Transforming Belle Yalla

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Monrovia- The infamous maximum detention center located in North Western Liberia now stands as a shadow of itself. Created originally for hardened criminals, Belle Yalla became a den for political prisoners and dissenting voices of political establishments. In the minds of ordinary Liberians, Belle Yalla was a torture chamber and the most dreadful prison center imagined. When Belle Yalla lost its original essence of detaining hardened criminals and possibly rehabilitating them into useful citizens for reintegration, it became a slave house, sending prisoners to hard labor and the memories fading with time.

Nevertheless, all bad memories should not disappear with time, but preserved as a scar on the conscience of our collective humanity, thus transforming our actions. The memory of Belle Yalla as an infamous torture chamber should be preserved in its original state and kept for posterity to view and appreciate the trends in our history. Perhaps, a prisoners’ museum should be established by preserving the sites of Belle Yalla and the Police Post Stockade as infamous centers in our nation where horror and torture reigned. Those centers are witnesses to the excesses meted against political leaders, students, market women and dissenting voices of political establishments. We can choose to forget, but our brains are wired to rewind those images and paste them fresh as yesterday.

We can learn invaluable lessons from the example of Goree Island in Senegal. Goree, an original point of destination of slaves from African to the West was a symbol of unmatched brutality. Goree also hosts the ‘House of Slaves’ and ‘point of no return’. Today, Goree is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and one of three sites preserved by UNESCO in Senegal. The story of Goree is transformed to a major tourist destination and attraction of World figures, including US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. The U.S business magnate and philanthropist, George Soros supports the Goree Institute-a center that engages in African Renaissance. Goree, admist the horrors that underpin the name, stands as a transformed site, preserved in its original state to prick the consciences of those who perpetuated those crimes, that it will continue to stand and stare at them in awe. To allow them to remain in derelict state and eventually disappear into oblivion is to set the perpetrators loose and remove from the consciences that those wrongs never happened. The Liberian example could preserve the rooms at Belle Yalla, the roll call of political prisoners and other valuable information needed to give meaning that those who suffered there, did not suffer in vain. The transformation of prisons that metamorphosed into torture chambers would not only bring relief to those who suffered, but would drive tourism and all accompanying revenue that follows the industry.

History is replete with various sites that once saw brutality, with prisons and jails turned museums.

An amazing example of preserving a former prison as a museum is Robben Island in South Africa. As a symbol of the brutality of South Africa’s apartheid past and of the immense courage of those who fought for the country’s freedom, Robben Island, about 12km offshore from Cape Town, is a pivotal beacon in the history of South Africa.

The island was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1999.

In its description of the site, UNESCO writes: “The buildings of Robben Island bear eloquent testimony to its sombre history, and at the same time symbolise the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom, and of democracy over oppression.”

In Ghana, the Ussher Forte museum previously served as a prison, until 1993. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president and a fore figure in the struggle for independence, was imprisoned there during the colonial era. Ussher Fort currently houses a museum, as well as the offices of the Monuments Division of GMMB.

The Cape Coast Castle museum is Ghana’s Slaves Castles amongst many others are examples of the preservation of history.

Preserving the history of Belle Yalla, by erecting a museum will honor the memories of all those
who pass through those walls and herald our journey to recovery as a nation.

About the Author
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a poet, writer, essayist, cultural activist and collector of traditional short stories. He can be reached at [email protected]

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