Happy New Year, Liberia
By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé
January 1, 2004
2003 was a great year, filled with drama and developments of all sorts. For Liberia, it marked the start of a new era, the end of the trauma that besieged this nation for the past two decades of violence and instability. To reach this far, the country slumped to the lowest level of humanity. The explosion of violence in the 1980s and 1990s was symptomatic of a society angry at itself. The compressed anger and frustration blew out, shattering everything that Liberians once depended upon.
Liberians who witnessed the past two decades and survived must pat themselves on the back. They must give each a hug, an embrace and a kiss. And pray for each other. Countries go through periods of madness. The greatest nations on the surface of Mother Earth have all experienced moments of collective insanity. Americans killed each other like flies during their civil war. The French even invented a beheading machine to carry out their “revolution”. China killed millions. The Russians ran out of bullets killing themselves. Liberia is not unique. Of course that is not an excuse for the madness. But every revolution has an excuse.
Revolutions are not instantaneous events; they develop over long periods of time. Some people thought that the 1980 “revolution” failed because Samuel Doe turned out to be as corrupt and even more brutal than any Liberian leader before him. The 1980 coup was an event in a series that spanned many decades. If there was a revolution, it started long before 1980 and it would go on much after that fateful hot April day. The end of the TWP regime did not start in April 1980, but much earlier. Charles Taylor was not an accident; he was the instrument of history that allowed the nation to face its contradictions. It was through him that Liberians saw everything that they would grow to hate: greed, corruption, disregard for human dignity, and shallowness. When, on his way out, he said he was the sacrificial lamb, leaving so that the country may have peace, he was right in a way: He embodied everything Liberia has to get rid off to be a new, vibrant nation. Doe and Taylor were the embodiments of what was wrong with Liberia. They lived somehow in every Liberian and it will take some form of exorcism to remove them from our system.
The mass graves of April 1979, the executions of April 1980, the December 1989 invasion and its aftermaths, April 1996, June 2003 are all milestones in the Liberian saga towards liberation. Liberation from 150 years of humiliation, depravation and exploitation. Just as rice would not grow on a rock, revolt cannot spring in a land of peace. People revolt and put their lives on the line because they believe that any change would be better than the present conditions, through death or some sort of rewards. Many Liberians have paid that price. Many lost their lives. Some lost their lifesavings. People who, a decade ago were the voice of reason and progress have lost their credibility. Millions of Liberians lost everything they ever owned, including their humanity and dignity. But in all, Liberia survived. Those who survived would have the responsibility to make her look better than she has ever been. And through her new strength, they will regain their own humanity and dignity.
This New Year comes with many promises. The most important of all is the promise of peace, an atmosphere where every Liberian would have a chance to make a fresh start. It is probably the culmination of the revolution that started long ago, in some remote village, when a peasant told a child: “Go to their school, go learn what they know so that one day….”
The ghosts that plagued Liberia would be hard to kill. The evils of corruption, deception, violence, and oppression are rooted so deep in the make of the social fabric that it could take generations to turn things around. But in this age and time, it may not be too hard to achieve. Liberians have learned hard lessons. They traveled to many foreign lands, learned new recipes and new cultures. They acquired new accents and languages. They learned that they were not Americans. They learned that other African countries have developed social systems that allow their citizens to live in peace, if not in prosperity. They have learned that all flights from RIA don’t end at JFK. They have learned that the evils of the old system are embedded in every Liberian tribe and bloodline. They have learned to love Liberia at her lowest, because she is the only one they have.
The followers of Tolbert, Doe, and Taylor have all learned that political power can be as illusive as a rainbow in the sky. An angry and frustrated handful of people can disrupt everything. The last three decades have taught every Liberian a lesson; that is the strength that will build the new Liberia.
With the dust settling on some thirty years of national folly, Liberia is ready to move on. There has never been such an opportunity for peace and stability. For the first time, no one person or group of people dominates the political and economic landscape of the country. The warring factions are but a fainting image of what they were in the 1990s. UN Peacekeepers will not take orders from semi-literate warlords. The transitional government does not have the power to perpetuate itself. The Lebanese merchants who controlled the economy for decades have mostly fled and left a vacuum to be filled… by Liberian entrepreneurs, if they so desire. The transportation industry, bakeries, clothing, breweries, iron ore, diamonds, fisheries, home renovation, coffee and cocoa farming are there to be developed. The land is rich and the soil is potent. Liberia is awaiting a new start. Liberians would have themselves to blame for any future failure.
Rather than be ashamed and get drowned in self-pity, Liberians should be proud of themselves. This is a new beginning and with 2004 comes many promises.
There is a need for many things in the new Liberia, including justice. Many would have to account for what they did to others. The time would come for that. Justice can only prosper in an atmosphere of peace.
Now, every Liberian must come forward and contribute whatever s/he has and more to nation building, beginning with peacemaking. Peace is the cornerstone of any social development. And it is achievable. Blaming each other and playing prophets of doom will not help any. There are many lessons in Liberian history books.
Happy New Year, Liberia. You have great days ahead of you…