Liberia Is Too Important To Be Abandoned To The Forces Of Destruction
December 2, 2002
Recently Charles Kwanulo Sunwabe, Jr., a no-nonsense, talented writer and astute political analyst of contemporary Liberian issues, received a threatening phone call from someone who identified himself as a General Dehmie.
In that phone conversation, the caller said he was calling from the Executive Mansion of Liberia. "I am calling to let you know that we have been following your writings on the Internet, and the remarks you made about President Taylor in your speech at the Philadelphia Liberia Youth conference. We know you very well, and we are watching you. We were at the conference too."
"Our agents were there." When Charles Sunwabe asked the caller what agents he was talking about. The caller replied, "Well, the National Security Agency (NSA) of Liberia has a security network, and some of our men are posted in America. We know where you live, and we will get you if you do not stop insulting the duly elected president of Liberia. Do you and The Perspective think you are going to live in America forever?" The caller continued, "Try coming to Liberia and you will see who owns the land."
In this somber exchange, Charles Sunwabe told the cowardly caller that Taylor was a village tyrant, and he was not afraid of Taylor and his evil forces, the caller said, "You do not believe me, then let me describe the car you drove to the conference and the suit you wore: a black Toyota Avalon and you were dressed in a blue suit. You also live in Virginia. Sunwabe, if you want your life, you will have to behave and be very quiet. Our NSA agents are everywhere in America you know."
It's worth noting that over the past few months, Charles Kwanulo Sunwabe has devoted a great deal of his time and writings in exposing those guerrilla leaders who helped destroy Liberia. But Charles Sunwabe has done more than just detailing and exposing the criminal warlords; he also has consistently called for a war crimes tribunal or some kind of a credible truth and reconciliation convention in Liberia to bring these culprits to justice.
But the warlords and their killer acolytes, and some naive civilian politicians are opposed to this simple yet compelling pathway to peace and justice in our country. Understandably, the warlords have every reason for opposing investigation because it would expose their hideous acts, which in turn would demand accountability and commensurate penalties for destroying Liberia. Even more so, we have a national duty to call for war crimes trials for those who killed unarmed civilians outside the bounds of combat. Civic duty requires us to demand justice as a memorial to the thousands who lost their lives in the civil war.
The two most vocal opponents of a war crimes tribunal or a genuine truth and reconciliation conference among the former warlords are President Charles Taylor and Alhaji Kromah. These two principal players in killing thousands of innocent civilians have used variant but stale arguments to conceal the truth about the atrocities they and other bandits perpetrated in Liberia. And whenever the issue of war crimes tribunal is mentioned, they have been quick to threaten violence or seek refuge behind some indefensible legal shield for cover.
Associates and loyalists of Mr. Taylor claim he is immune from prosecution by virtue of being president of Liberia. Often they argue that the international community would scorn such a trial. But they are wrong. There is precedent for such a trial, as the people of Yugoslavia demonstrated in forcing Slovodan Milosevic into retirement, subsequently arresting the former ruler, and transferring him to The Hague to be tried.
Similarly, Taylor's colleague Alhaji Kromah claims exemption from prosecution by the 1993 Cotonou agreement, which was to end the war in Liberia. Of course, the warring factions reneged on the accord and the vicious mayhem continued for another four years. Nevertheless, Mr. Kromah still feels exculpated by a rejected accord.
Insofar as we know, neither man has argued his innocence to committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Liberian conflict. All each man has been able to do is use legal technicalities to prevent a public airing of his actions which is his right. But we as a people have the moral responsibility to force each warlord to public accountability.
Meanwhile, most of the major players who devastated Liberia and their key lieutenants, some of whom massacred unarmed civilians, are living today in safe havens outside the country. Only their chief partner-in-crime, President Charles Taylor, and his gang of thugs are at home ruling a traumatized people. Dr. George Boley and Mr. Alhaji Kromah, both permanent legal residents of the United States, live comfortably in New York and Maryland respectively. And fellow warlords Prince Y. Johnson and D. Roosevelt Johnson live in Nigeria.
These men have thousands of followers and supporters around the globe, including hundreds, if not thousands, who live here in the United States. Some of these followers have their own fate directly linked to what happens to the former warlords. For this reason, the issue of peace and justice in Liberia has become a terrifying proposition that some of these people cannot afford to risk. Hence, the intimidation and threats of violence leveled against proponents of war crimes trials.
The threat against Charles Kwanulo Sunwabe's life is the latest in a series of consistent harassment and intimidation against individuals who are determined to expose what really happened in Liberia during the civil war. It's about a fight between the forces of truth, peace and justice and those who engaged in brazen atrocities, heinous crimes against unarmed civilians, for selfish political power that they could not have garnered through genuine democratic process.
Not long ago, Mr. Kromah implicitly threatened editors at The Perspective for taking him to task to be responsible for his role in the Liberian tragedy. At that time we carried articles which called upon exiled politicians in this country not to regard Mr. Kromah as a legitimate civilian politician until at such time he was prepared to answer certain questions regarding peace and justice, specifically war crimes tribunal, conversion of national resources and cannibalism in areas under his control during the war.
After a lengthy attempt at absolving himself of any responsibility for the war, and a baseless tirade in revisionist tribal ranting in a rejoinder to our efforts chronicling his role in our civil conflict, the former warlord warned us: "I suggest that you stop playing with fire." Anyone who is familiar with recent Liberian bloodletting, and pervasive culture of violence, would regard this as a serious threat.
Generally we take every threat as a serious matter, especially so when the intimidation comes from someone like Mr. Kromah, whose forces were a party to the killing frenzy that led to the slaughter of thousands innocent people in Liberia. Lest we forget that it was warlords Alhaji Kromah and Charles Taylor whose combined militias besieged Monrovia in 1996 in an attempt to force their way to power. The ensued havoc they caused and a towering inferno that resulted left hundreds of innocent Monrovians dead.
In January 2001, The Perspective published a list of names the magazine had received of individuals who were allegedly targeted by the Taylor regime for elimination. At that time sources informed us that the infamous Colonel Benjamin Yeaten, and RUF's General Sam Bockarie, who was a special security adviser to Mr. Taylor at the time, were to oversee the assassination squads.
While the caller told our partner Charles Sunwabe that he was calling from the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, we are under no illusion to believe his claim. It could have been a supporter of one of the warlords who are residing in this country. According to our sources, for example, Mr. Kromah wanted to go to Philadelphia himself to confront Mr. Sunwabe for his hard-hitting articles on the war.
In retrospect, we now recall that several months ago Mr. Kromah called The Perspective to ask for Mr. Sunwabe's tribe. While we proudly cherish our African heritage, we do not ask our partners for their ethnic background. Though we found Mr. Kromah's query rather bizarre and amusing, we quickly dismissed it as insignificant at the time.
But now it is increasingly clear to us why Mr. Kromah was intensely interested in the tribal or regional backgrounds of various staff members of The Perspective magazine. Lately the erstwhile warlord has devoted a great deal of his time giving ethnic angles to any discussion of the Liberian civil war that accurately exposes his role in the conflict. He sees every article critical of his role in the war as being biased against him because of his ethnicity and religion.
However, many Liberians view his tactic of assigning ethnic motives to the national dialogue as a sleazy attempt to deflect responsibility and change the focus of the debate. We always consider the Liberian situation as a colossal national tragedy. References to groups or regions had been made to aid our readers to understand where each warring faction got its base of support, and the areas of domination during the war. We have never ever supported one ethnic group at the expense of others.
Nowhere have we had any discussion of the Liberian civil strife in terms of religion as Mr. Kromah has alleged in some of his writings. Accusing proponents of war crimes tribunal of being anti-Muslims and anti-Mandingoes is an attempt to undermine a serious, meaningful proposition that has the optimal chance of ending our problems.
Moreover, a realistic investigation in which those who perpetrated war crimes are brought to justice would serve as deterrent for the future. It would restrain military dictatorship in Liberia. This would empower, not impose power upon, the Liberian people.
Unfortunately, we are dealing with a group of people who will benefit by our inaction to aggressively seek peace through justice. It's obvious that the former warlords and their henchmen are determined to do everything in their power to deter peace and stability in Liberia.
We know very well that they will use every means available to them, including intimidation, harassment, threat and violence, to test our resolve and commitment. But we cannot allow them to win again. We know their disdain for life is indisputable; their antipathy to the rule of law unquestionable, yet we believe we will prevail because we are the people.
As for the threatening incidents involving members of our staff and associates, the management of The Perspective had taken steps to inform the appropriate local and federal authorities. And based on law enforcement's advice, we urge all our people to exercise maximum vigilance, be alert at all times, and do not take anything for granted.
The recent episode of death threat against Charles Kwanulo Sunwabe, Jr. demonstrates the nature of the menace we are dealing with and its effort to silence us. It also should be a wake-up call to all pro-democracy groups and Liberian civilian politicians that the future of Liberia requires serious rethinking of strategy.
We therefore urge all vested stakeholders, including civil society, religious institutions, and real civilian political organizations to be bold enough to call for a real truth and reconciliation commission. These institutions have a moral obligation to demand a thorough investigation of the civil war, and weed out those persons who engaged in wanton violence against the civilian populations. We must be courageous enough to spell out what the aims and objectives of such a commission. This is no time for equivocation and deference to the perpetrators.
Sadly, it's safe to say that we have been blinded by naivety so far; the political opposition is weakened by individual egos and neutralized by Mr. Taylor. Many in the opposition think by not laying out an alternative agenda or paradigm for the future, which includes investigating the Liberian conflict, would endear them to the maniacal dictator in Monrovia.
As a result of this unsound reasoning, the opposition has failed to distinguish itself from Mr. Taylor in terms of what plans it has for the country and how those plans would be implemented if a member of the opposition came to power. In fact, there are no national opposition's solutions to Liberia's problems. Less than a year away before the next elections in Liberia, the opposition is consumed by pettiness, and without a coherent national program of action.
And because of this lack of collective focus, Mr. Taylor has been able to marginalize the opposition, and hijack issues that the opposition should be championing.
For example, when the issue of a truth and reconciliation conference, which has been advocated in these pages, was gaining serious attention on the Internet as an alternative to war crimes trials, Mr. Taylor shrewdly seized the opportunity and staged his own "dog and pony show."
Up to this time, there is no opposition's position on war crimes trials for perpetrators of the Liberian war. Many in that group are timid and gullible that to advocate bringing war criminals to justice would inflame the former warlords and their gang of bandits.
Unless and until the Liberian opposition and civil society are able to clearly define the future of Liberia and be courageous enough to defy the enemies of democracy, the prospect for peace with justice in Liberia will remain only dream deferred.
The threatening phone call to Mr. Sunwabe and other acts of intimidation against The Perspective reinforce our commitment to seek peace through justice in our country. If such terroristic behavior was intended to weaken our resolve, then it has simply failed to achieve its goal. Liberia is too important and dear to us to be abandoned to the forces of destruction.