Rebuilding amid the rubbles: We can't afford to fail Liberia

By James Torh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 2, 2003

It is no time to shy- the courage to participate in the debate about the future of Liberia is now. The mentality of the people's thing and the battle of leaving traditional politics of Liberia with some experts in the Liberian society are over. When politicians make political blunder and our people, the ordinary and innocent victims of these sexed up political games, as with the present situation in our land bear the brunt of the burden of the rage, recklessness and the projected pain that flow from it. This is why Liberians at home and abroad should push up against the barriers that try to contain them to political games, open up the windows and doors, breathe deeply, and taste the freedom that they deserve.

I was in Dublin; Ireland attending a conference in January 2002 and a female colleague working for one of the global organizations came running to me to greet me. We chatted for a while and after few minutes said that she wanted to ask me a question. I told her to go ahead. She said "James, are you a politician or human rights defender?" In returned, I asked what prompted her question. She said" I have followed your statements and they are more political than human rights activism". I told her that I am not a politician but an aggressive human rights activist. I continued and stared straight into her eyes and never blinked and said "though I deal with political issues and understand political dynamics my struggle and commitment is not to capture state power but to create the enabling environment for freedom of expression, freedom of movement, a society free of guns, quality education, health care and the rest…freedom! freedom!! freedom!!!. I cornered and interrupted her and said, if you only take off time from your air conditioned office in Paris and visit Charles Taylor's Liberia for one hour and see how a whole nation is held hostage, the environment of extreme terror, the unnecessary killing and the inhumane violations everywhere, you would understand why. I said just one hour to see a nation with its infrastructure ravaged by seven-year brutal civil war with 95 percent of its budgetary allocation on its military-creation of multiple security and armed groups to keep watch on perceived enemies and destabilization of neighboring countries, you're forgiven. In conclusion, I said maybe you need to talk with other human rights defenders and journalists who escaped the fury and wrath of Taylor and whose souls, roots and future destroyed, and hope in vain, fretting for lost link, and lost direction, perhaps unconsciously. These are people whose escape has destroyed family allegiance, as some were breadwinners for the family, leaving behind everything that they had worked for and owned. She mumbled and disappeared without notice.

The message and essential truth is the love for Liberia should run deep and we should deepen our understanding of Liberia's pains and struggle, as we engage ourselves in the process of building roads towards national reconciliation and peace. Creative liars and thieves who call themselves politicians should cease-fire with their sinister agenda of stealing every dime and should understand that our people have suffered for so long. The so-called international community (North America and Europe) is watching and we should not give reason to be complacent. After all Liberia is not strategically attractive. United States weekly budget in Iraq is $1billion, though not succeeding, yet the US Marines have retreated to the high sea leaving the dirty work with Africans. It is redemption time for our dear country to wake up and to collectively pull strength together and erase the disgrace that we have carried over the years. Let our brothers and sisters return home from refugees' camps and displaced Centers to begin to nurse their pains.

To build a better Liberia, in my sense, those who committed these heinous crimes including (LURD, MODEL and Taylor's agents of death) against our people should repent. They need to turn around and apologize to their victims, a way forward of building bridges for peace. They have denied the victims and their relatives who suffered injustice, the opportunity to deal constructively with their pain and seek for the healing of their injuries; that is a cardinal sin in peace building process. The victims should not be ignored and left out of the response. When people who were angry and upset with each other decided to be constructive with each other and mutually agree, the trust grow between them. This is why it is important and crucial for us (Liberians) to take the longer strides and noble steps to learn to make peace with the past for the rebuilding of our dear country. Our joy and peace as a Nation will be fulfilled when we look back in forgiveness. We are one family and one people!

About the author: James Torh is a Human Rights activist who escaped the terror machine of Charles Taylor and his followers in 2000 after he was arrested, jailed and charged with Sedition. He worked for Amnesty International in Spain as campaign coordinator for the tortured campaign and AI Project for West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network in Dakar. He is presently coordinating West Africa program of African Human Rights Defenders Project, a project housed by the Centre for Refugee studies at York University in Toronto, Canada. The opinions expressed are strictly of James not the Centre or AI Canada.