- Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters
The notorious Liberian warlord “General Buttnaked” is trying to raise money for a charity to rehabilitate former child soldiers, though many are skeptical since the ex-rebel leader recruited and trained child soldiers for his own army during the war.
“The country we destroyed is the country we want to rebuild,” Joshua Milton Blahyi, who earned his nom de guerre by fighting naked during Liberia’s second civil war, told Reuters.
Blahyi and his child soldiers gained notoriety fighting naked on the streets of Monrovia during the war against Charles Taylor. He later estimated that he killed roughly 20,000 people in the conflict, while also admitting to cannibalism and conducting human sacrifices.
Now Blahyi claims he is a reformed, born-again Christian street pastor, trying to help child soldiers and others affected by the war. Started in 2007, his Journeys Against Violence organization claims to help ex-combatants return to mainstream society, but as a recent Reuters report makes clear, it’s now running low on cash.
Blahyi told Reuters he had trained about 1,000 former child soldiers in farming and bricklaying, a number which could not be verified. Two attendees of the training told a journalist for The New Yorker earlier this year that Blahyi was misappropriating funds for his own benefit, a charge he denied.
“This is aimed at getting attention for people to have sympathy for him,” university student William Dickerson told Reuters. “His statements are not serious.”
Still, one western journalist who has spent time in Liberia with Blahyi told Business Insider of the complicated nature of how things seem to work in the country after the war.
“The quickest shortcut to big money in Liberia is through foreign aid. I met several Liberians who had few prospects or skills, but plenty of charisma, and who wanted to do something with foreign aid. Getting a check from he U.S. embassy or some NGO is like winning the lottery,” said Ben Feibleman, an independent journalist who traveled to Liberia and interviewed Blahyi earlier this year.
He added: “I think he does want to help people, particularly drug addicts. He doesn’t do them, but a lot of the former child soldiers are still addicted to heroin. Being a former military man, he sees force as a means to an end, and he told me about how he hopes to get legal protection to kidnap drug addicts and force them to get clean and accept Christ. Of course, it takes money to do that. There’s always a price. Someone has to build or rent or manage or service the facility that will house and feed the afflicted.”
Business Insider attempted to contact Blahyi through the email address on his website, but it came back as undeliverable.