April 6 and the Liberian nightmare

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By Lekpele M. Nyamalon

Monrovia- April 6, 2021 will make it twenty-five (25) years since the infamous attack on Monrovia on Good Friday of April 1996. I was a refugee student in La Cote d’Ivoire when the news of a sporadic attack in Monrovia took the headlines of all major International Networks. In retrospect, then rebel leaders Charles Taylor and Alhaji Kromah attempted to forcefully enforce an arrest warrant for warlord and ULIMO-J commander Roosevelt Johnson.  Roosevelt Johnson was the leader of the breakaway faction of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy.  ULIMO was formed in May 1991 by Krahn and Mandingo refugees and soldiers in Sierra Leone, who had fought in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). From its outset, ULIMO was beset with internal divisions and the group effectively broke into two separate militias in 1994: ULIMO-J, an ethnic Krahn faction led by General Roosevelt Johnson, and ULIMO-K, a Mandingo-based faction led by Alhaji G.V. Kromah.

The spillover from the conflict led to a devastating humanitarian crisis with the nation engulfed with carnage and the streets of Monrovia littered with debris and the face of a lonely country on the continent had torn itself apart.  The civilian casualty was dire and the once peaceful nation in Africa was once again on its knees while the rest of the world was watching.

One of the major humanitarian highlights of the April 6 carnage was the bizarre refusal of regional countries, notably Ghana, to allow a rustling cargo ship, “Bulk Challenge” to dock in their countries. “Bulk Challenge” carried thousands of Liberian refugees desperately fleeing the civil war and finding a place of refugee.  These stories of horror are a tip of the iceberg of the untold ordeal of humiliation that Liberian refugees endured during the period of civil unrest.

In their book, “Why Nations Fail” academics Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson speak to “Critical Junctures as major events that disrupt the existing political and economic balance in one or many societies.” Critical junctures launch nations down their respective dependent paths.

In the Liberian scenario, what did the civil war do for Liberia as a critical juncture in its history? What are the new pathways that the nation can cue from and forge ahead? The Nation has failed to jumpstart itself after a critical period of its history towards true national healing. A lost opportunity, perhaps?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not achieve the goal of national healing due in part to grandstanding by warlords and the lack of political will, thus rending the process a ‘fait accompli.’

Liberia needs to purge itself of the effects of conflict and answer the tough questions about national healing.  Liberia, like a wound, cannot self-heal if deliberate antiseptics are ignored. And, if tough love and constant dressing are relegated to pampering and covering, the net-effect is a wound prone to infection, escalation and possibly amputation of the affected part.

One of the major policy missteps adopted by the Liberian political elite is to ignore monumental decisions geared towards healing, only because they are politically inexpedient. The Johnson-Sirleaf government missed a glorious opportunity to guide the nation towards self healing and instead, set the nation on a cruise of self denials, occasional outbursts and impunity by warlords and their accomplices.

On April 6, I will host a virtual book chat with young Liberians, most of whom were unborn or too young to understand the political undercurrents that led to the carnage that swept Monrovia some twenty five (25) years ago. By using my book of Poetry, “Scary Dreams” we will continue to shed light where there is darkness, in ensuring that a new generation doesn’t go uninformed of the stories that brought us to this day. Until the nation can purge itself, we’re having a nightmare. Hope we wake up soon. The time to act is yesterday.

Lekpele M. Nyamalon is a Poet, Writer and Speaker. He is a child survivor of conflict and the author of “Scary Dreams” an anthology of the Liberian Civil war. He can be reached at [email protected]

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