Send Peace, Not hate Messages to Your Family and Friends in Liberia: An Appeal to Liberians in the Diaspora


By Tiawan S. Gongloe

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 4, 2004

In the wake of the reports of renewed killings of people and burning of mosques, churches and homes in Liberia, it is imperative that all Liberians living outside Liberia call upon their family members, friends and associates to exercise restraint, irrespective of the temptation and capacity for violent response. Liberians have nothing to gain as a people by encouraging more violence from abroad. The only consequence of violence from abroad would be the increase in the flow of Liberian blood; hence, more sorrow, animosity and hopelessness. Certainly, this is not something for which any proud Liberian would like to take credit. It is not a sign of weakness to tell your affected family member or friend not to revenge. Failure to revenge is not a sign of weakness but a sign of enormous strength. More importantly, failure to revenge, particularly at this time, in the history of Liberia, is an extreme demonstration of love of country.

Instead of encouraging the use of violence, let’s encourage our family members and friends to use the law to seek redress for whatever injury they have suffered over the past few days. In the process of returning our country from war to peace, we should muster the courage to follow the rule of law. Although, a legal recourse may take a long time, it has been proven to be better than taking the law into ones own hands. In revenge there is no record but when a perpetrator of violence or any wrong is brought before a court of law, the actor is made to account for his action and the court record remains a permanent source of reference for his conduct. Restraining one’s emotion, respecting the rights of others and relying on the law for relief in case of any injury or violation of one’s rights are the best ways to defend individual rights and to ensure peace and stability in any community.

What happened in Liberia over the past few days was a result of failure to exercise restraint and to rely on the rule of law. It did not start as a religious conflict but it accidentally turned into one because of an outburst of emotion. This emotion provided an opportunity for some people to engage in violence - revenge or theft. According to media reports the conflict started in Jacob’s Town, Paynesville, not between religious leaders, but ordinary Liberians.

There are two accounts that have been reported. According to one account, “Residents said the trouble began on Thursday night over a land dispute in the eastern suburb of Paynesville and quickly escalated after a car was set on fire and burned down a nearby mosque.”(, Nov. 1, 2004). A more detailed account from the same source is “a group of former fighters of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group beat up a man who objected to them building a house on his land. These men were from the Mandingo ethnic group. The injured man’s family and neighbors subsequently set up a manhunt for all Mandingos in the area that led to the burning of the mosque.” So, one of the actions that were taken during this process of revenge was the burning of a car that was parked near a mosque. The fire from the car set ablaze a nearby mosque. Apparently, upon seeing a mosque burn, some persons, perhaps Moslem youths began to burn churches. Subsequently, others, perhaps Christian youths began to burn mosques. On the other hand the situation was probably exploited by anti-peace elements, as Jacques Klein - the head of the peace UN peace mission in Monrovia and Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant have concluded.

The other account is that a conflict between market vendors in Paynesville on Thursday quickly turned into ethnic violence that led to the burning of churches and Mosques (see UN News Service, Oct. 29, 2004.). This account does not provide any explanation of how the conflict attained a religious nature. It is safe, therefore, to say that the likely cause of the conversion of the conflict into what appears to be a religious one is the burning of the car that was parked next to a mosque.

From these accounts, it is not correct to say that there is conflict between Moslems and Christians in Monrovia. It was just a conflict between claimants to a parcel of land that turned into deaths and destructions of properties and the wounding of so many persons. An investigation of the incident could just reveal that this was a plan action of anti-peace elements, or a spontaneous action of unemployed and loitering former combatants, or perhaps and just perhaps there exist some unnoticeable religious extremists who exploited and inflamed what started as an ordinary conflict. These are compelling reasons for a thorough investigation by the transitional government and the UN.

It should be noted, however, that for a country that has experienced over fifteen years of extreme violence, sporadic outburst of violence will remain a possibility for a long time to come. Also this kind of thing is not unique to Liberia. It happens in even peaceful countries. For example, according to the most recent report of the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Central China, a Moslem Hui taxi driver killed a Han Chinese girl in October, 2004. This incident resulted in an ethnic violence that caused the death of 150 persons - (see CrisisWatch No.15). This is what happens when people let their emotions to take control of them. In other words, ordinary incidents can become violent even in countries where life seems to be normal, if emotions are not restrained.

In view of this little understanding of the background to the current situation in Liberia, it is important that Liberians living outside Liberia, particularly in the United States, send peace messages to Liberia, not hate messages. Let us not inflame the situation. Let us promote peace, and save Liberia from further bleeding.

About the author: Tiawan Gongloe is currently a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights, John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.