At least seven government officials invited to participate in the just-ended two-day national peace building retreat by the members of the National Council of Chiefs and Elders (NACCEL), chose not to attend, and the gathering of over 250 chiefs and civil society organizations expressed disappointment about their behavior.
Government officials invited included Information Minister Eugene Nagbe, National Elections Commission (NEC) chairman Jerome Korkoya, Attorney General and Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh, Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh, Senate Pro temp Amarh Jallah and House Speaker Alex Tyler.
Former Internal Affairs Minister Blamo Nelson, who was also invited, was absent.
Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai, who was also invited but could not personally attend, was represented and expressed his regret and also declared declared his support for the initiative. He stated that traditional leaders must educate Liberian children to make peace with themselves in building a peaceful society for the future.
Until the closure of the retreat yesterday evening, there was no official communication from the absentee government officials about their absence, which was interpreted by the elders and chiefs as a sign of disrespect.
According to organizers, the retreat, which brought fifteen paramount chiefs from 15 of Liberia’s sub-political divisions, was intended to deliberate and find the way forward on recent disturbing issues that have come up in the country.
On the first day of the retreat, Chief Zanzan Karwor, head of the National Council of Chiefs, catalogued events including the mysterious of death of Harry Greaves, Jr., the arrest and the subsequent disturbance by hundreds of young people who demanded the release of the victim and most of all the call for Liberia to be designated as a Christian Nation, a suggested clause which Liberian Muslims regard as a plot by some disgruntled politicians to divide the country and throw it into chaos.
The theme for the first day was ‘Dialogue among leaders to promote peace and patriotism, nationalism and national symbols’ and was moderated by Cultural Ambassador Juli Endee.
The second day’s theme, moderated by Rev. J. Emmanuel Z. Bowier, focused on ‘How to sustain peace using traditional mechanisms (peace hut).
Other organizations that failed to send representatives included the Press Union of Liberia, Campaigner for Change and Sure Liberia, the Liberia Council of Churches, Civil Society Organization and the Lebanese Business Community.
Those present were representatives of the Muslim Council of Liberia, Coalition for Transformation of Liberia, MOH-Global Communities and The Carter Center.
Ambassador Endi moderated the final session, titled ‘the way forward’ but without the presence of government officials intended to get involved in the discussion and the deliberations, the elders and chiefs expressed their disappointment.
The chairman of the Coalition for Transformation of Liberia, Archie Sannor, who was recently arrested and later released, told the chiefs and elders that the young people do not disrespect their leaders, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
However, he recounted corrupt practices by unnamed government officials that have been prosecuted and mentioned the abundant natural resources that are not used to make life better for ordinary Liberians.
“We are citizens of this country, chiefs and elders, and so when things are not done for the people, we as young people have the right to demand why from our government, and this is interpreted to mean disrespect to our leaders,” Sannor argued.
Sannor appealed to the elders and chiefs to engage the government to change how things are done in the country to bring real development to the land and its people.
“We don’t have electricity, poor roads and even some roads are constructed three times, wasting money that could have been [saved if the job was done well the first time]. Our country, compared to others is the worst and least developed, yet we are blessed with natural resources that other countries don’t have,” he said.
Representing the Muslim Council of Liberia, Ali Sylla, re-echoed the council’s position against Proposition 24, which calls for a referendum to decide making Liberia a Christian Nation, and instead recommended, among other things, education and economic empowerment to Liberians of all faiths.