Things We Must Discuss: The TRC & US

By Abdoulaye W. Dukulé

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 22, 2008


Our piece on the Truth & reconciliation Commission on the web and in the print media in Monrovia gave rise to various reactions, principally from Press Secretary to the President, Mr. Cyrus Badio and a certain Joseph Jerue. A few friends called us and asked that we apologize to Her Excellency and jokingly said that we could now consider ourselves “persona-non-grata” in presidential circles or “black-listed” for publishing our thoughts in FrontPageAfrica, considered by some presidential zealots as an “enemy media.” Those comments were laughable but then again, this is Liberia….

In his reaction, Mr. Badio said the President had an unwavering commitment to the TRC process and that her recent statement on a radio talk show was in no way an indication of a policy shift. Mr. Jerue writes in his article on “They were the first vultures to descend upon Accra on behalf of the various factions, political parties, and civil society groups that signed the peace deal in exchange for jobs.” Mr. Jerue, who normally goes by a different social nomenclature, knows that we did not go to Accra for jobs nor did we ever seek employment in government after working with the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf campaign in 2005. It is unfortunate that our national political debate is still locked into what Baccus Matthews once termed the “politics of rice and belly.”

Both respondents missed the point we made in our article. They used many words to say very little. They did not say what President Sirleaf would do in final analysis. She said on the radio talk show that she would not jeopardize incomes from her upcoming book by appearing before the TRC. That was our main issue and both writers failed to respond to it. Either Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as an individual comes before the TRC or not is immaterial. However, when the President of the Republic of Liberia, at the launching ceremony of the TRC promises to appear when the time comes or when she is called, and later decides that she would tell her story in a book, we have the right to ask for clarification.

Contrary to what Mr. Badio believes, we are not using the words of the President for our own benefit nor are we distorting them. We simply tried to start a debate about the importance of the TRC and how the absence of political leaders – under what whatever excuse - could undermine the credibility of the process. Mr. Badio failed to say if President Sirleaf would go by her first promise made to the Liberian people or if she would reserve her comments on the war to the exclusivity of her book. As leader of the nation, her decision has far-reaching implications.

She could show up whenever it pleases her, however it pleases her and under terms she wants and therefore morally obligates every one else to come forward with the story of their participation. She could stay away and provide others with an excuse why not to appear. In the end, every Liberian could find a compelling justification for not standing before the TRC. Just as Senator Prince Johnson made his peace with the Samuel K. Doe family, others could also find good reasons. From The Hague, Mr. Charles Taylor could write a book or send personal apologetic letters to the families of the 300,000 victims of the war he brought upon the nation.

The civil war was the one single most important event in the life of our generation. Either we see it as an illegal insurrection against a constitutional government or a justifiable war against tyranny, it had an indelible impact on our lives. We must find a way to put it behind us and move forward. If we cannot reconcile over our losses and want to pretend that this was just another insignificant event, we face the possibility of repeating it again and again, and may be sooner than we expect..

In an interview while she was chairing the Governance Commission in 2005, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said: “I think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is most urgent. The process of contrition and forgiveness is a major part of the healing process.” This is what makes the TRC important and this cannot be achieved through a book. We do not discount the presence of “common people” to tell their stories as Mr. Jerue claims, but we all remember that the appearances of Nelson Mandela and others gave the South African TRC the status it gained around the world and gave rise to the duplicates in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

If the President decides that telling her story in a book is as significant as recounting it in a public forum like any other citizen and respond to questions from the Commission, she reduces the TRC process to a monologue. Very few Liberians could afford to buy a book published by Harper-Collins; and taking Liberian illiteracy rates into account, less than 10 percent of Liberians could read such a book and make sense out of it. Rather than discuss the core policy issues, our critics want to turn our words into a slender against the President.

Ending the “imperial presidency” as candidate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promised involves first and foremost turning the presidency into a democratic institution, in place of the unquestionable personal power center. It may take courtesans a long time to grasp this paradigm shift. It is about changing mentalities. By reminding the President of her campaign promises, we not only help her, we also help her strengthen the democratic process. This transition may be our last change to build a new democratic society on solid foundations and we must not be deterred.

Mr. Jerue linked our opinion to “jobs.” We understand his predicament and it is rather unfortunate that it is still hard to hold a political debate in our small country on issues of national concerns without having to deal with the bread and butter issues. We know where Mr. Jerue writes from and we sympathize with his plight.

We disagree with President Sirleaf when she says that she would reserve her comments on the war for her book to pay for her retirement. We believe that the TRC is much more important than any retirement fund; it is about taking Liberia out of the gutters and bringing it to the light, through national contrition and forgiveness. That is what candidate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promised to do as a leader if elected. This is what we expect from President Sirleaf.

© 2008 by The Perspective

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