Do Not Burn Your Bridges!

Saye R. Gbetu

The Perspective

January 25, 2002

I am still searching for a country in the world where, with guns to their heads, the people have such courage to speak against immeasurable repression, cruelty, and insanity like in Liberia. It is a no-brainer that our country, at the hands of "liberators," has been taken more than 100 years back in time. It is both shameful and painful that we do not have anything to show for all the troubles we have been through particularly since December of 1989.

From my vantage point in watching the situation at home, I have discovered a pattern with disturbing implications for the future of our country: the heartlessness and crimes against humanity in our country have numbed our rulers to the extent that the pains and wailings from the people's misery could neither be felt nor heard. This conclusion is evidenced by the continual reliance on intimidation and fear to silence the Liberian people in spite of the reality that the more intimidation and fear, the more vocal the people become in speaking up against evil.

Unfortunately, we have apologists for the status quo. Some have the audacity to defend the ineptitude, broad day thievery, and cold heartedness in Monrovia. For these defenders, reason cannot cut it. As such, I have no intention here to convince them.

First, not too long ago, when, under the weight of repression and hard time, the people started complaining and, as always, began looking around for another "savior", the powers that be wasted no time in putting the albatross of the Lofa War around Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's neck. Why? Simple! Because it was apparent at that time that her name was becoming a household fixture in Monrovia. When it became certain that their propaganda machinery had succeeded in dissipating Mrs. Sirleaf's political capital, they extended the olive branch by dropping charges of sedition against her and other exiled Liberian politicians.

To show that they desired true reconciliation and really meant business, they invited all exiled Liberians to return home to contribute to the development of the country. Curiously, at the time that call for reconciliation was made, no distinction was made among holders of green cards, dual citizenship, and others in the United States under different statuses. Do defenders of the status quo and those who took that call at its face value have anything to say today? Do they recognize that those who made the call for reconciliation are now vindicating their skeptics with their contradictory statements amid the growing interest in the presidency? It is particularly amusing that the very exiled Liberians who have been preparing since the call to return home are now labeled "tourist politicians" and people with "dual citizenship" listed to be arrested upon entering the country. Who really deserves to be arrested? Liberians who have been preparing themselves by acquiring skills to come back home and help develop their country or those who mortgaged the future of Liberia for Libyan arms and not only destroyed it, but also looted its ruins?

Second, recall that, on December 4, 2001, The New Liberia Newspaper reported President Charles Taylor's call for spiritual empowerment to "fight mistrust and negativism" and "strange happenings in the country." The paper went on to report the President as saying that, "mistrust and negative perception among Liberians would continue to exist if the nation remains opposed to the dictates of the Almighty God." Mr. Taylor further said that, "with the mercy of God, during his administration, Liberia would remain a peaceful country in which Liberians will always pay reverence to their creator."

The president is said to have spoken at the launching of the "Liberia for Jesus Prayer Crusade" at the Centennial Pavilion on Ashmun Street in Monrovia. He also expressed the hope that "the crusade would reawaken and solidify Liberians' devotion to God." Not only did the President call on the "entire citizenry to join the national crusade intended to resurrect the country from spiritual abyss and redeem its people from the hands of evil men," but also he said "no matter who's the leader of the Republic, the biggest president who is governing and protecting Liberians is Jesus."

A little over one month after launching the "Liberia for Jesus Prayer Crusade" and declaring to the entire nation that, "the crusade would reawaken and solidify Liberians' devotion to God" and that "the biggest president who is governing and protecting Liberians is Jesus," the News newspaper on January 8, 2002 reported the president as saying that, "Jesus Christ is not God." I need not dwell on the president's comments for the true spiritual leaders of Liberia have spoken out adequately on the issue. I am interested in the thinking that precipitated the President's action. What does he expect the average John Doe who pays close attention to what is going on in our country to do if he proclaims Jesus as God one day and repudiates His deity the next day? To use the President's own words, what was he doing on December 4, 2001 when he called on the nation to follow Jesus? Was he "masquerading" as a Christian?

Third, I truly relish it when the President uses every opportunity he has to talk about our constitution. I think that helps to arouse the people's awareness that, to make our democracy work, they have a responsibility to hold their leaders accountable. More importantly, beyond accountability, making the constitution a mantra makes our leaders aware that their powers are not only limited, but also intended to promote the welfare of the entire population. Having said that, I find it terribly troubling when the President appears to invoke the constitution selectively to advance a personal political interest.

A case in point involves a January 9, 2002 report (The New Liberia Newspaper) that President Taylor vowed to resist any plan by "tourist politicians" to cause terror during the electioneering process in order to ensure free and fair democratic elections in 2003. I do not differ with the President when it comes to the armed struggle in Lofa County and the issuance of toothless threats. Of all the events that have occurred and will occur in our country, the 2003 election will be a defining moment for our country - the make it or break it of all - that will restore or shatter hopes. In this light, I support any genuine and legal action by the courts directed at stopping anyone or group bent on disrupting the elections as long as such actions are not only taken in good faith, but also against a background of serious preparations for the elections.

When the President, however, sidesteps and usurps (or attempts to usurp) the powers of the courts and the Election Commission by meddling into matters that strictly fall under their purviews, he only raises the apprehensions of the public and the international community as to whether he will remain true to his words about allowing the elections to be held on schedule. Moreover, when he accuses others, particularly exiled Liberian politicians of "engaging in unscrupulous activities bent on undermining the wishes and aspirations of the Liberian constitution," I cannot help but ask whether the President is aware of Article 14 of the Liberian Constitution, which states:

All persons shall be entitled to freedom of thought, "No religious denomination or sect shall have any exclusive privilege or preference over any other, but all shall be treated alike;" Consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall establish no state religion.

If he is, should we assume that, by launching the "Prayer for Jesus Crusade" and calling on the entire nation to join to "resurrect the country from spiritual abyss and redeem its people from the hands of evil men," he trampled upon the constitution? How does the President reconcile trampling upon the constitution, on the one hand, and, on the other, use one of its obscure provisions at a critical juncture in the life of our country to prevent others from participating in the political process?

Let me close with some words of advice. First, I still see the characterizations of "tourist politicians" and "people with dual citizenship" as an indirect way to bash the United States. Leave the United States alone! America has been good to us more than we have been to ourselves. Most of our people, particularly the educated ones who fled our country live here. America is not a perfect place, but I know one thing. No one has ever asked me about what tribe I belong to in the sense I have been asked in my own country, a country I still dearly cherish.

Second, our people who came here and acquired citizenship had to do so for protection and to be able to make progress in life. Furthermore, it is quite disingenuous to make issue out of "dual citizenship" when a number of people working for the Liberian Government either have green cards or dual citizenship.

Third, the fact is that people go five to six months without getting paid in Liberia. Because we know of the difficulties our country is going through, we, day-in-day-out, do our "who want work" and try to help our families, relatives and, friends. In this way, we keep the pressure off the government's back, a gesture for which, I think Liberians, particularly in the United States should be commended.

Finally, we might need those bridges. Please leave them alone.

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