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Editorial: Boakai’s Executive Order #131 is daring

In spite of criticisms from some quarters, President Joseph Nyuma Boakai would go down in history as one of those Liberian leaders who stood up against impunity, second to slain President Dr. William R. Tolbert, who hung a very close relative in the 70s for murder.

President Boakai signed Executive Order #131 on Thursday, May 2, 2024, to open an office that would be responsible for the establishment of a war crimes court for Liberia to bring to book, perpetrators of heinous crimes and crimes against humanity, covering the period 1979 to 2003, including the 14-year-old Liberian Civil War that took away 250,000 lives, mainly women and children. The President also wants a National Anti-Corruption Court to try those, who plundered the Liberian economy during the civil crisis.

When opened and staffed, the “Office of War and Economic Crimes Court,” as it is to be called, would be the first closest effort by any Liberian president since the end of the civil war in 2003 and the TRC Report of 2006 to embark on tangible steps towards stamping out impunity in the Liberian society.

Executive Order #131 quotes President Boakai as saying the move is in compliance with Liberia’s international obligations and the will of the Liberian people to obtain justice and bring closure to the civil war events. 

This is happening when ex-presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and George Manneh Weah played lip service, if not oppose the establishment of war and economic crimes court, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia. However, he served as Vice President in the Sirleaf regime.

Establishing the Office of War and Economic Crimes Court will elevate Liberia’s quest to have some form of justice for victims of its darkest and most brutal period in recent history at the international level. Justice has eluded innocent victims – living and dead for too long. Light appears to be at the end of the tunnel eventually, with Mr. Boakai affixing his signature to Executive Order #131, though there is still a long journey ahead in having these courts actually established.

However, critics say the President is putting too much on his plate to chew too soon, and he might not just digest well, at the cost of huge political capital, at least internally. Mr. Boakai’s key political ally from the 2023 election – warlord, politician, and evangelist Prince Yormie Johnson, who has led three presidents to victory since 2005, including the current incumbent, is high on the TRC list for prosecution.

PYJ is not the only warlord on the list. The bulk of the ex-rebel generals on the list come from vote-rich Nimba County, which overwhelmingly voted for Boakai. It is also the birthplace of PYJ and the launching pad of the December 25, 1989 rebel invasion of Liberia under the command of jailed ex-President Charles Ghankay Taylor and his NPFL rebels, for which Senator Johnson was a senior commander before he broke away.

President Boakai seems not to be bothered very much by political allies now that he is in the Executive Mansion, but to do the right thing, unlike his two predecessors, who thought that threading such path could boomerang with unimaginable consequences, so they left sleeping dog to lie.

Like jailed former President Taylor, a daring President is what Liberia needs right now: a leader willing to break some eggs to make mayonnaise that people would enjoy, for you cannot have mayonnaise without breaking eggs. It means having a president prepared to stand against odds to serve the common good, other than satisfying a few interests. Boakai is not excused from making errors and is not perfect, but he seems ready to dare to break grounds that others had feared to thread.

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