The Last Time I Talked To Mohammed Komara
By Nvasekie N. Konneh
Now that Journalist Hassan Bility is released from jail and forced into exile, have we gone back to sleep, forgetting that other prisoners are still being held and we are not getting any info as to when they will be released? Is it the time to feel relaxed and go back to our usual coolness, as if to say everything is just fine? Why is it that none of the presidential hopeful jetting-in in the capital, Monrovia, has made it his business to even attempt to visit these people in jails so as to be aware of the reality of life for some of the people that may vote for them if the election is held? Is it because their interests are only in the presidency and not the rights of our people? These are some of the questions that have been raised in recent time in newspaper articles both in and out of Liberia. As I read James Harris' recent article, “Our Indifference - The Case of Aloysius Toe, Et. Al,” I am reminded of the same questions many have asked me personally since I was one of the organizers of last year demonstration at the Liberian Embassy in Washington DC on September 16, 2002.
While we are contemplating these questions, I will like to bring to you the story of my own conscious journey with one of the incarcerated persons. His name is Mohammed Komara (not the Mohammed Kamara that was arrested with Hassan Bility on the same day). I am attempting to put a human face to what some may think is only a fairy tale from some storybooks. If we all put ourselves in these guys' shoes, feel their anguish, their pain and frustration of being kept away from their families, we wouldn't be sitting here unconcerned about what is happening to them. That's when we will stop thinking that this is not a fairy tale but a reality. That is the feeling I got when I read James Harris’ article.
This guy is in jail not because he ever made any public statement or wrote any article against the government, but simply because he happens to be a friend of Hassan Bility. I could understand why I could be arrested today if I go back to Liberia and I could understand why Hassan Bility was arrested, and tortured in detention. I could understand why Aloysius Toe is being held but I can't understand why a quiet guy like Mohammed Komara, who was not saying or writing anything against the human right abuses in the country, would be arrested simply because he is a friend to someone who is critical of the conducts of the government. If not known for writing or speaking his mind against the daily abuses of the security forces, could it be said that he's simply detained because he is a Mandingo or Moslem? If these are the reasons, then the government is yet to prove that being a friend to Hassan Bility or a Mandingo is a crime.
My conscious journey with Mohammed Komara started one evening in 1986 in Saclepea, Nimba County. He had come from BWI to do an internship with NCADP (Nimba County Agricultural Development Project). He was very eloquent and fluent in English, Arabic and French. He was very knowledgeable and because of that he became an instant star among the high school students of our community. Everyone would flock around him during our nightly discussions under the moon light. We were learning things from him that were not been taught to us in class. He was like Socrates and his students in ancient Greek or Dr. Sawyer and his on the LU campus. We all wanted to be where Komara was and we wanted to know what he knew. One night I told the gathering that I had just listened to the "I Have a Dream" speech of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and how great it was. Komara said, "That's great, but wait till you listen to Malcolm X." His moving story about Malcolm X was the turning point in my search for greater meaning in life. It ignited a fire in me that is still burning. It elevated me mentally to a higher level and since that night there's been no turning back. When I moved to Monrovia in 1988 after high school, I bought Malcolm X tapes, read his autobiography and everything else about him. Malcolm X fiery speeches fired up so much in me and this later on led to my founding of the “Malcolm X African Disciples,” which, until my departure from Monrovia in 1995, celebrated Malcolm's birthday and the Black History Month.
When Komara came to Monrovia in early 1989, I used to visit him at his brother's residence at Barnersville junction. Up to that time he had not read the Malcolm X’ auto- biography. It was I who lent it to him to read and he said then, "I introduced you to Malcolm X and now you are introducing me to him again." I admired him as a mentor and friend and would spend countless hours with him discussing Liberia, Islam, and other important issues. Then the war came and we all went to different places seeking refuge. When he came back to Monrovia after the Operation Octopus in 1993, I took copies of the newspapers that carried some of my poems and articles to him. I felt like a proud student trying to impress his teacher. I even felt prouder when he complimented me for doing "great." It was during this time he and I became employees with the Islamic Heritage Project on Jamaica Road, Monrovia. I was working in the clinic, going to school and doing freelance writing, while Komara was doing a weekly radio presentation about Islam on ELBC. After the 1997 election, he worked as an assistant to Sheik Kafumba Konneh at the National Reconciliation and Reunification Commission. I am not sure whether he was still working with this commission that was supposed to bring Liberians back together after the 1997 election. Given the ways things remain in Liberia, makes me wonder if the so-called National Reconciliation and Reunification Commission is still doing the job it was set up to do.
The last time I talked to Mohammed Komara was a month after the arrest of Hassan Bility. I had called to speak to a friend of mine. While talking to this friend I asked how Mohammed Komara was doing. Coincidentally, he was there that morning and I was told he wanted to talk to me. I gladly accepted and we started talking about the old days and how far each one of us has traveled ever since we met in Saclepea. He said he was happy for me because he heard that I am "doing good in America." I said I didn't know what he considered to be "doing good in America" but that I was happy he was going to the Abraham Babangida School of International Study of the University of Liberia, doing his master in international relation. He said he had been granted a scholarship to pursue an undergraduate study in England and was planning a trip to Abidjan, Ivory Coast to meet his sponsors. I promised to send him some money through the Western Union to facilitate his trip to the Ivory Coast. I was so happy to learn that my mentor and this special friend of mine was going to get an opportunity that has eluded him all these years to bring to fruition his dream of success in life. He told me to extend his greeting to some friends and relatives over here. When I told these friends that our brother Komara was going to England to school, they all were happy and prayed for his success.
The final thing we talked about was Hassan Bility's arrest and detention. He said he was praying that God would protect him and other detainees and bring them home safely to their families. He went on to say, "We have always told Hassan to leave but he had not listened, but I am hoping and praying that when he comes out this time he will agree to leave the country for his own safety. Right now we are all worry about him because he's so valuable to our community in particular and the country in general." When he said this to me, Mohammed Komara didn't have the slightest idea that he would end up being arrested and detained just as Hassan Bility. Neither could he imagine that while Hassan would be forced into exile, he and others would still be held in detention. I couldn't have thought otherwise, myself. All of his concentration was on that trip he was scheduled to make to England. Now, instead of being over there going to school to prepare himself for a better future in Liberia, he’s spending time in illegal detention.
Given all of this, it is very surprising why Mohammed Komara ended up in jail as one of the many incarcerated in connection with Hassan Bility. Besides being the friend of Bility, the only reason one may give for the arrest and detention of Komara and others is that the government is carrying out an ethnic witch-hunting against certain elements of the Liberian society. Now we are hearing from credible sources that the government is planning a systematic campaign of ethnic genocide against the Mandingoes and the Krahns, should the LURD forces enter Monrovia. Could it be that the continued detention of all these folks in jail is a prelude to this government's planned genocide? I think the government should know that we would be well off to prevent the repeat of the Lutheran Church massacre, a terrible crime against humanity that is still fresh on the minds of Liberians.
While in prison and not knowing when he would come out, Mohammed Komara's big sister, Fanta Komara, has just passed away; not in Camp Four or LAMCO, where she would love to be if things were normal in Liberia but in Nzerekore, where she and thousand others were forced to live since 1990 because of the war. I am sure her brother would have loved to be there to sympathize with his family but since he's in detention, he won't be able to do so. Chances are that he is not even aware of any death in his family since he too may not be too sure if he would come out alive, given the intolerable conditions of the prisons he and others are been held in. I can imagine how frustrating it is to know that one cannot depend on the justice system to be free from such unjust detention. I can imagine how frustrating it is to know that one’s chance of ever seeing the light again depends on one man’s order, a man who is above all the laws of the country. How soon is this man going to feel it within his heart that there are people in jails that shouldn’t be there in the first place? Does this man know that he was once a prisoner and he was not treated the way others are being treated on his order?
As I think about Aloysius Toe, Mohammed Komara and all these people in jail, what comes to mind is whether those that are keeping them in jail have any fear of God in their hearts to do the right thing. Is Mr. Taylor aware that a 68 year old man, Gbelley Kamara is needed by his wives, children and grand children? Does he know the anxiety the family of Aloysius Toe are going through because their husband, father and uncle is kept away from them and they don’t know when he’s coming home? Then again I think about the more than tens of thousands of people they murdered in cold blood to obtain these positions. In the face of all these damning conditions, one may ask, “How long are we going to remain indifferent when our fellow human beings are denied justice and forced to sit endlessly in filthy prison cells for no genuine reason?”