The Bleeding Liberia Celebrates 149th Independence

(A Commentary By The Liberian Democratic Future - Siahyonkron Nyanseor - Chairman)

July 26, 1996 marked the 149th anniversary of our independence and if recent past serves as a guide of what transpired that weekend, then it is fair to say Liberians across the United States indulged themselves to the festivities appropriate for the occasion: they dined on unique Liberian delicacies such as fufu, jollof rice, cassava leaves, palm butter and pepper soup, and consumed a variety of wines and spirits. And of course, they entertained themselves to soccer matches and a series of social events which climaxed the occasion.

But as the weekend drew to a close, hard core reality began to set in as we paused, with rather pensive faces, to reflect on developments in Liberia over the past twelve months. In retrospect, we were reminded by the poignant images of our fellow countrymen being hacked and mutilated in the streets of Monrovia. We were also reminded by the images of Liberians scrambling to board foreign ships that would take them away to far out places from the horror of war. Yes! we witnessed the faces of distraught and hungry Liberians, as they sailed from port to port in search of a hospitable place of refuge. Others fled in desperation for survival, crying out in agonizing terror for help - any help from any source - to save their lives from the grip of death masters Charles Taylor, Roosevelt Johnson, Alhaji Kromah and George Boley. We also heard the voices of Randolph Cooper, Victoria Reffell and Reginald Goodridge, as they rationalized and tried to explain the virtues of Mr. Taylor's actions. And to add insult to injury, Mr. Taylor appeared on American TV telling his audience of his respect and admiration for American democracy, his abiding faith in, and commitment to, the concept of law and order. How ironic!

Meanwhile, Mr. Taylor's benefactors and supporters in this country, mainly elements of the True Whig party apparatus, tried to seize the political offensive and claim the moral high ground. They mobilized themselves under the leadership of Yvette Chesson-Wureh, with such individuals like Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf running the operation by remote control. In disguise of unity, they sought to engage African-Liberian organizations to bolster their number as they demonstrated for Washington's help to end the carnage in Liberia. However, this apparent unity of purpose was short-lived as the suspicion, which has always characterized the Liberian experience, began to surface, and each side accused the other of political posturing to take credit for the peace initiative.

Since the April resurgence of violence perpetrated by Taylor, the animosity between his supporters and other Liberians has intensified. It is open secret the Americos, who want to return to power do not have the requisite number for winning democratic elections in Liberia. So they decided to infiltrate Liberian organizations in this country with the aim of forming a government in exile and then impose it on the Liberian people. Proponents of this ludicrous idea include Mathu Gibson of ULAA, Thomas Q. Harris of All Liberian Conference, to name just a few. The price tag for their project is well over four million dollars. These maneuverings do not settle well with many African-Liberians who feel their people have paid dearly for this war that is supported and financed mainly by some of the Americos.

In recognition of the Americos' determined drive to regain power in Liberia by sleight, many African-Liberians and their organizations have become energized in a more coordinated and unprecedented way than ever before. And in contrast to the stereotypical indigenous approach of deferring to the so-called Americo-Liberians, Liberians of African descent have become bold and assertive, as they decide to take on those individuals who continue to support Mr. Taylor's quest for power by any means

necessary. As a result of this new attitude, we have seen a number of Liberian publications which have come to forefront, providing accurate and historical, not sugarcoated, accounts of the genesis of our problems to the American public.

Reflecting on how the drama of political trick was played and the swift reaction the issue generated in the indigenous community, we at the Liberian Democratic Future recalled the truism of the remarks of an American diplomat in 1953. Referring to the destitute condition in which the indigenous lived and the government's indifference to their plight, he said, "This is a sick country - maybe it will get well", he was right. Liberia was sick then, now it's bleeding, perhaps to death.

When the diplomat made that quip, there was a social war in Liberia. The disparity between the Americos and the indigenous was striking; the systematic suppression of African-Liberians exacerbated by extreme poverty was the cornerstone of the True Whig party's rule. This oppressive treatment of the natives which continued until the overthrow of their dynasty, coupled with the fraudulent plunder of our wealth and resources, was interrupted by Samuel Doe & others in 1980.

But after ten years of Doe's suppressive regime, the war that ensued has killed about 200,000 people. Hundreds of Liberian children die daily from bullets and/or malnutrition. Liberia has become a country with a lost generation. For nearly seven years, Liberian children have not been able to attend school, while children of the warlords and their collaborators attend prestigious schools in western countries including the United States. Our people have become the unwanted "boat people" of West Africa. West African countries are so sick of our stupidity that they have started treating Liberians like homeless people.

The Liberian Democratic Future (LDF) saw the fireworks that preceded the celebration: the fireworks from the guns of Charles Taylor's Small Boys Unit, the fireworks from the guns of "Butt Nakeds" of George Boley and Roosevelt Johnson. We also saw the "paper and pen" fireworks between the Americos who want to perpetuate their dynasty and indigenous Liberians who want the emergence of democracy from the ashes of this war. The Liberian Democratic Future wonders: we know that our past was that of enmity, corruption, repression, and power greed, but what kind of future do we anticipate?

Our children are the future of Liberia. As Seton Korteh, a social worker, noted to reporters, "if we program our children to kill, we'll find ourselves in a cycle we won't be able to settle for the next 50 years." The warlords' use of Small Boys Unit and Butt Nakeds does not only contravene protocol of the Geneva Conventions, but also endangers the future of Liberia; it sets the country on a violent course for generations to come.

As we review Liberia's recent history, we are reminded of the crimes perpetrated against women by drugged child soldiers. Girls as young as six and women as old as 60 years and older are being raped. Teenage girls are mutilated on the whims of youths high on drugs. There are other terrible instances in which guerrillas bet on the sex of an unborn child when they come across pregnant woman. To see who is right about the sex of the unborn child they often mercilessly hack "open the woman's stomach killing the mother and baby." These are terribly barbaric acts of violence, but they're the repercussions of the type of value our children, the future of Liberia, have been receiving from the warlords.

It should be recalled that in a May 12, 1994 radio message reportedly intercepted by ECOMOG, a retreating NPFL official, John T. Richardson, is said to have told warlord Charles Taylor that "specific instructions went out from us to raze to the ground Dolo Town, Peter Town.... Even where there are any little girls, they should be raped, so there is going to be some terror in that area today because everybody was worried about the refugees and we said to hell with them." The U.S. Department of State has indicated that warring factions indiscriminately ransack villages, abuse populations and regularly commit violence against women, including rape.

According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees, "one of the most tragic consequences of the civil war has been its effect on children. Many became orphaned when their parents were brutally killed in front of them, while others became separated from their families when they were caught in the fighting." Such traumatic encounter will pose a devastating psychological threat in the future.

In this respect, Dr. Magne Raundalen, a Norwegian child psychologist offers this insight, "inside each soldier is a volcano waiting to explode. In a given situation in the future, the volcano could react automatically and be very dangerous."

And because of the indelible damage they have done to our country, the lingering effect of their action and the afflicting legacy which they have forced upon us: a society saddled with violence of potential human time bombs, a country inundated with weapons and a nation of dispirited of citizenry, the warlords should not be allowed to make deals which will absolve them of responsibility. We believe the culprits or perpetrators of these crimes must be called before a panel of credible conscience to account for their actions. And if found guilty of crimes against humanity, such criminals and their collaborators and their agents of death must receive the required punishment.

That's why we must begin the process of defining the parameters within which to establish war crimes tribunal; outlining required modalities appropriate for conducting a fair public hearing; gathering the pertinent evidence and identifying the offenders. These elements are essential ingredients for credible investigations. We must approach this process with utmost objectivity, as it's an integral component of our concept of atonement and reconciliation. The question of war crimes trials should not be seen as attempt to punish only a certain class of individuals. The issue must be viewed in a larger context of reviewing an array of related events which contributed to the war debacle that has bedeviled our people over the past few years.

Our focus must then be to identify key players and their roles in this theater of violence assess responsibility and impose equitable and commensurate punishment necessary to deter recurrence of our violent experience. This undertaking must be a national effort designed to do justice to the memory of the victims of the Liberian tragedy.

In his attempt to justify his action against rival warlord Roosevelt Johnson, Mr. Taylor said he could not tolerate lawlessness to go unpunished. And in all fairness, we are convinced that Mr. Taylor, despite the fact that he could be a target of the tribunal, will support the establishment of such a panel to bring criminals to justice. Liberia must move forward. We can no longer tolerate "jungle justice", and its proponents must account for their actions under international conventions.

Copyright © 1996 The Perspective

Material may be downloaded, copied, redistributed, or used for broadcast as long as credit is given to The Perspective and the author(s) of the article(s)