Remembering December 24, 1989
By: Lekpele Nyamalon
Monrovia- December 24, 1989 was on a Sunday and a sunny day in Massaquoi clan, a small village on the outskirts of Margibi County. I was a six-year old kid by then but can recollect the vivid memories of that day. My family had gone to the hometown of my Mother to spend the Christmas holiday. We were strolling home on the laterite road from Church at a nearby village. I remember my Mother and a member of the Church were talking about an invasion that had started in Nimba county, northern Liberia. That day was to mark the beginning of the Liberian civil war.
December 24, was the beginning of a spillover of long-standing conflict that had permeated the Liberian nation since its inception. This was further fueled with tribal-ethnic, political, socio-economic disparities that all came tumbling down like a house of cards on 24, December. The initial myth that the invasion of December 24 was a gang of disgruntled men running along the border line with machetes became dispelled with the robust move with which the invasion swamped the country. By mid-1990, Monrovia was already besieged and everyone was awake. By July of 1990, a massacre occurred in the edifice of the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and scores of armless civilians were murdered in cold-blood. This was in utter disregard for the rule of war and areas of protection by the Geneva conventions during armed-conflict.
The massacre at the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church sent a chilling reminder that everyone was exposed; even areas of worships, schools, hospitals were targets for possible ‘enemies’. Panic was contagious.
Streets were scenes of displaced citizens roaming with bags of belongings, streets littered with dirt of palm kernels which became a substitute staple of the time. Carnage was alive and the few disgruntled men that roamed the borderlines were now in Monrovia.
By September of 1990, the government was overthrown; the president was captured and killed by a splinter group of the NPFL. Hell had broken loose by September of 1990 and the Economic Community of West African States sent in ECOMOG to restore calm, pending an interim arrangement. Key events followed the mark of 24 December 1989 that left scars on the face of the small West African Nation.
The preceding years of 1992, 1994, 1996, and 2003 were all witnesses to series of mass atrocities with torture, rape, killings, disembowelment, summary executions, and total breakdown of the rule of law, wanton disregard for human rights, economic collapse and the gradual failure of a nation state.
The dust seemed to settle with the holding of elections in 2005 that returned sanity, and the reemergence of one of Africa’s most troubled countries in contemporary history.
These underlying events showed the resilience of a people to rebuild their lives time after time. A vital lesson for Liberia is not to shove the memories of major events under the carpet of convenience, but to keep a memoir of unfoldings that sparked the civil unrest. This will give a blue print for the future and guide against subsequent repetition. The politics of marginalization, socio-economic disparity, ethnic-tribal conflicts, etc. should take a back seat, whilst inclusion, respect for the rule of law, free press, etc. should continue to be the hallmark of our democracy thereby ensuring the sustenance of our peace.
Remembering key dates that tore our nation apart goes a long way in reflecting on our past as a people and charting a new course, it’s a way of retelling our stories to the younger generation, most of whom were either too young or not around. They are expected to learn from the errors of the past, avoid them and rebuild our nation. The Liberian Republic has been a field of suppressed views that swelled like a volcano that exploded with particles affecting everyone. We cannot have another volcano eruption; we can avoid that by retelling our stories and removing the weeds from the vibrant flowers of our democracy. Together, as a nation, we can bury the past, not by closing our eyes on the stories that happened, but by telling them with the intent of learning from them, thereby choosing a new path.
On 24 December, a lecture series will be held at the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Liberian Civil war. Twenty five (25) years on, as the speakers share their stories of the recollections of that day, the souls of the over 600 men, women and children who were murdered in that very edifice will smile from their graves, that though they are dead, their memories are alive through the stories. From them, the living can learn a vital lesson from the quotation that ‘wars don’t end of the battlefields, but on the table of negotiations’. May the souls of the men, women and children who died in the Liberian civil war from bullets, starvation, heart attacks while walking several miles, and all other consequences as a result of 24 December, 1989 rest in perfect peace! God bless Liberia!
About the Author
Lekpele Nyamalon lives in Monrovia Liberia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org