Standing with the People of Nimba

By Tarty Teh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

March 3, 2003

The citizens of Nimba County have taken a small but dangerous step toward standing up to the regime of President Charles Taylor. We need not wait to know the exact act of the Taylor government that has led to the civic action of some Nimba citizens. We need only to remember similar acts of aggression by the man who now heads the government against which the people of Nimba have taken a brave stand.

We should not allow the constitutionally protected act of civil disobedience by the people of Nimba to go to waste. That action came in the form of closing down the schools in Nimba to protest the Taylor government's action and to protect the children of Nimba who were being snatched from school to fight the war that the Taylor government is losing badly.

Sad as it was for Taylor, as rebel leader, to wipe out all of Nimba's presidential timber even as he proclaimed some alliance with the people of Nimba, the tragedy will be shamefully compounded if we allow this latest assault to be a Nimba issue only. It is, as one Liberian legislator is quoted to have said, an assault on the future of Liberia to take our children out of school to fight a war that is overwhelming the career soldiers of the Taylor government.

In order for Nimba not to stand alone again, the gesture of its citizens must serve as the anchor of a wave of similar acts of defiance by the people of Liberia for all the abuse we have suffered since we made the decision to allow Taylor to contest the 1997 elections. Of course we the members of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) have long since predicted that we would not have peace in Liberia as long as Taylor was around. We therefore undertook to remove him from power. We believe that we are succeeding, but we must not allow Taylor to add the blood of our children to the prohibitive cost of coping with his bloody rule for more than five years now.

The BBC reported February 25, 2003, that an Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) soldier on his way from visiting his family in the interior was picked up by a unit headed for the warfront with LURD. The soldier protested that he was on leave and should not have been scheduled to return to the warfront. For all we know, the soldier might have taken a moral stand on the issue of supporting the government that has not only denied Liberia international goodwill but has brought United Nations sanctions on the country.

The commander who ordered the soldier beaten and finally stabbed to death is still active in the Taylor army. But unable to find redress for the summary execution of their son, the family laid siege to the Liberian government Ministry of Defense demanding the body of their son for, at least, proper burial. Their fight is worth joining by all Liberians, especially the families with school-aged children who are susceptible to being kidnapped to serve as frontline soldiers.

Anyone who does not want to join the cry over the death of a child killed in the warfront must join the fight to resist the government that is using death to force us into submission. Not all acts of defiance will make news headlines. There is no point in physically attacking anyone no matter which side he or she supports. We only have to cripple one person - Charles Taylor - to bring this misery to a peaceful end.

The people of Nimba are in a particularly bad situation for generally being credited with facilitating the first coming of Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). But whether or not they willingly aided Taylor in his drive to seize state power, Taylor has not spared them any horror or indignation. We will therefore compound their shame if we let them stand alone. We must join them to bring down the tyrant who is killing us daily.

We can afford to shut down the schools until the Taylor government falls; but we cannot afford to have our children fight one another on the warfront in a Taylor regime. So parents need to keep a watchful eye on their children. If the school is the recruiting ground for soldiers for the failing Taylor government, then the politically and morally prudent thing to do is to keep the children away from school so that they do not fall prey to Taylor's generals who are without options.

The servicemen of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) need not be afraid of the LURD soldiers. Let them follow the lead of General Tarnue who has defected to the LURD and is helping us devise strategies for bringing down Charles Taylor without spilling the blood of our children.

Charles Taylor is finished. It's only a matter of how many people he will take down with him. We must work together to avoid dying for the dictator who has destroyed Liberia. Let Charles Taylor fall alone. Any AFL soldier or conscript currently at the warfront needs to hide his gun and head toward the LURD frontline for surrender. It's over. Any deaths in the next few weeks will truly be a shame.

We don't need a military victory because we are all victims of the hoax of 1997 that is in the history books as the election of 1997. Let all of us come together to build a better Liberia. This is what LURD is fighting for. Without Taylor, LURD has nothing to fight anyone about. Again, let us join our brothers and sisters in Nimba Country. They were in the beginning of this struggle; let them mark the end of it.

Tarty Teh is a Chief Political Representative for Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD)