By Edward Boakai
When our young baby cried, it was indeed a cry of victory after God rescued us from the carnage at Division Twenty-Five. We continued our journey in search of refuge in the midst of silence save for the melodious sounds of chirping birds in nearby trees, the swaying of tree branches, the rustling of leaves, the tender touch of the breeze and the sweet aroma of nature that abounded that tranquil setting. Then I vividly remembered what transpired prior to our fleeing Kakata for Division Twenty-Five that fateful day.
It all started when I had gone to work at the Circuit Court in Mandingo Quarters, Kakata, Margibi County, on the morning of Friday, May 25, 1990, and worked the entire day. By four o’clock noon, I retired from work for the day and was contemplating on where to go before heading for home.
I finally resolved to see Rita Brown, my young baby mother, who lived in Kpelleh Quarters, which is close to Mandingo Quarters and just before you reach my place in Lango Town, all within the compass of Kakata City. But barely did I reach her yard when unpleasant rumors about the presence of “rebels,” or “freedom fighters,” as they came to call themselves in Yarwerlie, a Market Town about six miles away from Kakata, greeted me.
Soon, the uncomfortable news about how they entered the market ground, and how a Toyota Hilux pick-up transporting a group of marketers was ambushed by them, leaving some of the marketers injured and on critical list at the C.H. Rennie Hospital, began to spread like wild fire! Thus, fear gripped the entire inhabitants of Kakata and its environs that terrible Friday as everybody, including my young baby mother and I, was left in panic and uneasiness.
For that reason, I did not have the occasion to go home but to stay at my baby mother’s place and spend the night. The rumor was gaining momentum as everyone was worried being that the administration of the day was despotic, tyrannical and brutal all the same and anything horrible could have happened. However, I got a useful information that would help safe my life before sundown that fateful day, because of my previous engagements.
I had been serving as Co-Chairman for the Youth Organization Promoting Doe Administration (YOPDA), long before the rumors came about, and had just been promoted from Magisterial Clerk to that of a Probate Clerk. Who and what were they after? These and many other thoughts crossed my mind and bothered me a lot until my friend, Ambulai, told me that they were after a particular religion, administration, targeted tribes and those connected to them. From all indication, I knew then that I was definitely a target, too. Would I survive in the face of these harsh realities? I wondered and even became worried.
Soon, I would disguise myself as an ordinary man; a typical Liberian for that matter, struggling to make ends meet, with a young baby mother. My baby was barely three months old at the time.
“My man,” he said. “I will suggest that you, your woman and the baby spend the night at my place.”
“Why?” I asked him out of fear.
“Your life is on the line,” he told me.
“My life, why?” I became confused.
“You very well know, my man.” He sighed. “Are you not working in this administration?” His tone of voice sounded like an accusation rather than inquiry.
“Of course, but I am only a civil servant after all. What’s the big deal about it?” I said.
“There is more about it than you can figure out. They are after those that are connected to this administration either directly or indirectly,” he said. “And not only that.” He paused and watched his back. “They are also desperately after members of the Mandingo and Krahn tribes, the Muslim religion, including security officers, particularly Armed Forces of Liberia soldiers.” It was when I got to know that administrations, institutions, religions, and tribes were being targeted and, imagining me serving as youth activist in recent past, definitely put my life on the line. I sighed out of fear with the obvious realization that I could be murdered in cold blood at any time once they got to know my immediate past and true identity.
I discerned reason in his pieces of advice and became even frightened more than ever before. How would I, not only I alone though, but my young baby and mother survive this imminent danger? Suddenly, tears ran down my cheeks at the thought of losing our dear lives.
I then conceded and took my young baby and mother with me to his place to spend the night, since he was no distance away from where she lived. The night was a restless one as the entire community was gripped with fear.
That night, we lay in anxious anticipation of the inevitable. No one was able to sleep the entire night. The night was cold as ice save for the shrilling sounds of crickets and nightingales in the midst of the dead silence that engulfed the once gay city.
Then finally came the fateful dawn of Saturday, May 26, 1990, between the hours of 4:30 to 5:00 A.M. Something quite horrible, even devastating, soon happened.
From a distance and in the middle of the quiet, ominous morning, one could hear the bombardment of heavy artillery, grenade launchers and the clattering sound of automatic raffles which resonated into the sad thin air.
Just within jiffy, we heard a violent knock at the front door. Before long, we were in the midst of five youthful men toting arms. Indeed, five heartless, vicious young men who proclaimed themselves as “freedom fighters,” even though they soon came to be regarded and widely dreaded as “rebels.” We panicked at the sight of them because of their dress code: red scarf tied to their heads, tattered jeans trousers and red t-shirts. It was a clear manifestation that they were entirely from a different school of thought, and that their orientation differed from ours in many forms and manner.
At first, we probably thought that they would soon go away, leaving us alone. But this was the contrary, as they would continue to stay on, maltreat us, subject us to their selfish ambition of holding unto state power for fourteen brutal years of senseless war, brutality, anguish and agony, all combined.
“Your morning,” one of them, hopefully their leader, greeted us the typical Liberian way that cold, ghastly morning.
“Yes, good morning guys,” I managed to respond out of fear and apprehension.
“Your what tribe?” He asked us, with a comical look.
It was when what my friend Ambulai told me the other day came to my mind: that these heartless fellows were out for Mandingo and Krahn people, they were hunting for Armed Forces of Liberia soldiers, Muslims, as well as government officials, to murder them without remorse.
Notwithstanding, and as God would have it, none of us belonged to any of these groups save for I alone who was a mere civil servant. Yet and in the face of this adversity, I answered: “We are members of the Kpelle ethnic group, hailing from Bong County. We speak Kpelle.”
“Oh really?” He asked out of curiousity.
“Yes indeed, we are,” I assured him, even though I dared not tell him I was a civil servant.
Then one of them challenged me to speak Kpelle, and I did.
“Okay then, you are free,” he said. It was when he confided in me, “We are actually out for AFL soldiers, Mandingo and Krahn people.” He further told me, “We are also out for those greedy politicians, government officials and employees as well.”
Meanwhile, a certain young man who lived in that community where we went to spend the night came outdoors apparently to attend nature. The story about him was that he belonged to the Vai ethnic group, hailing from Grand Cape Mount County. Being that he spent his childhood days with an extended relative in Guinea, he could neither speak Vai nor English fluently save for French and Mandingo. That was how he met his untimely death that horrible day. Soon he was escorted behind the house in which we spent the night and beheaded in the most brutal fashion in our presence.
Shortly after that horrible scene, came yet another unfortunate young man, who was no doubt a Muslim by faith since he wore a gown which only Muslims wear. He was brutally killed in our presence in a similar heartless manner, though not with a machete, but shot at close range with a “beretha” raffle.
In a nutshell, that was how it all started that fateful day and why we fled Kakata in the first place, and were now on our way to yet another place to seek refuge there. I was suddenly distracted from juggling my memory at the instance of a light tap on my shoulder by my baby mother, Rita Browne, after she saw that though I was with her in person it was not in spirit as I was utterly lost in thought of what brought us where we were presently in the first place. Indeed, this was the beginning of a fourteen years of senseless war that devastated almost every fabric of our once prospering society; the war that did not only destroy precious lives but infrastructure and basic social services as well.
Before long, I saw a large number of people following after us. In the midst of the huge crowd, I heard someone shouting with my name at the top of his voice. Who could it be? I wondered and panicked all the same for fear that it might be an enemy who had been tailing me all along to bring me down. Why? Because I was a youth activist before, promoting the image of a regime which later turned out to be notorious for human rights violations. The administration was ruled by decrees and statutes or a military-civilian rule of government. Even though my life was squarely on the line, I did not benefit from the administration. I can remember once applying for scholarship to enroll at the University of Liberia; but being that the scholarship was only intended for those who wanted to become soldiers, I was denied. Anyway, thank God I did not enlist; otherwise, my woes would have exacerbated by the day.
The voice calling me earlier was not that of a foe though, as I thought it to be; rather, it was the voice of a friend. He was a man who had known me from childhood days. He warmly embraced me in the midst of the group following after him and told me that he would lead me to James Kamaseer Town where my cousin, Tenneh, lives even up to date.
The late James Kamaseer was a Revenue Collector for several years during his lifetime. He built this town, and the townspeople and others from surrounding towns and villages named it after him. He married my mother’s oldest sister, the late Ma Gbelan, Tenneh’s mother.
The man, whose name was Old Man Kpannah, started the journey ahead, as he lead us to the banks of Farmington River. Farmington is a popular river linking Margibi and Grand Bassa counties at the lower end. Once at the banks of the tranquil river and enthralled by its natural beauty, I was inspired to write: “O Farmington, O Farmington, your exquisite beauty reflects radiance on me; Mighty Farmington, bridging two powerful counties down course.”
To be cont’d.