Genocide, Lies, Cover-up and... Silence
By Abdoulaye W. Dukule
September 6, 2002
The Press and the State
One look at the government website clearly indicates how desperate the regime's penmen and women have become desperate in trying to find things to write about. From the attacks on Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and insinuations about Kofi Woods, one can presume that there is a lack of real political issue to write about and that the usual song about the greatness of the Ghankay is getting tiring and boring. People live of bread foremost, and everything else comes later. If Taylor can no longer afford to pay his personal guards, therefore putting his life in danger, one must wonder what the penmen and women are getting.
When we interviewed the Minister of Information at the Embassy in Washington, DC a while back, he made a joke about the press in Liberia. The joke was proffered in the presence of the Embassy staff. He said the only way most journalists can survive now in Monrovia is through the "cato", which he defined as a deformation of the French word “cadeau”, meaning gift. He said nowadays, it didn’t make any difference what you are and what you say, the coverage of your event or speech depends on how much you spend. He laughed and said that be it government or private press, every journalist depends on “gato” to survive and therefore you can get anything in the papers as long as you pay.
This throws light on how the government views the press, not as professionals, but as praise-singers who would write anything as long as they are given a pittance of any sort. It is a pity that a man whose prime responsibility is to create avenues of communication between the various layers of societies, the opposing forces as well as the different generations and tribes in our fragile social fabric sees nothing good in those who serve as messengers. Liberian journalists and writers are everywhere today except in Liberia. Those who stayed behind fight for their lives everyday, using double meanings and innuendos to convey their thoughts. The current circulation of a newspaper in Monrovia is in the 100s and then how many Liberians can afford to buy a daily newspaper? The ad market has shrunk to almost become non-existent. One can conclude that the press is moribund in Liberia, although there are still journalists and writers. This is all caped by the self-censorship for anyone who wants to “live” after telling the story.
When people end up believing their own lies there is no turning back. In the case of the NPFL, it is also about all about lies, manipulation and violence, all fed by greed and the thirst for absolute power. One can create a lie and live by it. In the case of the government of Liberia, it is even more pitiful because the chief spokesman knows that he can get any lies printed as long as he dashes out a few dollars. It is therefore conceivable that people around the president are all using the same "cato" system. The policy of deceit is based on a fundamental lie that is geared towards perpetuating a reign of terror.
The multiple foolish acts of this government are too numerous to count. Murders, kidnapping, harassment and jailing of human rights lawyers and defenders, jailing and intimidation of political opponents, the forcing of the most vital brains into exile are all acts of foolishness that government can justify by throwing around crumbs from the table. In a situation of desperation like Liberia, some people who would go to any extend to make a living. Calling people rebel or associating them with political crime is a way to turn lies into policies. It makes no difference that anyone believes the lies, it only matters that the accusation finds its way into print. Once it is printed, in the country of lawlessness, it becomes law. So, tomorrow, any law enforcement agency in that country can grab a falsely accused person and lock them up, torture them or kill them, so they can claim something from the Chief, because they know his enemies and they can take care of them without him getting personally involved.
This is the same type of foolishness turned into policy that lead to the almost killing of many Liberians. Amos Sawyer, Conmany Wesseh, Charles Brumskine, Kofi Woods, Cllr. Jones, Tiawan Gongloe, Milton Teahjay and many others escape the fate of the Dokie thanks to the intervention of outside forces.
Last week, the man who certainly knows much about the NPFL and its crimes more than anyone else, Mr. Tom Woewiyu said that we "are almost at Rwanda, because [if] the so-called international community [does not act] and if the two tribes - the Mandingoes and the Krahns - combine and succeed at wreaking havoc on the majority, I can just see Rwanda repeated here."
This quote put into perspective how the web of lies that serves to govern the country is structured. The “so-called” international community is blackmailed in believing that there would be genocide, perpetrated by the two tribal groups that suffered the most in the past 13 years at the hands of the NPFL. Since 1989, every Mandingo and Krahn man and woman has been dispensable at the hands of the NPFL. After he “left” the NPFL, both Tom Woewiyu and Sam Dokie talked about the organized mass killing of Mandingoes and Krahns and blamed it on Taylor. Tens of thousands of people of these two groups were killed, raped and tortured at the many checkpoints that the NPFL arose around the country. Since 1997, the NPFL government has not stopped its genocide against the two groups, more than 300 Krahn people were slaughtered on Camp Johnson Road in September 1998. The whole political leadership of the Krahn ethnic group was thrown in jail for years. Mandingoes are being arrested, tortured and killed every day. No other Liberian tribal group has been subjected to so much violence at the hands of one group.
Woewiyu is playing a mind game, trying to justify the killing and human rights abuses that are going on. He plays the tribal card very well, using the two tribal groups that Liberians are most likely to view as disposable. The Krahns are accused of having given birth to Samuel Doe and they must therefore pay for all his excesses, even if only a very small group of Krahn people ever benefited from Doe regime. As for the Mandingoes, by constantly lining them with Islam fundamentalism and branding them as foreigners, Woewiyu feels that any act against them can be justified. And it goes on. It is a sign of despair.
This is how the killing began in 1989. It was mostly Mandingoes and Krahns and most people sat silently. And today, besides the sporadic article in a few papers, Liberian political leadership is mostly silent. Theories of political leadership are being put forward while no body seems to pay attention to the killings. The government hides behind LURD, using it as a scapegoat to carry out massive killing and destruction, creating an atmosphere of chaos and instability. Of course, LURD is branded as composed of Krahns and Mandingoes. The picture is complete. From that standpoint, anything can be said or done, using the fight against LURD as a justification. The systematic killing went beyond Mandingoes and Krahns and included many who have no relations to either tribe. Every one has been victimized by the war. But by singling out two tribes and saying that they would carry out genocide the government may be preparing to carry another massive killing. Those who killed ten years ago have now matured, have gained more training and possess a new reason to fight: their own survival.
There has been genocide going on in Liberia, since 1989, but nobody paid attention to it. In every article about the war, people cite numbers of 250,000 dead. But it is mere statistics. No thought is given to the men and women who arrested at checkpoints, tied up, raped, beheaded and burned to ashes. Now that Tom Woewiyu speaks of it, may be it is time to bring that war crime tribunal closer to home. As Defense Minister of the NPRAG, Mr. Woewiyu was in charge of buying arms and training the killers. He was not simply a foot soldier and his name should be among the top five.
However, the Senator seems blind to the plight of those his government used to carry out the killings. They too can turn around tomorrow and drop the guns or use them against their "masters", as it happened many times in history.
The biggest lie by Tom Woewiyu is that the opposition, armed or not, is composed only of Mandingoes and Krahns. The more than a million Liberian refugees throughout the world are not all Mandingoes and Krahns, if that was the case, they would be the largest tribes.
The lie in Woewiyu statement is to make us believe that the problem is about tribes and religion. That is the same lie being propagated by the organizers of the conference: to talk about why the tribes don't get along. Liberian tribes, like everywhere else had their problems but they managed to live together. The issue is not about tribes, it’s about bad leadership that throws them at each other throats. Taylor says the conference would be going on for 40 years. That is a whole generation. The time it would take for him to age and die peacefully.
Liberians must not allow the government to make them buy the argument that we have tribal or religious problems today greater than the issues of failed governance by the NPFL regime.
Genocide has been going on Liberia, since 1989. It has been carried out systematically and with total impunity.
One must also give thanks to Bishop Francis and others for providing a voice of dissent to the chorus of praise in the charade called national conference. Bishop Francis raises many general issues, sometimes offensive to the regime but is he really helping? Everything he said could come from even a man like Cyril Allen. Why is the Archbishop seating in a conference of reconciliation when tens of people are locked up in jail, with their basic rights disregarded? It is the Bishop’s right to be where he wants to be, but when he shows his face, he must do it to take to task the wrongdoers. He made a brilliant speech. But there is not a single line in that speech about the many young men and women in jail, being tortured and killed. Those are the people who should have been present at the conference table, to put their grievances on the table, ask why they were being detained and why they were tortured.
Engaging Taylor in this type of dialogue is what would perpetuate the reign of terror. It is a dangerous game played at times by those who think they can salvage the devil. Dr. Sawyer played the same game until the thugs ran him out of town. He too believed that there was something to salvage by staying on the ground and uttering cautions and general truths. The Bishop, for once, missed a chance to speak for the victims as he has always done in this past. There are real people in jail, with names and faces. By calling a name, a single name, the Bishop speech would have cast a historical fact in stone. But he spoke in general terms, very safely.
The time of generalities has long passed. Crediting the NPFL government with the mere possibility of doing anything different after 13 years is to play its game. Why isn't Jesse Jackson or Former President Carter present in Monrovia? Where is Mandela and all others invited dignitaries? The Bishop hopes that the results of this conference will be implemented. Hope and faith built Rome. But we can’t stop wondering if the Bishop would have gone to the conference and made a firing speech about reconciliation and injustice in such general terms if one of the journalists of the Catholic radio station had been languishing in jail.
Silence is at time stronger than words. The Bishop silence at this point would have been much more forceful than any generic condemnation that really hurts nobody and helps no one.