Where Terror Rules, No One Is Left
Medina Wesseh's Encounter With Terror and Its Implications
By Tom Kamara
When news hit the Net and the wireless about so-called "ex-combatants" storming the home of the Wessehs (Mr. Commany Wesseh of Dr. Sawyer's Center for Democratic Empowerment) and his wife journalist/social worker Medina) and the expected terror that ensued, it was first dismissed by many as "what do you expect in today's Liberia." And, indeed, the attack came as no surprise. One can only thank the Almighty that this conscientious and clear-headed lady physically escaped the terror at the hands of people who have not relented in carrying out that which has taken more than 300,000 lives, leaving the country in irrecoverable ruins. So the attack came as no surprise. The "surprise", if one can boldly call it that, is the linking of the UN's Gambian "peacebuilder" to this terror campaign. Indeed a case of how ruined men can tarnish reputations of otherwise good institutions is now self-evident.
The UN's Felix Downes Thomas, it all seems clear now, had long made up his mind about his role in Liberia even before landing on the soil. of this destroyed country. Linking him to the "ex-fighters", who are now defending him by threatening to wage terror on those who have problems with his politics, is no real surprise here, except that the man carries a UN name tag. And why no surprise? Isn't this the man who believes 1) that human rights abuses in Liberia are "not gross" enough; 2) that as Africans, because we carry black skins, we should not expect human treatment enjoyed by white skins in "developed" countries; 3) that the best way to promote human rights is to offer money to individuals consciously bent on entrenching a campaign of terror; 4) that a militarized Liberia is a natural outcome of what he says is a general African situation, something far, far from the truth that makes one wonder what sort of man is this man that an organization like the UN could risk to send as a Representative.
But, now, let us focus the Wessehs' experience and its implications. First, this experience lays bare Taylor's much publicized propaganda that Liberia is a "nation of laws and not of men." Second, it removes the devious veil of "an improved public safety" made possible, in Dr. Amos Sawyer's paraphrased words, by a sacrificing Police Force. Third, it dispels any notion of a democratic environment while unveiling terror as a mechanism to silence critics; and fourth, it points to ghastly dangers ahead, amply justifying Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh's recent diagnosis that the prevailing conditions in Liberia, S. Leone and Guinea Bissau are far from peace, only a :"cessation of hostilities". Why?
"A nation of laws and not of men"
The barren and intentional falsehood in this propaganda is made clear by the statement of the so-called "ex-combatants," which demanded that Mrs. Wesseh retracts her views and accusations of complicity levied against the UN's Thomas.. (I am using the word "so-called" because it is impossible telling the difference between the "security forces" and the "abandoned" ex-fighters since the "security forces are overwhelmingly composed of ex-fighters.) These men and women, in a society priding itself as a democracy that took 300,000 lives and wiped economic structures, have the courage to announce the arrest of an individual and institute their own form of justice, the type of justice that we saw so clearly in "Greater Liberia" that promoted torture, summary executions, looting as "legitimate" actions on those regarded as "enemies." Moreover, these men and women, now holding society hostage even after the world and the Nigerians gave them what they wanted(the presidency and therefore the country) have the right to label someone as a "criminal" because the person (Mr. Wesseh) correctly believes they are looking in the wrong place for addressing their grievances, grievances which may have some merits depending on the contract between them and those who recruited in private armies for seizure of political and economic power. But the most important factor in all this is that a government, claiming democratic credentials, can tacitly encourage this type of hooliganism and yet believe it is a democracy by civilized and acceptable standards. We saw the extreme measures used against supporters of Roosevelt Johnson and the Krahns for allegedly posing a security threat in September 1998. Mortars, artillery weapons, machine guns, bombs were used. And now, we are seeing another set of action: giving looters airtime and encouragement, support to terrorize others despised by Taylor. Indeed, a "nation of laws, not of men."
"An Improved Public Safety"?
It is said that God nowadays wears short trousers. But this will come to pass when the Almighty actually wears His bikini to ensure that total justice is attained in this troubled enclave of the earth. Men make statements that they later regret, in most cases when they allow personal wishes and biases to cloud their judgment. So it is with the announcement of "improved public safety," a "sacrificial police force" and the tragic experience of Mrs. Medina Wesseh. But there is more in this fallacious announcement coming out of the lips of Dr. Sawyer, once an admiring democracy activist.
Anyone surfing the Internet gets easily tired of reading harassment and intimidation stories in Liberia.( I have been compiling a list based on Internet sources, but I've run out of time for now.) Yesterday it was Sinoe County, with a government official complaining of security harassment and intimidation. Today it is the home of the "Great Patriotic War", Nimba County, with another government official complaining of security intimidation and harassment. The Catholic Justice and Peace recent report, denounced by the Government, speaks of abductions and other forms of terrible abuses. Now it is the Wessehs.
To some extent, the Wessehs are among the "lucky ones," lucky in that society and the world now knows of their experience with terror because of their status and activities within society over the years. How many innocent individuals in the villages and towns, in their daily encounter with never-ending terror, can boast of a visit from the "First Lady", or a Senator who has the President's ears (Ms. Grace Minor)? Mrs. Wesseh received these personalities following her encounter with terror, an indication that even in Satan's den, some may carry semi-angelic attributes. But when more than 300 Krahns were killed, (according to figures of the US State Department) and secretly buried, not many in society raised voices. The common saying in Monrovia was "It is good for the Krahn d...s" After the Krahns were silenced, it was the Mandingoes' turn. Now, it is the turn of those referred to as the "politicians," meaning anyone who disagrees with the current agenda of terror and intimidation as national policies. (Ironically, those now in charge of political power do not consider themselves as "politicians". In fact they may be right because "politician" is a civil term, one engaged in politics by normal definition. But we all know that today's Liberian "politicians" cannot fall in this category.) A "policeman" at the scene of Mrs. Wesseh's encounter with terror, is reported to have actually expressed delight, vowing that it is time these "politicians be dealt with". So here we are. When former JPC director Kofi Woods recently ran from the country fearing death after a series of information on planned action against him, no one expressed concern. "He talks too much. What does he have against the man? Human rights (in Dr. Sawyer's words) is not perfect anywhere in the world."
Fear is a weapon that tyrants use, but time has shown how short-lived and unsuccessful it is. History is replete with dictators who relied on fear only to be buried by it. What is emerging in Liberia is a culture of fear. But like Caesar once said, it is better to live once than to live under fear continuously. Sooner, rather than later, Liberians will believe that insecurity for one man, whether Krahn, Mandingo or a "politician" means insecurity for all. Failed political regimes are never short of excuses and targets for their self-inflicted failures. For example, during the formative days of the war, Doe was the obstacle to "peace", so "Monkey came down and came down hard. But yet peace was ever distant. Then we were told that ECOMOG and IGNU were the problems. The list of causalities became longer and longer. After elections, the Krahns became the problem. Many of them were killed while the lucky ones, about 18,000, fled. Others are languishing in jail. Then there was another search, and the Mandingoes were discovered as the problem. More searches were conducted and suddenly, the international community is the cause and those who don't believe this will now be arrested by the "ex-fighters," our policemen, judges and jurors.
A Veil of Democracy
Whether or not Liberians like it, their dream of democracy is yet a dream and will remains so for a long, long time. The conclusion of a commentator on the BBC after our election results, that he does not believe individuals accustomed to violence can be agents of democracy, is indeed now an undisputed truism. The faster we all believe and prepare to live with this diagnosis, the better for our minds and souls. Indeed, it is becoming a case of "Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar". And what belongs to our Caesar is now very clear: silence, obedience, and loyalty to stupidity and terror. In turn, what belongs to us? Terror and poverty.
Those who regarded themselves as being above the "fray", the smart politicians ready to live with any regime once "elected," no matter under what conditions and who the "elected" men and women are, can now rest. The games people play often catch up with them, but sometimes only after leading to serious social problems of life and death magnitude.
Those who really believe that a democratic, tolerant society is possible under the prevailing conditions are not only deceiving themselves, but may live to regret this delusion. Elections in Africa as democratizing formulae are fast losing their essence and Liberia is a classic case. Instead of creating and strengthening democratic institutions after butchering a 10th of the population in the name of change, Gestapo institutions are the options. Instead of building on tolerance and diversity to depart from our ugly past, there are those who now believe that they have a monopoly of violence and can therefore continue to subject others to their whims. Instead of promised reconciliation, everything is done to drive imagined or real opponents from the country, a conclusion made clear by the fact that none of the competing warlords dare set foot in Liberia today. The level of exodus out of the country is limited only by the ability of people finding places to flee to. And yet, the belief that this is a democracy, bequeathed to us by our Nigerian benefactors. When the day comes for us to see reality, no one knows what the feeling will be like.
No peace, only "cessation of hostilities"
Finally, we must accept that peace, even after an election; even after massacring so many innocent people in vain, many of them unborn children in their mothers' wombs; even after ensuring that poverty becomes the Liberian legacy; even after all the unfulfilled promises of a better society; even after all the evils embraced by an uncaring world "for the sake of peace," is running farther and farther away from Liberians. The experience of the Wessehs is just one of the indicators of more things to come. And finally, our trauma is made worst by individuals with unquestionably dubious characters determined to let us sink lower and lower into the bottom of anarchy and darkness. That the UN's Gambian "Peacebuilder" Thomas could choose to circulate half-truths about what he will do for the abandoned ex-fighters, men and women on whose shoulders today's politicians climbed to have Rolls Royces, swimming pools, French antique furnishing and limitless concubines in luxury while the "great patriotic warriors" live in squalor is, to me, a case of de ja vu. Couldn't this man be a little honest to tell these confused men and women that the UN does not work in such a way, that it does not dish out money to people because they protest for being abandoned by their crude and opportunistic masters? Could he be a little honest enough, however difficult this may be for him, to tell these people that the UN gets its money from donations, contributions and budgetary allocations on specific programs and that at such, pocket money (called resettlement) for callous killers and looters is not on its agenda? Could he try to exercise a little integrity, no matter the rewards he might be getting?
One must give it to President Taylor for his honesty in this matter. Long before the elections when he came to Monrovia as a Councilman, he told his ex-fighters that they fought for their country and therefore should expect no special favors from him. But is this statement different from Mr. Wesseh's statement informing the "ex-fighters" that the UN's Thomas is lying to them and that society owes them nothing for the troubles and poverty they have created? One can only feel sorry for Liberia, and, in an understatement, for the Wessehs. The glaring dishonesty is the decision of today's NPFL politicians in pointing in the wrong direction in solving their created problem because the ex-fighters and the Government are indeed inseparable. And this, too, shall come to pass.