Last year when I turned 75, I published a two-part article entitled ~A patriot’s cry ~ Addressed to the Government of Liberia (all three branches) & fellow Liberians.
In it we underscored the following which I am pleased to highlight in the box below
As a Patriot’s Cry
- Result of the constitutional Referendum that many, including myself, had advised against its timeliness.
- Printing of new LD $ despite strong reservations by then Auditor General Sadatu Gaye (now late); Lack of a forensic audit called for by the Kroll report; “lack of satisfactory report on the outstanding $25 million US “mop-up” exercise, amongst other issues
- Growing drug addiction among the nation’s youth
- Garbage, throughout central Monrovia, raw sewage & desecration of the Palm Grove cemetery
- Concern over the then proposed sports stadium at fish market, which met strong objections from various sectors of society, for amongst others, both safety and security considerations, given past history and implications for Spriggs Field Airport, calling for International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) assessment as well as inappropriate location on the main thoroughfare, as well as being holy ground for Liberian Women.
- Growing divisiveness and tribalism in the nation.
- Violence against women political aspirants such as Cornelia Kruah; Telli Urey and intimidation of Botoe Kanneh with “country devil”
Those were my concerns as I turned 75 yrs. Did it matter? Did GOL and those to whom it was addressed, pay any attention? No! No! not at all. Therefore, why go there again? Several reasons:
Foremost, I am one year older and to sit down supinely and do nothing or say nothing when certain “happenings” are unacceptable having significant implications for the nations present & future, means that one is complacent to them. This is applicable to all of us.
The second reason is to heed the words of the late African American U.S. Congressman John Lewis who coined the following phrase “good trouble” – namely “that there are times when the only alternative may be to get into “good trouble”. Indeed, if one is a true Patriot, there may be no option since, while the future is left to the next generation that future, (as per former DG of the Civil Service, Hon. C. William Allen) is also a function of what legacy this, our generation, leaves for the next or in short, what they inherit!
Today at 76 yrs., I am deeply concerned about the future of “Mama” Liberia and where we are headed. So, what are those concerns? They are produced below as A Patriot’s Cry at 76 yrs.:
Drugs: Growing addiction of drugs among our youth and attendant criminality associated with this; Killings, murders and Disappearances; Garbage and raw sewage in Central Monrovia; The increased violence being experienced, and forboding triggers of greater violence (early warning) as election-related issues leading to 2023 begin to rear their heads; Divisiveness and tribalism of a growing magnitude.
I am cautioned that this action of mine may be risky – if this is the case then I believe that this is the very kind of “good trouble” referred to earlier that the late US Congressman talked about. But more important since I count myself amongst those who have been greatly influenced by iconic Liberians of the recent past like Ma Mary Brownell; Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman; Judge Emma Shannon Walser; Ruth Caesar, (how I recall at her funeral her husband’s statement urging Liberian women to continue what she stood for) Hon. Ruth Perry; as well as others from the more distant past such as Ma Teetee Glaypor, Governor of the Bassa people with whom President Tubman frequently consulted, taking her on foreign visits; Ma Faeflen Nmura- first female Governor of Municipal Borough of Kru Town; Madam Nancy Nah; Madam Clara Havens – who amongst others, established a landmark educational institution called The W.V.S. Tubman Elementary school on Bushrod Island, which schooled many persons who became local and national leaders; Madam Edna Kaynyonnon Twe Pattereon, daughter of venerable Didwo Twe; Madam Victoria Kai Roberts, in her work in education while educating eight children to higher degrees, including her son Togba Nah Tipoteh, Madam Haja Kaba and Cllr. Leona Chesson; Jeanette Howard King; Mother Dukuly; Bishop Mai Roberts and last but not least Chief Suakoko, while from among our men folk who were our mentors and whose energy and intellectual wherewithal as well as deep concern with Justice, Peace & Human Rights continue to inspire and impact us are the late Rev. Emmanuel Bowier “(sitting on the old mat to plait the new mat)” Dr. Thomas Jaye and of course Bishop Michael Kalapa Francis, we must build on their legacy which involves speaking both “truth to power”, while contributing to nation-building.
The Drug Issue
In a recent article on Substance & drug abuse in the New Dawn of 29 April, the Liberian Drug Enforcement Agency documents that there are approximately 355 ghettos in Montserrado County alone with 88 new ghettos having been added in 2022 alone where substance abuse is at its highest. Of particular significance is that the growing abuse of substance is not limited to these urban ghettos but has infiltrated the rural areas as well, to the extent that Parents and Mothers are pleading for help as they are deeply worried about the future of their/our children. We understand that there are some 85,000 youths addicted to Drugs in Liberia.
Here let me commend the extraordinary number of civil society groups, church and Faith-based organizations as well as youth groups for their work in this area.
In this regard, the recent focus of the observation by the Better Future Foundation (BFF) Inc. and the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation (univ. of Liberia) of Liberia’s 58 national Unification Day is of particular relevance here and deserves serious attention. Its focus was on the causes and factors which are primarily responsible for the unbridled drugs abuse, proliferation and addiction in Liberia.
The press release on 30 May of Liberia’s 58th national Unification Day Program advanced multiple key recommendations aimed at not only strengthening and enhancing genuine national healing and reconciliation but also ameliorating the scourge of illicit drugs that is severely impacting the lives of the nation’s predominantly youthful population and can dominantly pose destabilizing effects on the consolidation of peace, unity and socio-economic development in “mama” Liberia.
Having said that, we believe that Government has to put priority on this area and take some serious actions that must involve amongst others, investigation of how the drugs are coming into the country and who is bringing them in. We believe it will be necessary to call on some international assistance here such as the UN Drugs enforcement organizations; and ECOWAS. Former Senator John Ballout talked about this problem in December 2021 in the New Dawn when he raised alarm and decried the rise of drugs & fire arms, and the need for more serious attention by Government to address them. Indeed, we recall an open letter to the President by Mr. Albert Chelley former Deputy Director of operations of the LDEA last year on 4 May 2021 in FPA in which he suggested that GOL reaches out to its international Partners to help identify loopholes in our security system so that action can be taken in collaboration with Liberia’s Joint security system. This will also mean partnering with the Community Watch Forum of Liberia.
Indeed, we need to know the validity or otherwise of allegations that through loopholes at the airport, drugs are coming into the country; that drug lords are met at the plane and escorted to the VIP lounge while their luggages are brought to them without being inspected. Meanwhile the recent commitment of Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor to make illicit drugs a non-billable crime is very much in order. We endorse this. We need tough actions to safe the nation’s future, our children, Our future leadership! What, my people are we waiting for? There are serious implications involved.
The Killings / Murders & Disappearances
The second item I want to address are the killings that are continuing. Some time back in October last year, the women’s NGO secretariat of Liberia (Wongosol) condemned ritualistic killings amongst others. They addressed the House of Representatives Female legislative Caucus and urged that lawmakers address the continuous ritualistic killings; drug abuse and drug trafficking across the country. This was well covered in the Thursday 21 October 2021 of the Inquirer.
Of interest is the fact that Senior Women Elders amongst whom I was, also met with the Minister of Justice the Hon. Musah Dean Jr in September last year on this matter. We were well received. We delivered a letter of our concerns to him on the situation and urged the need for concrete actions to address the issues. The Minister responded by calling in his senior staff to brief us on their efforts to date notwithstanding capacity constraints. We subsequently shared those concerns with the international Community pleading for technical assistance to enhance GOL's investigative capacity to respond to the problem.
We understand that in November last year the Ministry of Justice constituted a special panel to investigate the mounting cases. As such we look forward to feedback on the findings and actions taken as the killing has continued. Former Liberian Amb. Nathan Barnes, to both the U.S and in turn to the United Nations, in his article “Enough is Enough” earlier this year has ably documented some of these killings as follows:
Rev. Dr. William R. Tolbert III (November 1, 2021); Maude Elliot (October 31, 2021); John H. Tubman (September 22, 2021); Unidentified Woman on 17th Street Beach (September 14, 2021); Matthew J. Innis (August 2019); Mordecai Nyemah (May 2021); Melvin Earley (February 19, 2021); Florence Massaquoi (February 2021); Robert M. Blamo, Jr. (2021); Bobby S. Gbeanquoi (2021); Siafa G. Boimah (2021), Albert Peters (October 2020), Gifty Lama (October 2020); Elijah Polumah (2020); Abraham Tumay (2020); George B. Fanbutu (2020) and others.
We urge Government to request International assistance to enhance its investigative capacity since four years after UNMIL’s departure the nation is experiencing an extraordinary level of insecurity. At the same time, we are pleased to note GOL's readiness to pursue a second autopsy in the more recent Princess Cooper case.
The Garbage & Sewage in Central Monrovia continues unabated. – a tremendous health hazard while diseases are lurking! I called on President Weah last year to do a tour of the city together with Mayor Kojee; and his environmental & health officials. Once again, I urge that they take President Weah down Center Street amongst other areas, throughout the city as well as around the Diplomatic enclave of Mamba Point which is fast deteriorating for him to see the reality first hand – nothing short of an embarrassment to our Capital. Today Liberia has been identified in an International survey as topping the list of dirtiest country worldwide! Ay mehn, Ay mehn, Ay mehn! Where my People, are our pride & dignity??
Triggers of Violence
- Upcoming elections in Lofa and the 2023 national elections. We are having early
warnings & we need to be sensitive to this! There is a sense of foreboding. We should
not belittle these “writings” on the wall while awaiting the supreme Court decisions!
- Now we are learning about CDC’s Brigades to protect CDC candidates. For NEC, is this
allowed under our elections law? What are the implications for free and fair elections?
Other political parties are now threatening to recruit similar brigades.
This is an issue that speaks to the rule of Law while at the same time it may well have
implications for the extent and nature of support expected from the international
community and our Partners at large.
- NEC is supposed to ensure free, fair and transparent elections, yet militants are allowed to be formed by political parties in electoral districts. We are hearing that Unity Party is now contending that as CDC has militants, Unity Party too will train militants to protect their candidates. If this is true, it is surely a recipe for disaster! When these two-party clashes, aided and abetted by lord knows how many other parties’ militants, what will happen to the peace and security of this country? There should be no private armies. I support the proposal by Cllr. Francis Johnson-Morris former Minister of Justice; former Chief Justice and former NEC Chair with Cllr. Yvette Chesson-Wureh Establishment Coordinator of ABIC recently on ECOWAS radio during the ABIC Hour that the NEC should de-register any Political Party found forming any kind of militia or brigade. Only the state has the constitutional duty to protect. This is not the wild, wild west!!
In short these are matters for our Justice system to address as well.
- Recently as indicated in the Observer of 30 May 2022 our National Commissioner for Human Rights expressed related concerns on some of these very issues as I am doing here at the Launch of the NEC Situation Room. Meanwhile, the former NEC, Chairman Mr. Fromoyan, has recently made some recommendations that are very much in order, given the tensions underway. The Editorial of the Hot Pepper of 5 May has summarized his recommendations and are highlighted below, as they are deserving of serious considerations – by both NEC/Government and our international Partners. Other media has similarly been publishing those recommendations.
- He suggests that both GOL and our International Partners take this seriously. He calls, amongst others, for an Election Court!
To our International Partners – I urge you not to feel that this has nothing to do with you – as you provide the financing for free and fair elections, as well as non-conflictual elections. One cannot and must not wait until there is an explosion. We are facing a time bomb. I urge you to act now and hold consultations with Government as one understands what was done on our airport situation! Time is of the essence! These glaring missteps or inadequate attention by NEC must be corrected including serving as a basis for Compacts with Government and as conditions precedents for the allocation of funds by our international partners. It is much less costly to correct these things now than to do them after we have had violence on the ground and lives would have been lost.
- I have worked with the international System for some 25 years before joining Government and covered crisis countries such as Rwanda; Burundi; DRC; Congo Brazzaville; CAR and Chad at UNDP headquarters in New York. I am therefore bringing to bear relevant experience, as one is well acquainted with prospects for tapping the good offices of donor Partners and the international system at large. We have benefited from such largesse under UNMIL in the past.
- I want now to highlight the “country devil” issue as an obstacle to more women candidates in the upcoming elections. We had the case of Senator Botoe Kanneh last year. Recently on 2nd May at the MOFA auditorium during ABIC’s WSR, “before elections” consultations re mediation with Women, Chiefs & Commissioners from two counties (Bong and Montserrado), the problem of the “Country Devil” was seen as a major factor limiting more meaningful women participation.
Indeed, women of the Lappa Revolution and others including former Minister of Gender, Julie Duncan Cassell and Daintowon Payee in particular were deeply engaged in the Botoe Kanneh Case to remove her from the physical danger she faced; to raise funds for her defense before the Supreme Court of Liberia; and to support her as she contested and won the last leg of her senatorial elections campaign. If not, all indications were that her life was in danger.
- Here we provide some insights on the role of statutory Law, vs. Customary Law and the significance of the role of the Country Devil in the electoral processes that would fall within the purview of the Ministry of Justice; NEC and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It is very clear that when there is a conflict between our Customary Laws and our Statutory Laws, our Statutory Law prevails. In Liberia, the Country Devil is under the authority of our Customary Laws and under the supervision of our Minister of Internal Affairs. Under our Statutory Law our Country Devil cannot be called out during elections to unduly give political advantage to an aspirant (s). By bringing out the devil in Botoe’s case, we had a clash of our Customary and Statutory provisions. The Minister of Internal Affairs acted appropriately as he has oversight of our Customs, when he suspended the chief who brought out the devil.
- The Minister of Justice who is in charge of National Security, also acted promptly when he removed officers who were accused of SGBV and who had failed to protect Botoe’s partisans and replaced them with officers from other parts of Liberia so that they will not be under the authority of the Country Devil or the country masters from that county. The officer, we were told is being investigated. However, the moves by both Ministers and the cancellation of the prior elections, and the implementation of new elections in the affected area by the NEC led to safe, free and fair elections, which Botoe fairly won.
- Peace process
- For the religious and Faith-based institutions, we want to refer to the new Democrat of 21 April 2022 captioned article Bishop Chides Govt: says hardship; confidence crisis; mysterious Deaths & Disappearances Looming. We believe that this is very much in order and gives us hope, expressing our gratitude for this, from the Faith-based institutions we urge the leadership of the nation to listen and respond to the Cry of its Citizenry. Indeed, the reference earlier to the recommendations of the Better Future Foundations and the Kofi Annan Institute for Conflict Transformation and the linkage of the drug issue to Sustaining Liberia’s Peace is of particular relevance here and needs to be heeded.
- Our late Peace Ambassador the Reverend William R. Tolbert III whose blood cries for Justice said that peace is a process, and not an event. He would normally give his peace message on Unification Day. But he is no longer here with us. This notwithstanding it is only fitting to pay tribute to his memory on Unification Day 2022 by reproducing some of what he stood for in the following:
- In March 2018, during the Reconciliation Conference at the Monrovia City Hall, he called on all Liberians to reconcile and work together to move the country forward. He expressed publicly to the admiration of the audience that he had “forgiven those who assassinated his father and called on others to exhibit the spirit of genuine forgiveness as a sustainable healing process for the nation.
- In his Peace message for national Unification Day on 14 May 2019, the National Peace Ambassador, Rev. William R. Tolbert III, reminded the Liberian Citizenry that “Peace is not an event but a process” “Rather”, he said, “we must be prepared to do what is necessary to sustain the peace we deserve following years of conflict. Thus, we must be proactive and initiate appropriate interventions with sustaining our national peace as our purpose; unity as the focus, and sincerity of will and commitment as our driving desire.”
- In celebration of the International Day of Peace in September 2021, Reverend Tolbert encouraged Liberians to demonstrate compassion, kindness, and hope in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Through his words and actions, he demonstrated that peace is the only viable option. In reaching out across Liberia’s DIASPORA, he stressed the need to heal the wounds caused by the conflicts and celebrate the nation’s heritage, oneness, uniqueness, and diversity.
“Let’s vow to rise out of the ashes of despair with hope and optimism. Let us plan for education in Liberia that is both intergenerational and holistic to impact all beneficiaries”.
- The Reverend gave his life for our nation. His essence was Peace; National Healing and Reconciliation which he saw as the bedrock for “mama” Liberia. Thus, his loss has serious implications for the Government and future of the nation.
- National healing and national unity remain outstanding! Growing divisiveness & tribalism is unacceptable and must be addressed seriously.
It was Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman our first woman President of the University of Liberia, who said that there is more that unites us as a people than divide us. Yet we do not build on this. Instead we prefer to relive the past and feed on it and neglect her words.
Thus, I can think of no better way to conclude this than by recalling both Dr. Brown Sherman’s words and those of the Guinea Bissau nationalist Amilcar Cabral, and I quote:
“Our History must Guide us. But it must not Define us or Divide us.”
As such my plea, as I close, is that we build on what President Tubman’s unification policy was all about – especially during this our 200 years Bicentennial observation. Might this Government take some serious, meaningful and concrete actions in this regard – such that our Peace Ambassador’s death and all those others since the 1980 coup may not have been in vain? We must, as a people beg God’s forgiveness such that the Heavenly father redeems our nation and build a monument of atonement at sacred sites throughout the nation in every county as was once proposed by veteran Theresa Leigh Sherman, the only woman signer of the Accra Peace Agreement, where our people can go for prayers & reflections and supplications! At the same time the recommendations from the 58th Unification Day mentioned earlier is of direct relevance here.
As a postscript, and as a former Minister of Foreign Affairs I cannot but add my voice on the ongoing passport scandal at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In that regard, Mr. President I wish to commend the call of Minister of Foreign Affairs for a forensic investigation by some international entity. It shows a seriousness by Government. Such an investigation will assist Liberia to regain its international credibility; dignity & Pride at several levels. We must not go back to being a Pariah state. Internationally Liberia has already been labeled the dirtiest in Africa; our airport has been a source of disgrace recently; and now the passport scandal?
Indeed, when our patriotic national hymn The Lone Star calls for upholding the Lone Star Forever, it is not meant to be only physical. Rather, it means maintaining the nations dignity and pride if we are to leave a legacy for the next generation and regain our standing on the continent and among the comity of nations!
All Hail Liberia Hail
Sign: OluBanke King-Akerele
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Olubanke King-Akerele is a former Minister of Commerce & Industry and former Minister of Foreign Affairs during the first administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Before joining the government, she had Served for some 25 years at the International level representing the UNSG in several African countries as UNDP-Resident Representative /UN Resident Coordinator. She is currently Chair of the Board of the Angie Brooks International Centre for Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security; is a Prolific writer with a passion for the “Growing” (development & promotion) of Africa’s Emergent Leadership