As Liberians prepare for presidential and legislative elections in October this year, divisive politics with the propensity to stir up conflict is overwhelmingly emerging. Partisans of the Unity Party are accused of allegedly preaching ethnic-based politics to influence voters in support of Joseph Boakai. Liberty Party supporters have it all on social media that Boakai’s supporters have taken the trend of ethnic politics to divide Liberians.
A few weeks ago, some members of the House of Representatives endorsed Boakai as the best person to succeed President Sirleaf. During the ceremony, the spokesperson, Representative Larry P. Younquoi of Nimba County District #8, stated on radio that a minority cannot rule the majority in a democracy, and since the natives are in the majority, they must be the ones to lead the country. Also recently declaring his support for Joseph Boakai in the upcoming election, Nimba County Senator Prince Johnson said they are going to launch a “Democratic coup d’état” to ensure that an indigenous man takes the presidency.
While the political leader of the Movement for Economic Empowerment (MOVEEE), Dr. J. Mills Jones, was speaking at the commencement program of the African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU) last week, he emphasized that Liberia’s problem was not the ethnic divide, but the failure to institute good governance.
Why are all these sentiments of division coming up during election season, when we should be seeking a well qualified, patriotic and competent Liberian to occupy the presidency? One reason to point out here is the failure of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration to attach seriousness to reconciliation after taking over a country devastated by years of war.
There are several historical factors which should have compelled the Ellen Government to pay serious attention to reconciliation. There are, for example, still people in Liberia who can give either eyewitness or oral accounts of the 1930s forced labor saga (Fernando Po Crisis) that led to the forced resignation of President C.D.B. King. This issue was a part of the long-term political and economic deprivation perpetrated by the True Whig Party in this country that exacerbated Liberia’s ethnic divide. After 133 years of rule, the True Whig Party government was toppled, President William R. Tolbert Jr. and several of his topmost officials executed.
As the 1980 coup leader, Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, well established himself in power as the elected president (in the 1985 rigged elections), tribalism became a national symbol, and anyone who was not Krahn became stigmatized. The Gio and Mano peoples of Nimba became a target for innocent killings. Most of the Gios and Manos, too, were always seen as party to any coup attempt on the president. This tribal collision led Charles Taylor to see Nimbaians as the disenchanted group to be used to fight in retaliation for ethnic killings by the Doe regime. In 1989 Taylor launched his invasion in Buutuo, Nimba County, enlisting several Gios and Manos, while the majority of AFL Soldiers were members of the Krahn tribe. Samuel Doe was killed under the command of Prince Johnson, a son of Nimba. The war resulted not only in Doe’s death. Nimbaians also slaughtered their own people on mere animosity and setup, Jackson Fiah Doe, Stephen B. Daniels, David Toweh, D. Gborboe Dwayen, Isaac Vaye and John Yormie being some eminent Nimbaians among the victims. Dr. Steve Yekehson, president of the University of Liberia, was also killed by fighters of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. The United Liberation Movement (ULIMO-K), under the command of Alhaji G.V. Kromah, used chainsaws (otherwise known as power-saws) to kill a lot of people in Lofa, with their intestines used as checkpoints. Fighters of the Liberia Peace Council (LPC), commanded by George Boley, killed countless people in the southeast and raped countless women. The latest factions to go against the Taylor regime were the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) led by Seku Damatè Konneh and Thomas Yayah Nimley respectively. They too killed people and destroyed properties.
Amid this horrendous and tragic series of events, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whom Liberians and the world counted on to heal the country, admitted in her last Annual Message that she had failed to reconcile Liberians and also failed to fight corruption. It is one of the gravest of misfortunes for the poor Liberian people that their economic marginalization was exacerbated during her regime, as she gave an upper-hand to her families, friends and foreign businesspeople, including Lebanese and Indians.
Are these issues not enough to make any leader attach importance to reconciliation?
Nelson Mandela said, “Revolution without reconciliation is not a revolution.” The Daily Observer believes that as long as genuine reconciliation among Liberians remains ignored, and perpetrators of atrocities still boast of being liberators and intellectualizing their actions, divisive ethnic politics, tribalism and sectionalism will continue to dominate our body politic, and Liberia’s peace will continue to remain fragile.