A Sensible Remedy
(Speech delivered by T. Q. Harris at the United Nimba Citizens Council (UNICCO) Conference on November 23, 2002, in Minneapolis, Minnesota)
November 25, 2002
T. Q. Harris
Let me begin by thanking the leaders of the United Nimba Citizens’ Council for inviting me to participate in this forum. Our purpose for being here, I was told, is to search for a sensible remedy to the crisis that is devastating our homeland.
I am honored to be here with you tonight. I care deeply for my fellow Nimbains, and I also care deeply for the rest of Liberia’s people. It is my hope that this is the first of many invitations I will receive from UNICCO.
Realizing the contentious nature of Liberian politics, I decided in 1997 to seek the presidency as a unifying figure, hoping to resolve the issue of mistrust concerning national leadership. Not having served in any pervious administration, or supported a warring faction, I felt well placed to earnestly and equitably deal with all sides.
Prior to declaring my intention to run in the last presidential election, I was unanimously elected by the National Democratic Party of Liberia-USA Branch as its choice for the party’s standard-bearer. However, for some unexplained reason, party leaders in Liberia decided to hold the national convention shortly after being informed of my election in the U.S.
The hasty decision to convene the national convention that prevented me from seeking the party’s leadership made it necessary to explore alternate means of becoming a presidential candidate. With the NDPL experience lingering in our mind, we dispatched a delegation to Liberia with instructions to file relevant documents that would permit me to seek the Presidency as an independent candidate. Just as the documents were filed, the late Cllr. Henry Andrews, then chairman of the so-called Independent Elections Commission (IECOM), declared independent candidates ineligible to run in the elections. This presented a serious setback..
However, we soon discovered that eligibility requirements for independent candidates were similar to that of a political party. Without hesitation, we proceeded to register a political party. As steps for accreditation were being finalized, the Elections Commission placed a ban on all political activities and threatened to disqualify anyone who violated this decree. This posed yet another setback to our efforts.
Just as we were running out of options, Cllr. Lavala Supuwood and the late Hon. Samuel Dokie presented themselves unsolicited with a proposal that would facilitate my election as standard-bearer of the political party they were affiliated with. We gladly accepted the proposal and set a date for its implementation. However, as the date drew near, architects of the plan began withdrawing without providing any logical explanation. Once again, another attempt to move our nation from war to peace was lost.
Undaunted by the setbacks, my team and I continued to present TQ’s vision to the masses. It soon became clear our message of Hope, Unity and Change was resonating with a cross-section of the population from university students to the wheel-barrel boys.
As Election Day approached and all seemed lost, a member of the NDPL party called on my staff to discuss the possibility of us joining the Liberian National Union Party (LINU), which had yet to hold its national convention. His words were like music to our ears.
The following day we met with LINU’s Executive Committee members. They were gracious in extending us membership into the party with the understanding I will seek the office of standard-bearer. The partisans gave me a warm reception and accorded all the necessary courtesies.
At LINU’s national convention, Dr. Harry Moniba insisted on becoming the party’s standard-bearer. Not wanting to cause a split, I yielded. And in the spirit of unity, I accepted the party’s nomination and was elected its vice standard-bearer.
I have provided this brief summary of our experiences in the 1997 elections with the hope that you will realize the importance of transparency in future elections.
Taylor’s regime rose to power by exacting fear and intimidation upon the populace as well as bribing many so-called opposition politicians. As a result, he has governed the country with absolute disregard for the rights of the citizens. As we head toward the next election, let us not repeat the fiasco that brought a warlord to power.
Events of the past 5 years, particularly the breakdown of law and order within our society, have compelled me to remain active in politics. Now that I have made this crucial decision, with your help, I will work to make Liberia the Happiest and Most Pleasant Place in Africa.
When given the opportunity, I will oversee the building of a nation where no one will face discrimination because of religion, creed, gender, color, or ethnic affiliation. Every citizen will have the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential. The only foreseeable impediment to personal advancement in the Liberia I envision shall be one’s lack of respect for the rule of law.
The current debacle has taught us an important lesson, that is, we should not place tribalism ahead of patriotism. Therefore, all efforts must be made to reconcile differences between the various ethnic groups and start behaving as one people with a common destiny. The new social order must lend itself to universal vertical mobility. It is important that we enforce the laws against discriminatory practices within our society
In the new Liberia, there must be opportunities for a person of low beginnings to rise to prominence. And should one refuse to abide by the rule of law, regardless of personal stature, he or she must be answerable to the law. The new social order shall be based on a meritorious system.
It would have been a privilege for me to address you this evening as a presidential candidate. Unfortunately, the current state of lawlessness in Liberia has prevented me from declaring my candidacy, which I had planned to announce in my hometown of Tappita. However, I am doing everything in my power to help create a safe and peaceful environment where both the candidates and electorate can be free of undue harassment. At the appropriate time, I will enter the race.
But for now, there are two critical issues that must be addressed in order to lend credibility to the 2003 elections; they are:
1) Charles Taylor must be brought to justice for crimes against humanity, among other criminal offenses; and,
2) Political parties must realign and put forth not more than three presidential candidates.
It is high time elders and political leaders of Nimba assume a proactive role in addressing these pressing issues, particularly that which deals with bringing Taylor to justice for the murders of innocent civilians. After all, the current crisis began with the killing of Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa -a beloved son of Nimba. This was followed by the murder of thousands of Nimbaians and destruction of towns and villages throughout the county. And it was Nimbaians that welcomed Taylor as a brother into the struggle to resist President Doe’s Krahn and Mandingoe forces. Under Taylor’s command, the sons and daughters of Nimba fought gallantly and defeated their warring adversaries.
Being the gentle and loyal people that we are, Nimbaians have continued to see Taylor as a savior even though he orchestrated the murders of almost all prominent citizens of Nimba. Whatever support Taylor now enjoys is the result of a relationship based not on affection, but convenience. Therefore, we, the political leaders of Nimba, must guarantee our brothers and sisters adequate protection so they will cease the destruction of their own future.
Nimbaians generally believe Taylor is their best protector against possible revengeful killings by Krahns and Mandingoes. Taylor, on the other hand, has maintained the support of Nimbaians by provoking elements within the Krahn and Mandingoe ethnic groups.
To break Charles Taylor's criminal-hold on the Republic, Nimbaians support for his regime must come to an end. However, convincing our brothers and sisters to abandon Taylor at this stage will be the job of a Nimbain leader they can trust. This individual must also be able to effectively address the fears of the Krahn and Mandigoe ethnic groups. More importantly, he or she must be able to lead the nation through a healing and revival process.
Liberians in the United States must provide leadership to bring the mayhem to an end because our people are in a state of captivity. They are being held as hostages, and their lives, as shown by Taylor’s record, can be taken in a flash without justification.
The Millions of dollars you send to Liberia annually by Western Union and other means to sustain relatives also strengthen the evil regime that is causing the hardship. Why don’t use a portion of this money to empower leaders who will work on your behalf? Perhaps you should consider giving financial support to a visionary leader who, with your backing, will unite the opposition and defeat our common enemy.
What the people at home desire most is an end to the violence that has become a way of life. They are tired of war and warlords. Liberians in general want a fresh start with a new (but not necessarily perfect) leader who will offer hope for the future.
The obstacles to free and fair elections will soon be eliminated. When this happens, I hope UNICCO will endorse a presidential candidate who can heal the nation. Nimbaians have a critical role to play
in the search for lasting peace and selection of the next president. We must, therefore, act wisely and quickly.
The people of Nimba must choose a person who is acceptable to a cross-section of Liberians. He or she must be free of excess baggage, as it relates to involvement with Taylor’s regime, the military junta, or the warring factions.
In conclusion, I urge you to leave the past behind and embrace the future. If those who have been involved in politics for the past 10, 20, 30, or 40 years will not vote for anyone other than themselves, then they do not deserve our respect. Mankind is placed on this planet to love, teach and prepare future generations to carry-on. We see this happen in countries around the word. For example, in Great Britain, a young Tony Blair was handed the ship of state; Vladimir Putin is in control of the powerful nation of Russia; veteran American politicians stepped aside and allowed the Saxophone playing Bill Clinton to lead, and now the younger George Bush is directing the affairs of the world’s only superpower. Isn’t it time Liberia put forth a fresh new face?
The first 23 years of my life was spent learning everything I could about Liberia. For the past 23 years, I have been studying how best Liberia can profit in the new global economy. The knowledge I have acquired will be used to elevate my people to a higher physical, mental and spiritual dimension. I believe wherever Freedom is nourished it is amazing what people can accomplish. I believe in you!
Are you ready for an exciting journey with TQ as the next president of Liberia? I will bring out the best in you, as our collective efforts become the envy of the world. Yesterday is gone. You must now embrace the new emerging leaders to ensure a better future. Looking forward, I see people from around the world flocking to Liberia for the peace, tranquility and prosperity you have created. What do you see?
Thank you for listening.