As we stated in Part I, we, through the Issues Desk, wish to look at President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s speech, specifically 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: “To guarantee our peace, we must do more to unite our people. Liberia is today a nation at peace, but not yet at peace with itself.”
The President has made a salient point whose factuality cannot be denied. Our nation is polarized. We are divided on various lines, and the division started long ago, although we may say that it has reached a new height. Before the 1980, the Americo-Liberian-native divide was there – and there prominently – where the governor didn’t want to know what the governed felt and thought. The 1980s and 1990s brought political and tribal divisiveness. In fact, vindictiveness increased. It is the effects of the 1980s and 1990s that we continue to experience, although events and statements of the last few years have also produced their own divisiveness, mistrust and distrust.
Politically, the elections of 2005 and 2011 have added to the polarization. How voters voted in certain counties during the 2011 elections also highlights the division existing among us. Hence, as the President has rightly pointed out, we all, especially the President and her government, must do more to unite our people. One of the reasons some voted for the President is that they were convinced she would make a good peace-maker, having in mind her Nobel Peace Prize.
The President’s statement that, today, Liberia is a nation at peace, but not yet at peace with itself, is so true that no one needs an extra degree of perspicacity to fathom it. That some Liberians objected to her receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, calling her anti-peace and a warmonger, to the point that protesters set ablaze the flag of the country presenting the prize in itself says a lot. This country is divided. We may not be feeling it too much because many of us are hypocritical, and, we suppose, much of the division may be latent.
But the President must also remember that her words and deeds could make reconciliation difficult. Promising not to seek a second term and ignoring that promise six years later, especially where people believed her when she made it, creates bitterness in some. Talking about fighting corruption and failing to show that seriousness through deeds is anti-reconciliatory. Talking about forming a government of inclusion, while at the same time packing the government with your partisans, supporters, friends and associates is anti-reconciliatory. When words don’t match deeds it not only confuses us; it frustrates reconciliation.
In her speech, and still under reconciliation, the President said: “Our journey of national healing is under way, but it is not complete. To claim the future, we must reflect and heal the past.”
The President could also be right on this. Our journey on national healing is under way, but not complete. That most of the President’s fiercest critics and opponents during the 2005 elections not only supported her second-term candidacy, but also joined her, could mean that national reconciliation or healing is under way. That those planning and announcing series of protests have called off those protests and have decided to give peace a chance could mean that national healing is under way.
That those saying “If Ellen wants a bitter Liberia, we will give her a bitter Liberia” have dropped that plan could be an indication that national healing is under way. That Mr. George Weah and Cllr. Winston Tubman, standard bearer and vice standard bearer of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), two men who said Madam Sirleaf rigged the 2011 elections and would, therefore, not accept the results, to the extent that they and their political party boycotted the November 8 run-off, attended the President’s inaugural ceremony and are now saying that, for the sake of the country, they do recognize the re-election of the President, could very well mean that peace is under way.
That President Sirleaf has talked about forming a government of inclusion could mean that true reconciliation is under way. That the President is talking about instituting various reconciliatory measures could signal that national healing is truly under way.
But we are mindful, also, that not all that glitters is gold. Recognizing the hypocrisy of man, all these could be cosmetic or mere superficial treatment of reconciliation, with no serious intent to heal the country of the disease of bitterness and divisiveness.
In the same speech, and still under reconciliation, the President said this: “True reconciliation is a question of justice: justice in dealing with the past, justice in our processes of government and law, justice in our economic development.”
So true! Reconciliation may be difficult to achieve if the ills of the past persist. For instance, if the poor and the unconnected have no employment opportunities and possibilities, as it was the case in the past; if the rich get richer and the poor gets poorer, as was experienced in the past; if only the rich and the well-connected, but not the common people, have access to legal representation and justice, as it used to be; if the President and their family and friends and associates have almost full control of the economic, having the best opportunities and incentives for investment, as was the game in time past; if the President’s words and actions show that they want to institute a one-party state, as it was the case in the past; if our national leaders refuse to leave power when it’s time to do so, selfishly and unpatriotically amending provisions of the Constitution just to suit their diabolic deeds, even ignoring their own promises to do so, as was done in the past, then, as the President rightly said, it will be hard for national healing to take ground.
The President also said: “I believe that our reconciliation depends most on the things I have spoken about: empowering our youth, creating jobs and opportunity, and spreading development to all our people, so that progress belongs to everyone.”
This is true in many – or most – cases; that is, empowering the young people, creating jobs and opportunities and spreading development to all our people could engender reconciliation or enhance national healing in that when a segment of the population feels left out, there is the tendency for bitterness, resentment, hatred, vindictiveness and violence to show their ugly heads. We saw what happened in Apartheid South Africa. We remember what happened in racist America. The stories of other places are available.
That said, we need to also remember that empowering the youth, creating jobs and spreading development don’t always guarantee reconciliation. If this were always the case, then the people of Libya would not have rebelled against Muammar Gaddafi, killing him in the process, because he empowered the young people, he provided job opportunities, he spread development, and so forth.
Many of us still remember what happened to Standard Bearer Winston Tubman said during the 2011 campaign that, if elected, his government would prioritize development, not civil liberties. The avalanche of condemnation, humiliation and ridicule that descended upon him was unending. In essence, sometimes something more than empowering the youth or carrying out development is needed to ensure reconciliation.
What have we done in this article? Well, we have given some analytical comments on the President’s speech, specifically on the part about reconciliation.
To be continued …
Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.