feel when they did that kind of thing? Did you talk to people? What did they say? How did they feel after doing it?
Wade: In the midst of atrocities, where everybody was defending himself, there was no time to talk to anyone, to prepare what you would say to them, you know? For most people, I mean, what kind of pleasure, happiness [is it] for them [if you say anything]? Because a family member, once you'd go and do it, certain other people, you know, they go out to the front...and work for their survival. So I mean, there was no time to talk to anybody.
Like I told you, we were the original people for '89-'90. All the other people that just came, they were people who just wanted material things for themselves, and so they were harassing people to take away their properties. But we did not fight for properties from the beginning.... We were not into that.
Ethnic killing and the NPFL
Bright: Can you tell me what it was like, how you became involved, and what did it mean [if you were] Mano...? Can you tell me what the composition [of the forces] was?
Wade: [People] talk about Mano and Gio.... I mean, it started from that aim, from Nimba County, [which] has the Mano and Gio together there, and because it started there. As I looked at the whole thing, from my view, I don't think it was just a Mano and Gio problem. It was everybody's problem, because everybody agreed to it. So, I mean, it could have happened to the Bassa people. If the revolution was started from Buchananport, we could say it was a Buchanan people thing and a Bassa people thing, but that's not how it is. But I don't think it was meant for a particular people, like the Gio or Mano people. I don't think so.
In fact, when the war started, we never had a sense of getting rid of Krahn or Mandingo people. But the people, the government soldiers that were with the national army, some tribes within the national army, they were kind of mishandled; they were maltreated by the other section or tribe...so they decided to take themselves away from the national army and to join the rebels. So as they started joining the rebels, they started getting caught up in the things that were going on in the national army.... And I won't blame it against the late president [Samuel K. Doe], but maybe it was the thinking of some of the fighters at the time, you know, within the national army, that they would take some of the tribal people.... As soon as they started using other tribes, the others left and went to NPFL. That is how it started.... So I don't think it was just Gio or Mano people's problem; it was everybody's problem. The tragedy that was created against other tribes within the national army caused the defeat [of the national army]....
When I was living in Monrovia in June '89...[when we began to organize into groups], we were asked to sit on the ground, and Mandingos and Krahn people were picked out of the line, and they were slaughtered. In fact, somebody came up to me and asked as to whether I was what you call Mandingo or Krahn, and I just told them that I was Mano, you know; I was Mano. And...I told him I was Bassa, and at least I can speak a bit of Mano, and I can speak Bassa well, so that meant I was free. But there were a lot of people that left that they took away from the line, and they killed them because they were Mandingos or they were Krahns.
Bright: And when they found out that somebody was Krahn or Mandingo, what kind of tricks did [they] use to [find out] who was [really] who?
Wade: We were in the midst of confusion, because most of the fighters at the time could speak Krahn, Gio, Mano, or Bassa, so if you told a man, a fighter, that you are Bassa, he would definitely speak Bassa to you, and if you couldn't answer him, then you faced a problem. All of a sudden he would just meet you and speak Krahn with you, and you'd know, if you were going to say you're Krahn, you're going to answer him in Krahn, and now they're going to get rid of you. And that's exactly what they did to the people. If I perceive that you are Krahn or you're Mandingo, I would just speak Mandingo or Krahn, and the moment you answer me, you are off track.
The soldiers' daily survival
Bright: How did you all get food and things to eat?
Wade: ...We were finding our own food. Like I told you from the beginning, we did not fight to take away people's properties. So it was like we were fighting, and in order to sustain ourselves, you know, we kind of broke into food shops and stole, you know, exactly what we wanted.... I mean, all of us were thinking we're just getting involved in breaking into shops and stores, and nothing else. We went for the food....
Bright: [Didn't you] go into people's houses to get food? You can be honest.
Wade: To be very frank, I would be very bold if I did it, to tell you the truth that I did it. But, you know...every man was, like, seeking his own thing. I was somebody who would compromise, but I don't believe, in the case of my friends, that they could just compromise with other people. They broke into people's houses in search of food, and maybe some of those people were killed because they did not give the fighters food. But I didn't witness that. I believe it happened, yes; to be very frank, it happened. Though I didn't see it, it happened. I know what happened.
Bright: What did [your friends] tell you afterwards? What did they tell you after they had [done that], when you were all together? [And] where did you all sleep?
Wade: If a fighter goes about harassing people for food, and he finds out that you do not have delight in that, I mean, he wouldn't have anything to do [with you], you understand? Until you take delight in going with him to harass people for food, he wouldn't have anything to do with you.
But we were all sleeping outside. We were never in houses. We were always out, because we're always ready for battle. But whenever they went in and harassed people for food and came back, I don't think it was our business to ask [them how they got their] food, you know, or you'd be killed. Unless you went with them, you had no right to ask them.
Like I told you from the beginning, we were people of one goal; we had a motive. [We had to be] very strong and intelligent. So where we needed to apply bravery, we applied [it]. Where we needed to apply strength, we applied [it], and [where we] had to be intelligent, then we applied [that]. So when we could not find food, I think it falls in the aspect of being brave to at least manage for yourself, to...just remain as you are, as an intelligent fighter. Maybe you'd just drink water. If you had liquor, you'd just put cane powder [an intoxicating combination of sugar cane juice and gunpowder] into it and just drink it and forget about the day. Unless they told you that the battle was on, you just rested. That's how some of us went from the beginning. Like I told you...we stood our ground as people of orientation, and that was to take away the damn president [Doe] and his [regime].
Impressions of Charles Taylor
Bright: So what did you think of [NPFL leader] Charles Taylor at the time? ... What did you think of him as a person?
Wade: I believe Charles Taylor, he's a man -- and not only a man, but he's a real man, and he has the natural charisma of leading people. [That's] the one thing I love about him, because when we were with him, most of the time people [tried to] influence us to go against him, [but] whenever we did, we always failed.... So I believe he's a real man, and he's capable of ruling the country. He's capable is what I can say about him.
Bright: Do you think he knew some of the things that the fighters were getting up to?
Wade: ...You know, it was war.... Whenever he was broke, he needed to get some things for himself. I mean, he was a hard worker, to be frank, but he would not just take things from people. On the highest level, he would appeal to the people. [We were part of] a cause.... But [there were] people that really he could not count on, who were bearing his name [but] who were kind of contrary to his way of thinking. And him being the leader, I mean, everything [they did] just went on him like that, you see?
Bravery under the influence of drugs
Bright: Did you know people who were taking drugs?
Wade: Yes, yes, yes. People were taking drugs.... Once you were taking [drugs] and went to the front, you were always brave, you understand? And under the influence of drugs, if you heard a...bazooka shooting, you wanted to see the man who was doing the shooting, and you wanted to get rid of him. Some of us became pretty strong to face the fronts. Yes, people were taking drugs....
So, I mean, people were taking drugs to be brave, yes. And when you're taking drugs, you're kind of numb, you know? You always felt very brave to handle anything that came your way, [things] that you could not just handle if you were normal.
Bright: Who gave you the drugs? Where did you get the drugs from?
Wade: Sometimes, if one of your comrades who fights for your general happens to be in close contact with the general... that is, the general gets it, gives it to him, you know. We had the slogan "Soldiers be gentlemen." Once he had it, he would share with everybody, and that's exactly how it started to spread. You give me about five, I take maybe two and give it to another friend. That friend would take maybe one, and that's how it went. And once we had ourselves a supply, I mean, it wasn't...a problem for us.
Bright: What kind of drugs were there?
Wade: Some people were smoking opium, and for me, I was taking tablets that if I'm taking my tablet the whole day, I won't be hungry. In the midst of heavy firing, gunfire, I would just walk through. Yeah, I wanted to see. That was always my thing, always when I was under the influence of drugs, to see those that were always doing the shooting, and I [wanted to] face the battle. By the time I was involved, I was always brave....
Leaving the past in the past
Bright: Do you tell people in this refugee camp about your life, or are you very discreet?
Wade: What happened is that at a certain point in time, every man reaches his own age of renaissance, and I feel, as I've reached my age of renaissance, I just don't feel like sharing my problem with people that I do not have close contact with, because they're going to take you off track.
In fact, why should I just share a problem with people? I'm not the only man who fought. There were people that did greater things than Marcus, you know, so why should I just go share my problem with people? They're going to take it off track and are probably going to look at me as somebody who is not sound or sure. But being a sound man, and I can understand myself, I only relate to those people that will...listen and understand me, okay? So I don't just share problems with people.
Bright: What do you want to be? You're 28 years old.
Wade: I want to be a civil engineer, yes. Presently I've done masonry for seven months, and I want to improve myself. And in fact, I'm not out of high school yet. This is my last year. But I don't blame myself; I don't even blame God; I don't blame Charles Taylor; I don't even blame the Krahns. I believe it was designated by God even at this time that I would be what I am today. So the field of masonry, I mean, sometimes in construction, I have delight in that, and I would like to improve on that for the reconstruction of my country.... I can create the foundation where the next generation will come to get the benefits. I'm not fighting for benefits now. I want to get involved in the reconstruction process so the next generation will come into joy.... I'm hoping to go home any time the general reparation takes place, to get involved in the reconstruction process.
Bright: Do people accept you? Do people know that you're a rebel, that you fought?
Wade: I feel I'm highly accepted, because what God wants from us is after you sin, you must repent. You must believe that you have sinned, and you must repent. And when you repent, you apologize. That's exactly what I am [doing]. I realize my mistakes. You know, those things that I did way back then, maybe some people who saw me wouldn't [believe that I did] that stuff now. It's left with me to have a good relationship with these people that I meet, you know?
But I'll tell you what: I don't think I will still have to remain traumatized.... I am detraumatized. I'm fair enough, normal, and I'm talking to you. I mean, people accept me. I believe people...accept me.... Even at school, students, every time as I go to school, people run behind me "Marcus, Marcus Wade! Marcus Wade!" And I mean, I love them.
Bright: Do you have any regrets over the last years of your life?
Wade: Yeah. But if I say I have regrets, then I suppose I would be blaming God, and I don't want to blame God, you understand? Like I told you, what I am now was designated by God to have come to be at this time, you understand. So I won't say that I have a lot of regrets, no. I mean, God, He's a god of mysteries, and things that happen, you know, He knows. He knows why those things happen. He knows why I should be in high school. After all, I should have been a college graduate and should be working to be supporting my family. But He knows why I should be a man of this status now. So...I have no regrets.