Ten Years of Peace, Who Deserves the Medals? – “Before Abraham was. . .”, They Were!!
The history of the Liberian civil war (December 24, 1989 – July 1997 and 1999-2003), a war that pitched brothers & sisters against brothers & sisters; spared no village, town and city throughout the length and breadth of this nation; and, yes, a nightmare that is not only one of plunder, destruction, torture, human suffering, massacres, summary executions, murders and humankind’s inhumanity to humankind, but also a historic mark of humankind’s enduring quest for survival, resilience and bravery, against daunting odds.
So it was when the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), an unlawful insurgency, invaded the Liberian nation on Christmas Eve, 1989 and spreaded rapidly throughout the country under the theme of “Taylor’s Bloody War” (in Mr. Taylor’s words on BBC Focus), in a determined attempt to seize political power by force of arms. Upon capture and occupation of several rural counties (political, administrative sub-divisions), the NPFL, rebel forces inflicted untold, atrocious brutalities upon innocent, unarmed civilians – young/old men, women and children. This tragedy forced thousands to flee their homes and country into refugee camps in neighboring and distant, foreign countries, worldwide.
Between February and March, 1990, a group of citizens – men, women and children – fled Liberia and took refuge in the neighboring states of the Republics of Guinea and Sierra Leone. The NPFL, however, swiftly pursued the fleeing, Liberian refugees into Eastern Sierra Leone and, there, inflicted more human suffering and death upon some of the Liberians.
This development – the pursuit of the Liberian refugees to another, sovereign state and, there, ferociously and viciously inflicted human suffering and death upon them – created one of the crucial, turning points in the history of the NPFL insurgency and the resulting civil war in our country.
Regarding this development, we wrote (“Resistance Movements, New Democrat Weekly Review, December 10-17, 1995”) that “these refugees met in their hideout, a small village in eastern Sierra Leone, under the leadership of a retired, late (name withheld), US-trained, Special Forces Officer, Liberian, AFL General and, after a spirited debate of the issues about the civil war and their plight, decided that ‘we have had enough of Charles Taylor . . . we will run no more’. Accordingly, in that small village in the Republic of Sierra Leone, the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) and later, the Liberian Peace Council (LPC) were formed and established to “resist” the rebellious, illegal, armed insurgency by the NPFL, seeking political power by force of arms against the Government and people of Liberia. These refugees were a diversity or mosaic of Liberian Ethnic/tribal elements – Bassa, Loma, Mende, Mandingo, Grebo, Kissi, Kpelle, Kru, Krahn, Mandingo, Vai, Gola, Gio, Mano, etc., the founding Chairman of ULIMO was a Kru Tribesman.
Later, we wrote that “it is or was the direct result of the brave men and women who took up arms as partisans of the Resistance Movements, whose sacrificial action drove the NPFL forces from southwestern Liberia – Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and Lower Lofa Counties. Others took control of northwestern Liberia – the cities of Vonjama, Vahaun, Bopolu, Makedu (the scene of NPFL massacre of thousands), several towns and villages in Lofa County. Still others drove the NPFL forces out of southeastern Liberia, where it (NPFL) had occupied upper & lower Grand Gedeh County by force of arms”.
We noted, further, that “it is very important and significant to note, here, for posterity, that if the ethnic/tribal elements, in collaboration/cooperation with other ethnic/tribal elements of Lofa, Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, Montserrado and Nimba Counties, etc., as partisans of the Resistance Movements, had not spoken loudly, clearly, eloquently and acted bravely and decisively in resisting and “standing tall” to the illegal and murderous insurgency by the NPFL, the course of the recent history of our nation, Liberia, would be different than it is today; in that, the relative peace, law & order and individual/collective security now prevailing wound not have been possible. In that”, we concluded that, “Mr. Charles Taylor and his band of “freedom fighters” were forced, by the resistance movements, to restrict their activities in the so-called “Greater Liberia”, consisting mainly of Bong and Nimba Counties. Mr. Taylor and the NPFL were forced, also, to concede to peaceful, political dialogue and negotiation for resolution of our political differences on the conference table, than the clash of arms on the battlefield”.
“This approach led to the several peace conferences held in several, foreign capitals and, finally, to the Abuja Accords, with the final end of armed hostilities and the General and Presidential Elections of July 1997”. Yes, “Before Abraham was”, they were!!
Indeed, a decade of “fragile”, relative Peace, and continuing; a peace that is defined, in this context, as the absence of organized, armed hostilities or war which, officially and to all Liberian citizens, had ended, upon coming into effect of the final, Peace Agreement, The Abuja Accord, followed by the General & Presidential Elections of July, 1997 that brought Mr. Charles Taylor to power as President of the nation. However, with President Taylor’s announcement and the reign of “jungle justice” terror, armed hostilities broke out, again, a year later in 1999 or thereabout, in northwestern Liberia, between still-organized elements of the NPFL, rebel fighters on one hand and newly-organized, factional, rebel forces of Liberians United for Reconciliation & Democracy (LURD) and Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) on the other, seeking to dethrone the insurgent, rebel Leader-President.
To this renewed, organized armed hostilities, the Taylor Government’s policy response was aggressive military “containment”, a conflict which had developed into full scale war with more, mind-boggling plunder, destruction of properties, human suffering and death, now in the City of Monrovia and suburbs. The vigor, determination and intensity of this factional, rebel advance was so close and real threat to safety of the President and his “White Flour” Residence that he was forced to resign and go into exile. Yes, Before Abraham was, they were!!
Celebrating the CPA/A Decade of Peace
Under banner headline, the Analyst Newspaper (The Analyst, August 9, 2013) reported that “With the decision of the Liberian government to undertake commemorative activities from August 18, 2013 . . . the date of the signing of the . . . Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the conflict, it is suggested that the whole Liberian population and all those who played roles for this singular achievement use the next twelve months (a year) to carry out creative actions to thank themselves and others and renew their dedication to building a peaceful, prosperous and happy Liberia”.
Indeed, recognizing and giving thanks to those whose brave, decisive and sacrificial efforts gave rise to the achievement of the peace that the nation now enjoys; calling upon them to rededicate their efforts, and other Liberians to dedicate their efforts, creatively, also, in building, maintaining and sustaining a just and durable peace and, above all, with Praise and Glory to the Almighty God of our Fathers, are the proper, rightful and timely undertaking for any patriotic, reasonable Liberian, at these critical times.
Accordingly, speaking at a Ministry of Information Press Briefing (The Analyst, August 9, 2013) from a written, prepared statement, the Honorable B. Commany Wisseh, Minister of State Without Portfolio, introduced the occasion under a sub-title, Historical Context, thus: “Declared independent on 26 July, 1847, Liberia became the first Republic in Africa . . . to be led by people of African descent in the world”.
“Until government police shot and killed dozens of unarmed demonstrators on 14 April, 1979 and when non-commissioned officers of the Liberian National Guard (now the Armed Forces of Liberia) staged a bloody coup d’etat on 12 April, 1980 killing President William R. Tolbert, then Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (now African Union), and subsequently executing a number of senior government officials, Liberia was known throughout the world as the touch bearer and beacon of peace and stability . . . That historical truth continued to be shattered in the years that followed. It went to its lowest ebb when a group of disaffected Liberians with foreign backing and participation launched an armed rebellion on December 24, 1989 with the stated objective to overthrow the military-turned civilian government of Master Sergeant, turned General, turned, ‘civilian’ President Samuel K. Doe”.
Thus, according to Honorable Wisseh’s History of Liberia, From July 26, 1847 –April 14, 1979, a period of 131 years, 8 months and 8 days, the Republic was “beacon of peace and stability”. However, a review of our little knowledge of our nation’s turbulent, political history shows, quite clearly, confirmed facts of Liberian History (Sherman, 2011, Dunn, et al, 1989 & Guannue, 1980) that are contrary to and contradict the rosy picture advanced by the Honorable Minister of State. Author Sherman notes that our major founding Fathers, the African-American settlers, re-created, in Liberia, one aspect of the US cultural and racial caste system with themselves, however, on the top. Between 1847 and 1980, the African-American settlers, together with their offspring, an estimated 5% of the nation’s population, governed the Liberian state, refused the African-Africans participation in political affairs and tightly controlled all the resources of the country.
In this way, African-American domination and suppression had been complete, profound and ignited anger and discontent with intermittent resistance and uprisings, including armed hostilities, between indigenous Liberians and the ruling African-American, Liberian settlers throughout this period up to the Rice Riot of April 14, 1979, culminating in the April 12, 1980 Event. Particularly memorable and historic were the famous Grebo and Kru Coast wars of southeast Liberia, with the fabled, legendary, Sasstown, Kru Coast Paramount Chief, Seyon Juah Nimely, latest in the 1930s.
Also, memorable are the graphic account of the Resistance Leader, Chief Juah Nimely’s rejection of invitation to a peace conference by President Barclay, while armed resistance is already in an advanced stage, for fear that he could be treated like the rebel leaders of the 1915-1916 rebellion.
Expressing this fear, Chief Nimely wrote to Lord Cecil of the League of Nations Liberia Committee: “It is most certain that we will be arrested like the Nana Kru Chiefs who are now in custody in Sinoe, and in the end we may be killed like the 75 chiefs who were invited to a ‘peace conference’ at Sinoe but then seized and executed in 1916”.
Native Insurgencies & Resistance
- The period 1856-1920s shows the chronology of violent conflicts, including armed hostilities between indigenous citizens and government of Liberia:
- 1856: War with Grebo and Kru peoples that led to the break-up of the Africa-America Colony of the Republic of Maryland and annexation to the Republic of Liberia in 1857 (Presidency of Benson).
- 1864: Uprising of inland and coastal tribes (Benson)
- 1875-1876: War in Cape Palmas (Payne,II)
- Mid 1880s – late 1890s: Tribes and government still at war (Colemann)
- 1893: Grebo tribesmen attacked settlement of Harper (Cheeseman)
- 1900: Bloody battle between government and tribesmen (Coleman)
- 1912-1915-1920: Internal wars & Kru Coast Rebellion (Howard)
Today’s Critical Period
Indeed, during this crucial period in the history of our country in which True, National Reconciliation (of “forgive” if not “forget”, for, those who ignore or forget the lessons of history – successes or failures – are likely to repeat the failures) is the patriotic name of the game, it is not our desire to be engaged in or drawn into shouting matches designed, purposely, to score political points. However, as a life-long public servant and student/observer of our, Liberian experience, silence is not an option, especially, in a debate in which facts of our nation’s history appear to be distorted for political purposes. This, we believe, is the case(s) here.
Validated, relevant facts of our nation’s History that we present are in material conflict with Minister Wisseh’s account of Liberian History (see above). Also, besides, the desire/decision to editorialize, a traditional technique usually designed to draw attention, emphasize, denigrate/demonize individuals, public personalities, organizations and conditions/situations, purely for gain – political/personal. This is the induced effect when the Honorable Minister refers to the late President Doe as “master sergeant turned general, turned ‘civilian’ President Samuel K. Doe”, and the non-commissioned officers as “officers of the Liberian National Guard, now the Armed Forces of Liberia . . . killing President William R. Tolbert, then Chairman of OAU, now AU and . . . executing . . . number of senior government officials . . .”.
This editorial betrayed Minister Wisseh’s un-expressed, but implied, desired objective – to denigrate and demonize the person and memory of the late President, while he extols the person, memory, dignity, also, of the late, President William R. Tolbert. It is important to note that the Honorable Minister’s appearance at the briefing was or is to introduce the Topic of Celebrating, Maintaining and Sustaining the Peace and Memory of the CPA.
In his article, “Appreciating God’s Decade of Peace . . . Who deserve the Medal” (The Analyst, August 15, 2013), Journalist Nat Bayjay lists a number of organizations and individuals worthy of the “Medal of Peace”. While we appreciate the gallant men and women of ECOMOG and the United Nations Peace Keepers, including our home-front, peace advocates, there is no mention of the brave, Liberian men and women who took up arms against the NPFL that, in fact, resulted in the general & presidential elections of July, 1997 and Charles Taylor Presidency. Also, there is no mention of the brave men and women who drove President Taylor and his declared policy of “jungle justice” out of power, and the Peace Process at Accra, Ghana, that gave rise to the CPA. Indeed, “Before Abraham was”, they were!!
But we note that Journalist Bayjay credits former President Taylor as “one person whose huge contribution to the peace being celebrated, unlike a stubborn Samuel Doe . . . who . . . refuse ‘throwing in the towel’, made the ultimate sacrifice by leaving for Calabar”, out of Liberia. Journalist Bayjay’s decision and statement raises the question, where was the Journalist during the civil war, a nightmare planned, financed, launched by Mr. Taylor and supporters, and led/managed by Mr. Taylor? Was the Journalist in the country of “Monrovia Liberia” or in “Greater Liberia?
A Final Reminder
Back in 2007, we wrote elsewhere, in yet another reminder to our people, that “it is very important and significant to note, again, for posterity, that if the Resistance Movements and the other forces had not spoken loudly, clearly, eloquently and acted bravely and decisively in resisting and “standing tall” to the illegal and murderous insurgency by the NPFL and the “jungle Justice” reign of terror by the Charles Taylor Government, the course of the recent history of our nation, Liberia, would be different than it is today; in that, the relative peace, law & order and individual/collective security now prevailing wound not have been possible”.
Again, the other rebel forces forced President Taylor to resign; that led to the CPA and relative Peace. These are objective facts, irrespective of political, ethnic/tribal, gender and socio-economic persuasion.
- Dunn, D. Elwood, et al, Liberian Study Journal, 1989.
- Guannue, Joseph S, Liberian History Since 1857,Monrovia, 1980.
- Sherman, Frank, Liberia: The Land, Its People, History and Culture, New African Press, 2011.