Liberia On Fire, Again
November 1, 2004
This two-decade of warlord rule came after almost a century and half of suppression of the majority of the people, where, just as in the case of the warlords, a handful of people exploited and used the national resources for their personal benefits. Anger breeds contempt, humiliation breeds anger. The past two decades have created a situation that was bound to explode.
Liberians who thought they had waken-up to a new dawn in 1980 felt betrayed by Samuel K. Doe’s years later. Those who applauded Charles G. Taylor in 1989 ended running for their lives once it became clear that the killing machine was not for Krahns and Mandingos alone. From there on, it was a cascade of murder in the name of “liberation”. Samuel Doe’s policies created divisions and hatred among the people of Nimba, opposing one tribal group to another. Then Taylor came and exploited the same division, arming one tribal group against another. ULIMO, LPC, MODEL and LURD later followed the same scheme, pitting one group against another in the pursuit of wealth and self-aggrandizement. There was never a search for justice; there was never an attempt to reconciliation. Every war and every conference was conducted to benefit a handful of people, never to restore justice or to start a reconciliation process.
After the combined forces of LURD and MODEL shelled the country for the last time and Charles Taylor was removed from power, there was an opportunity to have Liberians sit around and talk about the future of their country. But rather nothing changed. Those who killed and robbed came to town again, arrogant and selfish, driving the most expensive cars when the greatest majority can hardly afford a cup of rice. The deep-seated anger that every victim of the many wars harbored was bound to come to the surface. Sooner than later, the frustration was to come out and, when incapable to take up on those who victimized them, the people take the frustration on those accessible to them.
As usual, there are finger pointing here and there. Some Mandingos are saying that they are under attack. Some say that this was a continuation of the silent war that has been going on in Lofa and Nimba, where homes of Mandingo have been set ablaze in the last few months while UNMIL looks on and walks by. Others accuse LURD and their Mandingo leaders and said that LURD wanted to overthrow the government. There are talks about religious war that opposes Muslims to the rest of the country, as if those who are burning homes and killing innocent people are at all religious. The rumor mills if filled with the most incredible conspiracy theories.
What took place since 1990 was a gang war. What is beginning now is a civil war. This is what has been brewing in the country for so long. It is like what happened in Bosnia in the 1990s. People who have been neighbors and friends for generations suddenly burn each other’s homes, kill each other and find every reason in the world to demonize each other.
The various peace accords never dealt with the issues of justice and equity. Those who have been wronged by the gang wars that brought a succession of gang leaders to power have never had any recourse. With no end to their suffering, victims turn onto each other, taking their frustration on each other, like a pack of hungry animals.
As everywhere in the world, there are strained relations between religions. Liberia is no exception. As organized group ideologies, every religion views itself as the only path way to the Almighty and Salvation. There are zealots who like to repeat that Liberia is a Christian nation. Muslims have lived on the sideline of political power for generations and their recent emergence through the most brutal time of our history and mostly through warfare has created resentment in some quarters. There are those who blamed ULIMO more than they blame the NPFL for the damages of the war. But through it all, people lived together and went by their business. However, as the general sense helplessness and frustration grow, guilt by association deepens. And this explosion was bound to happen.
There will be those who will try to exploit the current situation. Those who have harbored hatred for Mandingos and Islam will jump on it to justify their sentiments and turn this into a political tool. Some Mandingos who are desperately looking for relevance may jump on this to set themselves as community leaders while they have done nothing for Mandingos or Islam in the past. If Liberians were to let them win, the country would be plunged in a new cycle of violence without an end in sight.
The truth strength of any government such as ours would be seen in its capacity to see below the surface of things and find real solutions to deep problems. Liberians are really angry, frustrated and desperate. Our successive governments have failed to provide a sense of justice and reconciliation. It would be easy to arrest a few people and throw them in jail and impose a curfew. Curfews don’t solve social problems.
When Liberians were angry and tired with the oligarchy, Doe came and took them for a ride. When they got frustrated and tired with Doe, Taylor took them for a ride. And the cycle is continuing and this is what is coming to the surface.
Liberians need reconciliation, they need to trust each other again and they need to reconcile their differences. None of this is however possible in the absence of justice. There is no justice when the culprits are never made to account for the wrongs they have caused. There is no justice when those who work the hardest never receive the fruits of their labor. There is no justice when those who killed and raped and destroyed are rewarded, while the victims are denied their basic rights. Basic human rights include justice, fair play, and equity among others. In the absence of these elements, last weekend violent outbreak is but just another episode of things to come.
Today, the people in Monrovia are hacking each other; in Nimba and Lofa they are burning each other homes, in Southeastern Liberia warlords still hold population hostage. What lies ahead could make the past twenty years look like a Boy Scout food fight.
Unless, unless, Liberians decide to sit together, look at the root causes of their problems and find long lasting solutions after listening to each other respectfully, genuinely, things would continue to degrade. Elections are not the solutions to our problems and the way we have been going at it, they could be the source of some of our social and political shortcomings. Liberian leaders have so far only been concerned about attaining political power and in the course of putting their ambitions to work, have used one tribe or religious group against another. The cycle must be broken. The citizens of Liberians need to come to the forefront and resolve their differences.
This is not a religious war. Liberians must not allow this sad incident to be exploited by demagogues. It is a signal that justice, reconciliation and fairness are needed in the society before we go to the elections. UNMIL can help keep peace but they do not understand our problem and therefore can only do what we ask them. Liberians need an agenda for peace and reconciliation. The Accra Accord only dealt with the issue of power, not the solution to our social problems. The scheduled elections in 2005 only deal with the issue of power, not justice and reconciliation and it would bring to the Mansion another group of people that would carry on as usual… and Liberians would have no choice again but to revolt and kill each other.