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Following The Issue

Agreeing with President Sirleaf, But Telling Her That She Confuses Us – Part I

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We, through the Issues Desk, wish to look at President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s speech, especially the part that is on the reconciliation process, and make a few points.

While addressing the nation in a speech on Monday, January 23, 2011, at the Capitol, the President, in part, said this on reconciliation: “But we cannot move forward unless we address the wounds of the past. We will advance the Truth and Reconciliation process by implementing all practical recommendations. This will not be a hollow exercise, but the pursuit of genuine, meaningful closure with the past.”

The President is absolutely right – we cannot move forward unless we address the wounds of the past. Many of us have written and spoken about it for years. Many Liberian and non-Liberian religious leaders have spoken about it. A great deal of our students has stressed the point many times. The Liberian man or woman in the street has emphasized it over and again. Many of our political leaders have indicated that it is the way forward. Human rights organizations, both here and abroad, have continuously said that past wounds should be addressed. There is a need for wounds of the past to be addressed sincerely and seriously if we wish to truly turn a new page in our existence as a people and nation. It should not be a cosmetic treatment of reconciliation.

Yes, we concur, Madam President. We need to truthfully tell the Liberian people and the world what we, especially the major players did, how they did it, why they did it, and so forth. We must not be interested only in hearing the accounts; we must also be interested in taking the appropriate measures to prevent the recurrence of any such wounds. As you rightly said, by doing that, our country will move forward.

We couldn’t agree with you more, Madam President. The wounds of the past need to be addressed. Genuine truth telling is required. It is an indispensible part of the reconciliation process. Mrs. Tarlor Quiwonkpa, the widow of the late Gen. Thomas G. Quiwonkpa, has made the same point over and over again. Mr. Thomas Woewiyou has also indicated that a number of times. Like many other Liberians, they all have frowned on people seeking political power coming and lying about their role in the Liberian Civil War. It is hurtfully disappointing.

Real truth telling that will address the wounds of the past is, indeed, needed. Not only that. Selfless measures in the interest of true reconciliation, measures that will seriously address the past wounds you have referred to, should be advanced and accepted, not rejected. It is an open secret that some have rejected such measures because they felt that the measures would damage them politically or personally. Cllr. Jerome Verdier, Chairman of the defunct TRC, has emphasized this specific point again and again. Ms. Massa Washington, a member of the same TRC, has also made the same point a number of times.

We are delighted, Madam President, that you made the same point in your speech. We are happy because you, as President of the nation, have seen and stressed the need for the wounds of the past to be addressed and that this nation cannot move forward if we neglect exercise. This is in direct contrast to the view of those who say “Let bygones be bygones,” without being interested in knowing what those bygones are, in the first place, and what ought to be done to erase them.

There are many Liberians who are fond of saying, “We are not interested in the past. If you want to revisit the past, then you are anti-peace. You are a troublemaker.” We hope such people will not consider you anti-peace or a troublemaker. Such people fail to realize, Madam President, that we cannot move forward when people carry bitterness in their hearts. They kick against talking about the wrongs of the past.

They contend that everything should be swept under the carpet because it is time for reconciliation, arguing as if by saying “It’s time for reconciliation” reconciliation would jump and stand in the middle of Liberia. In fact, there are those who say that those responsible for the wounds should not bear any consequences whatsoever. Some of them are interested in hearing some stories and later telling the victimized and the victimizer to go their separate ways. Reconciliation has been achieved, according to them.

If there are wounds – which we believe there are, as you yourself have also indicated – we have to understand why those wounds are still there after all these years, especially where a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to address this specific issue.

This brings us to the second part of the article, Madam President – the point about your statement confusing us. In the third sentence of your statement quoted earlier, you said: “We will advance the Truth and Reconciliation process by implementing all practical recommendations.”

This is what confuses us, Madam President. By your use of the uppercase letters in “Truth and Reconciliation,” did you have in mind the TRC process chaired by Cllr. Jerome Verdier, or did you mean the continuous process of truth and reconciliation in our country?

Your statement says that you will implement “all practical recommendations.” Did you have in mind the recommendations presented by the Verdier-led TRC, which also forbid you to any public office for thirty years, or did you mean any recommendations that may be presented by the Gbowee-led reconciliation committee?

If it is the Verdier-led TRC Recommendations that you are so determined to implement, why wasn’t that determination present during your first term? Is it because the recommendations, one of which says you should be barred from holding any public office for thirty years, would have prevented you from seeking a second term?

If the recommendations to be implemented are not from the Verdier-led TRC, but from a new set of recommendations coming from a new body, why the decision? Why be unwilling to implement the Verdier-led TRC Recommendations, but be willing to implement the recommendations of a new body? This could seriously embarrass you, Madam President.

Anyway, if it is true that you are referring to recommendations coming from a new body, why should we take your words seriously, when you and some of your children trashed the recommendations of the Verdier-led TRC? Don’t you think we would be right if we considered your statement to be similar to your corruption-will-be-public-enemy-number-one promise, which you made in 2006?

Also, Madam President, you mentioned implementing “practical recommendations.”What, in your view, makes one recommendation practical and another impractical? Don’t you think you could consider one recommendation impractical, while another Liberian could consider it practical?

By the way, are these “practical recommendations” from the Verdier-led TRC Recommendations, or are they recommendations that will be presented by the Gbowee-led committee or another body? If they are from the Verdier TRC, could you tell us what those “practical recommendations” are, and if they include the one that forbids you from holding any public office for thirty years?

What have we done in this article? We have thanked you for stressing the need to address the wounds of the past and for promising to implement “all the practical recommendations”; however, we are confused by what some of the statements convey or intend to convey.

Believe my, my people. We will never stop following the issues.

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