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“What It Means” – Minister of Information: A Response

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At a well-attended (including Peace Ambassador/National Reconciliation Committee Chairman/ Political Party Leader, Mr. George M. Weah) press conference, the Minister of Information announced Government of Liberia’s response to the continuing, elusive National Reconciliation process with elaborate analysis indicating policy difficulties with some impediments incurred, but came out with rationalizations.

The Minister began by putting into perspective how we, as nation, got to where we are today, from after a little more than a decade of one of our most devastating nightmares of the civil war. “With the help of the International Community”, the Minister began, “and the assistance of our sub-regional neighbors (and) from the safe surroundings of a neighboring capital (of Accra, Ghana), Liberians hammered out a peace deal . . .  the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) . . .” that spelled and laid out the roadmap along which we travelled to this day, for peace and national reconciliation. The major and most important requirement of the CPA was or is the Transitional Justice approach – from systematic abuse of civil/political rights and post-conflict transition to democracy.

In a detailed, seven-point description of “what it means” or that which it will take or took to “transition our country from war to peace. . .”, the Government of Liberia Spokesperson intoned:

1.     “It means rebuilding from scratch . . . The transition from war to peace means . . . transformation of our society from the discredited model of exclusionary and unaccountable governance to a new model of inclusion, openness and accountability”.

2.     “It means . . . reaching beyond differences in gender, tribe, age, religion and associations, and building enduring partnerships of trust and mutual respect”.

3.     “It means returning to respect in the comity of nations – working to change international characterization . . . as . . . a failed state . . . into post-conflict and emerging democracy for which we are now known . . .”

4.     “It means building the roads and bridges to connect our villages, towns and counties so as to ease the burden of bringing our people closer together and to move the goods and services at lesser costs . . . building schools, community colleges and technical and vocational training centers to build the capacities of our people. . .”

5.     “It means building clinics and hospitals even as we find and train doctors, nurses and other health workers to deliver the needed services . . .”

6.     “It means dredging our ports and extending our piers in presenting our nation as a useful destination for the transshipment of goods and services through our sub-region . . . re-designing and extending (electric) power and other basic services to homes and businesses as a means of expanding the economy . . .”

7.     It means making the justice fairer and accessible (to all) – balancing issues of gender and equality and giving unto all the right to security, due process and the full value of their citizenship . . .”

And finally, the Minister concluded with the argument that yes, “indeed, the road to avoiding a relapse into conflict – the path to sustaining our peace – has been, predictably, difficult. But we have come a long way. Truly, we have done well”.

In his remarks, Peace Ambassador and Chairman of the National Reconciliation Committee held that “My part as Liberian is to promote peace through foot ball; without peace civilization will not exist, with peace, there is stability, there is growth. So, I went around the world, because peace cannot be achieved alone; I cannot do it alone. To maintain peace in Liberia, we, as Liberians, must promote it; so I went away to bring the world’s stars together to come to Liberia”.

My Appreciation with Disappointment

While I applaud the clear understanding of and expressed commitment to the noble goals or objectives eloquently outlined, and the attendant, critical challenges that we face, I am deeply disappointed and extremely troubled by the conspicuous absence or failure/refusal to address or implement the following plans/programs, critical to successful national reconciliation and, eventually, “sustaining our peace” and democracy:

A.  The Transitional Justice approach, the major, roadmap requirement for peace and national reconciliation. This program is dedicated to transformation from systematic abuse of civil, political rights and post-conflict transition to democracy, as we will note later.

B.    Prioritize the declared policy of building national, all-weather roads/highways, the “premier, multiplier effect” in national, economic development. This development not only facilitates mass movement of people (“bringing our people closer together, connect villages, towns and counties, and to move the goods and services at lesser costs”); facilitates investment and employment; and production, distribution and exchange of goods and services, but also facilitates national and international trade and commerce. The prevailing population growth and urbanization (rural-to urban migration) rendered our capital city extremely over-populated, congested and without the required, needed services. All-weather, efficient roads and highways remain the rational resolution to this crucial, critical problem.

C.   The National Justic System. Our historic friend and partner, the USA, and friendly donor countries and Aid agencies have been and are concerned about our system of justice. They are concerned, particularly, about the level, nature and scope of public dishonesty (corruption), reportedly not only pervasive in low, but also rampant in high places. This brings us to the critical issue at bar.

The Elusive National Reconciliation

In the article (Perennial Failures of National Reconciliation: Some Thoughts, February 11, 2013) I observed 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 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, 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, applied. This is the reason, among many others, for the repetitive failures of National Reconciliation. Beginning with 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; another bottomless pit?    

Apparently, the basic, critical reasons for the continuing failure of our desired, national reconciliation, includes 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)”

3.     “Transitional contexts are usually marked by widespread unemployment . . .”

Mark Freeman, Truth Commissions and Procedural Fairness, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2006.

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