In The Vice Guide to Liberia, VBS.TV travels to the capital city Monrovia to meet three men who participated in the 14 years of civil war that ravaged the West African country. Former warlords General Rambo, General Bin Laden and General Butt Naked give us guided tours of some of the most dangerous, impoverished spots including jails, brothels and heroin dens. The film is out later this year, but you can watch the trailer here and read on for an interview with the film's producer Andy Capper about making friends with former 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. As the former President Charles Taylor fights accusations of mass war crimes in The Hague, the people strive for positive change. America’s one and only foray into African colonialism is keeping a very uneasy peace indeed. I spoke to the film's producer, Vice editor Andy Capper, about it.
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 people like General Butt Naked, who's now a Christian preacher but used to be a cannibal warlord who killed 20,000 people. I was like: "I like the sound of it, but what else?" And 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.
I've seen a bit of the movie and the company you were keeping 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 Bin Laden calls you from Liberia all the time asking for TVs and stuff these days?
Nope. You’re thinking of Joshua Blahyi, aka General Butt Naked. 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.
[caption id="attachment_14289" align="alignnone" width="717" caption="L-R: Joshua Blahyi (ex General Butt Naked), Andy Capper, Shane Smith (VICE founder)"][/caption]
He’s genuinely repentant of his past, I think. He was born into cannibalism and crazy tribal Satan worshipping. He knew no different, much like some people with parents who are heroin addicts are born into a circle of drug abuse like we show in the Swansea Love Story movie. 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 Joshua is a good person now. He added me on Facebook. Just shows you what a powerful social networking tool it is.
The Vice Guide to Liberia is out in January.