In Search for Peaceful Resolution of Liberia's National Crisis
Remarks delivered by Bai Gbala at the 13th Annual Convention of the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas Silver Spring, Maryland on May 24, 2003 .
As a Grand Gedian and citizen of the Republic of Liberia, it is certainly an honor and, indeed, a responsibility for me to be with you. The county of Grand Gedeh has been and still is prime time social and political news and consideration since its incorporation into the Republic of Liberia more than a century ago. Moreover, the county enjoys the enviable but honorable distinction of producing the first indigenous president of the nation.
ABOUT GRAND GEDEH COUNTY
Traditional Oral History from elders, tribal chieftains, and contemporary historians tells us that thousands of Black Africans, ancestors of the approximately sixteen tribes that inhabit the Liberian Nation, migrated south of the Sahara from North Africa, approximately during the late 15th or early 16th century in search of fertile land, water, and rain-forest suitable for settlement, farming, and hunting.
Among these nomadic Africans who stopped temporarily in the regions now known as the countries of Mali, Guinea, Burkina Paso, La Cote d'Voire, were the KW A-speaking tribes -Kru, Grebo, Krahn-Sapo, etc. -that settled in various regions of southeastern Liberia, then tribal-states ruled by chiefs or kings.
Upon the arrival of yet another group of Black Africans (freed African Americans) in early nineteen century and the formation of the Liberian Nation-State with declaration of political independence in 1847, many of the other tribal-kingdom-states were incorporated into the new Republic. The country, as much as could then be traversed byroad and other means of communication, was demarcated into administrative/political subdivisions of five counties - Grand Cape Mount, Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Sinoe, and Maryland -located along the 350-mile Atlantic coast extending forty miles inland. From the forty-mile limit into the Hinterland or interior, Administrative Districts were established.
Years later, as more and more tribal nation-states were Incorporated into the Liberian state, the then-existing hinterland Administrative Districts were re-demarcated into three Provinces - Eastern, Central, and Western Provinces -with a number of districts in each province determined by geography, size, and population. The present-day Grand Gedeh County was designated and named District #4 within the Eastern Province.
With this administrative/political re-subdivision of the Hinterland where about 95% of the nation's population lives, there also came profound political consciousness and rising expectations, during mid-and late-twentieth century, on the part of the tribal peoples. This was expressed by peaceful political activities -demand for socio-political justice, regional-empowerment, political participation in national decision-making; and right of legislative representation with appointments to high- profile, national positions.
The message of the people was clear that taxation and other obligations of citizenship do not come without legislative representation; therefore the-then Liberia's President William V.S. Tubman created, in mid 1964, four additional counties -Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Bong, and Lofa -out of and abolishing the three provinces. The former District #4 of the Eastern Province was renamed and is today Grand Gedeh County, in honor of and to memorialize the legendary mysticism and tribal legend of the area's iron-ore-rich Mount Gedeh which according to Krahn mythology, is the final gathering and resting place of the Krahn citizens and other tribesmen who departed to the great beyond.
The Krahn tribal people of grand Gedeh County, like their compatriot Liberians, are generous and helpful to others; they are courageous, honest, and frank; open, fair, and tolerant, but firm and decisive.
Social, Economic & Political Conditions
However, Grand Gedeh County, indeed the republic of Liberia, is perched dangerously on the brink of total collapse, if nothing is done -and very soon -to arrest the nightmare that is likely to engulf the West African Sub-Region.
It is not necessary to describe here the level of social, economic, political paralysis to which our country and nation have sunk. It is only important that we note that the on-going armed hostilities have again, brought the Liberian people face to face with mind-boggling human suffering, brutality and death with thousands of unarmed, defenseless and innocent men, women and children fleeing into refugee camps in neighboring countries and beyond while millions of others left in Liberia remain in abject misery and deprivation.
In response to these conditions and extreme abuse of power and authority; misuse of state resources and disregard for the rule of law and civil liberties, several Liberians launched an armed Insurgency with the objective to remove the present regime from power. These conditions have brought the Liberian people full circle back to war and its agony.
Competing forces that are active in the Liberian crisis today include (1) the Military Insurgencies, (2) the Government of Liberia, (3) the Political Parties, ( 4) the Civil society Organization and (5) the Regional, Local, tribal/Ethnic Factions/Nationalists.
There are exiled and other Liberian who may be counted in each of these five major groups.
1. Military Insurgency
This category includes LURD, the first to launch an armed struggle in Lofa County and now occupies Lofa, Gbapolu, Cape Mount, Bomi, and parts of Bong and Nimba Counties; LURD-MODEL, which reportedly occupies Grand Gedeh, Sinoe and part of Nimba counties and operating from La Cote d'Voire. The common denominator of this category is military action.
There is intense, internal rivalry and antagonism for national (presidential) leadership and power within and among the groups with an apparent absence of a coherent political belief, expressed by an agenda or plan of action. Emphasis appears to be on personal power, wealth and fame.
LURD has repeatedly refused to submit its claims to a dialogue with the Government. It continues military action; and so are the others.
2. Government of Liberia
The government of Liberia, like the insurgent LURD and other military insurgencies, persistently refuses to meet with LURD for peaceful dialogue until quite recently; on the contrary, it has intensified military action with reported conscription and purchases of arms and ammunitions despite UN arms embargo.
3. Political Parties of Liberia
Political Parties, the only lawfully-organized entities to seek state power are deeply concerned, anxious and eager to see the military impasse resolved so that they may commence peaceful political campaigns. There appears to be the absence of organized political activities due to lack of security resulting from persecution of opposition parties and leaders, some of who have fled the country for their lives.
Compounding these conditions is what may be termed "presidential politics" within the political parties. Of some eighteen or nineteen political parties, there are now several declared presidential hopefuls with about two or three from the same party.
4. Civil Society Organization
The terms "civil society" refer collectively to all non-military citizens -lawyers, doctors, educators, man in the street -and the organizations to which such citizens individually belong. The on-going armed hostilities are extremely unpopular with and, therefore, unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of the people of Liberia, in the light of the brutality and human suffering of the 1989-1997 civil conflict. Like the political parties, the Liberian Civil Society has called upon LURD and the Liberian Government to end hostilities, and has endeavored to mediate towards a comprehensive, peaceful resolution of the crisis.
5. Regional, Local, Tribal/Ethnic Factions/Nationalists
These are other politically-powerful but loosely organized group of Regional, Local, Tribal/Ethnic Factions of the nation's various political/administrative subdivisions. The groups are motivated in common, by notions of regional nationalism they are prepared to defend. However, the apparent motivation seems to be not nationalism but tribalism/ethnicism, among other "isms".
Indeed, the intensity of the brutality of the conflict can be traced to the deeply -divisive and tribally-ethnically-driven atrocities committed. This condition is now raising its ugly head in the present conflict.
It is extremely important that we, Liberians, pay close, undivided attention to the search for peaceful, political resolution of the crisis by calling upon our friends of the International community who have the economic, political and diplomatic "clout" to impose a peaceful, reasonable resolution. The line-up of the players, particularly with Military Insurgency and the regional "nationalists" seeking a violent military solution on one hand, and the Liberian Government prepared to reciprocate in kind on the other, the Liberian nation and people are headed to a colossal catastrophe.
Firstly, after the dictator-regime is removed by force of arms, the common objective upon which the insurgency is based no longer exists; the insurgency is, therefore, dissolved. Thereafter, rivalry for power originally dormant within member-groups now surfaces, simply because socio-economic, political, and tribal-ethnic forces that comprise these groups have radically different visions of development for the country after the regime change. Each goes its way not in peaceful, ideological and policy terms, but in an envious, antagonistic, and violent manner.
Historical examples abound. In Russia, the Bolsheviks and Liberals in 1917 and the Nationalists and Democrats in 1991 went their separate ways after the respective dictators had been
removed. Also in Iran in 1979, Islamic Leftists, Liberals and Militant Clerics celebrated their united effort in removing the Shah. Not long after the collapse of the old order, many of the coalition partners were either out of power or in jail. Soon after the Soviet puppet regime in Afghanistan fell, the anti -soviet coalition were killing each other.
Secondly, in a weak and failed state with rising (or risen) expectation, such as is prevailing in Liberia, factional antagonism and rivalry within the anti -authoritarian, military insurgency give rise to two basic, but dangerous resolutions:
First is the restoration of dictatorship. In chaos and anarchy, individuals crave for order; but who can provide such social order with immediate effect? Of course the deposed authoritarian or a new regime brought to power by the gun and led by the individuals with autocratic proclivities grafted on to old state structures from the deposed regime. Liberia, however, deserves a better stake.
The second is a much more sinister solution that is likely to gain appeal" the victory of the extremists. The fall of a powerful dictator, to an opposition, is an exciting and memorable event, so political theorists and observers say. However, replacing the dictator with a liberal, desirable democrat is another matter that is not achieved over night. When the new rules, catapulted to power by accident of history , fail to satisfy the "rising" or risen expectations of the people, opposition radicals of the military insurgency offer "rational" alternative visions to construct anew socio-political order. In Iran, again, after the fall of the Shah in 1979, the first provisional government included prominent Leftists, Intellectuals, and Liberals. Today, 2003, no one remembers such names as Mehdi Bazargan, Abol Hassan Beni-Sadr; nearly everyone recalls Ayatollah Khomeini' the Islamic radical cleric who pushed others aside to dictate his vision for Iran. Liberians, by all means, must avoid falling into this trap.
And finally, almost all Liberians, including you and me, by now, are informed about the rapidly deteriorating developing political events at home in Liberia. These events have brought our nation to the "brink of total collapse," as we said earlier; we are now informed that the International Contact Group, a membership of geopolitical-powerful nations and regional institutions -the USA, France, United Kingdom, UN, ECOW AS, etc that has formed to assist Liberia out of this condition, scheduled a conference in Accra, Ghana, reportedly on the 2nd of June 2003.
At the Accra Conference, important decisions regarding our future and destiny and for those yet unborn will be taken. There is an apparent agreement among almost all Liberians and the Contact Group, that a Stabilization/Peace-keeping Force be introduced into Liberia. This agreement raises some crucial questions:
1. Is the Stabilization/Peace-keeping Force intended to provide security for the holding of the general elections in October 2003 with the NPFL/NPP Government to remain in office, plan, and supervise the elections?
2. From what countries will the Forces be drawn?
3. Will the Liberian people -the non-military population (a 99.9% majority) -be given the rightful/opportunity to be heard at the Accra or any other conference?
An urgent meeting of all "able, willing, and concerned Liberians", we are convinced, is compelling before Saturday, May 31, 2003 to debate answers to these questions and related implications, in an effort to conclude decisions which should reflect the consensus of Liberian views to be presented to the Contact Group conference, designed to persuade, convince, and influence the outcome. We also believe that a delegation to Accra will be a reasonable, proper, and effective manner of approach.
This time around, Ladies & Gentlemen, it is necessary that the Liberian people be accorded their rightful place as "participants" not as "spectators" in the search for peaceful resolution of the national crisis.
Thank you so very much.