..... ….It is a saddening reality, but one that Liberia and its citizens must confront and address in order to safeguard their country’s legacy and ensure a better path forward.
The scars of Liberia's civil war, which raged from 1989 to 2003, are still visible in the nation’s psyche. Yet, what proves more disheartening is the disregard for justice by President George Weah and his primary political contender, former Vice President Joseph Boakai.
These two frontrunners in the race for Liberia’s presidency have chosen to align themselves with warlords, individuals responsible for inflicting untold suffering on innocent civilians, all in pursuit of political power.
Weah, who himself never participated in the war to the best of available records, is once again spitting on the memories of the hundreds of thousands of Liberians who lost their lives by cozying up with another notorious warlord in the person of Roland Duo, who is contesting on the ticket of Weah’s party, the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change.
The warlord who wants to be a Senator of vote-rich Nimba County is the one Weah is relying on to deliver the nation’s second-largest voting bloc to him after falling out with another former warlord, Senator Prince Yormie Johnson, whose support in 2017 helped Weah win the county and the presidency.
According to the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, Duo was a major actor in the Liberian civil war and committed crimes of murder, torture, and abduction. Yet, Weah, in the name of being reelected, is once again betraying the victims of the civil war to align with Duo, whose war records are full of stories of unimaginable brutality against innocent civilians.
This was the same decision Weah took in 2017 when he aligned with Senator Johnson, a former notorious warlord, during the 2017 runoff elections, a decision that helped him secure the support of vote-rich Nimba County.
The deal with Johnson, who has yet to face justice for his atrocities, led Weah to downplay the establishment of a War and Economic Crimes Court. Such behavior is a painful betrayal of the very principles he once stood for as an opposition politician.
In 2004, President Weah, while serving as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, he expressed support for accountability, including backing a war crimes court in 2004. His political party, Congress for Democratic Change, which is the largest party with in ruling coalition has had long backed the establishment of the court.
In September 2019, he raised hope when he requested that Liberia’s National Legislature to “advise and provide guidance on all legislative and other necessary measures towards the implementation of the TRC report, including the establishment of war and economic crime courts.”
This was follow by a 2019 speech at the General Debate of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), President Weah stated “Considering the importance of this matter, I have already begun consultations…in order to determine pertinent issues such as legal framework, timing, venue, and funding, among others.”
But these actions were a watershed moment and image building as Weah upon his return from the UNGA in 2019, boldly denied ever supporting the issues of war crimes court.
He said: “I have not one day called for a war crimes court,” and from that day, he became more silent or dismissive about the court establishment which in return inspire the leadership of the House, which is headed by the Presient party’s blocked the resolution supporting a court from consideration.
What is even more surprising of Weah relationship with warlords is that, Duo and Senator Johnson are not the only former warlords with whom Weah has made alliances. General Kai Farley, a former rebel commander, implicated in gross human rights abuses by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, is another individual whom Weah has embraced.
Weah rewarded Farley for supporting his 2017 presidential bid with a Superintendent job — a position that the former warlord has enjoyed for six years. What Weah’s behavior then shows is the exploitation of the painful history for political power — and then frustrating the victims’ desires for a genuine leader who will hold those responsible for their suffering accountable — and ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.
The presidency, a position of immense power, should be a beacon of empathy, and justice and not for entertaining warlords, perpetuating a cycle of impunity. When those who committed heinous crimes roam freely in our midst, the consequences of their actions sends a chilling message that impunity has become the order of the day.
Equally so betraying is former Vice President Boakai’s association with Senator Johnson, who holds immense influence in vote-rich Nimba County. He has in the past few years positioned himself as a champion for justice, but desperation for power means he is now in bed with the country’s most famous warlord alive. The alliance makes Boakai’s past commitment to the pursuit of accountability and justice for war crimes dead on arrival — if he were to secure the presidency.
The signs of this are already glaring as Boakai has omitted the issues of war and economic crimes court from his policy proposals and is no longer saying a word about the issues he heavily criticized Weah for and promised to make a reality.
Sadly, Boakai will still try to convince the Liberian people that he is different from Weah in character and wisdom when he has succumbed to a similar ethical compromise — which showcases his own prioritization of political power over accountability.
However, Johnson is not the first person who committed atrocities during the war that Boakai, for political reasons, has been cozying with.
Boakai has in the past enjoyed the patronage of noted Taylor ally and former Commissioner of Maritime Affairs (1996 to 2003) Benoni W. Urey. Urey was on a long list of Taylor administration affiliates sanctioned by both the United Nations and the United States Government in 2000 and thereafter, for violent and nonviolent crimes during the civil conflict.
Urey, in particular, was sanctioned for arms dealing and for his continued association with Taylor. The UN and US sanctions were lifted in 2013 and 2015, respectively. Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), in its final report, recommended Urey’s prosecution and that he be barred from holding elected office for 30 years.
It is, THEREFORE, heartbreaking that THE victims of the civil war who endured unimaginable physical, emotional, and psychological pain may not GET justice in the foreseeable future, as Weah and Boakai dance with powerful former warlords in pursuit of power.
Boakai will ONE VERY DAY REALIZE THAT Liberians’ cries for justice are not mere echoes; they are the resounding voices for healing. Regardless of which of the two frontrunners emerges victorious in the upcoming elections, history will harshly judge them for betraying the trust of survivors and disregarding the immense suffering that was inflicted during the war.
The wounds of Liberia’s civil war cannot be healed through superficial or symbolic gestures. Justice must prevail, and the perpetrators of atrocities must be held accountable. Weah’s and Boakai’s decisions not only condone the heinous acts committed by these former warlords, they are also setting a dangerous precedent that the quest for justice and accountability will be kicked down the road for another six years.
As a result, Liberia’s hard-earned progress toward stability and unity hangs in the balance. The choices made by these two election frontrunners jeopardize the nation’s journey toward a more just and equitable future.