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An Elder’s Commentary on Joint Council of Chiefs

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An Elder’s Commentary on Joint Council of Chiefs and Elders Meeting Sponsored By the Republics of La Cote d’Ivoire & Liberia Held in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, October 16-19, 2013


In a widely-circulated Press Statement (The Analyst, October 16-25, 2013) the  Minister of Internal Affairs, the Honorable Morris M. Dukuly, declared that “. . . the governments of La Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia . . . will . . . convene the Inaugural, Round of the Joint Council of Chiefs and Elders Meeting (in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County) on October 16-19, 2013, which will bring together Chiefs and Elders (Leaders of our Traditional/Modern Society) from four border Provinces in La Cote d’Ivoire and four border counties in Liberia . . .”, because of:

  • “Our shared (or common) socio-cultural and political history”.
  • “Our proximity as neighbors (and) . . . our most recent individual and collective, national experiences (that) remind us (that) anything that affects La Cote d’Ivoire negatively or positively also impacts Liberia”.
  • “Our common membership/leadership in two sub-regional organizations: the Mano River Union and ECOWAS. President Sirleaf chairs the Mano River Union and President Ouattara is (current) Chairman of ECOWAS”.

“The governments (of Liberia and La Cote d’Ivoire) seek to achieve the following, general objectives”:

  • “Strengthen our cooperation, collaboration and coordination . . . of information exchange(s) between our civilian and security authorities in the border regions of the two countries”.
  • “Enhance peace-building and stabilization in the region”.
  • “Establish the platform for continued dialogue among our Chiefs and Elders in the two countries”.
  • “But”, according to the Minister, “we do also seek to achieve several immediate goals”, among which are the following:
  • “. . . To enhance cooperation between civilian and security authorities at our common border, particularly, on matters relating to cross-border security”.
  • “. . . Plan/implement trans-border ‘Palaver Hut Talk’ involving Chiefs and Elders from our two countries, focusing building relationships, fostering and strengthening peace, security and reconciliation among our two peoples and within our individual countries”.
  • “We seek to formulate and operationalize appropriate response mechanisms to address risks and challenges that impact continued peace, stability, security and hence the socio-economic development and prosperity of our two countries and peoples”. The meeting was convened as planned.

Commendable Objectives & Goals

Indeed, we commend and appreciate, very highly, the courage, dedication and effort by Honorable Dukuly and the government to “showcase” Grand Gedeh County, and the foregoing identified general and immediate objectives/goals that are relevant, laudable and represent some of the critical challenges that we, of the Mano River Union States, particularly, Liberia, should and must confront.

Particularly Liberia, because of the December, 1989 “cross-border invasion” of Liberia by “Liberians” that resulted into the mind-boggling plunder, destruction, human suffering and death which spared no village, town and city throughout the length and breadth of Liberia, and brought our nation and peoples face-to-face with near-total collapse, displaced thousands as refuges and sent millions into self-imposed exiles throughout the world, including some of the same, invading Liberians.

Yes, there is a necessity, the need, to educate the residents, superintendents & resident officials of government, the security personnel and the Legislative Caucuses of the Border counties on peace, security, patriotism and nationalism, noting that we are all in this ship at sea; when it sinks, we are all dead, irrespective of socio-economic status or ethnic/tribal origin.

Traditional/Modern Leadership – Socio-cultural, Economic & Political

Throughout human history, the institution of Chiefs & Elders had been and still is, today, the critical foundation of human society, indeed, the African/Liberian tradition.

In the Bible, Moses depended upon and utilized the advice and wisdom of Elders and commitment of tribal chiefs in leading the Israelites to their promised land; Jushua and succeeding leaders of the Israelites consulted the wisdom of the Elders and administrative capability of tribal leaders in organizing and managing the twelve tribes of Israel and affairs of the Israelite political communities. The organization and institution of the Church – all denominations – and the ancient, Greek city states were all established and administered upon the advice and counsel of Elders and management of tribal chiefs. Our socio-cultural patterns of behavior – economic and political policies of government and governance – are based upon the advice and counsel of Elders, handed down to us through oral and written history to the prevailing Traditional/ Modern Society of Chiefs and Elders.

Chiefs and Elders

The Chief

According to this tradition, a chief is one who is elected to the position of Village/Town, Clan or Paramount Chief of the political community of a village/town, clan or paramount chiefdom of which he is a member. Basic qualifications include leadership roles as head of a household, leader or prior leader of a clan, attainment of the age of maturity, honesty, proven service of consistent moral character and patriotism to the community.

The Elder

An Elder, also, is one who is a member of the political community of the village/town, clan and paramount chiefdom, head of a household and has attained the age over and above the age of maturity. Basic qualifications of an elder include training, various service experience to the community (which may/may not include village/ town, clan and paramount chiefdoms), over the age of maturity, wisdom (gained from varied background and experience), integrity, honesty, patriotism and consistency of moral character. An eldership is not elective; it is earned. The typical equation of an Elder = training + varied experience + age + Wisdom. From this equation comes the Krahn tribal wisdom that says, “when elders are present under the palm wine tree with the young, the wine-tapping knife should not, will not be lost”.

Elders, today, may be likened to or are, in fact, members of the political community’s Board of Directors, with Chiefs and related functionaries as administrators of the political community. Elders come with a vast storehouse of history, varied background of today’s required training, experience and knowledge, with age and wisdom of our socio-cultural, economic and political affairs. No school, college or university, at least, up to today, teaches “wisdom” as a required course of study. Wisdom is gained through age of varied experiences. Elders are not chiefs; chiefs are not elders.

The Joint Council of Chiefs and Elders Meeting in Grand Gedeh County

According to this tradition, there were no Elders at the just-ended meeting, billed as “Joint Councils of Chiefs and Elders”, in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, but Chiefs who hold appointments to their positions by government, at least in Liberia.

Meeting with Chiefs, Elders and citizens of the Three Districts

After two days of the Meeting and listening to the Moderators, we met with a gathering of Chiefs, Elders and citizens of the districts of the County. These are the results:

  • No Elder was consulted or given prior information of the planned meeting, at least, the Liberian Elders. Many of the appointed Chiefs claimed no prior consultation nor were they asked for input into the planning of the joint meeting.
  • Planning of the meeting did not, therefore, include the views or input of the traditional leaders, particularly leaders from the border regions, who felt and continue to feel the impact of cross-border violence.
  • The Meeting, simply, told traditional Chiefs/Leaders or “talked down” to them, about what they must or must not do, according to the desires of the bureaucrats from their offices in Monrovia.
  • Nimba, Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Maryland Counties and the average citizens played no part in border-crossing violence and the resulting devastation of Liberia; Grand Gedeh County, specifically, targeted, was left in ruins after the uncivil war.
  • Chiefs and Elders from La Cote d’Ivoire underscored the point that “the peace discussion in Zwedru was not about Ivorian and Liberian ministers who sit in (their offices) Abidjan and Monrovia without knowing what was unfolding in the rural parts of the two countries” (“Chiefs Express Discontent”, The New Dawn, October 25, 2013).
  • Peace-building, cooperation, coordination and collaboration effort to prevent further violence at the borders, resulting to untold human suffering and death should and must be undertaken at government-to-government level.
  • “Whereas”, according to the Final Communique, “the governments of Liberia and La Cote d’Ivoire, with the support (apparent security, logistics, etc.) of the United Nations Missions in both countries held two quadripartite meetings on June 12, 2012 in Abidjan and April 5, 2013 in Monrovia . . . which called the holding of a Joint Council of Chiefs and Elders Meeting to be held in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh county”, one year and four months ago, yet some Chiefs were not consulted nor asked for input into the planning of the meeting. No Elder was consulted or present at the meeting as shown by the names of appointed, Paramount Chiefs on the Final Communique,  who are NOT Elders.
  • Un-informed, ethnic/tribal bigotry held, wrongly, that our Nation’s recent tragedy of the uncivil war was the result of belligerency between the Dan/Man and Krahn Tribal Peoples. Although this belief was and is a vicious falsehood, the two Tribal Peoples met (March 6, 1996, The Monrovia Declaration), dispelled and renewed their historic, ageless, friendly and brotherly ties that subsisted throughout antiquity – reconciled, so to speak, whatever differences that may have developed.

On the failure of National Reconciliation

Elsewhere, we held (“Perennial Failure of National Reconciliation, February 11, 2013”) that “Reconciliation, in general, is a process designed to ‘settle a quarrel, a difference’ with someone(s), arising from wrongful acts, after estrangement due to such acts; a re-establishment of friendly relations by and between two or more individuals after a period of intense, unfriendly and, sometimes, deadly, antagonistic encounters”. Accordingly, reconciliation takes two to be successful; that is, that it takes the coming together of the victim(s) of the wrongful acts on the one hand, and the confessed, remorseful, guilty ones of the wrongful acts on the other. Now, in the case of the Liberian, political community that experienced an illegal, armed conflict in which hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens were brutally tortured, maimed, raped and summarily executed, the families of the dead, loved ones, the living victims of this cruel adventure and the confessed, remorseful, guilty perpetrators come together, under the auspices of the national government to ‘settle the quarrel and re-establish friendly relations” – peaceful co-existence, mutual understanding, respect and cooperation – National Reconciliation.

Reconciliation process takes place after, not before, reasonable, dedicated and diligent institutional reforms, or the socio-economic well-being of the citizens, including application of the CPA-recommended modern, Transitional Justice approach – the process from systematic abuse of civil/political rights in a post-conflict transition to democracy – designed for even-handed investigations, arrests, free, fair and open trials, conviction and punishment of human rights violators, with amnesties granted to deserving violators, as well as remedy to and satisfaction of the living victims and families of loved ones victimized during the war. As such, reconciliation is a final or end-process.

However, this approach to reconciliation has not been, and is not being, applied. This is the reason, among many others, for the repetitive failures or on-going failure of National Reconciliation. For example:

  • The abusive forces of the past (perpetrators of human rights violations) continue to wield some measure of socio-economic, political power and the authority of an awesome, military/police power.
  • The administration of justice – from police to prosecutors to judges – is typically weak and frequently plagued by public/private dishonesty or corruption, and the absence of the courage or “guts” to speak out clearly and unequivocally against these plagues and associated wrong-doings.

In conclusion

It would have been proper, relevant and reasonable to include the rural citizens, from the border regions, in the planning of this, such important meeting; especially the elders, chiefs and people of Grand Gedeh County, because the county has a compelling case to be made regarding the impact of border-crossing violence, the resulting uncivil war, peace-building and reconciliation.

We went to Zwedru with the hope of an audience with the President of the Nation, the Minister of Internal Affairs and other relevant leaders privately, away from the presence of our foreign guests. But we did not get the opportunity, given the conditions of the meeting. We went to Zwedru, also, with prepared texts, but no one listened. The planners/moderators missed a very important opportunity to learn from and to educate the people, particularly, the average citizens – the young, old, men and women.

Elsewhere, we wrote, hereby repeat for emphasis, that “Elders, Chiefs and People of Grand Gedeh County hold that Peace-Bulding, Reconciliation, cooperation and collaboration is like motherhood and that the people of the County welcome the effort. Because Grand Gedeh County experienced the deadly result of the civil war much more than any other political sub-division in the country, it is, therefore, in the best interest of the people to support and sustain national Peace and Reconciliation”. That is the reason that “Indeed, the Chiefs, Elders and People of the County whole-heartedly agreed, concur and support their President’s call and statement that “it is not an option”, but “a necessity for La Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia to work together . . . find new ways to enhance . . . cooperation and collaboration . . . to make sure that there will never be conflict again between our two countries . . .”

For, the people of the County, “there are no problems to reconcile between the brotherly people of La Cote d’Ivoire and the people of Grand Gedeh County, separated, only, by the Cavalla River. There are friends and relatives on both sides of the River. When Mr. Charles Taylor invaded Liberia and unleashed a reign terror that, specifically, targeted Grand Gedeh County, the people fled across the Cavalla into the welcoming arms of a friendly, brotherly people. Similarly, when civil conflict broke out in their country, La Cote d’Voire, they fled across the Cavalla to their friendly, brotherly people in Grand Gedeh County”.

The, particular, “Peace-Building, Reconciliation Effort is needed, should and must be undertaken at Government-to-Government level, because it was the Government of La Cote d’Ivoire that provided the save haven in La Cote d’Ivoire for Mr. Charles Taylor to plan, organize and invade the Liberia; it was the Government of La Cote d’Ivoire that granted and gave Ivorian border-opening permission to Mr. Charles Taylor to enter Liberia for the devastating nightmare of fifteen years that left Liberia and Grand Gedeh County, a border region county, still on its knees”.

“If President Ouattara, now Chairman of ECOWAS, is serious (we believe that He is) about Peace-Building, National/International Reconciliation, cooperation and collaboration, the people of Grand Gedeh County say and ask that His Excellency engage the thousands of refugees from his country in our county, with guarantee of safe return. Grand Gedeh County is now caught in the power-plays of regional leaders”.

By Bai M. Gbala, Sr., Senior Member, Grand Gedeh County Council of Elders

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