Two Years for an Interim: Too Short or Too Long?

By Gladys K. Johnson

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Reposted September 4, 2003


According to the Accra Peace Agreement on Liberia, the Interim Government has two years within which to set the stage for elections. Some Liberians think that is not sufficient time for all that there is to be done. Well, it all depends whether or not the interim government would be working in the best interest of the Liberian people. Let us suppose, for a moment, that the incoming interim administration turns out to be a replica of previous failed administrations of vivid memory (same song, different tune) then would the Liberian people wish to have them around for two full years of selfishness, corruption, incompetence, suffering, dictatorship? Would those two years not be like an eternity to all of us at home and abroad?

There is a real possibility that this could happen. Consider, for example, the recent reaction of the designated interim Chairman to the question of establishing a tribunal to try people who committed war crimes against the Liberian people. Without a moment of reflection, he retorted, “absolutely not.” Now, his foot is not even in the doorway of power, and he is already speaking in “absolute” terms. The interim chairman has already decided that those who killed 45 of my relatives and thousands of other people’s relatives in their villages, towns, and homes (not on the battlefield); who raped women, underage girls and old ladies; disemboweled pregnant women to determine the gender of their unborn babies, thereby killing both the mothers and the children - these heinous crimes, says the chairman, must go untried and unpunished. The surviving relatives must put it all behind them and move on.

“Absolutely not” can be expressed in other ways: for example, “over my dead body” or “out of the question” or “in your dreams.” It all means the same NO. [origianlly published as: "It all means the same? NO."]. But one wonders why the chairman should be so set against criminals being prosecuted and so eager to grant them amnesty. Whom is he protecting here? Himself? One hopes not. Or is it some of his friends and benefactors, or business connections and associates? The Liberian people need to know why the chairman seems so tolerant or forgiving of evildoers and so callous to the cause of the victims and their survivors. It is quite puzzling that the interim chairman should want to forgive without even being asked for mercy. Or was he asked before he was even selected?

The Chairman could have sought the counsel of the Liberian people, instead of jumping the gun. He seems to have used the “for peace sake” pretext to sweep the dirt under the rug, pretending only humanitarian motivations. But the Liberian people are not stupid. They know that dirt swept under the rug will be exposed once the rug is removed. Dirt will not cease to exist because it is under the rug.

If we truly want peace in Liberia, lasting peace, then we must do the one thing that will bring about that sustainable peace: we must try the criminals and, if they are convicted, punish them. This is the surest way to let would-be drug addicts who rape, torture, and kill civilians in the name of war know that there are dire consequences for evildoing right here on earth; and not just on Judgment Day. These people do not believe in God and could care less about what God can or will do to them someday. The issue of trying these criminals is of such vital importance to whatever peace Liberians hope for that it should not be unilaterally decided by any one man, whatever his title or by a peace facilitator. It is a question for the Liberian people to resolve in any manner the majority shall determine and decide, whether now or later.

A word of advice to the Chairman may be in order. He needs to slow down and take a deep breath, thinking carefully about what he says because Liberians everywhere are listening, thanks to modern technology. And some of what he says could come around to haunt him. He must remember that most Liberians do not know him. They will judge him by what he says and what he does. He must not dash the hopes of the people by saying and eventually doing things that will remind them of those terrible days in Liberia that sent into exile most of the nation’s educated class, including doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors, engineers, economists, and other professionals; leaving the management of the country in the hands of semiliterate incompetents and criminals for 14 long years.

Two years can be too short or too long, depending on how the interim administration manages the affairs of Liberia. If it does well, time could be extended, if needs be. But should it do poorly, then Heaven help the Liberian people as they struggle and suffer again, and begin to count the days and weeks and months of pure hell again. It would be dangerous to heed the suggestion of those already calling for more years to be allowed the interim government, for no good reason at all. These are precarious times. People must act with great caution.