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At the corner of the fence of the Capitol Building and facing the Executive mansion, soldiers of the United Nations peacekeeping force sat under their tent with sandbags around them and a small jungle growing all over the place. Their machine guns were pointed at the Mansion. I said “hello” and asked if we could take their picture. One of them said “Ah, Oga (Chief for Nigerians) why not, take any picture you want.” We snapped a few pictures and crossed the street and took some pictures of the Capitol. We also took some pictures of the Executive Mansion.
As we walked into the yard of the Capitol building, Matt said: “for true Charles Taylor is gone.” I asked him why.
“Just look at the cars passing in front of the Mansion… When Taylor was here nobody could ever drive around here. And talk about taking pictures! We would all be in jail by now.’
I told Matt that it was Samuel Doe who closed the road to traffic in front of the Mansion. Matt was just 5 at the time of the coup in 1980 and 14 when he joined Taylor’s army. The gate to the Capitol - chained by the side entrance - was open and we walked in. There were lots of people sitting under the trees. The flags of the counties were waving in the air. We walked to the entrance and asked for George Dweh’s office. The security man asked for our identification and then told us where to go.
We walked to the first floor and I located Conmany Wesseh’s office. His name, like that of every one else was written on a piece of paper and taped on top of the door. There were two chairs and about five people standing around. We were told that Wesseh was in session. We asked for George Dweh’s office and were told that he was on the same floor as the plenary. The carpeting had gone from the hall. Many offices had no doors and there were broken chairs and desks all around. Windows were covered with planks and cardboards. There was no light and it was hot and dark. Doors and windows were open in every direction for air. The noise of manual typewriters mixed with voices of people created a cacophony that sounded more like Waterside. There were piles of broken desks and chairs in unoccupied offices.
When we got to the top floor, we heard a big commotion, as if people were running. I hastily climbed the last two steps and came face-to-face with an armed soldier. He pushed me to the side and yelled:” Clear the way!” Down the hall, about a dozen people were advancing towards us. In the middle of the group, I recognized George Dweh, in a blue Mandingo outfit. I waved to him and he called my name. He walked to me and we hugged. I told him that I wanted to ask him a few questions about his legislative agenda. He said he had received my note and added that we could talk after a short meeting he had to attend. I told him that I would go watch the plenary for a few minutes and would come back.
The assembly was discussing the upcoming trip of the Chairman to the Donors Conference in New York. There were about twenty delegates in the parlors and they were debating the upcoming Donors Conference in New York and how the government was handling the whole issue, from the number of delegates to the amount spent on air tickets and per diem. One assemblyman said that the legislature should send its own delegation and proposed that a member of each committee be part of that group. The discussion went on for a long while until Dr. Charles Clark, stood up and said that as Chairman of the Committee on the Executive, he wanted to clarify the fact that the Donors Conference was a matter that concerned the Executive and that although the Legislature had the right to ask questions, it had no business sending a separate delegation to the conference.
Another member of the assembly stood up and said that they should not trust the Executive. “These people will put all that money in their private bank accounts in America and come back without a dime.” A few minutes of discussion followed. The deputy speaker who was leading the session finally asked for a motion. It was decided that since they could not trust the Executive branch of government, they would ask that a few people from the assembly be part of the delegation to New York.
Matt and I left and went to see George Dweh. A young woman told me to wait in her office. She said she was the Assistant to the Assistant of the Special Assistant to George Dweh. She came back after a few minutes and told me to wait. Her office was crowded. Matt stood by the window. Many people were fanning themselves with notebooks or wiping sweat with their lappas or handkerchiefs. I started to sweat and asked the young woman if it was going to be long. She told us to wait and she left the office. She came back after ten minutes and asked that we follow her.
We went to the office of the Assistant to the Special Assistant. We waited. There was less traffic. There was also a fan and I sat close by the hot wind it was blowing. After half an hour, I asked the young man if there was any chance of seeing Dweh. He asked me to wait and that he would find out. He came back and asked us to follow him.
We were ushered into another office, smaller, carpeted and it was cool. Matt stood by the big fan and I sat close by the desk. The Special Assistant went in the Office and came back. He did not say a word and we waited. He turned on his radio and then asked me why I wanted to see the Chief. I told him that I had already told the Chief what I wanted to discuss with him and that he was expecting me. Matt was getting a bit agitated, growing impatient or uneasy for being in the same space with people he fought most of his life, up until just six months ago. The people around us were certainly all former fighters of LURD, ULIMO or MODEL or Doe’s militia brought in from Grand Geddeh in the last days of his presidency. George Dweh belonged to all these groups and this had paved the way for him to be Speaker of the Transitional Assembly.
“If that something personal, you have to come back another day,” the Special Assistant said. I told him that I had sent a note to Dweh two days earlier and that he was expecting me. He asked for my name and then reached into his drawer and brought out the card I had sent to George Dweh. “I clear every one who comes to see him. You have to put in writing what you want to discuss with him and I will talk to him about it. The Speaker is very busy.” I told him that I had written something on the back of the card. He didn’t say anything and kept on typing. Every now and then he would glance at Matt. Finally he said: “The Chief is in a very serious discussion with some family members about funeral arrangements for one of his relatives. I advise you come back. Here is my cell phone number.” Matt and I both shook his hand and left.
We walked to the Ministry of Information and met with Dr. C. William Allen who had left his teaching job in an American university to take up the position of Minister of Information. He was working out of a small room while carpenters were putting the finishing touch to his office.
The entire ministry had been looted during the war. Some of the things from the Ministry, including computers and office furniture were found with the former Taylor minister Jonathan Goodridge who claimed that he had taken them for safekeeping… just as in 1996, during the April fracas he took George Weah’s car. And again as in 1996, Goodridge forgot to bring back the items he “borrowed” from the Ministry until a deputy minister went to his house with the police to retrieve two of the computers. He still kept the printers at his new business location, near the old Julia’s restaurant on Gurley Street. Under Taylor, there was no way of telling what belonged to government or what belonged to officials. People were receiving cash from Taylor to run their ministries and therefore considered everything they bought as personal properties, including vehicles and computers.
After chatting with the Minister, we walked down towards the residence. People who had been chased from Camp Johnson Road in September 1998 – during Chucky Taylor led massacre - had all returned to reclaim the neighborhood. There were small tables loaded with goods on the sidewalk.
Entire families lived in the old stores on Camp Johnson Road. Like everywhere else in Monrovia, children sold cold water in plastic bags, peanuts and oranges and women roasted plantain on the sidewalk. Roosevelt Johnson’s former house was filled with people, mostly young men hanging around and drinking. There were bullet holes on the walls. Across the street, there was tons of garbage that had accumulated over the years. Flies were as big as cockroaches. The ghostly carcass of the old Chief Compound faced the half-burnt Monrovia College building. At a corner, St. Thomas Church where many women and children were executed in 1998 stood in total contrast, whitewashed with its tainted-glass windows.
As we passed in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Matt asked me why I wanted to talk to George Dweh and why we wasted so much time, the whole morning, at the Capitol when we could have done something else.
“I just wanted to know…” I said.
“Know what? What this man could have told you?” Matt insisted
“Nothing… I just wanted to know…” I said as I pushed the gate open and we entered the residence. It was hot and the sun was not letting. I am still not sure what I was going to ask George Dweh.