Ganta has been on mind lately. It is where I partly grew up and spent my formative years, but I have been haunted by the mayhem that ravaged this once idyllic Junction City on September 30. Besides Ganta, there have been a number of documented cases of ‘mob violence’ and destructive protests across
Liberia that call for serious soul searching. However, while we are quick to condemn the perpetrators of these unspeakable crimes, as we should, and castigate them as scum of the earth; sadly, we turn a blind eye when similar egregious crimes are committed by politicians, government officials, and the well connected.
One of the surest ways to address violence in Liberia is to first address the unequal application of the law, and the culture of impunity. Any nation that selectively enforces its laws like Liberia does run the risk of anarchy, and I am sure we don’t want to go down that path again. A number of articles have been published lately highlighting the threat posed by communal violence and some solutions to address what the authors identified as “root causes.” One op-ed that appeared in Front Page Africa on October 6 – “No Justice, No Peace: Lessons from Ganta Riots” – and written by Samuel Jackson and Isaac
Vah Tukpah, recommended: “Liberia [should] concentrate more efforts on its youthful population in order to integrate them into the mainstream.”
In “Building Durable Peace: Liberia’s Long Road to Psychological Recovery,” which was carried by The Perspective on October 24, Emmanuel Dolo, offered: “To prevent the recurrence of violence for the long haul, a broad scope of structural transformations has to be utilized. We will need to tackle the root causes of the war, if the goal is to prevent a relapse into conflict.” Reading these articles and listening to President Sirleaf last week, you would think that the violence in the country are entirely perpetrated by destitute people, misguided youth, former combatants, and commercial motorcycle owners.
Conspicuously absent from these analyses and the discourse are crimes committed by the wealthy, cabinet ministers, and political elites.
Mary Broh, as much as anyone else, personifies the completely corrupt, unjust, and fraudulent application of the rule of law in Liberia. Why isn’t she being indicted for violating those young girls’ civil rights and for habitually subjecting people to public beating and ridicule? When did Ms. Broh and the General Services Agency that she runs become responsible for child welfare? Last time I checked, it was the Minister of Gender & Child Protection.
Why wasn’t Rep. Edwin Snowe prosecuted and jailed when he allegedly chased down a motorist who cut him off in traffic and beat him up? Or, the senator who reportedly ordered the flogging of a police officer who impounded his car because it didn’t have the proper documents, even though he was not in the car but his young mistress was? No one ordered defense minister Brownie Samukai to seek psychological counseling for ordering armed troops into West Point during the height of the Ebola crisis, harassing, beating, and brutalizing people, culminating in the death of a young boy. Who killed corruption whistleblower Michael Allison? Why his killer or killers have not been brought to justice? These narratives demonstrate how dysfunctional and totally broken the Liberian justice system is.
In her recent address to the nation, the president said her government is aware of the violence that is eating away at the fabric of the society and has decided to take action: “I am instructing the security forces to rigorously enforce the law to the letter and bring this ugly situation under immediate control.” If the president is serious about addressing the elevation of crime and violence in Liberia, she must first address the culture of impunity and lawlessness that has permeated every sector of the society and perpetuated largely by political cronies and elected officials. Equal justice under the law is enshrined in our constitution and on the Temple of Justice on Capitol Hill in Monrovia. It is also a societal ideal that must inform our legal dispensation.
I continue to think that the unequal application of justice in Liberia is the single most important issue that must be faced. So many of our problems would be solved overnight if the masses weren’t flogged for Orwellian “victimless crimes,” (prostitution) and the rich and powerful criminals were thrown in jail for extended periods for their far more societal-destructive actions of corruption. In a democracy, everyone is equal under the law. Beating young girls for alleged prostitution and ignoring the men who entice them in these acts is more akin to what you would expect in Saudi Arabia. It is particularly appalling when compared with the license to commit fraud and steal, which the politically connected oligarchs seem to have been granted in the Sirleaf Administration.
It cannot only be a crime that threatened the state when the crime is carried out by mobsters, “pehn-pehn” operators, and violent protesters. An important point here is: The way you treat people determines a large part of what they will become. Treat them with respect and an open heart and expect them to do well, and they will become the best that they can be. Watch them like a hawk and constantly accuse them of wrongdoing because you expect them to cheat, steal, and lie, and they will cheat, steal and lie. Beat them up, violate their rights and they will become violent. Treat them like animals, and they will behave like animals because they have no options.
The demagoguery about former child soldiers leaves me with an ache in my stomach, when many of the psychopaths who drugged these young people into being violent killers have been appointed to positions of consequence in this administration while these young people and the country suffer. We must fight crime, violence, corruption, and the inequalities that continue to spread both through our legal system and our society with an impartial sense of purpose.
Should armed robbers, thieves, rights abusers be hunted down and arrested? Absolutely! Should politicians, lawmakers, and pimps who commit crimes, and prey on underage boys and girls be booked and prosecuted? Absolutely! Only when this is done and we can show that the government is adhering to the cardinal principles of human and civil rights, equality, and fairness, then we will be assured that we are on our way to a just civilization that will endure even after UNMIL has long gone.
Note: The author Wynfred Russell is based in Nigeria and can be reached at: [email protected]