Let's Set the Record Straight!
A Rejoinder to Armed Resistance as Last Resort:
Mandingo Factor in the Liberian Civil War

By James Kokulo Fasuekoi

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 31, 2002

The self-style five star General Alhaji Kromah, leader of the ULIMO-K rebel movement, is seeing here defending his ULIMO movement at a mass gathering in Monrovia, the war-torn Liberian capital. Photo © by James Fasuekoi.
The self-style five star General Alhaji Kromah, leader of the ULIMO-K rebel movement, is seeing here defending his ULIMO movement at a mass gathering in Monrovia, the war-torn Liberian capital. Photo by James Fasuekoi.
For more than three years since I left our country Liberia, I have for good reasons refrained from picking on controversial political issues, especially when they involved those at the helm of power so as not to endanger the lives of family members and friends.

But at times, some statements become so provocative and misleading to the point that one is forced to respond in an attempt to set the records straight for the benefit of generations to come. It is for such reason that I respond to Mr. Varfley Dolleh's recent two-part series published on September 20 and on November 4, 2002 by Liberiaorbit.org, entitled: "Armed Resistance as Last Resort: Mandingo Factor in the Liberian Civil War."

In his series Dolleh, a Mandingo, often evaded the truth and at the same time tried to justify the indiscriminate mass killings of innocent civilians largely from the rival Lorma tribe carried out by Alhaji Kromah's ULIMO Mandingo rebels in various parts of the country during the war, which Dolleh was a part.

One reading Dolleh's articles is left with the belief that his ethnic Mandingo tribe was indeed the only targeted group which endured endless persecution at the hands of Charles Taylor's NPFL rebels who invaded the country in late 1989.

He creates an impression that Mandingoes were the only group of Liberians who suffered both material and human tragedy which engulfed the entire nation for nearly eight years while the rest of the tribes watched on with total delight. This is completely false!

What I realized after reading his face-saving message was that throughout the series, Dolleh, a former Kromah ULIMO-K liaison officer, in most cases deviated from the truth but instead chose to play on exaggeration in an attempt to gain public sympathy at the same time cover the hard facts. He deliberately misled readers as regards actual roles he, Alhaji Kromah and others played during the civil war.

At this time, I shall attempt to share light on some of the happenings that still remained fresh in my memory involving Dolleh and his boss, Kromah, both of whom have lately been showing off and bragging about their so-called tribal struggle which led to the systematic destruction of lives and properties of a large tribe in the country, the Lormas.

As a journalist and also a citizen of Lofa County, I see it as a duty not only for posterity but also for many Liberians who lived abroad during the entire crisis. I must do this because for in the words of Dolleh, "Players and eyewitnesses have the obligation to posterity to narrate the real story". Every witness to the war should therefore come out and tell what they know so that posterity will know what they did here!

The "Massacre" in Barkedu, Lofa County

Varfley Dolleh claimed that more than 600 civilians, mainly Mandingo women and children were massacred in his hometown of Barkedu in Lofa County. Dolleh, though failed to mention the month or year, and cited "Thursday" as the day the alleged incident occurred without a quote or attribution. No one knows how he arrived at the "over 600 civilian" casualty. This is completely an exaggeration.

While I don't intent in anyway to justify the murder of a single person let alone a group of people, it is equally in place to admit such figure is far beyond reality. His claims no doubt are nothing but fairy tales in the absence of a tangible proof.

He further added, "Many young women were taken hostage and abused. Their breasts were later slashed off and set (they) free while others were thrown in crocodile infested rivers." This is again false! As a citizen of Lofa County, I know of no crocodile infested rivers in that region. Could he Dolleh show me one for my own safety? Or can he point to a female Mandingo victim who lost her breast to a Charles Taylor rebel?

Liberians Were All Victims

The Taylor led war as senseless as it was, was not really directed at a particular tribe or group of people. It affected anyone who stood in its path. One's chances for survival largely depended on luck and in most cases where he or she was at a time.

See for example, a next-door neighbor, Yarkpazuo Kpoto, from my hometown of Yeala. He was executed one morning in August 1990 at Fandell University Campus all because he bore a name thought to have a link to the late former Senator Kekura Kpoto. He was not a Mandingo.

NPFL rebels gunned down Collen Pyne, a businessman and a Gardnerville neighbor as we watched helplessly. His only crime was that he was a Krahn. As for Mr. Toka, a former custom collector and also an ethnic Krahn, Kromah's rebels reportedly killed him during an inter-tribal war between Mandingoes and Krahns in western Liberia. Former artist and Liberia's only super yoga star, Jacob Dweh of Kendeja Cultural village, again an ethnic Krahn, was murdered along with other artists.

Hardly did I drink water or eat my meal at the Caresburg V.O.A. displaced center, the day in August 1990 when I saw an NPFL rebel bragging before a crowd about how he had killed a Mandingo man and taken his "Uncle Sam" (US dollars) away. That rebel wore a blood stained T-shirt with double jeans and there was no reason to doubt his statement when he began to display a bunch of U.S. dollars.

As I left the crowd, I began to worry about the fate of a Mandingo man who was shared a temporary shelter with us nearby. He, like thousands others, had been forced to join civilians streaming into the north of the capital amid heavy gunfire.

Renamed by my Lorma friends as Mulbah to ensure his safety, he hardly stepped out of our tent for days, fearing someone might recognize him who knew him before. But with God's blessings we managed to keep him into hiding, showering him with love and kindness until I eventually left the team and headed west.

I am sure one would also agree with me that the more than 600 civilians, mainly women and children massacred by Samuel Doe's death squad were not Mandingoes but rather Gios and Manos. Let's also consider the Carter Camp in Harbel and Duport Road in Monrovia massacres. So for one to conclude that it was only a particular tribe or sector that suffered to a level of unimaginable proportion in Liberia's civil war is ridiculous.

It was indeed a bitter experience for all of us, Liberians.

Kromah's ULIMO-K Massacre

When news of ULIMO-K's atrocities (Kromah's Mandingo rebels) with Islamic undertone first began reaching newspaper offices in Monrovia via few survivors who escaped to the capital through Guinea, many paid little attention dubbing them as usual war rumors. Then came 1993 when The Inquirer Newspaper published series of alarming reports from a school teacher who for months trekked through dense forest in Lofa, then controlled by Kromah's Mandingo rebels, to reach Guinea.

Sam Kortimai in a ten-page report gave vivid accounts of the horror and agonies brought upon Lofains, particularly the opposing Lorma tribe by Kromah's men. Towns and villages had been burned down and farm products confiscated by the rebels, a situation that led many to flee to neighboring Guinea. Sources say this was a reaction to arson attacks carried out on Mandingo properties by Taylor's men who had long fled the region as ULIMO zoomed in.

"Men were forcibly moved into female secret societies while women were also taken to the Poro which belongs to men with both sides being forced at gun point to confess their secrets" Kortimai wrote. The former Monrovia Central High School teacher, who said his report was based on personal experience as well as information gathered from former students and civilians trapped in those areas, mentioned the massacre of Lorma civilians in towns like Fassama, near Bella Yeala, Nyekebozo and Gizeboiga by Kromah's men.

The well equipped and furnished Curran Lutheran Hospital in Zorzor (where I was born) was set ablaze by Mandingo rebels after they had looted and sold all furniture and equipment to Guinean Mandingo traders in Koryama, Guinea. The hospital had remained intact throughout NPFL's occupation in the region for almost four years.

This photo scene shows the center of war ravaged Zorzor, once a bustling city. It is one of the many scenes captured by Journalist James Fasuekoi in 1998 in the aftermath of the mass excavation of the remains of hundreds of young men mainly from the Lorma tribe reportedly buried alive by Alhaji Kromahxs rebels during the Liberian civil war. The exercise covered Yeala, Zorzor, Fessibu and Bokeza with the recovery of the skeletal remains of several victims.  Photo © by James Fasuekoi.
This photo scene shows the center of war ravaged Zorzor, once a bustling city. It is one of the many scenes captured by Journalist James Fasuekoi in 1998 in the aftermath of the mass excavation of the remains of hundreds of young men mainly from the Lorma tribe reportedly buried alive by Alhaji Kromah’s rebels during the Liberian civil war. The exercise covered Yeala, Zorzor, Fessibu and Bokeza with the recovery of the skeletal remains of several victims.
What's so hard to believe is that even other towns like Salayea and Konia where Mandingo properties were untouched suffered, similarly. It should therefore be anyone's guess the fate of my hometown, Yeala, located on the Guinea-Liberian border where there was not a single Mandingo house nor quarter. Yeala was burned to the ground.

Dolleh who now accuses the press of being biased in reporting the plights of Mandingoes in the war, made their ULIMO-K controlled areas inaccessible to local and foreign journalists in order to prevent us from reporting mass killings carried out by them. For example, in late 1994, I was turned down by Dolleh himself at the James Spriggs Pyane Airport where a team of "hand picked" journalists had gathered to travel to the Zorzor region via Guinea to probe into mass killings said to have been carried out by Kromah's men. This move came at the heel of increasing public outrage over killings in Lofa County.

As one who was born, reared and attended school in the region, and also familiar with the region, culture and people, I would have been one of the best choices for the probe if Dolleh and his boss actually meant business. But instead, Dolleh for good reasons deliberately deleted my name from their list in the last minute.

The entire trip however turned out to be a fiasco in that the team failed to reach Zorzor, which was the center of the allegation. It was alleged to be under fire at the time. Reporters instead hang around Voinjama, ate some goat soup and "monikalama" and left the same way they went in.

Why Lofa Defense Force was formed

The founding of the Lofa Defense Force, probably the smallest armed faction in Liberia's civil war is said to have come about accidentally, a former (LDF) commander told me in Zorzor in July 1999. Alhaji Kromah's Mandingo rebels, with the assistance of Guinean Mandingo speaking soldiers (their cousins) who controlled the borders, are said to have carried out unspeakable cruelty against Lorma people in the Koryama region, a situation that prompted the creation of LDF.

In Koryama, a town predominantly inhabited by Mandingoes just about an hour walk across the border from Yeala, Guinean soldiers in one swoop reportedly arrested as many as 22 young Lorma boys both from the refugee camp in Koryama and those fleeing from Kromah's men; had them chained in a truck and transported to the Yeala-Guinea border where they were executed by Kromah's rebels. Some accordingly, were skinned alive while others were buried alive.

Many of the refugees who have since returned to Lofa told me in Zorzor and Yeala during excavations of the victims in 1998 that even photos of the ULIMO ordeals were sometimes put on display by the killers at the Koryama Market ground and surrounded by the refugees. According to the refugees, the town's officials almost all of whom were Koniaka Mandingoes (the group Dolleh and Kromah belong to) endorsed the killings and gave a blind eye while all of this took place.

Ask any Zorzor district resident who witnessed ULIMO-K's arrival to Zorzor or who lived at the Koryama Guinea refugee center for Liberians, he would give you names like Duyan, Tipoteh, Lavela, Guatu, Galakpai, Papa, Pewee, Monie and small-man who previously worked at Curran Lutheran Hospital plus his little nephews who were all murdered at the Yeala border just in a day.

Some of the printed photos from their ordeals, such as people being skinned alive were later recovered by rival Lofa Defense Force fighters after they drove Kromah's men from border towns like Yeala, Zorzor, Fissebu and Bokeza. These pictures would later go far to prove the level of cruelty meted out to the Lorma people.

Similar evidence discovered by Roosevelt Johnson's Krahn (ULIMO-J) rebels when they removed Kromah's men from the Klay-Bomi region in western Liberia during ULIMO inter-tribal war, showed shocking images of civilians being tortured to death by ULIMO-K rebels. Some of the photos, published by the EYE Newspaper showed one "Gen. Pepper & Salt" cutting off men's ears and their private parts. It brought sharp public criticism against the faction.

Traveling to Lofa with a team of journalists to cover Kromah's ULIMO-K well publicized unilateral disarmament ahead of national disarmament, part of the horrible Lofa tragedy revealed itself to us in a manner that was unbelievable. One of Kromah's child-soldiers traveling with us (journalists) in an 18 Seater mini van, recalled how he and fellow fighters murdered "so many Lorma people" in Sukromu, near Zorzor. sandwiched by another correspondent and I, (both Lormas) the boy, about 17 remembered how a Lorma woman pleaded with them to kill her and have her little children set free. "But we killed all of them" the boy boasted. My friend and I deeply gazed at each other as we drove past the middle of Sukromu that night where the killing had occurred.

The War, Greed for Power and Wealth

Of the more than 60,000 rebels and their warlords who fought the civil war, none would ever merit the least award presented to freedom or Liberation fighters around the world, for our "freedom fighters" were nothing but rapists, looters and murderers, battling each other for power and wealth. None can be credited with the protection of the masses' interest.

With this, it's sad then for people like Varfley Dolleh and Alhaji Kromah to be allowed to continue to openly boast and brag about killings they and their ULIMO movement perpetuated against the Liberian people. While other factional members, including warlords remained quiet or shy away from discussing the war, the two Koniakas have lately tried to tell the world that Mandingoes are indeed born "warriors". That their war was a just war. They have also tried to draw their link to an ancient powerful 'Mandingo' warrior, Sundiata Keita who ruled the Mali Empire. One can see that they must have drawn their inspiration from the great Sundiata Keita and Mansa Musa. Whatever the case, they are wrong and will never have a page in history like Keita and Musa. The Liberian war was based on greed, power and wealth. That was why their forces murdered men, women and helpless civilians on the basis of tribal background.

Conclusion Statement

Throughout my entire life, some of the best people I have come across are the Koniaka-Mandingoes. They are a loving, caring and decent group of people. They are intelligent and simple (down to earth) kind of individuals. Unlike Dolleh and Kromah, they are not greedy for power and wealth nor do they rape and murder. They would rather resort to a peaceful settlement in a dispute and not go to war. And I am proud of them and cherish them for these values. Both Dolleh and Kromah must have come from a different breed of Koniaka-Mandingo.

Throughout every household in Lofa County, visitors are first greeted with horrific war stories of how Kromah's rebels murdered innocent people. There is hardly a home that went untouched by this tragedy.

Both the Lormas and Mandingoes, two dominant tribes in the county and long time best friends have now turned foes. They can't no longer bear living together as brothers and sisters as they did in the past, all due to the bitterness of war.

The two tribes were battling each others with machetes in Lofa as I left the country in 1999. This was one of many such occasional fights between the two since the general elections of 1997 that ended nearly eight years of bloody civil war.

But it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, for it is people like Dolleh and Kromah who have screw up the peace and mutual understanding among these people in their quest to introduced Islamic fundamentalism in our country. They indeed succeeded!

If there will ever be a genuine national reconciliation in Liberia, it must first begin with people like Dolleh and his boss, Alhaji Kromah publicly admitting to their mistakes and guilt and asking for forgiveness from those whom they hurt; this includes the Lormas, Krahns etc. This also goes for the Krahns, Manos and Gios.

Mandingo elders in Liberia are now seeking dialogue through seminars with offended parties in the war, and they must be given a pat on the back. And I share my blessings with them as they strive to reunite our country. This is what Dolleh and Kromah ought to have been doing. This is because they contributed to the animosity among our people. If they can't help in the peace building process, they must now shut up now!

About the Author: James Fasuekoi is a journalist and cultural artists. Prior to the war, he worked for most of Liberia's independent leading dailies as reporter-photographer. Before joining the Associated Press in 1993, Fasuekoi served as photo editor for The Inquirer in Monrovia. Winner of Press Union of Liberia (PUL)1994 "Reporter of The Year" award, he is known for covering dangerous press assignments such as Gen. Charles Julu's failed coup of 1994 and the dreadful Kamajor bush war in Sierra Leone. Some of his works have been published in magazines and books around the world, the latest being, "Liberia: The Heart Of Darkness" by Gabriel I.H. Williams.

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