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Death of A Star: Killed for Allegedly Being Gay During Liberia’s Brutal Civil War

In most African countries, there always seems to come along that rare national star who, buoyed by a transcendental musical genius, shines ever so brightly from the obscurity of his/her village, town or city, to illuminate the world with the vibrant sounds of their country’s rich cultural heritage. Think Yousou N’Dour, from Senegal; Miriam Makeba, South Africa; Fela Kuti, Nigeria; Alpha Blondy, Ivory Coast; Angelique Kidjo, Benin; Salif Keita, Mali; Koffi Olomide, Democratic Republic of Congo; to name a few.

In Liberia, there was just such a star getting ready to woo the world with his transcendental musical genius, but he was tragically cut down at the prime of his life and musical evolution, accused of being gay.

His name is Tecumsay Roberts.

The story of Tecumsay’s murder at the hands of a ruthless rebel general during Liberia’s barbaric civil war in 1990 is not a new one. But, following a recent article I wrote about how Liberian musicians have “fallen under the global music radar,” I began to wonder why that was so, and that led me to look into the pre-war Liberian musical scene.

And, the more research I did, the more the name Tecumsay Roberts came up. I had heard of his summary execution for allegedly being gay, but the more I found out about Tecumsay, it was impressed upon me how his tragic personal story paralleled his nation’s own tragic story: one bursting with so much

promise but cut short from realizing its promise because of the suffocating misrule of a litany of leaders.

But, what especially seems to be so repugnantly tragic about Tecumsay’s story is not only that his life was sadistically extinguished before he could live up to his promise, but that even in death, his murderers would so heartlessly try to sum up his existence into one malicious narrative to justify their barbaric act.

“And there was a fellow there they called Tecumsay Roberts and a white guy. They had come earlier when we were in town and taken one truck of food out to unknown destination,” claimed Prince Johnson, a former rebel general accused of war crimes, in the video recording of his August 2008 testimony before Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission regarding Tecumsay’s execution.

“We’re fighting guerrilla warfare and I know that the Red Cross in Liberia had closed long before the war entered Monrovia. So where did Red Cross come from?”

What Johnson has tried to do – and with a cold-blooded calculation to play on the homophobic sensibilities of his audience – is to not only paint Tecumsay as a callous charlatan who was selling food earmarked for free distribution to the hungry masses, but worse of all, that he was also a “rotten” pervert who deserved his end.

Johnson, who is now a Liberian senator, was explaining how he had just arrived on the scene where he found his deputy, Samuel Varney (deceased), interrogating a group of people, including Tecumsay, who were wearing aprons with the Red Cross insignia on them.

But Johnson’s question was only rhetorical, part of his diabolical scheme to build up a case against Tecumsay to justify his murder.

“So they were selling the food,” Johnson proffered rather too nonchalantly.

But this was no small offense. Before going into his narration about Tecumsay’s murder, Johnson explained that after capturing Monrovia’s port where there was an abundant supply of rice, he had given strict orders that the rice be distributed free to the starving civilian population and that contravention of his order was punishable by death.

“If you sell to make money, I must tell you: ‘You die,’” he pointed out menacingly.

“So while Varney was questioning him, I had just arrived. Varney saw blood coming from the man’s butt,” Johnson continued.

“He said: ‘Your (sic) take off the clothes!’” Johnson said Varney ordered his men.

“And when they took off his clothes, the man’s anus rotten. You know, they say he was a homosexualist (sic). So Varney shot him,” Johnson said pointedly.

“It was Varney who shot Tecumsay Roberts. And I put the white man in my car and took him to the US Embassy to turn him over…It was General Varney who shot him,”
the former rebel general reiterated, as if trying to wash his hands of guilt in Tecumsay’s murder; after all, notwithstanding his command and control over his men, he was just an innocent bystander right?

All this occurred with the public looking on, not unlike a Medieval-style execution. Imagine the humiliation Tecumsay must have suffered as Johnson’s brute foot soldiers rudely stripped off his clothes while he pleaded profusely

with them. But they would ignore his cries, subduing him long enough to “examine” him and arrive at the asinine conclusion that his anus was “rotten,” before killing him.

And all this time, which must have gone on for several minutes, the ‘innocent’ Mr. Johnson was docilely standing by, as he would have us believe, watching this barbaric spectacle.

What Johnson has tried to do – and with a cold-blooded calculation to play on the homophobic sensibilities of his audience – is to not only paint Tecumsay as a callous charlatan who was selling food earmarked for free distribution to the hungry masses, but worse of all, that he was also a “rotten” pervert who deserved his end.

Johnson seems to think that presenting Tecumsay as a criminally and morally abominable character would be more than sufficient to make his audience concur with his justification for Tecumsay’s murder.

But that anyone would concur with Johnson’s “justification” for Tecumsay’s murder would surely be the height of all that is criminally and morally abominable! And, I dare not say they too deserve Johnson’s jungle justice, because I do not believe anyone deserves to suffer such a barbaric death.

That said, I find it exceedingly sad that after all Tecumsay did to promote Liberia’s culture and music, rather than being appreciated as a national treasure, he would be reduced to such a vile characterization by his murderers.

Tecumsay deserves better!

Those who knew him and enjoyed his music must tell his story – the real story of the man and his contributions to Liberian music.

Liberia’s Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism also needs to officially honor him for his noteworthy contributions to Liberian music and culture.

Coming Home – A Song By Tecumseh Roberts

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