The Cannibal Generals of Liberia

Uploaded by vice on Apr 26, 2012


SHANE SMITH: In this episode, we go to Liberia and hang out
with cannibal warlords.

MALE SPEAKER 1: I lift it up on the temple.
I'm gonna eat it.
MALE SPEAKER 1: It's a Liberian general's heart.
SHANE SMITH: I was afraid probably the whole time I was
in Liberia.
There's always this underlying hum of violence.
And the poverty there is so crippling that you're kind of
like, why wouldn't they steal our camera?
Why wouldn't they steal our clothes?
I mean, people are starving.
And all they know is war.

So is that why your nickname was General Butt Naked?

SHANE SMITH: A lot of people would drink or do
drugs before fighting?

SHANE SMITH: So you killed a child?
SHANE SMITH: And then drank the blood.

MALE SPEAKER 2: So what kind of war is this?
MALE SPEAKER 3: It's World War III.

SHANE SMITH: We here at Vice have been fascinated by
Liberia for a long time.
It's America's first and only foray into
quasi-colonialism in Africa.
It started as a back-to-Africa movement for freed slaves, and
in fact, the Constitution was written in Washington, and
Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, is actually named
after President Monroe.
And it became a state in the 1840s.
So the freed slaves go back to Africa and promptly enslave
the native Africans based on the plantation method they had
learned in the US, which lasts for about 140 years, until
Samuel K. Doe, the first native, African-born Liberian,
was elected.
But this doesn't last very long.

Because an American-educated, and some would say
American-backed, rebel leader named Charles Taylor and his
buddy Prince Johnson came from America and overthrew him.

NEWS REPORTER: Despite reports that the government wants
talks with the rebels, the violence goes on.

NEWS REPORTER: Rebel forces stormed into the center of the
capital today.
They're now less than a mile from the executive mansion,
where President Samuel Doe has barricaded himself with about
500 soldiers.
SHANE SMITH: In fact, Prince Johnson, who got to Doe before
his buddy Charles, ended up torturing him, cutting him up,
and is rumored to have eaten him while
filming the whole thing.

SHANE SMITH: So Charles Taylor finally gets elected with a
campaign slogan that reads, He killed my ma, he killed my pa,
but I'll still vote for him.
And it works.
He gets elected.
But he's so corrupt that soon after, there's a bunch of
warlords fighting for control over Liberia.
The country falls into civil war, and things go from bad to
severely fucked up.

SHANE SMITH: But this is like a civil war on steroids.
It's a post-apocalyptic Armageddon, with child
soldiers smoking heroin, cross-dressing cannibals,
systematic rape--
it's total hell on Earth.
MALE SPEAKER 4: We love the music.
This is our music.
NEWS REPORTER: They call it the sound of death.
MALE SPEAKER 4: Yeah, but it's the sound of music to us.
SHANE SMITH: Liberia's been in the news a lot lately because
Charles Taylor is on trial at The Hague for war crimes.
But we wanted to know what happened to
all the other warlords.
So we contacted a Canadian journalist who lives in
Liberia named Myles Estey, who's kind of a Kurtz-like
tall, skinny, skeleton guy who's had malaria more times
than he's had hot dinners--
and he said he could get us access to all these
So we said, great.
We got on a plane and we flew to Liberia.


SHANE SMITH: When you first get to Monrovia, the first
thing you think is, it's really hot.
It's really hot.
It's really poor.
And it's totally chaotic.
In fact, when we went to pick up Myles, he had just gotten
out of the hospital with malaria.
He gets in the car and he says, are you ready to go?
We're going to Baboon Town in the Red Light district to meet
our first general, General Bin Laden.

So as we drove to Baboon Town, we asked Myles, what's up with
the name General Bin Laden?
And he said, well, a lot of the generals took different
names because they didn't want to be identified after the
various wars.
And these pseudonyms were meant to strike terror into
the hearts of their enemies.
So there's a General Rambo, because he's scary.
There was a General Mosquito, because mosquitoes are
terrifying because they bring malaria.
The general that fought General Mosquito was named
General Mosquito Spray.
SHANE SMITH: And of course, there's General Bin Laden.
In fact, there's two General Bin Ladens.
Our General Bin Laden, we found out en route, had just
been put in jail.
Now he didn't know why, but he suspected because the
authorities found out that we were coming with
cameras to shoot him.
MYLES ESTEY: And they say they're not going to let him
out, but we can interview him in the jail and we can
interview the commanders.
SHANE SMITH: Let's do that.
Let's go there.
SHANE SMITH: So the minute we arrive in Baboon Town, our car
was surrounded by a bunch of sketchy dudes.
So when Myles came back and said we could interview Bin
Laden in the police station, I was like, yeah.
Let's get out of here and get in there really quick.

SHANE SMITH: So we get into the police
station, and it's chaos.
Some guards are saying, you can go see him.
Other guards are saying, you can't go see him.
And we just have to sit there and wait.
I like being in the police station.
It's nice.

Little monkey.
He's got herpes, I think, or something.
What's wrong with the monkey?
Why is the monkey here?
SHANE SMITH: Why is the monkey here?
We're in a police station in the middle of the red light
district to meet General Bin Laden, and I'm wondering why
the monkey's here.

SHANE SMITH: And eventually after sitting there for a
while, we realized, oh, we've got to grease some palms.
So we gave them some money, and bang.
We were back into the jail and we could talk to Bin Laden.
Hey, Bin Laden.
SHANE SMITH: How are you?
MYLES ESTEY: This is my friend Shane.
SHANE SMITH: Nice to meet you.
We're going to try to get you out of here now, and then we
can go back.

SHANE SMITH: All right.
We're going to do it right now.

I know what he did.
Just--we're talking about to get him out.
What do we have to do?

SHANE SMITH: OK, we'll stop.
We'll stop.
It's off.
MYLES ESTEY: The video's off.
He's carrying it, he's just holding it right now.

SHANE SMITH: Look, we're good people.
We're good--
Nobody's recording.

I can give him cash.
Can we-- can we pay him and pay you a fine
and then take him?
POLICEMAN: That's good.
OK, let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go.
OK, let's go, let's go.

MALE SPEAKER 5: Hey, hey, you.
SHANE SMITH: We went in there.
And we're being followed by the police right now.
SHANE SMITH: Yeah, we might have to change tapes or do
something, because--
what we do is we shoot cards, and if they come, we can give
them the tape.
There's nothing on the tape.
SHANE SMITH: Yeah, we do right now.

SHANE SMITH: Our trip is getting progressively heavier.
SHANE SMITH: Yeah, that'd be good.
I'm kind of a little bit worried that the police are
going to come get us right now.
I gave them a fake name and fake number.

Nice to meet you.
SHANE SMITH: Nice to meet you.

SHANE SMITH: Thank you.
Thank you.
SHANE SMITH: So after we got Bin Laden out of jail, he was
very excited to get us up to his rooftop
and tell us his story.
And according to him, the ex-generals, who are now the
community leaders, are the only ones doing anything to
help the people.
So maybe you could explain a little bit about-- so first of
all, you became known as Bin Laden during the war.
GENERAL BIN LADEN: During the war.
SHANE SMITH: And then after the war, now you're sort of
trying to help people by carpentry and by karate.

SHANE SMITH: Do get any money here?

SHANE SMITH: Yeah, but the UN, or the government doesn't give
you any money?

SHANE SMITH: And is this-- is this area--
this is Red Light, here?
This is Red Light.
SHANE SMITH: And is it--
is there a lot of crime in Red Light.
This is Red Light.

SHANE SMITH: So Myles comes over, stops the interview, and
says, we have to get the fuck out of here now.
And Bin Laden looks down, and he goes, yeah, yeah.
Those aren't my guys.
You guys should really go.

So Bin Laden gave us an escort and a couple of his guys got
us through the crowd to the car, and we got the fuck out.
CAMERAMAN: Let's go.
Let's go.
Let's go.
Let's go.
Let's go.
Let's go.
Holy fucking shit.
That was out of hand.
We gotta get out of here.

There was some heavy-duty vibes there.

SHANE SMITH: So after meeting and being freaked out by
General Bin Laden, we wanted to see what the UN and
government were doing to rebuild Liberia.
So we met a local journalist named Nagbe and we asked him,
and he said, you want to see what the
government and UN are doing?
I'll take you to West Point.

So West Point is the worst slum in Liberia, which makes
it one of the worst slums in West Africa, which makes it
one of the worst slums in the world.
And when you first get there, the first thing you want to do
is get the hell out.
It's open sewers everywhere, shit, piss, garbage,
everything mixed in.
And the stench is overpowering.

CAMERAMAN: Oh, dude.
It really stinks here.

SHANE SMITH: But I mean, one of the first basic rules is,
don't shit where you eat.
IMMANUEL NAGBE: That's it, but--
SHANE SMITH: That's the number one rule.

SHANE SMITH: But the government has to do something
about that--

SHANE SMITH: So even in one of the worst slums of Western
Africa, you see the cultural impact that America has there.
All the kids are wearing Biggie or Tupac t-shirts.
And in fact, one kid came up to us and
said, hey, I'm a rapper.
Can I rap for you?
And we said yes.
And it wasn't about bling, and it wasn't about Cristal.

SHANE SMITH: And is there a lot of malaria in here?
SHANE SMITH: Needless to say, in West Point, health
conditions are foul.
Diseases everywhere.
Malaria, infections, and AIDS are rampant.

SHANE SMITH: Cover-up for heroin.
IMMANUEL NAGBE: It's a big business.
SHANE SMITH: We heard stories that during the war, the
rebels would go out in boats with diamonds and trade the
diamonds for weapons and cocaine, and it was a lot of
Colombians and Mexicans.
SHANE SMITH: We find it interesting, because cocaine
and heroin are very expensive drugs.
So we were surprised to find heroin here.
Usually, in poorer countries, there's speed or meth or
things you can make.
SHANE SMITH: Why is that?


SHANE SMITH: Liberian dollars?
IMMANUEL NAGBE: Liberian dollars.
SHANE SMITH: So how much is that?
SHANE SMITH: So because of the poverty, a lot of women have
to become prostitutes.

SHANE SMITH: Sex worker.
IMMANUEL NAGBE: We can go this way.

IMMANUEL NAGBE: Condoms, here.

SHANE SMITH: So on our first day in Liberia, we see child
junkies, shit and piss everywhere, malaria, AIDS,
rape, and now we started hearing about cannibalism.
The scaredest I was, was we actually shot in West Point,
which is the worst slum in West Africa.
And it's kind of these rabbit warren streets.
And we went to shoot in a brothel with these junkies,
and the junkies started asking for money.
Like, where's my money?
Where's my money?
And people started hearing "money" and just flooded into
the brothel.
Like money, money, money.
So we took off.
The problem is, you take off, you can't go anywhere, because
there's these little streets that, you know, there's no
rhyme or reason to them.
So we're all running around in the dark.
We finally get back to the car, against all odds.
We get in the car, and our driver's so freaked out about
the mob following us that he peels off and nearly kills
some people.
Which is terrifying, because if you kill people down in
West Point, they'll just take the car, rip
you limb from limb.
And so against all odds, we get out of there.
And I'm like shaking and nervous, whatever.
And as we go, we realize, oh, now it's time to meet General
Butt Naked.