Peace And Reconciliation In Liberia
(Speech Delivered By Archbishop Michael Francis at the Government Reconciliation Conference)
August 28, 2002
Once more we are gathered as a Nation and a people through Delegates and Invitees to deliberate and reflect on the destiny of our Nation - on a theme which has been discussed, debated, deliberated on several times and on many occasions during the last five years in these halls, in our country and out of our country by men and women who no doubt have the good of our commonwealth at heart. We came to conclusions, which we believed would bring sanity, peace and reconciliation to our country. Alas Peace and Reconciliation has been illusive. We have come once more not given up hope but to tackle this agenda, an important and necessary one for us no doubt, with the customary vigor determination and openness.
The question that arises is: will we succeed? Why have our other deliberations, reflections and conclusions not succeeded in bringing us the desired peace and reconciliation? Have we been going the wrong way in seeking our desires for our country? Or have we neither the political nor the moral will to implement what we have concluded? Or perhaps we have been fooling ourselves and have not been sincere about what we have discussed and what we want? Still the questions come to mind: Do we want genuine peace and reconciliation in Liberia? Are we honest with ourselves?
Peace is not only the absence of physical conflict; it is infinitely more than that. It has spiritual, psychological and physical dimensions. Quite often we are more concerned, it seems to me, about raw power and not its inner nature of service. Will this time make a difference? I hope. True Peace is Justice in the simplest definition. Peace and Justice go hand in hand, they are Siamese twins. Where there is justice we will have peace in all its dimensions and where there is peace we presuppose there is justice. When the rights of every individual is respected, when we live in a society where there is respect for the basic rights of all, where injustice in all its forms is not the order of the day, then without doubt there will be peace.
Why has Peace eluded us? Why don't we have Peace in our native land? I am not oversimplifying the problems. There is a deficiency in our meting out justice to the people of this land. It seems to me that we are so blinded we cannot see injustice incarnate - it is a pity, because our consciences become so stifled that we do not have the moral will power or the political will power to act justly.
Are we surprised, then that we as individuals, as people, and as a nation find it difficult to be reconciled? How can we when that process of uniting us is thwarted by our default in meting out justice to one another from the family setting to the community and the nation. Reconciliation is only true and genuine if we admit our faults, respect the rights of others and respond to the invitation to repair whatever damage we may have effected by our negative relations with our fellow citizens. Reconciliation is truth. Reconciliation is admitting of one's faults and seeking forgiveness, of deeply apologizing. But when there is a culture of impunity, a culture of arrogance, a culture of disrespect for our fellow person, we will never have reconciliation. It is a spiritual fallacy to believe that saying Lord, Lord and not loving one's neighbor as ourselves, we will have peace.
This National Conference on Peace and Reconciliation will make a difference if and only if the following flow from it and are determined by it:
1) Justice must be articulated
2) Openness must characterize our deliberations
3) The will to implement the conclusions arrived at must be unbending.
4) Honesty, sincerity and commitment to the achievement of peace and consequently reconciliation must be the determination of every Liberian.
Efforts At Reconciliation -Past And Present
We as a people, as a nation, have never in a sustained and meaningful way come to grips with how we have treated each other in the past and in the present. From the founding of our nation the process of reconciliation was never put into motion - there were two classes: a superior one and an inferior one. The latter was looked down upon as barbarian, uncivilized and needed to be christianized. In the process our forefathers on both sides meted out injustice to each other. Never have we sat down to inquire of ourselves if what we were doing was right vis-à-vis our treatment of each other. In the early years of the 20th Century the renowned Liberian Scholar and Statesman, Edward Blyden in very strong terms articulated on several occasions the inequality existing among our citizens and he encouraged intermarriage between the descendants of the immigrants and the indigenous population. Hence the marriages between Edwin Barclay and a Grebo Lady, Euphemia Davis, the marriage between Arthur Grimes and a Vai Lady, the marriage between Momolu Massaquoi and the Grand Daughter of President Johnson, etc.
Cllr. William V.S. Tubman in 1918 argued the cause of the two sets of laws, Indigenous and Civil - one for the so-called "civilized" people and another for the "indigenous" people. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Dossen ruled that two separate laws were unconstitutional - all Liberians should come under the civil law-unfortunately the Executive never carried out this decision of the Supreme Court. In 1945, President Tubman had three representatives from the three Provinces sit in the National Legislature - the Western, Central and Eastern Provinces respectively. It was only in 1964 that this country became one under one law and administration and the Interior Administration, as we knew it - absolute and dictatorial - was abolished. President Tubman made an attempt to reconcile the two segments of our society through his Unification and Integration Policy. To his credit he tried and in this process brought our country under one administration and though imperfect, the disadvantageous segment of our nation was given representation in the National Legislature. This was the first real attempt to resolve the first class - second class reality of our citizenship.
In 1980 there was a bloody coup and many of the children of the pioneers were killed and their properties confiscated. Many are still in self-imposed exile. There was no attempt at reconciliation and the bleeding continues which makes reconciliation imperative. In 1989 a brutal war began. Thousands upon thousands were killed and the whole infrastructure of the nation was destroyed - political, financial, spiritual, etc. Nothing tangible has been done other than giving jobs to some and money to others, leaving the majority to scrounge around for a living. People are bleeding. Attempts have been made to heal the real wounds of the trauma of the 1990s but we have yet to carry the process through to a meaningful conclusion. It seems we have just gone on with the mind set - let bygones be bygones - and that has not helped. We must tackle the causes that led to this constant bleeding sometimes slowly and imperceptibly and other times explosively. Reconciliation is needed not just between the descendants of our founding fathers and the descendants of our indigenous fathers but also among the members within the two groups.
We as a people have, during the centuries adopted some social attitudes that are not conducive to social interaction and appreciation of each other. For example we respect positions not the persons who are in those positions. If today you are a minister respect and fear is lavished on you but if you loose your job you are forgotten or even attacked in many ways that do not meet the eyes. There are our civil servants who labored for this country and gave their best to it - some are living abroad or here before our very eyes in abject poverty. This is wrong. People that are concerned only about the positions and not about the worth and sacredness of the human persons are doomed to failure.
We are in many instances insincere, dishonest, deceitful, and sycophantic. We have serious attitudinal problems. For the past two plus decades a culture of violence, a culture of deception, a culture of dishonesty, non-achievement and negative social attitudes have developed that it has become the order of the day. We fear that if there is not a reversal of this trend the younger generation will grow up with negative attitudes and this country will suffer greatly. Just think, sixty percent of our population was born after 1979 - one understands the magnitude of the problem.
We should address ourselves not only to healing the wounds of the past but also to those of the present.
In the past we have looked on many traditional practices as being uncivilized and diabolical. We have not admired cultural heritages whether from America, the Caribbean, Congo or Liberia. We are a mosaic of cultures and we need to be proud of our national heritages, our national customs, etc. Of course not all our cultural heritage is good; not all of our customs are good and wholesome. We need the wisdom and understanding to do away with those that are inimical to our wellbeing as a people; for example, female genital mutilation and the understanding to enhance those that are good and of benefit to our nation and people. We are one people with one destiny and in our interactions as a people we should be very sensitive to the good cultural behavior and mores of our fellow citizens from different cultural backgrounds.
We believe that a TRUTH COMMISSION as organized and implemented by South Africa should be considered in our effort to reconcile our people.
We cannot tire of emphasizing the great necessity to have a security system that meets the needs of our people and is concerned about the human rights of all our people. Sad to say our Security Apparatus has been one of the worst violators of the Human Rights of our people. There is so much that needs to be addressed when it comes to the activities of our different Security Apparatus.
The Legislature should enact as a matter of urgency a bill for the restructuring of all the components of our National Security Institutions to reflect geographic balance, new mission statement/requirements, force structure, table of organization and equipment, professional training and educational standards, minimum entry requirements and qualification standards, efficient command and control, better salaries and incentives and professional development through merits and qualifications. These institutions include the Armed Forces of Liberia, The Liberian National Police, National Intelligence Institutions, the Special Security Services and the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.
It is proposed that the appropriate enactment for the proper re-organization and restructing of national security institutional should ensure that these institutions are developed into well disciplined, correctly trained, loyal and efficient service institutions.
Human Rights should be a serious factor when retraining the Security Apparatus.
We need a Security Apparatus that addresses itself to the human rights concerns of our people and act within the parameters of respect for the fundamental rights of our people.
Democracy And Governance
It seems Good Governance has been historically one of Liberia's main problems. How can we build and sustain the practices of good governance; rule of law; transparency; accountability; tolerance; merit; equity and decentralization. We must address ourselves to the serious problem we have when it comes to governance. It is in a mess.
A code of conduct should be enacted by the Legislature to serve as a common standard for the conduct of public officials.
The independence of the Judiciary should be enhanced. To this end the following seems pertinent:
1. That a Statute be enacted to establish an Independent Judicial Commission that would be responsible to screen and recommend for nomination and appointment to judicial positions individuals who are qualified and competent.
2. That the Government provides adequate budgetary appropriations for the Judiciary and that a statute be enacted to it in the National Budget.
3. That the Government provides housing facilities for the Judges that are in circuit in the various counties in the Republic, as well as adequate salaries, benefits and incentive.
4. That Magisterial and Justice of the Peace Court system be overhauled and reformed to prevent the iniquities, the judicial wrongs, and the abuses of judicial power now prevalent in the system.
5. A program of on-going in-services education be provided judges, magistrates and other judicial personnel through workshops and seminars and that studies be undertaken to determine the efficacy of the present jury system.
6. The Government, Bar Associations and individual lawyers establish legal aid services in all the political sub divisions of the country.
7. It is suggested that the Constitution be amended to give recognition to the rights of victims of crime and abuse of power.
8. That the Legislature carry out its constitutional mandate by enacting the following laws: a) making torture and inhumane treatment during detention a crime and providing penalties therefore; b) giving protection to women married under customary practices; c) providing a mechanism for redress against the government for violation of constitutional rights.
Liberia's economic recovery, growth and development should be private sector driven, thus the need to create the necessary environment for the innovative, defiant and sustainable development of education and training; health, water and sanitation; agriculture and food security; housing and human settlements; the tenure system; infrastructure-energy; communication; transportation; forestry; natural resources and the environment; Economic empowerment and the enhancement of the quality of life of all of our people is a fundamental national objective.
Education and health should be prioritized. And half of the annual budget should go into these sectors.
There will be no Peace and consequently no Reconciliation if Justice does not permeate our society.
I join my voice to that of the ECOWAS and the wider spectrum of the Liberian Society on calling for dialog between the Government of Liberia and LURD and also for unconditional cease-fire, if at all they have the good for this country at heart.
The success of this National Conference on Peace and Reconciliation depends on the national, political and moral will to implement the RESOLUTIONS. We do not have a track record on this - let us change our attitude in this regard and resolutely implement whatever is positive that comes out of this Conference.
Prayer Of St. Francis
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring your love
Where there is injury pardon Lord
And where there's doubt true faith in you.
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there's despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness only light
And where there's sadness ever joy.
O Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
In giving to all that we receive
And in dying that we're born to Eternal Life.