It was the beginning of a new adventure and I thought it could not come to this. For many years the war created conditions that I thought could end as quickly as it had begun. It just started as a rumor and then it proceeded to develop and became huge.
The last we checked, what we thought would just come and sweep over us had come to stay. And since the day in December 1989, the dogs of war turned our lives upside down. And from there war, the real one, became the daily dose for thousands of us.
The war created several monsters: they were called ‘freedom fighters’ and with their weapons of power, life itself lost its value. Young men and women were trained and given weapons that because of them they could command authority and respect from their elders. Families were torn asunder as the young men and women in their new roles as defenders of our freedom dictated how we should live.
The soldiers, yes, those who had been trained for many years to defend the nation and protect the people could not do it. The majority of them were interested in staying alive. But they were wrong. Their enemies did not forgive those who, for their personal reasons, decided to throw down their weapons. They were, many of them, marched on to their doom.
As the war progressed and the butchers from all the various factions learned the effective means of killing other Liberians, the game took a different turn. From the national army to the rebels, civilians were their primary targets. And the price for the war was devastating in its nature!
Even the house of God was no longer safe. The local communities where thousands sought refuge were places waiting to be invaded and in many instances displaced Liberians were slaughtered in their beds. From the Lutheran Church to the United Nations Compound on to the Duport Road community – all in Monrovia – the dogs of war went in their furor, mowing their fellow human beings down.
They were tragedies of serious proportions, and many of the survivors often asked, but to no one in particular: ‘What kind of war is this?’
War is one of the greatest enemies of mankind; someone is reported to have said in frustration. It was apparent that whoever said it might have seen the horror of war and he could no longer remain unconcerned with its destructive nature. But again, one may ask: Is mankind’s history devoid of war? From the beginning of time, the Bible reports the continuous battles the Israelites engaged in and the destruction that those wars meted on mankind.
So it can be said that the wars of our time, while different in the means and methods of their execution, are not really different in their end results. The results are death and the destruction of material properties that have been sought after many painful years.
But whoever thought that a nation born out of the frustrations of the world’s greatest inhuman trade, the slave trade, could end up destroying what was cherished to build in the days when man’s desire for emancipation was at its highest demand, might have been considered insane. But the reality after close to one hundred and fifty years of statehood made it an obvious fact that what can be described as deliberate failure played a major role in the actions of the leaders and eventually sent Liberia to face its tragic history.
I am not sure, but it seemed probable that the fragile foundation of Liberia and the shortsightedness that accompanied its development, sadly, set the stage for the eventual conflagration and division of the nation-state. And when the dust finally settled, the nation was bleeding and panting for breath.
So it came to pass that when the war was announced over BBC, many people thought with the manner the leader of the insurgents (call them rebels if you wish) was confidently declaring the movement’s objectives, that it would have been in a few days’ time.
The unpopularity of the Samuel Doe regime had sunk deeper into the abyss of the people’s discontent. He had become a nuisance and the man whose triumphant entry into the Liberian political landscape had engendered so much goodwill was becoming a nonentity among the people. “Monkey come down,” was refrain, as thousands demonstrated throughout the major streets of Monrovia to express their dissatisfaction and by that way telling him that it was time to leave the chair. And everybody agreed, though with some exception, that Samuel Doe had outlived his usefulness. In doing this damage to his ego, the leader of the insurgents, Charles Taylor, declared with an element of confidence that the “only good Doe was a dead one.”
The successes of the insurgents to kick the butt of the national soldiers created some optimism and hope among many of the people. There was a sizable number of people who had otherwise remained cautious of the simmering declarations of the man in the bush. But as it is with the affairs of men, when the end comes for the one who has ruled with an iron fist, many are those who consider him a historical person. The war had become the Achilles’ heel of the Doe regime, and as the insurgents continued to announce their successes, the spirit of the soldiers began to deflate.
In anger, the soldiers turned on the civilian population, and it is with shame that I write this and I hope, it is with shame, you may read it: Gios and Manos residing in the capital and other political opponents became sacrificial lambs for the vanquished national army. The hope that might have been seen at the end of the tunnel was losing steam. For, it was not very long before the insurgents began to kill off all Liberians. They were not discriminating among those who had wished for the old regime to be replaced. It was, by all accounts, the self-destruction of a nation that could not remember its heroes.
Those who understood the meaning of hope could not agree that the insurgents had anything better for the battered nation.
The young man looked on with disdain. It had been too long since the war should have ended but it would not. Standing several feet away from the soldier, his heart beat increased and it was clear that he was afraid of what might happen next.
The war had been panting for the lives of its enemies and the young man was sure that barring a miracle, would he survive? The other night, soldiers, several of them from the Armed Forces of Liberia, had visited his family. Just eighteen and little experience in the difficulties of the political crisis in the country, the city of Monrovia where he had lived with his mother and four siblings had been relatively safe. No, it was safe until the political troubles began and it eventually progressed to the direct confrontation against the Gios and Manos and other political figures in the country.
As the man had said to him, when they came, “All you Gio and Mano people are marked for destruction.” The soldier had meant business, for he had demonstrated that statement by whipping his mother with the butt of his gun.
“You are killing me,” his mother had wailed, pleading for help that James Zonn could not give. In fact when the soldiers saw him staring at them, they thought he was taking mental pictures of their action, and he was warned to look away.
“If you want to live,” the other soldier had warned him, “you must never look at us like that, rebel.”
From here, he turned his face to the other side of the house but that did not satisfy the soldiers. He was not looking when he felt the slap of heavy metal against the back of his head.
“Ma they are killing me,” was all he was able to say, and then he blacked out.
He did not know how long it took, but by the next morning, he awoke to find his mother missing, and his two brothers and two sisters sprawled on their mats. He thought they were dead but he was glad that when he began to shake them, they all awoke, with tears in their eyes.
Two of his sisters, one was sixteen and the other was fifteen, he saw, had their underwear torn in several places. And there was blood also.
In tears, he grabbed the hands of the girls and pulled them along to the bathroom.
“They took Mamie away,” the seventeen-year-old girl said, as the rest of the children began to shriek.
And their father?
He had been missing. He had gone in search for food for the family in Saye Town when news came that he had been arrested. From the pieces of information he could put together, he learned his father had been arrested at a checkpoint by some soldiers. And he also learned that his father was a “rebel.”
He was now becoming use to the description of being a “rebel” and from then on since any Gio and Mano was considered a “rebel” he realized that it was no longer safe for him to accept the description of being a “Gio or a Mano.” But can he change it? He knew being a Gio or a Mano simply meant the tribe he originated from, which had its distinctive cultural practices among other cultural identities. But he also knew that it was a designation about the language or dialect he communicated with at home with the family. But was a language a crime that others must pay with their lives?
Since his mother was taken away and the father had also been long arrested, he saw how unfair life had become. He thought about one of his uncles in the national army. Was he still alive? Had he been arrested and perhaps killed, since he was also a Gio?
There were sounds of shooting outside and he could hear people running helter-skelter.
“The soldiers are coming,” he told his siblings. Hunger pangs were biting them deeper, and he did not know what to make of the situation.
Yes, the day had dawned on him and the future looked bleaker than he had anticipated. He wished he understood the reasons for the suffering of the Gios and Manos, and likewise the entire Liberian people. He wished he knew.
He also knew that by 1700GMT, the BBC would broadcast the latest news from the warfront, and at the time he would be able to hear what the National Patriotic Front of Liberia’s leader, Charles Taylor, say about the war. It was now 1500GMT and there were two more hours to go.