Liberia: Accountability, Justice and the Tug of war

Lekpele M. Nyamalon

The recent death of Alhaji G.V. Kromah and the public reactions thereafter, is a reverberation of the psyche of the Liberian people in the context of post conflict reconciliation and reconstruction. Since the end of the Liberian Civil War, various segments of the Liberian society have become embroiled in a tug of war of solidarity along highly entrenched ethnic, personal and other dangerously polarizing lines.  

In recap, Alhaji G.V. Kromah was the leader of the erstwhile United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia — ULIMO. ULIMO was established in 1991, in Sierra Leone, as one of several warring factions with the intention to; as they put it, combat the excesses of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia — NPFL, led by Charles Taylor. Prior to that, Kromah was a respected journalist, media professional, sports administrator and, in the autumn of his life, an academic.  However, his role as leader of a warring faction, whatever his inclination, puts him in the collective basket of vicious warlords, who together, presided over the dismemberment of the Liberian nation.

A Liberian PhD researcher and Transitional Justice expert Aaron Weah, while quoting the findings of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), avers that ULIMO and ULIMO-J account for 11,564 (7.1%) and 6079 (4.5%) respectively of the total violations committed.  “Taken together, the two warring factions committed 17, 634 violations (11.6%). Kromah, the founder of mainstream ULIMO, bore the greatest responsibility for the atrocities committed.” To amplify the words of Weah, Kromah died without facing justice.  Before Kromah, two other members of various warring factions have met their demise, and unfortunately, without facing justice: Roosevelt Johnson of the splinter ULIMO-J faction and George Dweh of the rebel group  MODEL and also an active member of the factionalized Armed Forces of Liberia that was accused of various massacres during the heydays of the Civil war in 1990.

ULIMO, originally founded along ethnic lines of majority Krahns and Mandingoes who were targeted by the notoriously ruthless National Patriotic Front of Liberia of Charles Taylor, split into two separate factions, ULIMO-K (for Alhaji Kromah) and ULIMO-J (for Roosevelt Johnson). Due to internal power wrangles and struggles, the mainstream ULIMO became a coin of two deadly sides.

Ironically, however, Kromah would later form a brief but bizarre alliance with Charles Taylor’s NPFL to arrest the ULIMO-J faction leader Roosevelt Johnson in April 1996 over an alleged crime committed by Johnson.  By this action, amongst other things, Kromah defeated his raison d’etre of the founding of ULIMO and exposed the undercurrents of greed and shady undertones that characterized the civil war between factional leaders while the rest of the population was shortchanged. Also, Kromah’s actions reinforced what the transitional justice expert, Aaron Weah, observed that the message heralded by warlords of their purpose for taking up arms was to restore democracy and prevent atrocities based on ethnic origin was a pretext to acquiring power and wealth.

I was an 11-year-old junior high School student in 1994 at the Cuttington Campus School when ULIMO-K overran Gbarnga, including our campus, capturing some civilians including students. ULIMO, like the other warring factions, had child soldiers within its rank and file and had its fair share of excesses against innocent civilians.

The profile of warlords in the post war governance structure spread across the legislature, executive and the judiciary-including the Supreme Court! Many Liberians, unfortunately, are unable to think beyond personal, ethnic and parochial levels. This has been proven from the voting patterns, public reactions to national emergencies and the approach to collective national healing. Hence, as Aaron Weah avers, Liberia’s sense of nationhood is fragmented, and ethnic identity appears to be much stronger than any cohesive national identity. Several other warlords and hangers on continue to serve in government and have morphed into ‘statesmen’. This is unfortunate.

In 2021, I went to Sierra Leone and visited the Peace Museum of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. While touring one of the rooms, I was shown a wheel-chair that belonged to Sam Hinga Norman — the former deputy minister of defense and erstwhile leader of the Civilians Militia known as the kamajors. The Kamajors, supposedly founded with the ‘right’ intentions of providing support to the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, was also indicted for its excesses and violations of human rights during the conflict in Sierra Leone. Its leader was not spared.

Perhaps Liberians need to understand in clear terms that whatever motivations or inclinations that led to the formation of armed militias who committed atrocities, does not absolve their leaders of the responsibility thereof. Going by that backwater logic would presuppose that at the end of the civil war, everyone walks, because as it seems, everyone had some inclination borne out of suppression. In the aftermath, everyone is lined up behind his/her leader pulling the rope in a tug of war.

Proponents of ‘let bygones be bygones’ and those shielding warlords from their hoods but advocating for persecution of other warlords, by their actions, play into mass hypocrisy. The urge to purge the nation of warlords and their atrocities is not a personal witch-hunt but a blueprint for posterity. The failure to properly document, name and shame warlords would amount to a sanitized version of their roles in the civil conflict and few generations down the line would never appreciate the fullness and extent to which this nation was desecrated. The Liberian nation continues to sit in a bubble of reconciliation while every opportunity to redirect the future keeps slipping away in a dangerous pattern of regurgitation.  


Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Poet, Writer and the Author of Scary Dreams: An anthology of the Liberian Civil war. He can be reached at