The month of April is undoubtedly full of a gallery of key historic events in the political journey of Liberia.
For starters, April 12, 1980, was the violent overthrow of the regime of President William R. Tolbert, Jr, and ten days after, on April 22, thirteen (13) senior officials of his regime were executed by firing squad on hurriedly planted light poles at the back of the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia.
To take a step backward, on April 14, 1979, a demonstration to protest the proposed increase in the price of rice- the nation’s staple food was led by the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL). This turned into a full scale riot, destroying lives and property.
Some seventeen years after on April 6, 1996, a violent street fight among warring factions in Monrovia who were ‘officials’ of the interim government took the city under siege, killing scores of civilians during the showdown.
Unfortunately, however, April has come and gone without any official remembrance or national event to commemorate the events of the past, perhaps for national reflections and to forge a way for national healing and reconciliation. This should come as no surprise. Since the end of the Liberian civil war, there has been no national monument to honor the memory of those who lost their lives or national events to reflect as a people and find the path to forge ahead. This is sad.
In 2018, I visited the Genocide museum in Kigali, Rwanda that documents the horrors that defined that country during the brutal genocide in 1994. In the case of Rwanda, the genocide became a point of critical juncture in their journey as a people. As part of their healing mechanism, they outlawed the tribes of Hutu and Tutsi and became what is referred to as Rwandese — a concept that embraces all, regardless of tribal affiliations. Tribalism is outlawed. Rwanda, despite its brutal past, has preserved its history for posterity as a deliberate move to inculcate in the hearts and minds of its future generation to remember the errors of its ancestors and to forge a path for the future.
In late 2021, during the Christmas holidays, I paid a visit to the special court for Sierra Leone and visited the peace museum in Freetown. The museum gives a chronology of the civil war in Freetown and the role of key perpetrators, allowing the public and the future to have an understanding, perhaps as a compass for national healing. Although imperfect, the Sierra Leone experience helped purge its country from the influence of warlords from its body politics. Liberia’s story is different. The war, meant to trigger our collective national consciousness and to bring us to a point of critical reflections seems like a glorious opportunity gone. The hundreds of young boys and girls, young men and women, my age mates, who lost their lives, some lost their innocence to drugs, perhaps died and suffered in vain. Unacceptable!
April, no doubt, gives us a chance to ponder upon our journey of the socio-politico; socio-economic divide that long permeated our society since its founding. April also exposes the cracks in leadership and the tension lines that have torn our nation apart. It should provide a chance to look back in dialogue and access our journey as a people, examine pitfalls, review our progress if any and redefine our priorities as a people.
I was born in a generation that grew up during the civil war as children, unaware of the political undercurrents that led to the brutality we witnessed without consent and its devastating consequences. In its wake, we witnessed the breakdown of families, stripping of innocence of children, myself included and the wreckage that abounds today. Child soldiers were exposed to drugs as stimulants for battle, young women recruited as sex slaves and families forever torn apart.
In 2017, I wrote a collection of poems “Scary Dreams” that capture my experiences as a child growing up during the civil war and by extension the larger Liberian experience. Since 2018, I have led public discussions with students, academics, researchers, activists, etc with an aim to provide memorialization through storytelling.
This year, the theme for my book engagement took a gender dimension to the civil war by looking at the intersection of the civil war and gender based violence. With the central theme: Reflections & Recovery: healing through storytelling, the profile of Liberians from different walks sought to share experiences of their journey and how we can walk through to build a nation that is not naïve of its past but rather forward looking with a conscientious approach of its history and the hope for the future.
How can we heal as a nation by deploying the tactics of storytelling? How can we memorialize the conflict through truth telling? How does the civil war provide a point of critical juncture in our body politics and overall national journey? These reflections would help us to shape the national discourse as we build upon our collective experiences for national building and recovery.
No nation survives without a critical look at its history, its past and its struggles. These together, no matter how bizarre, tend to shape the perspectives of its people in nation building and recovery. The Liberian nation is losing a glorious opportunity by refusing to deliberately remember its past, somberly, in order to redefine and shape the future. The past should not only be remembered through acrimonious and bitter exchanges, defined by hate, prejudice and pettiness but through a collective sense of retreat and national rejuvenation.
As the ghost of April takes its leave, we take a bow in remembrance to the events that accompanied it several years ago. We will never forget.
Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Poet, Writer, Speaker and Author of Scary Dreams: An anthology of the Liberian civil war. He is an OSIWA Poetry fellow and a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow.
He can be reached at email@example.com