– Saying it was ‘anarchy’
By Joaquin Sendolo in collaboration with New Narratives
Survivors and descendants of those that were affected by the 1989 events are taking advantage of the country-wide push for a war crimes court to reset the narrative they say was incorrectly set by Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson and their followers in the 30 years since.
Derrick Myers is a grandson of D. Gborboe Dwayen, who believes that activities of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in Nimba did not present a picture of freedom or revolution, but total anarchy, repression, atrocities, division and harassment.
His grandfather Dwayen served as a superintendent and commissioner of the county at different times, and was last seen in private life as a practicing lawyer, and farmer before the war came. In 1990, NPFL fighters arrested Mr. Dwayen, and beat him severely and died in the process.
“My grandfather was killed, because when the plan for war was disclosed to him, he rejected it and suggested peace instead of war,” Derrick recalled. “The other reason is that his killers accused him of representing their legal interest prior to the war, and he lost the case; these are some reasons we got for the beating of grandpa D. Gborboe Dwayen that led to his death.”
“I don’t call this liberation, but mass suffering and killings mainly done by our own Gio and Mano brothers and sisters,” Derrick added.
After the 1989 Taylor-led invasion, eminent citizens of the county, who worked in government and private areas soon became targets and were eliminated, while others were severely beaten, sometimes by their own sons. Looting, harassment, rape and burning of villages and towns became widespread. Many said freedom was now turned into suppression.
While the power of the gun was still ruling, no individual living in Liberia, least to say Nimba, could express his or her emotions about the afflictions encountered.
In an attempt to retaliate for the killing of his father, a son of Dwayen, Kerper Dwayen, founded the Nimba Redemption Council (NRC) to counter the NPFL.
This attack, according to Derrick, led the NPFL to place all members of the surviving families under house arrest. “This situation caused my mum to die, while giving birth in this house, because the NPFL rebels could not let her have access to a medical facility,” he said.
Jackson Fiah Doe, another eminent Nimbaian, was murdered in October, 1991 by the NPFL. According to a former fighter (name withheld for fear of reprisal), the death of Mr. Doe was orchestrated by Samuel Saye Dokie, who was also murdered in 1997 when Charles Taylor became President after the July 19 special presidential and legislative elections.
Mr. Doe first son, Tarkpor W. Doe in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, said on May 1, 2019, “I don’t consider what was brought here as liberation. My father thought that those rebels were his own sons from Nimba, rejected an offer from the United States Embassy to leave the country despite persistent request made so that he and his family can leave, but in the end, he was arrested by the very sons, and he was killed that today, we do not even know his grave.”
David Toweh, Senator of Nimba prior to the war, was one of the many Nimbaians killed by the fighters hailing from Nimba. Nora Toweh-Dent, daughter of Mr. Toweh, said her father and Jackson F. Doe were arrested the same time, and jailed in the same area on Harbel Hill, Firestone-Liberia concession area, and were taken to an unknown destination and killed.
“My father had no connection to the war,” Nora said. “He only negotiated with the rebels to cease the war and return to peace, but perhaps the rebels felt that he and others killed could have better positions in the next government, and therefore they decided to get rid of them.”
Nora said that most members of her family were targeted, because of her late father, and one of them, Roland Toweh, was so badly beaten that he fell sick and died in 1994.
“They never brought freedom to us but, they came to kill our people, and make us fatherless,” she said.
Tribal sentiments and personal animosities have deepened in Nimba after the war, because one tribe is perceived to have pursued vendettas against other tribes and vice versa which led to the victimization of innocent people.
George Flomo Weanquio, Coordinator for Academic and Career Counseling at the Nimba County Community College (NCCC), attested to this post-war tension between Manos and Gios. “In the 1960s when Nimba was still a district, Gio and Mano though having distinct identities, they were united, coexisted well, but now it is only in time of conflict can Nimbaians sometimes come together,” he said.
Nimbaians, like the rest of Liberians, have not had any reconciliatory program since the war ended, and victims and survivors bearing the scars of atrocities and human rights abuses continue to live together with the perpetrators.
Justice advocates have continued to call for accountability for crimes committed during the war, but the government seems not to be paying attention, while some perpetrators and warlords occupying prestigious public positions are instead boasting for their actions.
Christopher Koyea, a history teacher with over 30 years of teaching experience in Nimba said, “the civil war fought neither defines liberation nor revolution, but mass destruction, mayhem, looting, innocent killing and division, and this has set the people of Nimba against one another.”
“If the war was meant for liberation, why then were Jackson Fiah Doe, former Senator David Toweh, David Dwayen, former Superintendent Stephen B. Daniels, and other eminent Nimbaians killed by those very liberators?” he rhetorically asked.
Koyea said the “Nimba liberators” did not only kill, but burnt several towns and villages, because some spoke against acts that were contrary to the proclaimed ideals of liberation, citing the burning of Mehnla Town in Yarwin Mensonnoh County District, now Electoral District #9 as an example.
He said a son of that town, Yarsuo Wehyee Dorliae, had spoken against atrocities committed by the NPFL; something that led the rebel commander, Tarkpor Gweh to command his men to burn the entire quarter occupied by the Dorliae family.
Philip Toweh, an eminent son of Nimba, describes the so-called theory of “Nimba Liberation” as mere street talk, arguing that Nimba was not under siege, and therefore, cannot give credence to such wishful thinking, stressing his readiness to debate the issues rather than to indulge those who seek justification for the atrocities they committed.
This new critical thinking which posits the view that individuals of Nimba origin were not just victims but were perpetrators as well and as such need to account, appears to be gaining ground by the day. For instance, the Concerned Citizens against Impunity compromised of victims and former fighters led by Zarwolo Gorgboyee in Ganta, is persistently calling for the establishment of a war crimes court for perpetrators of horrible crimes to account for their actions.
When they crossed the border from the Ivory Coast and attacked Buutuo, Nimba County on December 24, 1989, NPFL fighters under the command of convicted and jailed former President Charles Taylor, presented themselves as “Freedom fighters,” who had come to liberate Nimbaians, and the rest of Liberians from the “repressive” regime of Samuel Kanyon Doe.
The NPFL split along the way, and the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) emerged with warlord Prince Johnson, now Nimba Senator, serving as a factional head.
The NPFL and its nemesis, the INPFL, were welcomed into Nimba mainly by members of the Gio and Mano tribes with honor and praises which invariably led to thousands young men and women joining the fighting groups. It is said that about 75 percent of fighters of the NPFL comprised the Mano and Gio tribes.
However, as the rebels seized control of most parts of the country, they left a bloody trail in the wake of their march to Monrovia thus alienating the people and undermining the very freedom which they freedom’ claimed to have brought to them.
This story was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project. Funding was provided by Australian Aid. The funder had no say in the story’s content.