Brumskine Takes on UNMIL and Bryant
March 30, 2004
My fellow Liberians, I am grateful to the Almighty God for calling me onto the public stage at this time in the history of our country, and I would like to thank you for allowing me the time you have taken away from your busy schedule for us to talk for a few minutes about Liberia, our country. I speak with you today not as a politician seeking a political office, but as a Liberian who is gravely concerned about the unabated suffering of our people and the future of our country.
After four years of exile, I returned home on January 21, 2003, in an attempt to help provide a vision for a nation that was in a state of despair, and to give hope to the vast majority of Liberians who by then were wondering whether the Lord Jesus Christ had given up on our country and whether all was lost in Liberia. Believing in God's promise of protection, I laid my personal safety beneath the hope of Liberians and found the courage to return home. I came home not simply because I desire to ascend to the highest office of the land, but because I love our country and believe that the people of Liberia deserve better. My mission now, like then, is not about the President that I will be tomorrow, but the leadership that I can provide today.
On the night of March 15, 2003, I spoke by telephone to Liberians in the United States at a dinner that was held in my honor. Regrettably, I could not attend because, as you are aware, Mr. Taylor prevented me from leaving the country. Among other things, I said that night:
Four years ago I fled Liberia out of fear for my life. On Thursday, March 13, (2003) three days ago, as I remembered the blessings of God, it occurred to me that fear had similarly caused me to return to Liberia on January 21, 2003. But this time it was not the fear of death, but the fear of living a long and "successful" life in the great United States, surrounded by the love and comfort of family and friends, without doing much to serve the interest of our people, and denying my God, Jesus Christ, the opportunity to be glorified.
Today, I say to you, that if men will know that He whose name alone is JEHOVAH is the Most High over all the earth then I must, without fear or want of favor, discuss those issues that continue to bedevil us as a people and destroy us as a nation.
Since my return home, former President Taylor has left Liberia, UNMIL has come to Liberia following the intervention of ECOMIL, and our Transitional Government has been installed. But I am afraid not very much else has changed today, and that should trouble every one of us who truly loves Liberia.
My fellow citizens, I am more concerned about the future of our nation today than I was on January 21, 2003, when I returned home from the United States. At that time former President Taylor was the embodiment of all evils in this country. Ordinary Liberians were harassed, tortured, and killed with impunity. A few Liberians, whether in the public or private sector, were enriching themselves at the expense of the neglected majority. Others accomplished their special agenda without regard to the best interest of our nation. Impoverished and destitute Liberians were terrorized throughout rural Liberia, while some in Monrovia continued to amass wealth, indifferent to the plight of the rest of our brothers and sisters. In Monrovia, Taylor's wrath was reserved for only people like me who dared to challenge the status quo.
The University of Liberia was opened and closed at the whims of the President because he claimed, "there was no money". Yet everyday there were new vehicles on the streets of Monrovia, purchased for government officials and friends with taxpayers' dollars. Civil Servants were not paid for months, and in some cases for years. As his mandate from the people faded away, Taylor rushed to tie up the natural resources of this country-the forest, the gold and diamond, and the potential for oil.
The Tawainese Government gave money to the Taylor government to provide electricity to Monrovia, but there was never light.
Notwithstanding Taylor's many failings, the situation in Liberia was less complicated then, than it is today. The issues were plain and simple: both Liberians, who were opposed to the ills that characterized our country, and the international community understood that Mr. Taylor was the problem, and that Mr. Taylor had to go. And so on August 11, 2003, our God took Taylor out of this country.
On October 1, 2003 UNMIL, the peacekeepers, replaced ECOMIL, the West African stabilization force. Our Transitional Government was installed on October 14, 2003, but business as usual continues just as if Taylor were still dictating his whims in Liberia. Women are still raped, old men are tortured, and children are molested and die from neglect every day. Evil men (heart-men) extract the parts of fellow Liberians, as a means of gaining state power. Liberians continue to be terrorized throughout the rural parts of the country.
There are new groups of individuals amassing wealth at the expense of our people. The University of Liberia remains closed, while the tax revenue is spent on purchase of luxury vehicles and unnecessary foreign travels. Salary arrears of Civil Servants from the Taylor administration remain unpaid, while debts incurred by Mr. Taylor as a result of questionable transactions with vendors are being settled.
The Transitional Government must treat the re-opening of the University of Liberia with urgency. The students have to return to school and cannot remain out of school for another semester. Similarly, I implore the Transitional Government to make arrangements for the payment of salary arrears of Civil Servants. Civil Servants must not be penalized for working for their government, even during Taylor's administration. They too were victimized and need to jump-start their lives. It is the payment of the Taylor Government's debts to vendors that should be suspended, and not the salary arrears of Liberians who need to pay their children's school fees and settle the personal debts they had to incur for necessities during the days of Charles Taylor.
I understand that a delegation of the Transitional Government has left for London and Houston to solicit bids for offshore oil drilling blocks. One must wonder why the rush to tie-up the resources of this country, the legacy of our children, especially by a government that has not insisted upon the disarmament of a single child-soldier, a government that has "no money" to educate our children, and certainly a government that does not have a mandate from the people of Liberia.
The European Union announced in December 2003 that it had provided funding for electricity in Monrovia. The EU representative even went through the symbolic exercise of turning on lights in the City, but still there is no light in Monrovia.
During the Taylor regime, we prayed for the intervention of the international community, and God answered our prayer. They are here! Like never before, the international community is present in Liberia. But with all the goodwill of ECOWAS, the United Nations, the European Union, and friendly nations, evil and corruption abound, and our transition to a functioning democratic society, characterized by transparency and accountability, appears to be eluding us once again.
UNMIL has been here for more than five months, but has failed to commence disarmament. When the young men and women showed up on December 7, 2003 to be disarmed, UNMIL was either unprepared or unwilling to take possession of the weapons, which the combatants had voluntarily transported from in and around Monrovia to Camp Schieffilin. The combatants, therefore, returned to Monrovia with their guns, which led to a chaotic situation that resulted into the unnecessary loss of additional Liberian lives.
UNMIL justifies its failure to disarm the ex-combatants on the facts that, among other things, its full strength of 15,000 troops has not yet arrived, and that it has not yet constructed cantonment sites. This is sad, to say the least. Firstly, the full strength of UNMIL force would seem an unnecessary condition to begin disarmament when the ex-combatants are willing and ready to be disarmed. Secondly, cantonment sites or no cantonment sites, the first and most important thing to do is to take away the guns from the willing combatants.
Nothing should prevent a peacekeeper from receiving a gun that is offered to be surrendered by a child-soldier, who should not be in possession of such a weapon in the first place. The longer UNMIL allows the guns to remain in the hands of the fighters, the more Liberian lives are lost every day, and the more difficult it becomes to break the cycle of violence that have engulfed our country.
The United Nations and the United States co-sponsored a Donors Conference on our behalf, for which we are grateful. But unless disarmament begins shortly, the pledges might do us no good. Of course, if Liberians had been asked of our priority, I believe we would have overwhelmingly said disarm the combatants prior to soliciting pledges for the reconstruction of Liberia.
UNMIL has even patched a few potholes on Tubman Boulevard. Of course, that money would have been better used to buy back weapons from the ex-combatants.
Instead of taking the guns from fighters who are willing and ready to give them up, UNMIL has dropped additional sandbags along the UN Drive and Center Street. This could create a state of apprehension among foreigners and members of international organizations to whom UNMIL will disseminate such information, as part of its work in Liberia. Why the new drop of sandbags in the center of Monrovia? And why not in Bong Mines, Buchanan, Gbarnga, Saniquellie, Voinjama, and other cities out side of Monrovia, where there is a more serious threat to the lives of the residents?
UNMIL must not allow itself to fall victim to the ills that characterize our society. Notwithstanding that one of UNMIL's primary reason for being here is "to carry out voluntary disarmament and to collect and destroy weapons and ammunition as part of an organized DDRR programme", our people are continuously terrorized and killed because the taking of guns from the combatants has not been prioritized by UNMIL.
We are grateful to God for the presence of UNMIL. They may stay as long as member-states will support their deployment in Liberia. I must appeal, however, on behalf of the many Liberians who have no voice: please immediately commence collecting the guns, at least from the willing combatants. Do not wait until "sometime" in April. Help stop the raping, the torture, and killing of women, old men, and children. It has been more than seven months since major conflict ended, but we remain in a state of war!
Disarmament was postponed from December 7, 2003 to January 20, 2004, and then rescheduled to February 20, 2004. After being quiet about a new date for more than a month, we are now asked to believe that UNMIL will now commence disarmament sometime in April. Liberians must insist that UNMIL keeps its word this time, and begin the process of disarmament without delay.
Some would have us believe that all is well, but Liberians who are being raped, tortured, and killed everyday, our children who are out of school, and those who genuinely love Liberia know that all is not well. My fellow citizens, while the guns may be silencing, the real war for the heart and soul of our nation has just begun.
God got rid of our homegrown dictator, we must, therefore, never again accept, without questioning, another governance arrangement that is neither democratic, transparent, nor in the best interest of our people. It should not matter whether the international community supports such arrangement or not. We must not give up our civic responsibilities to others and expect them to produce acceptable results for us.
We are a poor developing country. Our national institutions are backward looking; our economy has reversed. Our society is imperiled by lack of attention and disease. But we can change all of this if, but only if, we define our national agenda, and develop a sense of national pride. We have too long allowed others to tell us what is good for us. We are only now beginning to question the wisdom of some policies adopted by our government. And we are beginning to press UNMIL and the international community for results.
If we expect change in our country, we must accept the responsibility of change along with the responsibility of full citizenship. It is high time that we begin to insist on doing what is good for our people and right for our country, realizing that our strength lies not in might or power, but in our faith in God, respect for others and ourselves, and love for our country.
May the God of our fathers bless us all and save the Republic.