About two weeks ago, I began the process of requesting permission to speak with Prince Johnson and take his photo. His handlers, unsurprisingly, put me off. They knew why I was there. But I persisted. Finally, speaking to one of them, I said, "What can I do to help you feel like you can trust me?" I explained that I live in Liberia, I'd be here this week, next week, and for months afterward. That I understood this place more than someone who flies in for a week and disappears back to another country. That I don't just write scandalous things, that I do projects about teddy bears and surfing.
The next day his handler called and told me to be at Prince Johnson's house at 11 am. I was a bit nervous, but I had a driver wait outside for me. And really, it was the middle of the day in Monrovia. Prince Johnson would never want the kind of incredibly bad press that would come with any harm inflicted on a young freelance American journalist. Especially at a time like this. So I went.
We chatted a bit about his kids and his family, the house he's building, and then moved on to other questions. I was surprised by how much he told me, but people who crave power also crave attention and adoration, and just a bit of flattery and interest got him to open up about Charles Taylor, the TRC, Samuel Doe, and more.
Read the whole interview with Senator Prince Johnson here on Foreign Policy.
At the end, I even got him to pose for a photo with his pet eagle, whose leg is tied by a string. When I walked in to the compound, I immediately noticed the bird (though thought it was an owl) and the pet dogs, monkeys, sheep and goats. As I was on my way out, I asked him about the bird and told him that I really, really loved birds and asked if I could take a photo of it. He volunteered to hold the eagle for the picture, despite the advice of one of his handlers who said it would mess up his suit.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Foreign Policy: Interivew with Senator Prince Johnson