The Vice Guide to Liberia is a film we’ve just made in West Africa. In it we travel to the capital city Monrovia to meet those who participated in the 14 years of civil war that ravaged the country. We meet former warlords called things like General Rambo who used to lead armies of cannibalistic child soldiers into battle and even have to break a guy called General Bin Laden out of the nastiest jail we’ve ever seen.
These men give us guided tours of brothels and heroin dens in the most dangerous slums in the country, which make them the most dangerous slums in Africa, which make them the most dangerous slums on Earth. You can watch the film here, or read on for an interview with the film’s producer Andy Capper about making friends with mass-murderers.
Despite the UN’s intervention in the country, the majority of Liberia’s young people live in desperate poverty. Surrounded by filth, drug addiction and teenage prostitution, the ex-child soldiers who were forced into war struggle to fend for themselves. Things like murder and rape have become common place.
There are people striving for positive change, but if the UN ever left, the country would be over-run with warlords and chaos within hours. The UN in scheduled to leave next year. I spoke to the film’s producer, Vice editor Andy Capper, about making the film.
Me: So what inspired you to go to Liberia?
Andy Capper: I was contacted by a journalist there who was originally from Canada. He asked if I wanted any stories from Liberia. He said he could get in touch with former Generals, who’re now Christian preachers, but used to be cannibal warlords who killed thousands of people. The more we talked, the more I realised there was so much more to the story of Liberia than just, “the war is over and the child soldiers with one leg are all happy playing football on the beach,” as you see in a lot of docs about Liberia and Sierra Leone. Also, the former leader Charles Taylor is in The Hague at the moment facing multiple war crime charges, so it seemed like a good time to go.
The company you were keeping out there seems really gnarly – were you scared?
I’d taken this malaria medicine called Larium and that keeps you feeling pretty edgy. You have nightmares every night for like nine weeks. But when we were in really dangerous situations, such as at midnight in the brothel in the worst slum in West Africa or in jail with a guy called General Bin Laden whose private army wanted to rob us, then the survival instinct takes over and you’re no longer feeling scared. You’re just thinking: “Hmmm, how do I get out of here?” But looking back at the footage, our facial expressions give away the fact that, yes, maybe we were a little bit concerned for our safety.
Is it true that one of the Generals calls you from Liberia all the time asking for TVs and stuff these days?
Well, we became friendly over my time there and we keep in touch over texts. Some people are trying to kill him, so he has to move around a lot, so I send a couple of quid here and there so he can eat. He’s genuinely repentant of his past, I think. He was born into cannibalism and crazy tribal Satan worshipping. He knew no different. Now he helps ex-child soldiers get off the street and into work. I’ve never, to my knowledge, been friendly with a mass-murdering cannibal before though, and it’s kind of weird, but I honestly think he is a good person now. He added me on Facebook.
There is information on how to donate money to help the Liberian people at the end of the film.