The Level Of Poverty And Suffering That Liberians Now Live Under Has Become Unbearable

(An acceptance speech delivered By Samuel Wonwi Thompson on his appointment as Chairman of the Unity Party (UP) for Montserrado County, Liberia)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 24, 2003

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Executive Committee and fellow partisans of the Unity Party, Members of the Press, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

First of all, I extend my thanks to Almighty God and the UP leadership for appointing me as Chairman of Montserrado County at this critical time in our country’s history. I will try to uphold your vote of confidence by God’s grace and with your support.

Last Friday was National Fast and Prayer Day. As I sat at home, a common theme emerged on the radio talk show: that the level of poverty and suffering that we Liberians now live under has become unbearable; that Liberia has fallen to the rock bottom due to war, general instability and international isolation; that we need to forgive one another; that we need to pray for God to bring us lasting peace and to deliver us from misery and daily trauma.

It was quite traumatic to watch thousands of people walking aimlessly with their few belongings on their heads last week. They were fleeing from the armed attack during the distribution of relief food at the Jahtondo and Wilson Town displaced camps. Out of the crowd, I saw a two-year old child at the Freeport area who had been abandoned by his fleeing mother. He was not only very frightened but also hungry and shabbily dressed. The torn clothes on him were the only ones he owned and he had no shoes on his feet, as he clung to a total stranger. For sympathy, the man had stopped to pick up the abandoned child from the road side. The stranger did not even know where his own wife and children were – whether dead or alive.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is very sad to know that all this confusion, death and destruction occurred simply because a group of very poor and destitute men have no other means of survival, except to use their weapons to obtain food from equally poor but helpless civilians. This goes on almost every day all over our country, 155 years after its independence. Because of senseless war, resources that could have been spent to create jobs and improve our living conditions are being used by all sides of the conflict to kill and dehumanize innocent civilians, and to destroy our families. The war and high 85% unemployment have encouraged Liberian mercenaries in search of a better life to become one of the country’s greatest exports. Furthermore, as a result of growing civil conflict, international relief agencies have not been able to reach and assist thousands of internally displaced people with food, medicines and other basic items. Fellow Liberians, you will agree with me that this is too much. It must stop now!

Ladies and Gentlemen: the difficult and confusing times we live in may often cause one to wonder what is going on and why Liberia is today the nerve center of growing instability in West Africa. I believe that the root cause of these problems is that we Liberians do not fear God and we do not love one another. History shows repeatedly, that every nation that forsakes God eventually ends up in destruction and disgrace.

And how have we forsaken God? We have done so by seeking other gods through occult practices while also attending churches or mosques. For example, it is common knowledge that some Liberians make covenants with the underworld using human blood and body parts in all types of demonic rituals. Some child combatants recently testified that they were made to drink human blood as part of their initiation. Fellow Liberians, to submit to the kingdom of darkness for temporary gain - whether military victory, wealth or power - is to put oneself in bondage to evil and the fear of death. God does not like these wicked deeds. We must renounce them and turn back to the Holy One of Israel. As a Christian, I am here to tell this nation that our deliverance from satanic bondage is available but only through the Blood and the mighty name of Jesus.

From the foregoing, it is not possible for us to forsake God and at the same time, to genuinely love man who is made in God’s image. Lack of love for one another causes us to dehumanize one another. Rape, indiscriminate violence, torture and lack of respect for human rights by combatants and security forces are common symptoms of the problem. Lack of love has also made it difficult for many of us to forgive past wrongs.

However, I am convinced that only genuine and unconditional forgiveness will bring true reconciliation and lasting peace to this country. All Liberians have fallen short in one way or another during the past decades of turmoil, and need forgiveness. Because of unforgiveness, we have cheered for each succeeding group of “liberators” and “redeemers” only to watch things get worse. Unconditional forgiveness will encourage Liberian combatants and mercenaries within and outside of the country to disarm and reintegrate. It will also help bring about the stability needed to attract long term investment and job creation in this country.

Liberians, we must protect each other and create decent and viable economic opportunities for one another, instead of exploiting and hurting each other. We must help people to live together in peace and the dignity of labor. Today, a once proud country has been turned into a nation of beggars, internally displaced persons, refugees and mercenaries. Liberians have been a nuisance and a burden to neighboring countries for over 13 years. Young people who could become the nation’s commercial farmers, engineers, doctors, technicians, bankers and nurses are being forcefully conscripted and sent to the frontlines to die because of rebel activity. Fellow citizens, more than one and a half century after independence, armed groups still claim they want to “liberate” us.

However, based on past history, it is hard to trust so-called “liberators.” I believe that the best solution to our problems is not through violent transfer of power. Neither is it through rigged elections. The Liberian people want to choose their leaders through the ballot box in genuinely free, fair and transparent elections. This is the only solution acceptable to the majority of Liberians and world opinion. Let us, therefore, not squander this precious opportunity to set this country on a path of restoration and long-term growth.

As a member of the UP hierarchy and Chairman for Montserrado County, I am fully committed to work with my fellow partisans, our sister political parties, other civilian groups, the Government of Liberia and the international community to ensure that we obtain this result. Concrete action I hope to take as County Chairman will include: (1) programs to encourage UP partisans across the County to get to know each other and work together as a group, (2) identification and recruitment of key supporters and candidates to fill positions in the single slate recently agreed upon by our coalition of political parties, (3) collaboration with other UP county leaders and organizations to present the vision and objectives of the UP and its sister parties to the Liberian people, (4) engage in peace-building programs with other civic groups, and (5) voter education and fund raising programs. This is not a “one-man show” and will require our collective efforts and sacrifice in order to succeed.

Fellow Liberians, it is incumbent upon all of us to work together for peace and democracy in our country. We must lay aside our differences and think of the human suffering and lost opportunities we have faced for so many years. We must build consensus on an acceptable formula for some kind of international security force. Its mandate should be to monitor a cease fire; disarm combatants of all warring parties; create a secure environment for the holding of free and fair elections; provide security for candidates, party leaders, top government officials and rebel group leaders; and to restructure and train the Police and Armed Forces of Liberia. This latter objective could have been achieved several years ago, if not for talk about the famous “status of forces.”

It is quite clear that Liberians are sick and tired of war. We therefore appeal to all countries and persons that are contributing to prolonging this conflict, to please desist. We want to live a better life and prepare a good future for our children. Instead of those horrible displaced camps less than 5 miles outside of Monrovia or in Totota and other parts of the country, we long for the day when we will see well-developed housing estates lived in by Liberians. Instead of hungry and poorly paid fighters dying in a senseless war or killing their brothers and sisters for relief food, we pray to Almighty God for the day when we will see them in well equipped schools, in successful businesses, making serious farms or getting well-paying jobs around the country to enable them start or maintain their families in peace.

Let us all accept the blame, one way or another, for lack of reliable electricity and pipe-borne water throughout this country, the lack of adequate public transport, or of good schools and hospitals. We must resolve to stop “passing the buck” and do better for our country. Many of us harm Liberia by choosing to steal funds intended for improvements in vital infrastructure. Many look for manna from the sky, by begging or remaining in jobs where they do not get paid for 12 to 14 months, instead of using their education and God-given talents to create jobs and wealth. From one regime to another, some have believed in the lie, that their social classes or ethnic groups have special rights and privileges to the wealth of Liberia. Let those of us in the political class who are supposed to be the light to our followers and to the wider society, make a conscious decision not to continue to drag the rest of this country down with us through our personal quarrels and vendettas. Fellow citizens, I believe that the majority of Liberians are willing to work together with a freely and fairly elected government, to rebuild and to move this country forward once more, as a well-respected member of the comity of nations.

However, in order to achieve this, we must fear God and do what is right. Let us love and accept one another unconditionally, regardless of tribe, social background, religious or political affiliation. In this light, I welcome the decision of the Government of Liberia to engage the LURD rebel organization in peaceful dialogue rather than continuing war to resolve their differences. Let us remember that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” I thank you!