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Special Feature

On National Reconciliation & “Grand Gedeans are Mercenaries”: A Rejoinder

At a well–attended meeting (FrontPageAfricaonline & New Dawn, May 20, 2014) under the banner of the Liberia Peace Initiative, Mr. George Weah, the host, Peace Ambassador & CDC Political Leader, introduced the occasion and said, “make no mistake, this is no easy task, this will not be a quick task . . . what we are able to do by coming together will change trajectory of Liberia towards a unified and prosperous country . . . We are not in a crisis”. The perception of many Liberians has been, with unfounded and false accusations that it was the citizens of Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties who planned and “orchestrated the civil war”.

Making remarks at this reconciliation gathering was the Honorable Morris Dukuly, Minister of Internal Affairs, R.L. Hon. Dukuly, a friend and former co-worker, reminded the mostly Grand Gedeh and Nimba citizens that “I told them (some citizens of Grand Gedeh who complained of the on-going prosecution and unlimited detention of Grand Gedeh citizens on charges of mercenarism) once you are known by town members of being a chicken rogue in a community, you will always be accused whenever a chicken gets missing . . .”

First, not only as one of the leading, prominent and informed, born-and-raised citizens of Grand Gedeh County, but as a life-long, public servant and rational public policy advocate, I write to challenge and remind Peace Ambassador Weah that his mode of approach to National Reconciliation is, at best, more of the same and at worst, less of the same.

Second, I take serious exception to Honorable Dukuly’s public, declaratory statement that, in fact, “Grand Gedeans are mercenaries”, with a challenge to the nation’s internal minister to produce the evidence – facts of the nation’s past and recent history.

Perennial Failures of National Reconciliation

Firstly, in an article elsewhere, we held 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, like the famous, South American dance, tango, (“takes two to tango”) 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.

In the context (and 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 – or national reconciliation.

This is done AFTER, NOT BEFORE, reasonable, dedicated and diligent institutional reforms, where necessary – the socio-economic well-being of the citizens, including application of the modern, Transitional Justice approach – the process from systematic abuse of civil/political rights and 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 followed and applied. This, then, is the reason, among many others, for the repetitive failures of National Reconciliation.

Beginning with Dr. Sawyer’s IGNU, the Council of State, Taylor’s “jungle justice”, Bryant’s Transitional Administration (dominated by factional rebels and the doctrine of  “spoils of war” entitlements) and now, the Johnson-Sirleaf’s two-term watch in its final endeavors, but still with “no show”, while the “beat still goes on”. As a matter of fact, there is, already, an ethnic/tribal tug-of-war between some Liberia-based and some Diaspora-based Liberians about an ethnic/tribal group being left out or excluded from membership of the recently-appointed, Mr. George Weah’s Reconciliation Committee that has been awarded, reportedly, a 5 million, U. S dollar sleaze for operations. Is this another bottomless pit of “you chop, I chop?

Apparently, the basic, critical reasons for the continuing failure of our desired, national reconciliation, include eradication of the following, according to Mark Freeman (Freeman, 2006):

1. “The abusive forces of the past (perpetrators of human rights violations) often continue to wield some measure of political (and economic) authority and military/police power”.

2. “The administration of justice, from police to prosecutors to judges, is typically weak and frequently plagued by corruption (and the absence of the courage or “guts” to speak out clearly and unequivocally against these plagues and associated wrong-doings)”

Moreover, we argue that the perception that Nimba and Grand Gedeh citizens are responsible for the destruction, human suffering and death brought upon this nation has been and is vicious and false. We challenge anyone to produce the validated evidence.

As a matter of fact, in our effort to disprove and debunk this lie, the Gio-Mahn and Krahn Tribal Leaders met on March 6, 1996 and concluded what is now the MONROVIA DECLARATION, presented and acknowledged at the Centennial Pavilion, in the presence of officials of the Interim Government of National Unity.

Indeed, Senator Prince Johnson put the argument in proper perspective at the Liberia Peace Initiative gathering when he said, “what I want to see is a sovereign, National Conference . . . not to make people live under the illusion that Nimba and Grand Gedeh (Counties) are the problem . . . We, Grand Gedeans and Nimbaians are poor people; we did not have the money to buy the guns . . . used . . . WE ARE NOT THE PROBLEM”.

Secondly, the Minister of Internal Affairs, R. L., Honorable Morris  Dukuly’s public statement or interpretation that, in fact, says that “Grand Gedeans are mercenaries”, explains, upon reflection, the basis for the Joint Council of Chiefs & Elders held in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, in October, 2013. The Minister was the leading, Liberia Official of the two-nation (Liberia and La Cote d’Ivoire) cross-border convocation. After listening to official program managers-reporters, I met with the county chiefs and elders who told me that they were not consulted in the planning of the joint meeting. With this information, I approached Minister Dukuly with the question of whether or not President Sirleaf was aware that the chiefs and elders of the border areas, in our country, were not consulted about this important meeting. Minister Dukuly’s response was that this question could introduce “technicalities” in the program, with no direct answer.

Back in Monrovia, Minister Dukuly invited me to a meeting at the Royal Hotel. With candor and sincerity Hon. Dukuly outlined to me what he termed as the prevailing, negative  perceptions representing views of some leaders and members of our society regarding and against the Krahn Tribal Peoples; that is, that Krahn people are regarded as “trouble-makers”, examples: cross-border violence, the subject of Joint Chiefs & Elders meeting in Zwedru.

My response was swift, civil, to the point and thankful. In a letter dated October 18, 2013, I wrote:  “Friend and Brother, Hon. Dukuly, it takes “guts” to admit, let alone express, such conditions in our society, particularly, one who is in a leadership position. All along, we have known and been subjected to such false, vicious, hateful and discriminatory perceptions and practices in one subtle form or the other. It is said, Dear Brother, that perception, in the political domain, is stronger than reality”.

“However, throughout human history, reason, especially the Age of Reason, Truth or facts, based on validated evidence had been, always, superior to and, inevitably, triumphed over falsity – vicious, hateful, discriminatory perceptions (political or otherwise) and practices based on Ethnic/Tribal Bigotry.

Therefore, the People of Grand Gedeh County will respond to and engage these perceptions and practices vigorously, peacefully, reasonably and openly, with Truth, Love, Unity, Reconciliation (where and whenever necessary), Respect, Understanding and peaceful co-existence”.

Towards this objective, the Grand Gedeh County Council of Elders, representing the County’s socio-cultural, Traditional Society and its moral rectitude within the prevailing Modern, Social  System, deeply-grounded on facts and evidence, pledges cooperation with you and the Ministry of Internal Affairs with dedication to dispel rumors based upon “you-say”, “they-say”, “I-say and build a truthful society for all Liberians”.

Now, regarding Minister Dukuly’s statement that “Grand Gedeans are mercenaries”, based, apparently, on the fact that 18 out of the County population of 126,000 plus have been charged (not convicted) of being mercenaries; and out of the 18, 5 have been acquitted for lack of evidence. Given these statistics, the Honorable Minister’s derogatory conclusion is not only a logical fallacy, but also that the Minister of Internal Affairs, R. L. is consumed by ethnic/tribal bigotry. What else?

Perhaps, Minister Dukuly, a Mandingo, ignores, wishfully, the fact that it was only Grand Gedeans – Krahn and Mandingo – members of the only, lawfully-organized Resistance Movements (of ULIMO & LPC) which stood “tall”, with characteristic bravery, against and resisted the murderous, illegal insurgency of Mr. Taylor’s NPFL and, thereby, forced the NPFL to accept peaceful negotiation on the conference table to resolve our political difference rather the clash of arms on the battle-field. This led to the first cessation of armed hostilities and the 1997 election of Mr. Taylor.

But with Mr. Taylor and his NPFL reign of “jungle justice” terror, it took another (MODEL & LURD, Grand Gedeans & Mandingo) brave groups, but rebellious to the Taylor, NPFL, jungle justice regime, to drive Taylor into exile and . . . the rest is known, recent history.

And finally, we argue, also, as we did early before, that if these groups – lawful Resistance Movements and others Rebellious to the Taylor regime – had not acted bravely and decisively, Mr. Charles Taylor will be here with his “jungle justice” and the prevailing, limited peace and security that we enjoy, including the position of Minister of Internal Affairs held by Mr. Morris Dukuly, would not have been possible.

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